Sunday, April 13, 2008

Should Joe Have Pitched to Manny?

The Yankees lost to the Red Sox last night in a close game. The pivotal inning was the bottom of the 6th. With two outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd, Manny Ramirez is up to face Mike Mussina. Joe Girardi comes to the mound to have a discussion with his starter and decides to leave him in to face Manny and hopefully get the last out of the inning. Manny ends up hitting a double and scoring both runners.

The New York Post ran one of their typical pieces with the headline "Joe Blew It", announcing his breaking one of the ten commandments of baseball by pitching to Ramirez. A few other sources have been critical of Joe's decision in that situation and so I decided to take a little closer look.

One argument is that Joe should have brought in a reliever rather than let Mussina, who was starting to struggle, continue to pitch. That's a tough call. You like your starters to come in and pitch at least six innings, and Moose had gotten out of some jams before. Brian Bruney had been pitching well in relief all year and guys like Ohlendorf, Traber, Hawkins, Farnsworth were all available for early inning stints with Chamberlain and Rivera on tap for the late innings. When Bruney did come in he gave up another big hit for a run, which ended up credited to Mussina. The decision whether or not to pull Moose in favor of Bruney was a tough one, and at the time I was surprised to see Mussina stay in, giving the well rested bullpen that was available.

The real issue I'd like to take a look at is whether or not Mussina should have walked Manny to face the next batter instead. On deck was Kevin Youkilis, who has been hitting the ball well again this year and is no slouch at the plate. Mussina surmised that he had just as good of a chance to get Ramirez out as Youkilis and Girardi let him pitch.

To get to the bottom of this, let's look at some numbers. These stats are averages for AVG/OBP/SLG taken over the most recent complete seasons, 2005-2007.

Manny Ramirez .302/.404/.569

Kevin Youkilis .283/.386/.438

Manny definitely has an edge, especially in slugging. If we subtract each player's numbers we can see exactly how much worse Youkilis is:

Difference: -.019/-.018/-.131

James Click has a nice chapter in the book Baseball Between the Numbers and in it he details the math behind intentional walks. In situations when there are two on with two outs, Click concludes that the second batter has to be 60 points worse in average, 95 points worse in on-base percentage and 175 points worse in slugging. (I'm not going to go into detail on how Click reached these conclusions, check out the book or his work at Baseball Prospectus.) Despite Manny's impressive numbers, Youkilis is too good of a hitter to meet these criteria, and it looks like Girardi made the right call.

We can compare some splits, to see if the situation could have affected matters any. With runners in scoring position, each player's stats looked like this (again from 2005-2007):

Manny Ramirez .320/.443/.614

Kevin Youkilis .322/.420/.515

Difference: +.002/-.023/-.099

With runners in scoring position, the gap narrows in 2 out of 3 categories, with Youkilis even having a better AVG than Manny.

OK, how about specifically with runners on second and third, over the last 3 seasons.

Manny Ramirez .227/.486/.318

Kevin Youkilis .235/.367/.471

Kevin has the overall advantage here. This last set of numbers isn't as useful because it only includes 22 at bats for manny and 17 for Kevin. The more specific we get in regards to the situation, the less valuable are data becomes.

Lastly, let's take a look at the numbers vs. RHP

Manny Ramirez .304/.392/.563

Kevin Youkilis .284/.380/.450

Difference: -.020/-.012/-.113

Slightly less than the 3-year totals but not by much.

While Manny Ramirez is the superior hitter overall and with runners in scoring position and against right handed pitchers, the difference still isn't enough to justify an intentional walk with Youkilis backing him up. Joe Girardi made the right call in pitching to Manny.


Jim said...

That's very interesting. And here I was just believing everything written in the press about how Torre would have walked Manny.

Maybe the press angle is more about comparing the manager's than the batters and pitchers. Whatever will sell a newspaper really.

Jeff said...

Hey Jim thanks for stopping by and commenting. The press (especially the post) will over-sensationalize everything they can. I just wanted to take a step back and give the situation another look.

Nate said...

The Yankees could have brought in Joba to face Manny, which probably would have been the best move. Although Joba is typically reserved for the eighth, this situation was more important. So say Joba gets Manny out. Then he stays in to pitch the 7th, facing Youkilis, Drew and Varitek. Then Traber in to face Casey, followed by Bruney to face Lugo then Ellsbury (then Pedroia). In the ninth, Mo faces the heart of the order, which is when you want Mo in the game. My point is that Joba should be used in important situations, whenever those may be. In yesterday's case, it was the sixth, but nobody has suggested that Joba was even an option

Jeff said...

Nate - I agree completely.

The way you described it would probably be the perfect way to use this bullpen in that situation.

I'm 100% in agreement that top relievers need to be used in important situations, not just in designated innings.

Jeff said...

Nate - thanks for stopping by, I'll add you to my blogroll!

Jim said...

Is there really no way to directly get in contact with you Jeff? Where is the contact page/info?

Jeff said...

Jim - like yourself I don't post an email address. Personally I do it to avoid spam. I check the comments on the website frequently, however.

Jim Spencer said...

I see that my blogger profile was not shared. Now it is. You can email me.