September 23, 2012
How Unusual Was Bobby Valentine's Decision to Pinch-Hit for Jose Iglesias?
Last Sunday, Bobby Valentine pinch-hit for Jose Iglesias with two outs and a 2-2 count in the seventh inning of a scoreless game against the Blue Jays. Iglesias wasn’t hurt. Toronto hadn’t changed pitchers. However, the situation had changed slightly: on the last pitch Iglesias saw, Pedro Ciriaco stole second. Iglesias is a weak hitter (at that point, he was 2-for-28 on the season), so with a runner in scoring position, Valentine called for Daniel Nava to drive him in. Had Ciriaco not stolen second, Valentine would have left Iglesias in to play defense. Maybe he wished he had after Nava grounded out on the next pitch.
Much was written about the effect the move might have on Iglesias’ psyche, and many a columnist questioned why Valentine would jeopardize a young player’s development in a game that didn’t mean much to either team. Valentine justified the decision as an attempt to get starter Jon Lester a lead. Conspicuously absent from all the accounts I saw, though, was any mention of the one thing I really wanted to know: how long it had been since a manager made a similar move. Iglesias called it “pretty unusual,” but how unusual was it?
Well, I know now why no one included that information: it’s really hard to find. We know when players were pinch-hit for in the middle of at-bats, but we don’t necessarily know why. The further back you go, the more research is required. Play-by-play logs from the last few years tend to note why these moves were made—in almost all cases, because a player was injured or ejected—but beyond that, we’re left to guess or Google.
Not counting the Iglesias incident, there have been 28 regular-season instances of a player pinch-hitting in the middle of an at-bat since the start of the 2005 season. I confirmed that 25 were due to an injury or an ejection. That left these three:
So it’s been over six seasons since a position player last suffered the same fate as Iglesias, and at least eight since one was lifted in the middle of an at-bat without the move being prompted by a pitching change. Valentine’s move may have been even more unorthodox than most Boston fans believed.
One more item of interest: after the game, Valentine claimed, “I was pinch-hit for with the bases loaded, 3-2 count, and it didn’t ruin my confidence.” In a radio interview a few days later, Valentine repeated that “he was once pinch-hit for in the middle of an at-bat with the bases loaded and a full count,” and added, “It made me more determined the next time I went up to prove to him that I was good enough not to get pinch-hit for.” One problem: evidently, this didn’t happen, at least in the major leagues. Valentine made plate appearances in every season from 1971 to 1979, but if our Retrosheet query is right, he wasn’t pinch-hit for in the middle of any of them. Of course, Valentine didn’t specify that the incident took place in the majors, but the story might mean a little less if it happened in Little League.