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September 23, 2012

BP Unfiltered

How Unusual Was Bobby Valentine's Decision to Pinch-Hit for Jose Iglesias?

by Ben Lindbergh

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:

  • 9/14/09: The Cardinals’ Joe Thurston pinch-hit for Adam Wainwright with two strikes following a failed double steal. The first two guys in the inning had gotten on, and Tony La Russa wanted Wainwright to bunt them over. With two strikes and one of the runners erased, the situation no longer called for a sacrifice, so La Russa made a move for a better batter. Thurston struck out.
     
  • 7/4/05: The Marlins’ Lenny Harris pinch-hit for Guillermo Mota with two outs following an Alex Gonzalez steal of second. Harris, the all-time pinch-hit leader, struck out. This one was similar to the Iglesias situation, except that a pitcher was at the plate. As bad as Iglesias’ bat is, it’s not as bad as a pitcher’s.
     
  • 8/23/06: This is it: the last time a position player was pinch-hit for in the middle of an at-bat. With two men on, two out, and left-handed hitter Scott Podsednik up in the seventh inning of a Tigers-White Sox game, Jim Leyland pulled right-handed then-reliever Colby Lewis and replaced him with southpaw Jamie Walker. Ozzie Guillen countered with right-handed hitter Brian Anderson. Anderson—you guessed it—struck out. That’s the pinch-hit penalty for you. *Update* Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal asked Podsednik if he remembered being pinch-hit for by Anderson. Podsednik "was amused but had no recollection of the incident happening." According to MacPherson, Podsednik said something like, "Iggy is going to love this." Maybe Iglesias' memory will be just as short.

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.

*Another update:

Thanks to Dan Turkenkopf and Colin Wyers for research assistance.

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

7 comments have been left for this article.

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Manufactured Runs: The... (09/21)
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