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Stodgy strategy … and Sunday sundries

Posted by John Autin on July 17, 2011

[All factoids grown organically and prepared without Elias additives.]

Explain this strategy to me:

-- In Atlanta Sunday, the Nationals trailed the Braves by a run in the top of the 6th. With 1 out and the bases empty, relief pitcher Sean Burnett was due up. Manager Davey Johnson did not make a move. This seems odd, since:

  1. In 28 career ABs, Burnett had just 1 hit, a double. In his minor-league career, he was 11 for 57 (.193); he had 1 HR, seven years ago.
  2. Burnett, a LHP who averages about 3.4 batters faced per game, had already faced 5 batters, with awful results: he gave up a tying 3-run HR to Brian McCann, the guy he was summoned to retire, then walked LHB Freddie Freeman, who came around to score the go-ahead run.
  3. Johnson had not yet used any hitters off the bench.

Perhaps Johnson wanted to milk another inning from Burnett because starter Tom Gorzelanny had left after 2 IP with an ankle injury. But this was only the Nats' 3rd game since their 4-day All-Star break, and their bullpen wasn't heavily taxed in the first 2. And what's the point of saving arms if you're not going to try to get a lead? And if you're going to get a lead on Atlanta, best not to wait too long, with Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel lurking.

Maybe Johnson just didn't have a quality RH bat on the bench to send up against George Sherrill, with Jerry Hairston and Ivan Rodriguez on the DL. 1st-string catcher Wilson Ramos was probably the best RH hitter available, but many skippers won't use their last catcher until the later innings. But if lefty/righty was an issue, why send up the lefty-swinging Burnett? Livan Hernandez is a competent righty hitter.

Anyway, how did it all play out? Naturally, Burnett singled to RF (his first hit since 2008 and first ever against a southpaw), and after a forceout, Danny Espinosa hit his 17th HR to put the Nats back on top; and then Burnett set down Atlanta 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 6th.

  • The Braves had the last laugh, walking off in the 9th and dropping the Nats back into the red. But a key moment came in the 8th, when Nate McLouth homered with 2 out off Tyler Clippard to level the score. McLouth was the 5th batter Clippard faced in his 2 innings, and he connected on Clippard's 27th pitch of the game, after an 8-pitch strikeout of Alex Gonzalez.
  • The gopher ball is the lone chink in Clippard's armor. He has allowed 8 HRs in 54 IP this year, and 25 in 206 IP over the past 3 seasons, a rate of 1.1 HR/9.

Moving on to other games....

-- In his 27th save opportunity this year, Pittsburgh's Joel Hanrahan finally blew one. He came on with 2 down in the 8th and a man on 1st, and surrendered a tying double to Chris Johnson. Hanrahan began the day with the highest cumulative WPA (Win Probability Added) of any closer this year, 2.971; only the supreme set-up men Jonny Venters and Tyler Clippard (3.491) were above him. The Bucs won in extra innings and slid past the Cards into 2nd place, a half game behind Milwaukee.

  • Pirates rookie LF Alex Presley picked up the slack for a hitless Andrew McCutchen, driving in the tying and go-ahead runs with 2-out hits in the 4th and 6th inning, and plating an insurance run in the 11th with his 3rd hit. Presley is batting .343 (23 for 67) and slugging .522.
  • If a game goes long enough, a bad team will usually beat themselves. The Astros imploded in the 11th with fielding errors by 2 different pitchers and a passed ball that let in the first of 3 runs in the inning.
  • Houston fell to 31-64, putting them on pace for 109 losses. They've never lost more than 97 games in a season, and haven't lost more than 90 in 20 years. They are 15-35 at home; every other team has at least 20 home wins.

-- Baltimore scored twice off Cleveland reliever Joe Smith in the 7th and went on to their 2nd straight win. Smith had not allowed a run in his last 19 IP and began the day with an 0.80 ERA (3 ER in 33.2 IP).

  • The O's won consecutive games for the first time since June 19-20.
  • In their last 30 games, Baltimore has received just 5 quality starts, from 5 different pitchers.
  • O's 2B Robert Andino hit a go-ahead 3-run HR in the 5th, his 2nd HR of the year. Andino hit exactly 2 HRs in 2010, 2009 and 2008. He now has 9 RBI this year in 72 games and 245 PAs.
  • Grady Sizemore left after injuring himself on a 1st-inning double, his 21st of the year. He has 23 singles

-- The A's, who hadn't scored 8+ runs in a game since June 16, scored 8 runs in the 1st inning against Angels starter Joel Pineiro, added a 9th run in the 3rd, and cruised behind 7 scoreless IP from Gio Gonzalez.

  • It was the 2nd straight time that Gonzalez blanked the Angels over 7 IP. He's 5-2 in 8 career starts vs. the Halos with 53 Ks in 46 IP. He trimmed his ERA to 2.30.
  • Pineiro matched Madison Bumgarner for the most runs allowed this year while getting 1 out or less. Pineiro led the NL with 1.1 BB/9 two years ago and has averaged 1.8 BB/9 since 2008, but he walked the first 3 batters and 4 in the inning.
  • Conor Jackson's grand slam was Oakland's first of the year.
  • Oakland had scored more than 8 runs just twice this season, the last time on May 17.

-- Reds rookie SS Zack Cozart scored the tying run and added his first career HR, while Homer Bailey shut down the Cardinals for his first win since May 16. Cozart is hitting .400 (10 for 25); his first 9 hits were singles.

-- Who crafted the Rangers' victoire ecrasante du jour in Seattle? It was Matt Harrison, who blanked the M's on 3 hits and a walk through 7 innings (giving him 16 straight scoreless frames) before yielding a run in the 8th. Neftali Feliz threw a spotless 9th to secure the 11th straight win for Texas, the 2nd-best streak in franchise history. They won 14 straight in 1991.

  • The Rangers have allowed 1 run or less in 5 straight games, a new record for the Texas edition of the franchise; the Senators had a 6-game streak in 1967.
  • Seattle began the day with a team batting average of .222, which fell to .221 with a 6-for-31 effort. For comparison, the lowest team BA in 1968 ("the Year of the Pitcher") was .214 by the Yankees, the only team to hit below .224 that year. But that was with pitchers batting in every game. If you take the pitchers (.092 BA) out of the equation, the '68 Yankees' team BA rises to .224; whereas, if you take the Seattle pitchers (5 for 25) out of the equation, their team BA is still .221. I think that just about says it all.
  • On a bright note for the Mariners, rookie SP Blake Beavan had his 3rd quality start in as many outings; his one big mistake was a pitch that Mitch Moreland hit for a 3-run HR, the only runs off Beavan in his 6.2 IP. He has allowed 6 runs in 20 IP (2.70). The franchise record for quality starts to begin a career is 5, by 2011 sensation Michael Pineda; the only other Mariner with more than 3 was Sterling Hitchcock in '96.

-- The Brewers and their New World Order took an early lead in Colorado, then hung on by the skin of their teeth to reclaim 1st place in the NL Central. Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart, in their new roles as #5 and leadoff hitter, were central to Milwaukee's attack; K-Rod earned a hold by jitterbugging around a leadoff double in the 8th; and John Axford survived a rough start to the 9th, when an error and a double put the tying run on 2nd with no out, by retiring CarGo, Mark Ellis and Troy Tulowitzki to preserve the 4-3 win.

  • Jason Giambi was 2 for 3 with his 10th HR, a double and 2 walks, pushing his OPS to 1.044 in 106 PAs. Contrary to expectation, 7 of his 10 HRs have come on the road, and his current HR rate (9.4% of PAs) would be the highest season rate of any player in the past 3 years with more than 5 HRs.

-- Welcome back, Carlos Guillen! The oft-injured former star, playing his 2nd game of the season after an 11-month absence, singled home Victor Martinez to complete Detroit's comeback win against Philip Humber and avoid a home sweep at the hands of the hated White Sox. The win puts the Tigers back into a virtual tie with Cleveland atop the "who wants it?" AL Central.

-- Daniel Murphy's double snapped Antonio Bastardo's streak of 12 hitless innings, and Lucas Duda's triple ended the wicked lefty's 16-IP shutout string. But Bastardo got the biggest out of the game when he fanned Justin Turner as the tying run in the 8th, and the Phils captured the series on the strength of a 3-run HR by Michael Martinez, the first HR of his career.

  • Among Mike Pelfrey's many problems this year: (a) Opposing pitchers are now 8 for 30 against him (.267), after Kyle Kendrick's 2-hit day; and (b) he has now allowed 16 HRs in 118 IP. The Mets have lost all 4 of Pelf's starts against Philly this season.
  • Completely idle trade speculation: Could a trade of Adam Dunn for Jason Bay work out? Bay, who is again being booed at home (and his performance deserves it even if his effort doesn't), desperately needs a fresh start somewhere. Dunn would get back to his native league and the comfort of having a defensive role, and would give the Mets someone at least theoretically capable of hitting a few HRs. Dunn's contract has 3 more years and $44 million guaranteed, while Bay has 2 years and $35mm guaranteed (counting a $3mm buyout of a $17mm option that vests based on PAs in the last 2 years). OK, so the White Sox signed Dunn because they wanted a lefty to help balance the rightward tilt of their lineup; but they're actually hitting better against RHPs this year -- and besides, can they afford such subtle concerns at this point? Similarly, the Mets might not want to take on the extra $9mm that's guaranteed to Dunn, plus he would pose a defensive dilemma since his outfield play is so poor and they already have a capable 1B in Murphy, who has shown that he can't play the OF either. But these are nuances that shouldn't stand in the way of such creative GMs as Sandy Alderson and Kenny Williams.

34 Responses to “Stodgy strategy … and Sunday sundries”

  1. Neil L. Says:

    "Explain this strategy to me:"
    JA, as a very wise person said in a comment on another blog, "You can't predict baseball."

    You've done a nice job in analyzing all of Davey Johnson's options in the situation. It certainly was an "anti-book" move to leave Sean Burnett in to bat. And it worked out.

    However, the sabermetric gods smote Davey Johnson later for his unothodox move. 🙂

    There is no rational explanation for Johnson's decision

  2. Neil L. Says:

    "Could a trade of Adam Dunn for Jason Bay work out?"
    JA, looking in more detail at their career stats that is an intriguing, difficult question to answer, far more difficult that I anticipated.

    My quick and lazy answer would have been that Jason Bay is more valuable than Adam Dunne and that the Mets should hang on to Bay. But Dunn is a year younger, has a career OPS 0.018 points higher than Bay and has shown a lot more power. However, Dunn has struck out over 700 times more than Bay.

    And there is the whole beneficial "change of sceneay" theory to boost the performance of both players.

  3. Neil L. Says:

    Darn, scenery........

  4. John Autin Says:

    Meanwhile ... I just checked in on the Rays-Red Sox game, scoreless in the bottom of the 9th. Josh Beckett allowed 1 baserunner through 8, an infield hit -- but was replaced after 106 pitches by Daniel Bard.

    Rational brain says, good move -- Bard has been untouchable since late May, with 21 straight scoreless innings, allowing 7 hits, and has a 0.79 WHIP this year.

    My old-fan heart says, come on -- you pull your ace with a brilliant shutout going, not a high pitch count, and now he can't get a win?

    I know Francona did the right thing, but somehow I can't celebrate the decision.

  5. Doug Says:

    Re: Johnson's managing strategy.

    One thing I remember a manager saying (it might have been Dick Williams) when his in-game strategy was questioned was something to the effect of "Managers manage people, not situations. You always need to be thinking about how to get the most out of each player on your roster.", etc.

    Perhaps, then, Johnson was thinking along those lines. Johnson may have sensed that Burnett was angry at himself for letting the team down and was itching for an opportunity to redeem himself. Maybe Johnson sensed Burnett was feeling down and Johnson wanted to show that he was still confident in Burnett by bringing him back for another inning.

    Just saying there's more than cold calculation of odds that go into in-game decisions. Besides, it wasn't like Johnson sent his pitcher up there to hit in a high-leverage situation. With the leadoff hitter retired, the Nats chances of scoring that inning were already reduced by half. So, Johnson wasn't necessarily risking a lot by doing this, and he may have gained much more in how his pitcher ended up feeling about himself.

  6. John Autin Says:

    @5, Doug -- That's very well stated, and a welcome reminder. Sometimes I get a little lost in the data and lose touch with the flesh.

  7. James S Says:

    I was at the Mariners-Rangers game today. When the M's scored a run in the 8th, they practically got a standing ovation. Runs are as scarce as sunshine in the northwest these days.

  8. John Autin Says:

    James S. -- If you're a Mariners fan, would you welcome any kind of ballpark promotion that had a little fun with the team's offensive struggles? Like, if the M's hit 2 HRs, everyone in the park gets 2 free tickets?

  9. James S Says:

    @8 That would be hilarious. I can't imagine the suits upstairs would see the humor.

  10. James S Says:

    I would think the players would not be amused... maybe the pitchers.

  11. John Autin Says:

    Maybe it would p*** them off enough to hit a ball or two over a fence!

  12. John Autin Says:

    Another idea: A Mariner hits a grand slam, everyone wins a salami sandwich! Or maybe a whole salami; that would make a hell of a picture!

    (Holy crap, I figured the M's didn't have a grand slam this year -- but I never dreamed that they don't even have an extra-base hit with the bases loaded.)

    If those hitters don't have a sense of humor about what's going on, they'd better beg, borrow or steal one -- 'cause the mockery has just begun.

  13. Spartan Bill Says:

    Can someone clarify the play in the 3rd inning during the NYY @ TOR game when Yunel Escobar hit a grounder that Cano had to hurry a throw to to 1st. Posada playing 1B missed the bad, but so did Escobar who overran the base.

    Ump Angel Hernandez made no call and Posada (who seemed to be aware of what was happening) went to tag first again. At this point Escobar, thinking he was safe, has turned right and is in foul territory about 10-15 feet beyond the bag.

    Posada goes and carefully steps on 1st, That doesn't end the play though, he has to go tag Escobar to get the put call.

    My question is, why wasn't the force in order at this point? Had escobar touched the bag he would have been safe, but since he failed to, shouldn't he have been forced?

  14. John Autin Says:

    @13, Spartan Bill -- All I know of the play is what you just wrote.

    A quick perusal of the MLB rules...
    Rule 6.05. A batter is out when--
    ... (j) After a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base;

    That's all -- there's no comment or interpretation regarding that particular rule. So I'm stumped.

  15. Travis Says:

    In the stodgy strategy vein, twice this year Cliff Lee pinch hit in the third inning(when presumably the entire bench is available). 5/19 bottom of the third, down 5-0, man on first nobody out. 6/23, top of the third, down 4-0, leading off the inning. He struck out both times. Does that make any sense at all or am I missing something?

  16. kds Says:

    "and after a forceout". Bernadina blooped a soft fly to shallow left, SS out and LF in, neither could get it and the ball dropped for a single. Except that Burnett got lost between 1st and 2nd, going back towards 1st after the ball had dropped and was out at 2nd 7-4. I guess he had been on the bases so rarely that he didn't know enough to judge whether the ball would be, (and was), caught. Should an expected baserunning deficit be included in rating the offense of relief pitchers? I think the Nats had a similar forceout a few weeks ago.

  17. Dave Says:

    What about the Pirates game?
    The winning pitcher got his 1st career win and the save went to a guy who got his 1st career save.
    a 1st ever win and a 1st ever save in the same game. Does that happen often?

  18. Tim L Says:

    Adam Dunn is batting .159. I don't see anyone trading to acquire him unless its part of a larger trade.

    You can often rationalize the acquisition of a poor-performing player by pointing to his past results. But sometimes the current situation is just too terrible to ignore.

  19. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    John Autin or anyone else who might be able to help,

    Jim Thome hit a ball measured at 490 ft yesterday, and I was just wondering if anyone knew if their was an official MLB way of measuring homers? Is it where the ball lands, or do they estimate the balls trajectory based on angle of descent, as if there were no fence or stands there.

    I remember reading, and I don't know if this true, but a prisoner serving out a long sentence, and to help the time pass he built replicas of all stadiums, down to the finest detail, in perfect scale. If I remember correctly , MLB used the models to estimate a homer's actual distance - if not for the stands.

    Also, is there an official distance or an estimate of the longest ball ever hit? I heard Mantle put one out of the old tiger stadium.

  20. Kevin Says:

    I think Mantle still holds the record for longest. Frank Robinson hit one completely out of Memorial Stadium which was a big park, but I think it came up short of Mantle.

    Bravo to the Pirates! Hopefully they can hold it together and post a winner on the books at the end of the season, if not the playoffs. The question becomes who then would replace them at the top (bottom?) of the futility list of most years without a winning team? My guess is it has to be the Orioles, if it isn't the Royals, but I seem to remember the Royals eeked out a winning record in '03 to break a streak since '94 or '95.

  21. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    Who crafted the Rangers' victoire ecrasante du jour in Seattle?

    Fortunately, John, my French is good enough to handle that phrase. Where the Mariners are concerned, though, I think you should avoid any references to un pinceau au calcimine — too dated.

  22. John Autin Says:

    @19, Duke -- Home run measurements aren't really my thing, but this site might be of some help to you:

  23. John Autin Says:

    @21, Kahuna -- Confession: As you might have suspected, I googled a translation for "shutout"; my half-Cajun French was not good enough to come up with that independently.

    I didn't mean to be obscure, but I figured at least "victoire" would be self-evident.

  24. John Autin Says:

    @17, Dave -- Wow, I never would have guessed that it was Resop's first career save! In his 6th season, 129th relief game and 39th game finished. I can't help wondering if any active reliever has more games or GF without a save.

  25. John Autin Says:

    ... and the answer is: (to my question @24)

    19 pitchers in modern MLB history had at least 40 games finished and no saves.
    -- Carlos Almanzar (1997-2005) is tops with 63.
    -- Jesse Chavez ("who?") leads the active players with 57.
    -- Joe Smith (mentioned in my post) has the most save-free relief appearances of all time, 263.

  26. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    I didn't mean to be obscure

    But . . . wait a minute. Isn't that your job here? (-;þ I think everyone knows enough about the Mariners' recent offensive struggles to get the gist of your phrase. If not . . . faut pas t'en faire.

  27. John Autin Says:

    Obtuse, abstruse, obsessive, occasionally obscene ... but never obscure!

  28. stan cook Says:

    Speaking of Washington strategic decisions; I noticed that their closer, Storen, was not used in that game. Was he unavailable? Or can he just not be used in a non ninth inning, non save situation.?

  29. topper009 Says:


    7.10 Any runner shall be called out, on appeal, when—

    (b) With the ball in play, while advancing or returning to a base, he fails to touch each base in order before he, or a missed base, is tagged.

  30. John Autin Says:

    @29, Topper009 -- I must be missing something. I don't see how that clears up the mystery, i.e., why did the first baseman (apparently) need to tag the runner, and not just the base?

    The rule you quoted says that the runner or the missed base may be tagged.

    What am I missing?

  31. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    I didn't mean to be obscure • But . . . wait a minute. Isn't that your job here?

    Obtuse, abstruse, obsessive, occasionally obscene ... but never obscure!

    Sorry, John! In your #27 you must have thought I was accusing you of being vague (definition #6 below). I meant "obscure" in the sense of definition #4, as in "obscure things that we wouldn't know without the help of the Play Index."

    1. Deficient in light; dark.
    a. So faintly perceptible as to lack clear delineation; indistinct. Synonym: dark.
    b. Indistinctly heard; faint.
    c. Linguistics Having the reduced, neutral sound represented by schwa (ə).
    a. Far from centers of human population: an obscure village.
    b. Out of sight; hidden: an obscure retreat.
    a. Not readily noticed or seen; inconspicuous: an obscure flaw.
    b. Something obscure or unknown.
    5. Of undistinguished or humble station or reputation: an obscure poet; an obscure family.
    6. Not clearly understood or expressed; ambiguous or vague: "an impulse to go off and fight certain obscure battles of his own spirit" (Anatole Broyard). Synonym: ambiguous.

  32. Charles Says:

    First Career Win and First Career Save

    It has happened before, at least 4 times in 1969, but with San Diego, Montreal and Kansas City - all expansion teams. On Sept. 15 Mike Corkins had his only win of the year and Dave Roberts had his only save.

    In 2003, it happened at least twice. On April 11, 2003 John Lackey got his first win and Francisco Rodriguez his first save.
    On Sept. 2, 2003 Brian Schmack got his only career win and Rodney Fernando got the save.

  33. John Autin Says:

    @32, Charles -- Mike Corkins? Brian Schmack?!?

    Are you using some kind of random-name generator?

    But seriously ... Schmack had the bad luck to have his lone year in the majors come with the 2003 Tigers, who lost 119 games. At least he can be proud that they went 4-7 in his appearances, and Schmack himself went 1-0. He and Steve Avery (2-0 in relief) were the only pitchers out of 20 used by the Tigers who had a winning record.

  34. Neil L. Says:

    Spartan Bill, I think what happened on the Escobar play was that Angel Hernandez was screened out on the play and thought that both Posada abd Escobar missed the base with their foot. Replay showed that Toronto got jobbed on the call because Escobar clearly touched the base while Posada felt for the base with his foot but missed it.

    Escobar did a right turn into foul territory, as he should, believing he was safe and not trying to advance to second.

    I realize this explanation does not account for Hernandez calling the out after Posada tagged Escobar, but that was the take of the Blue Jays broadcast crew.

    I don't think the first base coach or manager argued very vehemently which was surprising.