Last night I lambasted the Cardinals’ sophomore manager, Mike Matheny, for some errors in bullpen management that I estimated cost his team over 2% in win expectancy (WE). Well, after tonight’s game, all I have to say is, as BTO so eloquently said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Tonight (or last night, or whatever), John Farrell, the equally clueless manager of the Red Sox (God, I hope I don’t ever have to meet these people I call idiots and morons!), basically told Matheny, “I’ll see your stupid bullpen management and raise you one moronic non-pinch hit appearance!”
I’m talking of course about the top of the 7th inning in Game 5. The Red Sox had runners on second and third, one out, and John Lester, the Sox’ starter was due to hit (some day, I’ll be telling my grandkids, “Yes, Johnny, pitchers once were also hitters.”). Lester was pitching well (assuming you define “well” as how many hits/runs he allowed so far – not that I am suggesting that he wasn’t pitching “well”) and had only thrown 69 pitches, I think. I don”t think it ever crossed Farrell’s mind to pinch hit for him in that spot. The Sox were also winning 2-1 at the time, so, you know, they didn’t need any more runs in order to guarantee a win <sarcasm>.
Anyway, I’m not going to engage in a lot of hyperbole and rhetoric (yeah, I probably will). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that not pinch hitting for Lester in that particular spot (runners on 2nd and 3rd, and one out) is going to cost a decent number of fraction of runs. It doesn’t even take a genius, I don’t think, to figure out that that means that it also costs the Red Sox some chance of ultimately winning the game. I’ll explain it like I would to a 6-year-old child. With a pinch hitter, especially Napoli, you are much more likely to score, and if you do, you are likely to score more runs. And if on the average you score more runs that inning with a pinch hitter, you are more likely to win the game, since you only have a 1 run lead and the other team still gets to come to bat 3 more times. Surely, Farrell can figure that part out.
How many runs and how much win expectancy does that cost, on the average? That is pretty easy to figure out. I’ll get to that in a second (spoiler alert: it’s a lot). So that’s the downside. What is the upside? It is two-fold, sort of. One, you get to continue to pitch Lester for another inning or two. I assume that Farrell does not know exactly how much longer he plans on using Lester, but he probably has some idea. Two, you get to rest your bullpen in the 7th and possibly the 8th.
Both of those upsides are questionable in my opinion, but, as you’ll see, I will actually give Farrell and any other naysayer (to my way of thinking) the benefit of the doubt. The reason I think it is questionable is this: Lester, despite pitching well so far, and only throwing 69 pitches, is facing the order for the 3rd time in the 7th inning, which means that he is likely .4 runs per 9 innings worse than he is overall, and the Red Sox, like most World Series teams, have several very good options in the pen who are actually at least as good as Lester when facing the order for the third time, not to mention the fact that Farrell can mix and match his relievers in those two innings on order to get the platoon advantage. So, in my opinion, the first upside for leaving in Lester is not an upside at all. But, when I do my final analysis, I will sort of assume that it is, as you will see.
The second upside is the idea of saving the bullpen, or more specifically, saving the back end of the bullpen, the short relievers. In my opinion, again, that is a sketchy argument. We are talking about the Word Series, where you carry 11 or 12 pitchers in order to play 7 games in 9 days and then take 5 months off. In fact, tomorrow (today?) is an off day followed by 2 more games and then they all go home. Plus, it’s not like either bullpen has been overworked in the post-season so far. But, I will be happy to concede that “saving your pen” is indeed an upside for leaving Lester in the game. How much is it worth? No one knows, but I don’t think anyone would disagree with this: A manager would not choose to “save” his bullpen for 1-2 innings when there is an off day followed by 2 more games, followed by 100 off days, when the cost of that savings is a significant chunk of win expectancy in the game he is playing at the present time. I mean, if you don’t agree with that, just stop reading and don’t ever come back to this site.
The final question, then, is how much in run or win expectancy did that non-pinch hit cost? Remember in my last post how I talked about “categories” of mistakes that a manager can make? I said that a Category I mistake, a big one, cost a team 1-2% in win expectancy. That may not seem like a lot for one game, but it is. We all criticize managers for “costing” their team the game when we think they made a mistake and their team loses. If you’ve never done that, then you can stop reading too. The fact of the matter is that there is almost nothing a manager can do, short of losing his mind and pinch hitting the bat boy in a high leverage situation, that is worth more than 1 or 2% in win expectancy. Other than this.
The run expectancy with runners on second and third and one out in a low run environment is around 1.40. That means that on the average with a roughly average hitter at the plate, the batting team will score, on the average, 1.40 runs during that inning, from that point on. We’ll assume that it is about the same if Napoli pinch hit. He is a very good pinch hitter, but there is a pinch hitting penalty and he is facing a right handed pitcher. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. It could be 1.2 runs or 1.5 runs. It won’t make much of a difference.
What is the run expectancy with Lester at the plate? I don’t know much about his hitting, but I assume that since he has never been in the NL, and therefore hardly ever hits, it is not good. We can easily say that it is below that of an average pitcher, but that doesn’t really matter either. With an average pitcher batting in that same situation, and the top of the order coming up, the average RE is around 1.10 runs. So the difference is .3 runs. Again, it doesn’t matter much if it is .25 or .4 runs. And there really isn’t much wiggle room. We know that it is a run scoring situation and we know that a pinch hitter like Napoli (or almost anyone for that matter) is going to be a much better hitter than Lester. So .3 runs sounds more than reasonable. Basically we are saying that, on the average, with a pinch hitter like Napoli at the plate in that situation, runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out, the Red Sox will score .3 more runs than with Lester at the plate. I don’t know that anyone would quarrel with that – even someone like a Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan.
In order to figure out how much in win expectancy that is going to cost, again, on the average, first we need to multiply that number by the leverage index in that situation. The LI is 1.64. 1.64 times .3 runs divided by 10 is .049 or 4.9%. That is the difference in WE between batting Lester or a pinch hitter. It means that with the pinch hitter, the Red Sox can expect, on the average, to win the game around 5% more often than if Lester hits, everything else being equal. I don’t know whether you can appreciate the enormity of that number. I have been working with these kinds of numbers for over 20 years. If you can’t appreciate it, you will just have to take my word for it that that is a ginormous number when it comes to WE in one game. As I said, I usually consider an egregious error to be worth 1-2%. This is worth almost 5%. That is ridiculous. It’s like someone offering you a brand new Chevy or Mercedes for the same price. And you take the Chevy, if you are John Farrell.
Just to see if we are in the right ballpark with our calculations, I am going to to run this scenario through my baseball simulator, which is pretty darn accurate (even though it does not have an algorithm for heart or grit) in these kinds of relatively easy situations to analyze.
Sound of computers whirring….
With Lester hitting, the Red Sox win the game 76.6% of the time. And therein lies the problem! Farrell knows that no matter what he does, he is probably going to win the game, and if he takes out Lester, not only is he going to bruise his feelings (boo hoo), but if the relief core blows the game, he is going to be lambasted and probably feel like crap. If he takes Lester out, he knows he’s also going to probably win the game, and what’s a few percent here and there. But if he lets Lester continue, as all of Red Sox nation assumes and hopes he will, and then they blow the game, no one is going to blame Farrell. You know why? Because at the first sign of trouble, he is going to pull Lester, and no one is going to criticize a manager for leaving in a pitcher who is pitching a 3-hitter through 6 innings and only 69 pitches and yanks him as soon as he gives up a baserunner or two. So letting Lester hit for himself is the safe decision. Not a good one, but a safe one.
After that rant, you probably want to know how often the Sox win if they pinch hit for Lester. 79.5% of the time. So that’s only a 2.9% difference. Still higher than my formerly highest Category of manager mistakes, 1-2%.
Let’s be conservative and call it a 3% mistake. I wonder if you told John Farrell that by not pinch hitting for Jon Lester his team’s chances of winning go from 79.5% to 76.6%. Even if he believed that, do you think it would sway his decision? I don’t think so, because he feels with all his heart and soul that having Lester, who is “dealing,” pitch another inning or two, and saving his bullpen, is well worth the difference between 77% and 80%. After all, either way, they probably win.
So how much does Lester pitching another inning or two (we’ll call it 1.5 innings, since at the time it could have been anywhere from 0 to 2, I think - I am pretty sure that Koji was pitching the 9th no matter what) gain over another pitcher? Well, I already said that the answer is nothing. Any of their good relievers are at least as good as Lester the 3rd time though the order. But I also said that I will concede that Lester is going to be just amazing, on the average, if Farrell leaves him in the game. How good does he have to be in order to make up the .3 runs or 3% in WE that are lost by allowing Lester to hit?
A league average reliever allows around 4 runs a game. It doesn’t matter what that exact number is – we are only using it for comparison purposes. A good short reliever actually allows more like 3 or 3.5 runs a game. Starting pitchers, in general, are a little worse than the average pitcher (because of that nasty times through the order penalty). A very good pitcher like Lester allows around 3.5 runs a game (a pitcher like Wainwright around 3 runs a game). So let’s assume that a very average reliever came into the game to pitch the 7th and half the 8th rather than Lester. They would allow 4 runs a game. That is very pedestrian for a reliever. Almost any short reliever can do that with his eyes closed. In order to make up the .3 runs we lost by letting Lester hit, Lester needs to allow fewer runs than 4 runs a game. How much less? Well, .3 runs in 1.5 innings is .2 runs per inning. .2 runs per inning times 9 innings is 1.8 runs. So Lester would have to pitch like a pitcher who allows 2.2 runs per 9 innings. No starting pitcher like that exists. Even the best starter in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, is a 2.5 run per 9 pitcher at best.
Let’s go another route. Remember that I said Lester was probably around a 3.5 run pitcher (Steamer, a very good projection system, has him projected with a 3.60 FIP, which is around a 3.5 pitcher in my projection system), but that the third time through the order he is probably a 3.80 or 3.90 pitcher. Forget about that. Let’s decree that Lester is indeed going to pitch the 7th and 8th innings, or however long he continues, like an ace reliever. Let’s call him a 3.00 pitcher, not the 3.80 or 3.90 pitcher that I think he really is, going into the 7th inning.
In case, you are wondering, there is no evidence that good or even great pitching through 6 or 7 innings predicts good pitching for future innings. Quite the contrary. Even starters who are pitching well have the times through the order penalty, and if they are allowed to continue, they end up pitching worse than they do overall in a random game. That is what real life says. That is what happens. It is not my opinion, observation, or recollection. A wise person once said that, “Truth comes from evidence and not opinion or faith.”
But, again, we are living on Planet Farrell, so we are conceding that Lester is a great pitcher going into the 7th inning and the third time through the order. (Please don’t tell me how he did that inning. If you do or even think that, you need to leave and never come back. Seriously.) We are calling him a 3.0 pitcher, around the same as a very good closer.
How bad does a replacement for Lester for 1.5 innings have to be to make up for that .3 runs? Again, we need .2 runs per inning, times 9 innings, or a total of 1.8 runs per 9. So the reliever to replace him would have to be a 4.8 pitcher. That is a replacement pitcher folks, There is no one on either roster who is even close to that.
So there you have it. Like Keith Olbermann’s, Worst person in the world, we have the worst manager in baseball – John Farrell.
Addendum: Please keep in mind that some of the hyperbole and rhetoric is just that. Take comments like, “Farrell is an idiot,” or, “the worst manager in baseball,” with a grain of salt and chalk it up to flowery emotion. It is not relevant to the argument of course. The argument speaks for itself, and you, the reader, are free to conclude what you want about whether his moves, or any other managerial moves that I might discuss, were warranted or not.
I am not insensitive to factors that drive all managers’ decisions, like the reaction, desires, and opinions of the fans, media, upper management, and especially, the players. As several people have pointed out, if a manager were to do things that were “technically” correct, yet in doing so, alienate his players (and/or the fans) thereby affecting morale, loyalty, and perhaps a conscious or subconscious desire to win, then those “correct” decisions may become “incorrect” in the grand scheme of things.
That being said, my intention is to inform the reader and to take the hypothetical perspective of informing the manager of the relevant and correct variables and inputs such that they and you can make an informed decision. Imagine this scenario: I am sitting down with Farrell and perhaps the Red Sox front office and we are rationally and intelligently discussing ways to improve managerial strategy. Surely no manager can be so arrogant as to think that everything he does is correct. You would not want an employee like that working for your company no matter how much you respect him and trust his skills. Anyway, let’s say that we are discussing this very same situation, and Farrell says something like, “You know, I really didn’t care whether I removed Lester for a pinch hitter or not, and I don’t think he or my players would either. Plus, the preservation of my bullpen was really a secondary issue. I could have easily used Morales, Dempster, or even Breslow again. Managers have to make tough decisions like that all the time. I genuinely thought that with Lester pitching and us already being up a run, we had the best chance to win. But now that you have educated me on the numbers, I realize that that assumption on my part was wrong. In the future I will have to rethink my position if that or a similar situation should come up.”
That may not be a realistic scenario, but that is the kind of discussion and thinking I am trying to foster.