Friday, November 1, 2013

Should Wacha have pitched to Ortiz

It is always easy to make a decision in hindsight. However, as Michael Wacha was walking David Ortiz, my wife said she thought it was a bad decision. I will disagree with my wife when merited, but I absolutely agreed here. This was before any runs were scored. I mean, why put another base runner on? A few hits, or even one extra base hit, and he scores anyway. Lets compare the alternatives. It’s early in the game, you have one out and a guy at second and it’s scoreless. Pitching to Ortiz Yes, Ortiz had looked like Superman in the World Series, 11 for 15 at that point with 2 home runs, and robbed of another. But the question we have to ask is ‘what is his expected ability at this point in time’. This will always be an educated guess. One way to define ability is by OPS (on base plus slugging). Ortiz has a lifetime OPS of .930, and a post season OPS of .962. His lifetime OPS in the three world series is over 1.300 and his OPS was a mind boggling 2.067 in the first five games. What could we expect in his next at bat? Well, we cannot expect an OPS of 2.067, that is for sure. I don’t think we can even expect an OPS of 1.300. Yes, he already done that in his World Series career in roughly 60 at bats, but one has to believe that is a little inflated. It is much like a baseball team that starts out 20-5. You are pretty sure they are a good team, but you are equally sure they are not going to play at an .800 pace. It has never been proven that players can be clutch, but this is debatable. I tend to think that players can be clutch. I will give credit for Ortiz being a clutch player, and estimate his OPS at 1.2 in the World Series against a typical pitcher. However, I don’t think Wacha is typical, despite his youth. I think he had demonstrated he is above average, even as playoff pitchers go, so lets drop Ortiz expected OPS against Wacha to 1.1. I would add that Ortiz’s home run rate is virtually the same in the post season as it is the regular season, so despite the heroics in the post season, he has not hit home runs at any greater of a pace, and that is a little more than 5%. The big concern with pitching to Oritz is a home run, but we could only expect that for one out of 20 at bats. The next big concern is a hit which scores a run, and, well ok, he had been hitting about .450 in his World Series career, but can we expect in the way of a hit? Probably nothing better than .350, and that is giving him a lot of credit. So, we still expect to get him out 2 out of 3 times. It is real easy to think ‘wow, look what he has done to us lately’ But 15 at bats is hardly a big enough sample size. We could look at run expectancy charts based on runners at first and second and one out or with a runner at second and one out. I am going to skip that for now, for a few reasons, one of which is that I have already thrown out more numbers than I wanted to. Walking Ortiz Yes, the Cardinals might have gotten out of the inning unscathed. But one big problem you have with walking him is that you still have decent hitters behind him. You are trading an OPS of 1.1 for an OPS of .8. Sounds good, right? Not only did you put a runner on, but the complexion of the at bats change. Hitting Jonny Gomes was somewhat of a fluke, but what if Gomes walks or gets an infield hit? The bases are still loaded. When you are pitching with the bases loaded, you have to throw strikes. The batter knows that. I suspect that hitting goes up a little on average with the bases loaded due to the fact that the pitcher has a self imposed smaller strike zone. I know I have thrown all kinds of numbers out. So, lets try to highly simplify this by looking at it this way. You can either a) get out of the inning with no runs b) get out of the inning with one run c) give up two or more runs. The first case is ideal. The second case, you can live with. The third case can be very difficult to come back from (of course, it depends upon the number of runs). I will concede that it might be true that you have a better chance of giving up at least one run by pitching to Ortiz. For that reason, if it is the bottom of the eighth in a tie game, I have no problem at all walking him. But, which way do you suspect, is it easier to give up more than one run? I feel almost certain that it is easier to give up more than one run by walking Ortiz. Heck that second run is already at first. The ironic thing about all of this is that it did not take that much for Boston to score 3 runs. A HBP and double by Victorino who was likely sitting on a fastball in a situation, due in part to walking Ortiz. An easy way to summarize all of this is that the parlay of events seems easier than Ortiz hitting a homerun, something that happens 1 in 20 times as mentioned earlier. In the third inning of a scoreless game with a man on second and one out, unless you are pitching to Babe Ruth or post-steroid Barry Bonds, I think it is a clear decision: you pitch to him. Finally, I am not suggesting that this is why the Cardinals lost the game. But it certainly opened the floodgates.