Unintentional Consequences

As I watched intentional walks by Tigers pitchers lead to runs on both Sunday and Monday this week, it seemed to be an all to familiar story. It seemed that the Tigers strategy of intentional walks was failing with remarkable regularity. So I went back to each of the 19 IBB’s the Tigers issued (that’s what happens on west coast trips when I’m up late) to see how they fared.

The table below has all the gory details:

In nine of the nineteen innings where walks were issued, a run went on to score following the walk. Now I don’t know the frequency with which this normally happens. Being that the IBB is only issued with a runner in scoring position already, I’d imagine that it isn’t that scoring isn’t that rare. But it’s the painful way that the innings played out.

Six times the IBB was followed by either another walk of a hit by pitch, which clearly wasn’t part of the plan. Twice already an IBB came around on a grand slam and another time with a triple.

As for how the Tigers stack up in frequency, they are tied for the league lead with the Blue Jays. The average AL team is at 12 this year so they are well above average. This is probably due in large part to the general struggles of the pitching staff. And there is probably a degree of over managing in these situations as well probably brought about by the struggles of the offense.

Surprisingly, there has been quite a bit written about the intentional walk already this season. MGL wrote a 2 part series at The Hardball Times. I recommend reading the articles of course, but here is the conclusion after looking at run expectancy in different situations, as well as traits of the batter being walked and the one being pitched to:

My recommendation to any manager would simply be to never worry about walking anyone intentionally, at least in the early and middle innings. Pitch to everyone. One, except perhaps in rare, ideal situations, you are probably reducing your team’s chances of winning. Two, it is not worth the time and effort, and perhaps a little stomach acid and a few extra gray hairs worrying about it.

On the other hand, a manager knows that he will get crucified by fans and in the press, and perhaps even in his own organization, if he doesn’t walk an opposing team’s elite batter, the game is on the line, and he ends up getting beaten (you know the old, and silly, axiom, “Never let the other team’s star hitter beat you”).

And for the sake of completeness, there was a rebuttal to MGL’s series that looked at game outcomes and found the conclusions to be less solid.

As for when the Tigers have issued the walks, I’ll let you be the judge. Some seemed quite appropriate but were undone when the pitcher walked the subsequent hitter. The manager only bares limited blame in these situations. Other times, like with 2 outs in the 9th inning of a blow-out seemed pointless.

Most of the IBB’s the Tigers issue seem to have more to do with getting the more favorable match-up than setting up a double play (and only one resulted in a double play). Ten of the walks issued came with 2 outs which seems to me highly indicative of the fact that Leyland didn’t trust the offense to come back from even one more additional run.

With some better pitching – which we’ve seen of late – and just as importantly some better offense and I’d expect the IBB rate to decrease significantly.

14 Comments

  1. Vince in MN

    May 29, 2008 at 7:47 am

    The trouble with the Tigers (Leyland) giving intentional walks is that this staff tends to give up too many unintentional walks to begin with (31st in the MLB, only Texas has issued more.) Not that there aren’t a few situations where it makes some sense, but it is generally an over-rated idea IMHO. In the Tigers’ case it is probably another example of Leyland’s push-button style, although to be fair I think most managers are strong believers in the IBB myth.

  2. scotsw

    May 29, 2008 at 9:33 am

    As much as I like him as a guy, I have come to the conclusion that Jim Leyland is only an average-quality major-league manager. He’s good, but not great.

    The intentional walks is only part of the puzzle. More puzzling is why Zach Miner comes into a crucial late-inning, tied-game situation. Or why pitchers are pulled from games sometimes when they’re cruising along. I was completely stumped as to why Verlander was pulled after 6 during the blowout. In the end, we won, but what had been a lockdown performance got very sloppy.

    Just weird choices, IMHO.

  3. Vince in MN

    May 29, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Leyland’s management skills are inflated. He’s a darling of the media because he talks a good game and projects a Marlboro Man persona, which for some inexplicable reason (to me at least) goes over really big with the sports scribblers.

    However, watching him pretty regularly over the course of 2+ seasons, it seems apparent that his in-game strategizing is more often than not deficient. His mis-use of the pitching staff is the biggest sin(s) and are so many that I won’t even bother to list any of them here.

    He sticks with underperforming players way past the expiration date (think Neifi Perez, Craig Monroe, Gary Shelffield, etc., etc.) His strange lineups (e.g. Ivan Rodriguez, leadoff hitter) are also not uncommon.

    I have no idea what goes on off the field, but I have to wonder if he is not a little bit responsible for this teams woeful inconsisitency (whether pitching, hitting, or defense), to play for nine innings at a time. I still have the sneaking suspicion that they didn’t come out of ST ready to go. Shouldn’t the Guillen/Cabrera defense issue have been addresed there?

    I just don’t find Leyland particularly creative. Occasionally you have to think and play by the seat of your pants, try some things “outside of the book”, and I just don’t think Layland has the capacity to do that.

  4. Sean C. in Illinois

    May 29, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    I still have the sneaking suspicion that they didn’t come out of ST ready to go. Shouldn’t the Guillen/Cabrera defense issue have been addresed there?

    Absolutely. Vince, you summarize well, without hyperbole, what is wrong with Leyland as the Tigers manager.

    I’m guilty of falling for his persona. Early on, I was struck by his straight-talking style and liked it, but I’ve seen just as much since to make me question whether he really thinks straight. I thought he was a kind of a maverick, but that’s clearly not true. So all that’s left is the hope that he really is The Great Motivator. Not much evidence of that so far in 2008.

  5. Chris in Dallas

    May 29, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Interesting to hear all of your thoughts about Leyland. I probably agree with a lot of it. I still think he’s a good manager though. It’s not like he hasn’t tried to shake things up, it’s just that what he has tried hasn’t worked. Since there’s been a lot of linking to JoPo lately, check out his take on the best manager and the reasons behind said selection:

    http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlo.....-to-gardy/

  6. Vince in MN

    May 29, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Chris:

    Great article by Posnanski, one of the rare sports writers who write intelligently.

    He’s right about Gardenhire (although it may be a stretch to call him the best), who seems to squeeze more out of his teams than one would expect. He makes his fair share of mistakes, of course, but considering the material he has to work with he does a fine job. This is a rebuilding year for the Twins, who have a lot of question marks in pitching and in the lineup, while the vaunted Twins defense is not so hot this year either, and look where they stand. Nobody here very knowledgeable about the game expected them to be especially competitive; a distant third was about the best expected, probably finishing under .500. That may still come to pass of course, but still, their present level of lay has been a real surprise and I think Gardy can take credit for a bit of it.

  7. Vince in MN

    May 29, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Sean C:

    I think at the end of the day (as in Leyland’s day in the sun), his proper title will be The Great Bloviator. But then I am pretty cynical about this whole mess right now, so take my opinion with a grain of salt

  8. Dave BW

    May 29, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Of course, it’s also worth noting that Gardenhire essentially destroyed his own bullpen last year from overuse, especially Pat Neshek

  9. Mark in Chicago

    May 29, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Leyland is no different than most of the other managers around the league. Sure, we could fire him today, but who would we replace him with? Mostly likely someone else with managing experience that has his own shortcomings, whether it’s bullpen usage, exploiting split and platoon advantages, or lack of running a disciplined clubhouse. Frankly, I’m not sure we’d be better off. Managers and coaches in all sports exhibit a tremendous amount of groupthink, so the advantage of one over another (I would argue) is probably close to zero. Most managers around the league make the same decisions regarding bullpen usage, player substitution, and in-game strategies.

    Good managers have good talent playing well, and bad managers don’t. Ozzie Guillen is the best example of this. In 2005 he was the best manager in baseball, every move he did was the right call. This was also aided by 200 innings of relief work by Hermanson, Politte and Cotts with a 200 ERA+ (this is like running Dennis Eckersley out there for 2-3 innings every day), and the emergence of a dominant closer in Jenks. And these guys followed the routine 6 or 7 innings he got from his starters. But suddenly in the middle of 2006, Ozzie became a bad manager? No, his talent that was playing over it’s head stopped doing so, and his other talent couldn’t keep it up. I seriously doubt Ozzie did things so drastically different in 2007 vs. 2005 to cause a 27-win swing with arguably a more talented (albeit older) roster.

    I will admit that some managers, namely Dusty Baker, are exceptionally bad at some of these things. Having Adam Dunn sac bunt, for example, is generally not a good idea. But I don’t think Leyland is in this class.

    Frankly, it’s probably best to stick with the devil we know versus the devil we don’t. Leyland has shortcomings running a bullpen and his lineup construction (particularly putting Pudge at leadoff) leaves much to be desired. And these things will cost us wins over the course of a season. However, given that Leyland is not substantially worse than the majority of managers, we will win our fair share of games based on mismanagement by opposing managers. As such, it’s probably close to a wash over the course of a season.

  10. Chris in Dallas

    May 29, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Mark: I think Ozzie used more profanity in 2007 vs. 2005. So there’s that. Seriously, though, remember what a genius Leyland was when he started Alexis Gomez in the ALCS? Obviously that was just luck, but the Poz article I linked to pretty much hammers that point home – most moves made by managers fail, but second guessing is always 100% accurate. I think the fact that there hasn’t been a knife fight in the clubhouse yet shows that Leyland does a good job of keeping the players on an even keel which is at least as important as in-game tactics. You also haven’t really seen anyone not named Jason Grilli throwing anyone under the bus publicly like you have with the Mets or even KC (witness Jose Guillen’s eruption last night). Given the crapfest that this season has been so far, I’d say that’s impressive.

  11. Mark in Chicago

    May 29, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Yeah, you’re right on, Chris. I could almost hear A’s fans saying, “are you kidding me? Alexis @&%^#$-ing Gomez?”. And they were right to do it, I’m sure I would have. Just the same way we got shut down by Cardinal pitching in the World Series.

    Anyway, I was pretty much just rehashing the Poz article into my own words, and you make a good point about the lack of knife fights and public blame-game that so often occurs on a losing team. That is pretty remarkable, and for that I think Leyland deserves some credit.

    Also, Ozzie using more profanity this year vs. ’05 is probably true and definitely more entertaining.

  12. Vince in MN

    May 29, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Mark:

    In chess there is a saying: “The mistakes are there waiting to be made.”

    Unfortunately, I guess it’s the same in baseball as far as managerial decisions go.

  13. Mark in Chicago

    May 29, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Good analogy, Vince. I am not much of a chess player (though I know how to play), but I think that fits perfectly. As Poz points out, maybe the best managers really are the ones who simplify the game, don’t overmanage, and put their players in the best position to succeed.

    I would argue a better analogy for Dusty Baker would be: “where is the next possible mistake and how many can I make in one game?”. How that guy still gets work is beyond me. Watching him butcher the Cubs up close in 2003 was like watching Beethoven compose a Sonata. Pure artistry, the man has a real knack for it.

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