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More on Gardenhire’s Questionable Thought

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I already despaired over Gardehnire’s bullpen usage. Here, I despair over his thinking over lineup construction, specifically, who to put in the second spot in the batting order. He is such a victim of the “old school” conventional wisdom.

Aaron Gleeman, who writes a lot about the Twins, wrote a post about this in which he pointed out:

Gardenhire has used middle infielders in the second spot regardless of on-base skills and overall hitting ability, and not surprisingly the results haven’t been good. None of the seven players with at least 75 starts in the No. 2 spot had a .350 on-base percentage there and only Revere, Jason Bartlett, and Orlando Hudson were above .330. Cristian Guzman, who started most often in the No. 2 spot, had a terrible .283 OBP there, and Luis Rivas was even worse at .276.

The stupidity of Gardenhire’s approach lies in its acceptance of making outs at the top of the order. Sacrifice bunts, after all, are intended to trade outs for advancing a baserunner one base. In certain situations they are good plays, such as, say, in the late innings of a tight game in which one run can either tie the game or put your team ahead. But, as a general rule, unless you know one run is all you will need, playing for one run is not a great strategic decision.

However, the really, truly stupid part of his approach is his past reliance on low-on base percentage players as second-place-in-the-batting-order hitters. On-base percentage measures the proportion of times a hitter reaches base out of all his plate appearances. It is, in short, “not-make-an-out” percentage. After all, 1 – OBP=the percentage of times an out is made. Thus, putting low-OBP guys into the second spot of the batting order amounts to putting out-makers at the top of the lineup. Why, oh why, would one do that?!?

During the dead ball era, when extra-base hits were rare, errors were common, and run production was low, it made sense to put a guy who could “handle the bat” into that slot of the lineup, as advancing runners without basehits was a skill upon which managers put a premium. But the reason that skill was important was that it wasn’t easy to get a hit because baseballs just didn’t travel that far. They were kept in play until they were practically mush, discolored and all scuffed to hell. Now, however, when balls leave play after hitting the dirt, the batter always has a brand new baseball to hit.

The fact that lots of errors were made is important too, for if there is a decent chance the fielders will make an error, bunting does not amount to an automatic out. But as equipment and fielding skill has improved over time, sacrifice bunts almost always result in outs.

But, putting the bunting aside, the use of low-OBP middle infielders in the second spot is just plain perverse in a game where (a) making outs helps the team in the field, (b) teams have limited numbers of outs to work with in a game, (c) you only win by scoring runs and scoring runs requires producing baserunners.

Gardenhire just appears to be living in another century when it comes to thinking about the game of baseball. Sure, there were plenty of sacrifice bunts in the World Baseball Classic, but that doesn’t make it the smart play, particularly at the Major-League level.

Intentionally making outs should never be encouraged.

And it is nice to see Mauer in the 2-spot in the lineup, even nicer to think that the Twins’ resident stat-head may actually be getting through to Gardenhire. Now if he could just sell Gardy on optimal relief pitcher usage. Of course, Gardy is hardly alone in using his bullpen suboptimally, as Jim Leyland showed us this past week. Hell, the entire sport uses bullpens suboptimally.

Written by jjvedamuthu

April 7, 2013 at 16:41

Tiger Bullpen

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Remember what I was saying about the back end of the Tiger bullpen? Well, from a perspective of defined roles in the bullpen, let’s call that the “mainstream” perspective, things have gotten even more unsettled and thus unsettling for Tigers fans.

That the whole “defined closer” thing represents reification on a grand scale–the baseball world’s worship of a concept of bullpen usage* that is merely a convention, not a natural law–is beyond question, but it is not the point at hand.

No, the point at hand is that the Tigers bullpen depth, already questionable, degrades still further with this move. Regardless of who gets “save opportunities,” the person who gets them also becomes unavailable to use in earlier, higher-leverage situations, those whose resolution has a relative higher affect on the outcome of the game.

This means Rick Porcello better be for real, and he better be able to worth six solid innings before Leyland turns to his bullpen. One wonders whether Leyland retains the flexibility to use a bullpen without defined roles well. He talks like it, but we’ll see. If he fails to retain that flexibility, well, the results may be scary.

To conclude, nothing has changed about the status of the back end of the Tigers bullpen: it is still shaky.

*An alternative to the defined role convention of usage appears here, though I am neutral with regard to its efficacy.

**UPDATE: The Detroit News is all over this, the headline declaring the closer job “up for grabs.”

Written by jjvedamuthu

March 28, 2013 at 23:18

AL Central Prediction: Pitches

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Pitches, as in those things people on Mad Men do professionally, or a screenwriter does to an agent, or whatever. Pithy bromides about why I picked my picks the way I picked them.

What follows are just summaries of my reading (see the blogroll), looking at depth charts (click on the team names in bold below to look at how kick-ass the Baseball Prospectus website is) and some video about the American League’s Central Division.

1. Detroit Tigers. Let’s just say that if they are anywhere near as good as they look on paper, even if they are sevens wins less good in real life, they will easily win this division. Best (known) offense and best rotation should trump a possibly shaky back end of bullpen.

2. Kansas City. Let’s just say their offseason  moves demonstrated faith in their young position players. They  turned over most of the rotation while adding no new bats, instead trading a prospect to land a pitcher.

3. Cleveland. Let’s just say they risk becoming a vastly entertaining close-to-.500, a few games, somewhere between 77 and 84 wins, with an improved offense. Outfield defense also improved, but their starting pitching may be interesting (Brett Myers and Scott Kazmir?) Lot’s of slugfests will ensue. Wildly entertaining.

4. Chicago White SoxLet’s just say we don’t have much to say since very little news came out of the South Side over the winter. The impression depth chart study made inclines towards regarding their lineup as having poor on-base skills and their pitching as being workmanlike. Fodder.

5. Minnesota TwinsLet’s just say Twins fans should prepare themselves for the anxiety, and perhaps even terror, they will feel if the Astros turn out to not be as bad as everyone thinks. Replacement-level rubber is going to meet a fanbase road in either Houston or Minneapolis in 2013. While “better,” the Twins’ rotation is…not even interesting; it’s just terrible. Good outfielders lurk in the minor league system. Things will improve, but it will be 2015 when they really start to do so.