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October 3, 2002

Prospectus Roundtable

Scioscia, Rueter, and More Playoff Fun

by Baseball Prospectus

[Watching the playoffs the last two nights, the Prospectus staff sounds off. We pick it up at the end of Angels-Yankees, Game 1.]

Jeff Bower: Great game. The whole inning should have never gotten started, with two out and Weber with Soriano in an 0-2 hole. Even he can lay off pitches 15" off the plate.

Scioscia should have brought Percival in to face Jeter. Once Jeter got aboard, I can't quibble with having Schoeneweis go against Giambi. Hell, Spiezio should have made the play.

Rany Jazayerli: When Chris writes his landmark History of Baseball opus--the longest single volume in publishing history, incidentally--he will make the point that the #1 reason for the postseason success of Joe Torre and the Yankees is this:

He's the only manager of the modern era willing to take off the tactical straitjacket that is the one-inning closer.

Not having Percival out there in the eighth was inexcusable. If Soriano walking isn't a red flag that Ben Weber needs to come out, I don't know what is. He should have been in there to face Jeter, and Tim McCarver, for all the flak he deservedly gets from us, once again pointed this out on the spot.

When Weber walked Jeter, Scioscia went to Schoeneweis, on the thinking that Schoeneweis is as likely to retire Giambi as Percival, and you save Percival for the ninth.

It's a defensible decision, because Giambi had an OPS 148 points lower vs. LHP this year, and Percival had a ridiculous split (807/364), while Schoeneweis was effective against lefties (609/834). Percival hasn't always had problems against LHP, but Schoeneweis has always been tough on them.

The blunder is that Scioscia never bothered to consider what to do if Schoeneweis didn't retire Giambi. The Book says you can't bring in Percival in a tie game, but if Scioscia had given the situation any thought he would have told The Book to go to hell. Unfortunately, as Scioscia stated in the post-game conference, The Book must be right, because he didn't want to stretch out Percival in a tie game, when that might impact his availability later in the series.

So instead, he had Percival warm up quickly, then watch as two lesser relievers came into the game and made his warming up irrelevant.

Scioscia has had one of the best managerial seasons in recent memory--probably since Lasorda in 1988--but he was positively Brenlyesque today. He refused to let his closer get even four outs, and then he refused to use him at all to save him for a situation which might never arise.

Is Joe Torre the only manager in baseball who understands that you have to win today before you worry about winning tomorrow?

Scioscia doesn't have Johnson or Schilling to bail him out. He does, however, have Kevin Appier. And I, for one, am rooting for Appier to take a trip through the Juvenation Machine tomorrow evening.

Joe Sheehan: What I'm struck by is the similarity in how the two AL teams lost their first games, harmed by managerial decisions that have been proven to be the wrong way to run a post-season series.

Art Howe, seemingly in part due to his desire to bring back Tim Hudson on Saturday in Game 4, removed his second-best pitcher and replaced him with his ninth- or tenth-best pitcher. Said pitcher lost the game, in part because he couldn't retire the batters he was brought in to get platoon advantages over.

Howe was thinking about how to win Game 4, rather than how to AVOID Game 4.

Tonight, Mike Scioscia hewed to the maxim of keeping his closer--probably his best pitcher--in a ninth-inning role, and used his...what, sixth-, eighth- and ninth-best pitchers?...to try and protect a one-run lead, then a tie game. The Angels lost because an end-roster pitcher couldn't get out the guy he was brought in to face to get the platoon advantage.

(Admittedly, in both cases, defense played a part. Justice and Spiezio didn't help matters.)

Joe Torre may not be a genius, but better than anyone I've ever seen, Torre has won the game he's playing, worrying about tomorrow's game tomorrow. Howe didn't do that; Scioscia didn't do that.

Last November 1, Bob Brenly lost Game 4 in an effort to win Game 7. Apparently, neither Howe nor Scioscia learned from his mistakes.

JB: IIRC, McCarver didn't say anything about bringing Percival in to face Jeter. He did say that Percy should have faced Giambi. I think using Schoeneweis in that spot was defensible. That's the only reason Schoeneweis is even on the roster.

I wouldn't worry about Percival's availability later in the series, but I can understand bringing in Donnelly since the game was tied and could have gone into extra innings.

You're right, though; Scioscia didn't plan on Schoeneweis not retiring Giambi. Donnelly had very few warm-up pitches in the bullpen, as he didn't start throwing until Giambi was hitting.

I thought Percival was throwing with Schoeneweis in the bullpen. Tough to tell, though, as Fox spends 70% of the contest showing close-ups of players' faces.

Jeff Hildebrand: While agreeing with the general comments about Schoeneweis and Percival (using the first was defensible, not using the second not) I'm wondering why they went to the bullpen at all at the start of the inning. Washburn hadn't run up a huge pitch count (he was at 81 pitches) and aside from the two homers, which is admittedly a big concern, he had been extremely solid for several innings. He certainly didn't look like he was running out of gas to me.

[Conversation switches to Cards-Diamondbacks, Game 1]

RJ: The Cardinals have already scored 5 runs off RJ in five innings, and he's only got 3 Ks. With Schilling looking mortal in September, the Cardinals are in great position to win this series.

I thought, going into this series, that Rolen and Pujols were the key to the series for St. Louis, because they had to win one game against the Unit, and those two are the main right-handed threats in the lineup. Rolen has hit a two-run homer, but what's amazing is that Edmonds is 3-for-3 with an opening two-run salvo of his own.

Over the last 10 years, the only situation in baseball comparable to the National League's refusal to pitch to Barry Bonds in any kind of meaningful situation is the way teams will do everything in their power to bench left-handed hitters against Johnson. But this year he's been particularly unimpressive against them. LHB have hit .221/.310/.400 against him, compared to .206/.265/.337 by RHB.

Those numbers are skewed, obviously, because only the best LHB in the game start against him, but still...is it possible that Johnson has lost that mystique against left-handed batters?

Chris Kahrl: There are a ton of reasons to say 'no,' but the most important pair to my mind are sample size and causation (who's to say Edmonds hasn't worked on his hitting against lefties, as long as we're throwing up wild-ass guesses?). They present major stumbling blocks against leaping to any neat conclusions on this front, beyond the general faith that I really doubt that anybody would race to get Keith Lockhart in the lineup against Big Unit.

JB: Did I hear "wild ass guesses"? Well, count me in. I believe that Edmonds has historically had pretty good success against Johnson (given the onslaught of stats thrown out by ESPN, they probably showed the match-up history). In the '97 division clinching game for the Mariners, Edmonds took Johnson deep his first two times up.

Jonah Keri: I picked the Cards before the season started to go to the WS and face the Yankees, so I'm not stopping now. While reading Gary's Playoff Prospectus, I was struck by how lop-sided the comparison between the teams seemed. Cards are a much better defensive team. Cards are a much, much better offensive team. Snakes have Unit and Schilling. Snakes in three.

I mean, I understand the train of thought, but I was still thinking, huh?

Finley and Woody merely have to be decent for this team to have a shot. Where all-around position player talent is concerned, it's them and the Yanks.

[We pick up the conversation midway through last night's Angels-Yankees Game 2]

Derek Zumsteg (after listening to Tim McCarver rhapsodize over Shawn Wooten's Clemente-like baserunning): Wooten gets thrown out, we get 10 minutes of what a poor baserunner he is and what a boneheaded decision that was.

RJ: Enos Slaughter didn't actually score from first on a single (it was a double), but Nick Johnson - NICK JOHNSON - can? Damn Yankees...

JS: If this series doesn't bury, once and forever, the idea that Derek Jeter is a good shortstop, nothing ever will.

He's killing us. Just killing us. Both rallies last night were his fault, and the Wooten "single" had a decent chance of being grabbed by a kneecapped Huckabay.

JK: Uh yeah. And he's like 6 for 8 too. He's always been a really good hitter and a really bad fielder. He's just more of both this series.

RJ: One of these days, we're going to learn that Joe Torre is a Jedi, or a Vulcan, or some other being capable of mind control. How else to explain why, series after series, year after year, his opposing managers treat the late innings of a playoff game with all the urgency of a Devil Rays-Tigers tilt?

JH: Donnelly instead of Percival. Does anyone think this is going to be good for the Angels?

JS: Percival was not asked to get more than four outs all season long. His last outing of more than four outs was in May of 2001. He didn't have a five-out save in either of the last two seasons. He threw more than 24 pitches just three times all year. He came into eighth-inning save situations just four times all year (that last number is an estimate from game logs). Just fodder for the inevitable second-guessing.

P.S. "Brendan Donnelly" translates to "Byung-Hyun Kim" in Korean...

RJ: Well, it worked, but I still don't get it. You bring in Donnelly to face one batter?

Scioscia is, in effect, telling Percival that he trusts him to get four outs, but not five? Does this make any sense at all? The only possible rationale is that he wanted to wipe away Donnelly's bad performance in Game 1--which was the same rationale Brenly used with Kim last year.

[Previewing today's Giants-Cards game]

RJ: One thing I want to get off my chest, something I've been thinking about for some time, and with him taking the mound (today) this is as good a time as any:

Kirk Rueter is the new Tommy John.

We all know that K rate is the single most important prognostic indicator for pitchers, and that it's virtually impossible to have a long, successful career without an above-average K rate. But it is possible.

The reason why strikeouts are so important is that, courtesy of the McCracken Breakthrough, we know that a pitcher's strikeout rate is the primary way a pitcher keeps his (non-homer) hit totals down.

But if a pitcher doesn't give up many homers, and doesn't give up many walks, and gets a lot of double plays, and controls the running game well...he can give up a fair amount of hits and still survive.

Rueter struck out just 76 batters in 203.2 IP this year. That's not an abnormal rate for him; he struck out 83 men in 195.1 IP last year, 71 in 184 innings in 2000. A strikeout rate that low is a guarantee you're going to give up a lot of hits, and Rueter has; he's given up more hits than innings every season since 1996.

The classic profile of Tommy John pitchers is this:

  1. They're left-handed. Rueter is.
  2. They control the running game. Baserunners were 2-for-7 against Rueter this year, and they're 30-for-87 (!) in their career. Rueter might hold runners better than any active pitcher other than Terry Mulholland.
  3. They get double plays. Rueter had 26 DPs turned behind him this year, 28 in 2001, 22 in 2000.
  4. They get better in their early 30s. Rueter, 31 this year, had his lowest ERA (3.23) since he became a full-time starter.

Rueter does fail one test, which is that he gives up a fair amount of homers (22 this year, 173 in 1474 lifetime innings), and despite the GIDPs he's not really a groundball pitcher. His G/F ratio was 1.31 this year, and that's higher than usual for him.

But no two pitchers are exactly comparable. Chad Bradford isn't exactly Dan Quisenberry, but he's the next best thing. And Rueter is the closest pitcher to Tommy John since TJ retired.

CK: It's an interesting balance. In the context of today's game, with higher run, homerun and strikeout rates across the boards (ratcheting all of these figures up for Rueter), I'd argue that Rueter is on some level even more remarkable than John. But John pitched at a time when in-play outcomes were far more likely, which makes Rueter even that much more of a freak.

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