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October 24, 2008

Prospectus Today

Decision-making Mayhem

by Joe Sheehan

The Phillies' utter failure to convert with runners in scoring position is the primary reason they go back to Philadelphia with a split, rather than up 2-0. Their 1-for-17 night Thursday, which included having the leadoff man on in six innings, three times with doubles, was an even more impressive feat than their record-setting 0-for-13 Wednesday night.

However, we learned more than just the importance of timing during the game. One of the key questions before the series was which team had an edge in the dugout. The consensus was that Joe Maddon would out-think Charlie Manuel, although I wasn't convinced that the gap between the two skippers was large, believing that Manuel is a bit underrated and that Maddon might be prone to the big mistake, the inexplicable decision that costs his team a game.

Well, last night, Maddon decisioned circles around Manuel. Manuel stubbornly refused to separate Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the batting order, and in both the seventh and ninth innings, Maddon used a left-handed reliever-the same one, actually-to shut down a threat. Without a right-handed batter between the two to be walked, to be pitched to, or to force a pitching change, Maddon has free rein to use his power lefties in the pen to exploit this weakness, particularly that of Howard, who has looked overmatched against both David Price and J.P. Howell.

It wasn't just that, though. Manuel made a questionable decision as far back as the first, playing his infield back with a runner on third and one man out, with Evan Longoria at the plate. As Joe Maddon explained Wednesday, after he made a similar decision in a slightly different situation, what you do with second and third and no one out is leave the infield back, to lower the chance of giving up multiple runs or even a big inning. Thursday's situation, however, called for the infield to play in: a chance to save a run in exchange for an increased chance of a single. I don't think Longoria's ground ball would have produced an out at the plate-given its location, it likely would have been a single-but the decision to play the infield back eliminated any chance.

In the sixth inning, the Phillies chased James Shields from the game. They were still down 4-0, but had two on and two out as Dan Wheeler entered the game to face Pedro Feliz. With two outs and Wheeler having to face a hitter, it was the right time to us Matt Stairs, because the gap between Feliz and Stairs against a pitcher such as Wheeler, who has a significant platoon split, is large, and Stairs also is a real home-run threat. Asked about it after the game, Manuel said he didn't consider the move. "Feliz has been getting some real big hits for us," he said, "I thought he'd been swinging OK."

Contrast Manuel's passivity and unimaginative approach with Maddon. The Rays' manager called a squeeze in the fifth, switching from a suicide to safety squeeze after a failed attempt, and picking up an insurance run in the process. In the sixth, even though his best pitcher had a shutout and a four-run lead, he hooked him because he had a chance to exploit a matchup. Wheeler, remember, pitched in the ninth inning just 24 hours before; being able to use the right man in the right matchup, regardless of inning, is an enormous advantage for Maddon.

The whole sequence shows the gap in understanding leverage. Maddon understood-and let's all take a second to remember David Ortiz' home run in the ALCS-that you have to be aggressive and exploit matchups when you have the best of it, and that up 4-0, he was better served to keep the game 4-0 than to get cute and possibly let the Phillies back in. Manuel, however, took the worst of a tough matchup rather than make a move that was unlike how he'd managed his team, but which would have increased their chance of winning. Whether a misunderstanding of the true difficulty of the matchup, blind faith in one of his players, or simply thinking it was too early, Manuel helped the Rays escape the inning.

You can't pin this loss on the manager, though, not when his team has such a disastrous night at the plate. The Phillies have the last two NL MVPs in the top four slots in the lineup, and neither player is performing at all. I've gone over and over Howard's issues repeatedly, and I won't cover them in depth again. Suffice to say that his counting stats don't matter in the World Series. What matters is that he has five innings to impact any game-he doubled off a tough breaking ball in the second yesterday-and then the Rays will keep showing him pitchers he cannot hit, ones who throw good stuff with their left arms. In any relevant situation, the Rays will reduce him to a .220 hitter who occasionally runs into a ball. Maybe he'll run into one over the next week, but until then, you have to consider Howard a problem. He's just been disappeared by southpaws this month: two singles and four walks in 20 plate appearances.

Rollins' performance doesn't have the same clear-cut reason, but the effect is similar. On a night when Carlos Ruiz had a career game and was on base in every one of Rollins' last four plate appearance, Rollins failed to take advantage. He couldn't catch a break: Rollins popped out in the ninth after being hit by a pitch on a play missed by umpire Kerwin Danley. He showed a good glove on a couple of occasions, so unlike Howard, he's making some contribution, but his importance to this offense means that he has to be on base for them to win. Rollins has yet to reach base in the World Series, and has a brutal .240 OBP this month.

In the ninth inning, David Price retired both these former MVPs on his way to a seven-out save, a feat nearly unheard of-almost not even conceivable-in modern baseball. It came as something of a surprise; Maddon had relievers up throughout Price's outing, and there were a number of situations in which it seemed a natural spot to remove him. As we've seen, though, Price can retire right-handed batters, he has a starter's endurance, and he probably has the best pure stuff you'll find in a pitcher on either team in this World Series. Riding him, especially when the key hitters for the Phillies bat left-handed, is a natural move. No doubt the offday today played into Maddon's decision, but I think what we're seeing here is just the best reliever on the staff being given opportunities commensurate with his talent.

One note on Price: he works quickly. Not that I needed another reason to like him, but he's a get-ball, throw-ball guy, and those types always make me happy. He doesn't look like a rookie on the mound. He looks like someone who knows he's better than the other guys.

  • As mentioned in passing already, Kerwin Danley did not have a good night. He signaled a called third strike on Rocco Baldelli in the second, then sent Baldelli to first base as if he'd walked. In the grand tradition of Doug Eddings, Danley dissembled, claiming that he was waving Baldelli to first base. Which had been relocated to a spot 15 feet above Danley, if you believe his gesture.

    In the ninth, Danley missed Price's fastball catching Rollins' left sleeve. It would have been a weak hit-by-pitch, but by rule Rollins was hit and should have been on first base, which would have brought the tying run to the plate with no one out in the ninth.

    Danley turned an out into a baserunner and the Rays scored. He turned a baserunner into, eventually, an out, and the Phillies' rally fell short. If the perfectly-umpired game is that one where you never notice the crew, Danley may have umped the diametric opposite last night.

  • When I was in Tampa last year for the Ballpark Feed, one of the strangest things for me was the passion the season-ticket holders had for Baldelli. To my eyes, he was a guy who was as good when he entered the league as he ever would be, in no small part because his physical limitations stunted his development. So it was a highlight to see him pick up a baserunner kill last night, bust it down the line to keep the Phillies from turning a double play-and allow a run to score-and just generally play well in a World Series game. I'll debate the merits of a player long after you don't care any longer, but I'll never debate someone's choice of favorite player. Who you like as a fan is separate from the issue of a player's skills, ability, or performance. That these people like-no, love-Baldelli is something I appreciate, and remembering their praise of him made yesterday's game that much more special.

  • An entire postseason defined by crooked numbers, and the first time a team gets two runs with "productive outs," the mainstream media lines up to tout that approach. All four Rays runs last night scored on plays on which an out was recorded, although you have to cheat a bit to get there (Baldelli was thrown out after a run scored on a single). It was interesting, but also obviously anomalous; to win, you have to hit homers.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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R.A.Wagman

When one of the reasons to laud Maddon was his use of lefties twice in two seperate innings to deal with Utley and Howard can be negated by virtue of Manuel having a lefty (price) of the caliber of a lefthanded starting pitcher - one who should be able to retire all handed batters with similar aplomb, that really isn't saying anything at all about Maddon's decision-making capabilities. It's simply a matter of owning a very valuable resource - one so valuable as to render him more succeptible to judgement-bashing if he didn't use Price, than his actually using him.

Oct 24, 2008 14:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

I disagree with this. Maddon's decision may seem obvious to you, but most MLB managers would choose the reliever they had relied on most during the season ("dance with the one that brung ya"), or the one whose role had firmly been established.
Furthermore, most managers would not leave the young inexperienced guy in that long, even after he was scored on, as Maddon did with Price.
Maddon is managing in an unorthodox manner and it's working.

Oct 24, 2008 16:49 PM
rating: 1
 
jkaplow21

Did Howard run over your cat? Howard went 2 for 5 with a double he smoked to CF. You say Price overmatched him, but Utley Ked on a good slider while Howard grounded out. Howard also made a couple of good plays in the field in addition to snagging that ball in the stands on Wednesday.

You have to recuse yourself from any future Howard analysis. You may be right, but your obvious disdain of him has clouded any good judgement you have and now it is clearly an agenda of sorts.

Before you respond, show me the splits of all the first basemen and DHs in the league and how they perform against pitchers of the same hand that they hit. Don't make me start a fireJoeSheehan.com website.

Oct 24, 2008 16:39 PM
rating: -1
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

I think Joe's "obvious disdain" is for Manuel's decision of when and where to bat Howard in the lineup. I haven't detected any personal animus toward Howard himself.

But then again, jkaplow21 did run over my cat today, so you ought to take whatever I say with a grain of salt.

Oct 24, 2008 16:56 PM
rating: 3
 
jtrichey

There is also some disdain, rightly so, that Howard should not even sniff the NL MVP this year, but is being talked about among the top 3 candidates.

Oct 24, 2008 17:05 PM
rating: 1
 
mattman

I see Sheehan joining Buck/McCarver in roasting Manuel for not pinch-hitting Stairs for Feliz. What no one seems to be ready to explain is who would have played third afterwards. Move Dobbs to 3rd and have the pitcher hit? Use Bruntlett, who I don't think has played 3rd at all this year? It's weird that no one seems to have looked into that part of the equation.

Oct 24, 2008 17:59 PM
rating: 0
 
mcadwalader

Joe, this is a totally bizarre column. The thesis is that Maddon outmanaged Manuel. One of the primary examples cited to support this thesis is how failing to separate Utley and Howard permitted Maddon "to use his power lefties in the pen to exploit this weakness." We have been hearing about this from you for some time. And I agree that Manuel should separate them. But last night, Maddon didn't bring in Price to pitch to just Utley and Howard. Price pitched to Utley and Howard, and the rest of the lineup. If the Phils flip Howard and Burrell, Price still pitches to Utley and Howard, and the rest of the lineup. The only possible effect would have been at the very end, where it would have been Burrell batting instead of Howard with two out in the ninth.

While other games may demonstrate the pitfalls of Manuel's batting order, Game 2 didn't.

Oct 24, 2008 18:06 PM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

well said

Oct 24, 2008 19:43 PM
rating: 0
 
W. Clark

Furthermore, over the last 2 seasons (1200 PAs), Utley's platoon split is pretty small. And to further mitigate the split, it is primarily in Slug% (which Sheehan has in other places given lesser importance to than OBP%).

Not to say that Manual is making the "right" decision, just that Sheehan has targeted this as a critical aspect of the series, but Utley hitting lefties or righties is of relatively small consequence.

We can all agree that Howard will face lefthanders regardless, but supposing you put Werth in the 3 spot, or perhaps Burrell, and put Utley in the 2 hole, a smart opposing manager would throw righties against both of them, and make the switch with Howard. The only difference is a relatively small platoon advantage for Utley against RHs - which doesn't deserve the emphasis being put upon it.

Oct 25, 2008 09:18 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Price didn't get a save. He came in with a 4 run lead and pitched 2 1/3 innings. By the letter of the law, not a save. By the spirit of the law, I suppose?

BTW- I heard yesterday's Maddon press conference, and all of us stat-heads would be impressed. He talked very specifically about analyzing data and basing his seeming odd decisions on the type of stuff we tend to look at here at BP. In particular, he discussed his odd defensive shift on Utley as simply following the "spray charts".

Finally, this whole "The Phillies are hitting .030 with RISP!!!!!!!!" storyline is killing me. If you can go way back and remember the ALCS, the Red Sox, at one stretch in games 2-4, were 3 for 23 with RISP. They promptly went 6 for their next seven. 9 for 30 sounds about right??? I suspect the same will happen for the Phils as the sample size increases.

Super-finally, I LOVE BP, but their analysis in game to game and short series situations is the weakest they do all year. Like Billy Beane says, "this $hit doesn't work in the playoffs"

Oct 24, 2008 20:42 PM
rating: 0
 
dpm

ScottyB, there's a "right" and a "wrong" way to play blackjack, even if the odds are with the house no matter which manner you choose. The right way is to make decisions that give you the best possible odds you can get, given the situation facing you.

In blackjack, even when you do this, you'll lose more than you win. Doesn't mean you shouldn't play in the manner which maximizes your odds. (If you care about winning, that is. Sometimes it's fun to go against the book just to get an irrational reaction from others at the table. For some reason, people don't recognize that your decisions are just as likely to help them as hurt them; they choose to recognize only the helpful cards you "took" from them and ignore the ones you "gave" them. And if you really care about winning, you just don't play blackjack.)

In any event, in baseball, the case is even stronger, because there are decisions to be made that can actually give you better than even odds (even if in any particular instance you get the wrong outcome). Analyzing these situations in the manner BP does is not "weak"; it makes perfect sense, even if "this shit doesn't work in the playoffs" because the sample sizes are too small to ameliorate the randomness.

Oct 24, 2008 21:52 PM
rating: 0
 
dpm

Er...mitigate the randomness.

Oct 24, 2008 21:55 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

squintsp...
I hear what you are saying. I didn't mean to be overly critical of BP. Joe and the gang do great work 365, and all of it is better than the stuff we are usually fed by the sports media.
However, Joe is at his best analyzing long-term trends and finding the story between the numbers. His breaking down when a manager should have switched pitchers is not as value-added as the regular-season stuff.
Finally, come with me to the Borgata in AC and I'll show you how to play blackjack!!! ;-)

Oct 25, 2008 18:40 PM
rating: 0
 
tooci4

jtrichey - it's not Ryan Howard's fault that he hits in a position that allows him to rack up an inordinate amount of RBIs, nor is it his fault that the BBWAA has an inexplicable love of the stat. To say that Sheehan is right in holding Howard in contempt for his undeserved MVP candidacy is absurd - he's merely playing his game, and all that stuff around him is out of his control.
Sheehan's contempt for the mainstream media has caused him to overly disparage one of its favorite players, and it's a shame because Ryan Howard is a PLEASURE to watch, whether it's seeing him knock the crap out of a pitch or have fun with his teammates (with whom he's clearly very popular), he just brings a smile to your face - er, mine, anyway.

Oct 24, 2008 21:04 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

Exactly.

Howard's job is not to get on base and keep rallies going. His job is to hit the ball over the fence. End of story.

And as much as Joe loves to say he should be a platoon player, Howard's career average is around 35 HR and 110 RBI per 600 PA against lefties. That's production, and that is his job.

Oct 25, 2008 06:20 AM
rating: -1
 
MGL

A few things.

1) I think that the HBP against Rollins was in the Jersey and not the sleeve, no? I could be wrong.

2) Maddon should have taken Price out of the game after Howard, and he should not have brought him in until the lefties started hitting (Balfor should have pitched to Ruiz and Rollins). The reason is two-fold. Price had no fastball, at least according to the Fox gun. It was 92-93. It usually is 95-97. With that kind of fastball (not that 92-93 is bad) and his definite command problems in general, I don't think he is a particularly effective reliever versus RHB. Even with one day off, why burn him when you had plenty of relievers left in the pen. What you want to do in the post-season is to rotate your relievers as much as possible so that you have lefties and righties available every game, if possible.

3) Danley did NOT signal out and then ask for the appeal. That would have been ridiculous (OK, I would have thought that Eddings call would have been ridiculous also...). He started to call out and then changed his mind. There was nothing wrong with that. The home plate umpire should almost never call a batter out in a check swing. He cannot possibly see whether he went around or not. THat is not to day that Danley did not come as close as possible to calling him out with his hand, but in order to call a batter out, you usually raise and then close you hand and then say, "Strike three, you're out" or something like that. He clearly raised his hand to call him out, thought better of it, did NOT close his hand, let that hand motion towards first, and of course did not say, "strike three." That is why Manuel did not argue much.

If Danely had actually "called him out" as Joe says in the article, Manuel would have gone through the roof, and justifiably so.

Oct 24, 2008 22:45 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

This ignores the fact that even if the guy didn't swing, it was STILL strike three.

Oct 25, 2008 06:21 AM
rating: 0
 
jtrichey

tooci4, I was not assigning blame to Howard for any of that, I was addressing where at least some of Sheehan's disdain for Howard is coming from. I did not state agreement or disagreement with Sheehan's theories on Howard for this series, only that I agree that Howard should not be a top MVP candidate.

Oct 25, 2008 12:54 PM
rating: 0
 
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