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April 7, 2014

Baseball Therapy

Beware of the Intentional Walk?

by Russell A. Carleton


I missed baseball. It’s like being in a relationship with someone and then having to spend an extended period of time apart from them. Oh sure, you call and Skype and send each other e-mails, but when you are finally back in the same room, you get the joy of re-discovering each other. (And yeah, that’s a Journey reference.) Then there’s the next day after you’ve… ahem… gotten re-acquainted, when you realize that in addition to all of the wonderful things you missed about each other, all of the things that drive you crazy are still, there too.

In the off-season, with no games to be played, there are no announcers filling the air with amusing anecdotes and half-baked theories about the game. Which means that Ben Lindbergh doesn’t send me e-mails saying, “I just heard an announcer say that [insert assertion about baseball with no evidence given]. Is that true? Can you do #GoryMath on that? Pretty please with rainbow sprinkles?” Ben knows I’m a sucker for rainbow sprinkles.

Ben’s latest rainbow sprinkle comes to us via the New York Yankees broadcast team of Michael Kay and Ken Singleton. In the eighth inning of Saturday’s Yankees-Blue Jays game, Brett Cecil was in a tough spot. With two outs and a 1-0 Jays lead, the Yankees had Jacoby Ellsbury on third and Derek Jeter (did you know he’s retiring at the end of the year?) on second. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons chose to walk out to the mound and call for Sergio Santos to face on-deck hitter Alfonso Soriano. Kay suggested to Singleton that perhaps Gibbons could have instead ordered the left-armed throwing Cecil to intentionally walk the right-handed hitting Soriano and stay in to face the left-handed hitting Kelly Johnson. Singleton replied that that wouldn’t have been a good idea, because issuing an intentional walk and then trying to pitch normally again is hard for pitchers to do. Throwing four half-hearted balls a foot and a half off the plate gets them out of their rhythm.

Really?

Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!
I found all situations from 2009–13 where a reliever was pitching, and where he had been the pitcher for the previous batter. Using the log-odds method, I calculated the expected rates of the usual outcomes (strikeout, walk, HBP, single, 2B/3B, homerun, or out in play) for the given plate appearance, based on the seasonal stats of the pitcher and the batter (min. 250 BF or PA for each).

For all plate appearances in the data set, I coded for whether the PA immediately prior was an intentional walk. In addition, I also controlled for whether the batter and pitcher were of the same or opposite handedness (teams often use the IBB to gain a platoon advantage, as Kay was suggesting that they do by having Cecil walk Soriano to force a lefty-lefty matchup). Also, an intentional pass is commonly given to try to set up a double play when there are other runners on. The fact that those runners are out there suggests that we may be dealing with a pitcher who has thrown a lot of pitches. So, we’ll control for his pitch count as well.

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Related Content:  Pitching,  Intentional Walk

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