Manage like Jimmy Dugan

If I ever owned a baseball team, I’d want to hire Jimmy Dugan from “A League of their Own” as my manager. This isn’t only because he dislikes the bunt, though that helps — you probably remember the scene where he finally notices what’s happening on the field and calls off Geena Davis’ bunt sign (“We want a big inning here”). It’s also because, especially early in his career as manager of the Rockford Peaches, he had a tendency to fall asleep in the dugout.

Managers, it seems to me, could afford to do that a bit more often. If I was an owner, I’d put pillows in there.

I have long believed that managers hurt their teams as much or more than they help when they decide, as Bugs Bunny once did, that a moment calls for a little stragety. They will give away outs, they will intentionally put opponents on base, they will sit their best players for some short-term gain, they will call for that special lefty out of the pen for that special situation, they will try daring base-running exploits all in order to bewilder their opponents into blinding defeat. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works when the other way would have worked too. Sometimes it fails and it wouldn’t have worked the other way. Sometimes it fails and it would have worked the other … you know what it’s like? It’s like switching lanes in heavy traffic. It might speed you up. It might slow you down. In the end, you’ll probable realize the futility of it all.

Monday night, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays played a game that lasted — spitballing here — approximately 59 hours. This is in part because Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz apparently gets paid by the hour, in part because the two managers used 11 stinking pitchers in a 5-4 game, and in part because the two teams hit a lot of foul balls. There were more than 300 pitches thrown in the game. OK, well, that’s baseball in 2013.

The game was 3-3 going into the eighth inning. And now we’ll climb into the mind of Boston manager John Farrell. I like Farrell. His Bostonians don’t sacrifice much, and they steal bases at a very high percentage, and they intentionally walk fewer hitters than any team in baseball. He tends to let the game go, tends to stay out of the way most of the time, tends to let players win and lose games. I wish there were more like him.

But, this was a playoff game, meaning it was important, and the more important the situation the more it this tests the will of people to stay the bleep out. We as human beings have an overwhelming aversion toward doing nothing. It goes against every impulse we have. Think how often in movies if the hero would just NOT do something, the movie would end happily an hour before it actually ends.

So, eighth inning, and David Ortiz leads off with a walk. It’s well known that David Ortiz is slow. It’s also well known that David Ortiz is the best hitter on the Boston Red Sox. What to do? Farrell decided — and I think most managers would decide this — to pinch-run Quintin Berry for Ortiz. The logic behind the move is pretty simple. It’s the eighth inning, so it’s possible — probable even — that Ortiz’s spot will not come up again. Quintin Berry, in his major league career, had stolen 24 bases without ever being caught; pinch-running was the WHOLE REASON he was on the roster. And, obviously, with the score tied this late in the game, one run could win the game. The pinch-run was the move.

Here’s what happened: Berry stole second base like planned. He was actually out, but the umpire missed the call. Then, a groundout, an intentional walk, a strikeout and foul-pop-up and the inning ended.

Now, what happens if Farrell goes Jimmy Duggan and falls asleep? Mike Napoli was the one who grounded out to short, so if that happened you would have had a double play. But we don’t know what would have happened. Obviously, there would not have been an intentional walk to Johnny Gomes. It would have been a different inning. But, remember, David Ortiz would have still been in the game.

The Rays scored a run in the bottom of the eighth in what was a Joe Maddon concerto. I like Maddon a lot too — everybody does — but, whew, he does love to get in the middle of things. In the eighth, there was a walk, a bunt that worked for a hit, another bunt that didn’t work at all, an infield single, and a run-scoring groundout, pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, pinch me I’m dreaming So the Red Sox trailed by a run going into the ninth.

And that meant facing Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney. He has a good fastball and a great change-up. Last year, Rodney gave up nine runs in 74 innings and did not blow a save all year. This year, Rodney walked five batters per nine innings gave up 27 runs in 66 innings. This is how it goes for relievers. When you look at Rodney, last year was really an outlier — he has, throughout his career, been a bit of a wildcard, a guy who is hard to hit, and a guy who walks a lot of guys and, largely because of that, gives up his share of runs.

And, as if to prove the point, he immediately walked Will Middlebrooks on five pitches. Pinch runner Xander Begaerts came in. Rodney then threw two straight balls to Jacoby Ellsbury and on the third Ellsbury hit a little pop-up that dropped in a triangle made up of the Rays’ third baseman, shortstop and left-fielder. Bogaerts apparently is faster than Middlbrooks but did not get a great read on the ball and so stopped at second base. First and second, nobody out, and here were the next three batters:

Shane Victorino

Dustin Pedroia

Quintin Berry

Ah yes, the third of those … it might have been David Ortiz. It might not, the whole situation might have been different if Ortiz had run for himself. But Ortiz’s spot was coming up, and Ortiz was not, and so goes the strategy. Runners on first and second, nobody out, the TBS announcers were now PLEADING for a sacrifice bunt. It was staggering how much John Smoltz and company lobbied throughout the game for managers to make moves, but in this situation they seemed utterly panic-stricken that the Red Sox might not bunt with Victorino.

The bunt here is not a bad strategic move. Let me say that first. By Fangraphs, a successful bunt would very slightly increase the Red Sox win probability — making it a better decision than most bunts. But it seems to me there are things to consider.

1. You have a pitcher on the mound who, like usual, is having trouble throwing strikes.

2. You have a hitter, Shane Victorino, who very rarely hits into double players. This year, he hit into five double plays in 101 opportunities, less than 5% of the time.

3. You have one of your best hitters in Victorino followed by another of your best hitters in Pedroia followed by Quintin Berry or a pinch hitter of some sort. So, you have two good hitters followed by a total wildcard — would you really want to give up an out AND take the bat out of one of those two good hitters?

4. While the bunt does slightly add to win probability, which is the more important metric, it does slightly decrease run expectation. Teams score more runs with runners on first and second with nobody out than with runners on second and third with one out. I think you could put it this way: Your chance of scoring one run goes up slightly. Your chance of scoring two runs or more goes down slightly. More on this in a second.

Farrell decided yes, he would sacrifice, and Victorino bunted much to joy of TBS and the part of the nation that loves small ball. It was a successful bunt, moving the runners to second and third. The rest was predictable enough. Pedroia grounded out, which scored the tying run. Pinch-hitter Mike Carp struck out looking. A one-run inning.

OK, well, the Red Sox tied the game. They lost it in the bottom of the ninth when Jose Lobaton hit a walk-off homer. But the point here is not win or lose. The point here is a question: Did the bunt work? I think most people would say: Yes, it did. The Red Sox scored the tying run. That was the most important thing, right? it worked, right?

I don’t think so. The run expectation with runners on first and second with nobody out is 1.4 runs. That means teams, when you average it all out, score MORE than one run in general when they have runners on first and second and nobody out. This obviously includes every strategy, every situation, every kind of pitcher, and I’m not trying to make too much out of it. I’m just saying that if teams score 0 or 1 run, they have scored BELOW the expectation. If they score two or more, they have scored MORE than the expectation.

So, to me, the bunt did not work. Put it another way: If someone is a 70 percent free throw shooter, and the team trails by one, and he gets two free throws, the is expected to make 1.4 free throws. If he makes one of two, I don’t think anyone would consider that a successful trip to the free throw line. Admittedly, it might be harder to score two runs against a closer like Rodney. Then again, you don’t often have two hitters as good as Victorino and Pedroia coming up (not to mention Ortiz, if he had been in the game).

A lot of smart people, much smarter than me, think the bunt was not only right call but the only call. I personally think the Red Sox would have had a better shot to win Monday’s game if Farrell had taken a little Jimmy Dugan nap.

48 thoughts on “Manage like Jimmy Dugan

    1. mckingford

      Came here to say this. When people talk about bunting, they just *assume* a successful bunt, like it’s automatic, easy-peasy. But the reality is that when you put on the bunt signal, it can be (and often is) unsuccessful in the following ways:

      a) bunt is popped up.
      b) bunt is either hit right at the pitcher, or nubbed right in front of the catcher, or hit too hard down the 1/3 base line – all of which makes it easy to field and thus throw out the lead runner.
      c) bunt is fouled on the first 2 strikes, which then means swinging away in a 2 strike hole or attempting a 3rd strike bunt which if fouled results in an automatic out.

      In any one of these situations, the net result is now no advance of baserunners, so 1st and 2nd but now with 1 out, not 0.

      So if “going by the book”, you can’t immediately compare the odds between 1st and 2nd, 0 out, and 2nd and 3rd, 1 out. You have to assess the odds of a successful bunt, which I would guess to be somewhere between 50-70%, and only then look to the table.

      Reply
      1. Eric J

        But there are outcomes to a bunt attempt that are better than a successful sacrifice too – the batter could beat it out, the fielders could throw the ball away or try for the force and fail to get it. If memory serves, Tango and company looked at bunt attempts in The Book and found that the average sacrifice attempt actually had a slightly more favorable outcome than a successful sacrifice.

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    2. Rob Smith

      And the odds vary by player. Some guys can put down a good one 80%+, while other guys just flat out cannot bunt. Another comment on this thread notes Matt Joyce being asked to bunt last night when he had only done so successfully one time in his career (2K PAs). That’s just blatantly dumb. Having pitcher bunt makes a lot more sense (NL). They’re bad hitters, so a productive out is one of the better likely outcomes…. and pitchers are asked to bunt a lot, so they actually practice it.

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  1. Unknown

    What about Maddon’s even more confusing maneuvering for the 9th inning that resulted in him losing the DH for reasons which are convoluted at best, incomprehensible at worst?

    He lucked out with Lobaton hitting a walkoff against the league’s best closer, but if that didn’t happen, he’s in an extra inning game without his DH for very vague reasons. That to me seems like the most egregious example of overmanaging in the game, it just didn’t happen to come back to bite him the way the pinch running Ortiz did for Farrell.

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    1. Dana King

      I wondered about that at the time. Why pull Joyce out of the DH spot, which required the pitcher to bat (or be hit for), when he had Fuld available, as was proven when Fuld did come into the game later. Not one announcer commented on that.

      Also, how does a professional athlete in his early 20s become so dehydrated he cramps up and can’t continue while playing baseball in an air conditioned dome? Were they out of water and Gatorade?

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    2. Rob Smith

      Dana, ha. Yeah, pretty crazy. I have a friend who’s a High School football coach. I went to one of his games and about half a dozen of his players cramped. It actually might have been more. The answer in their case, is that they didn’t listen to their coach and weren’t drinking. I see this a lot in High School, but a professional athlete? Come on! That’s just brain dead.

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  2. Jake Bucsko

    Here’s another thing: Braves relievers pitched 15 innings against the Dodgers, and gave up 8 runs (4 each for Jordan Walden and David Carpenter). The Braves carried 7 relievers into the NLDS. Of those 7, Craig Kimbrel is universally regarded as the best. Kimbrel is also typically regarded as the best closer in the league, and there is a good argument for him as the single best relief pitcher in all of baseball.

    So why…WHY…WHY!!!…did Kimbrel finish the NLDS with just one appearance, a four out save? Luis Avilan came into every single game. FIVE Braves relievers logged more innings and threw more pitches than Craig Kimbrel. Fredi Gonzalez’s (and many others) insistence on keeping his closer in the bullpen for “save situations” only might have cost the Braves their season last night. When I saw Carpenter come out for the 8th inning instead of Kimbrel, I turned off the game and went to sleep, confident I’d wake up to a Dodger victory. It’s indefensible.

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    1. Frank

      I think that the creation of the save statistic got into managers’ heads – especially Tony Larussa’s – in the late 80′s / early 90′s. Rather than managing a game to put your best pitcher into the game’s most crucial moment, they managed so that their closers could rack up saves, as if the 9th inning was always the most crucial moment. I think it also became a negotiating point for relievers when it came to free agency.

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    2. Rob Smith

      Yes, especially since in their game 2 win, Freddi didn’t go to Carpenter and went to Kimbrel in the 8th. Kimbrel, as Kimbrel does, shut the game down. With your back to the wall and a chance to go to game 5, why would you put a struggling Carpenter in the game and leave Kimbrel staring in from the bullpen? It defies common sense. It’s the type of confounding move Bobby Cox used to make in the post season that helped prevent the Braves from winning multiple championships.

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    3. Dinky

      I mildly disagree with you. Asking Kimbrel to throw two innings against a disciplined Dodger team that takes a lot of pitches runs the risk of overextending him so he fatigues in the ninth, or wearing him out so that he is less effective in game 5. I’m sure he would have come in with two outs, or maybe one out. The Braves have had perhaps the bet pitcher management concept in baseball for a couple of decades, and if you’re going to buy in to all the early yanks of Maddox, Glavine, and Smoltz, you also have to buy in to not overextending a hard throwing closer groomed to throw 20 pitches or less.

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    4. Frank

      Yes, Dinky, poor Kimbrel’s arm typically falls off after 20 pitches. He can’t throw again for three days after it’s stitched back on.

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    5. Rob Smith

      Frank, ha! Yeah, win now & he has a day off to recover. If he can’t pitch in game 5, then so be it. At least you got to game 5. In the regular season, you worry about his arm falling off and handle him accordingly. In an elimination game, you don’t leave bullets in the chamber.

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  3. Tampa Mike

    I don’t get why the Red Sox were so eager to swing away. Rodney was all over the place. He walked Middlebrooks on 5 pitches. He threw 2 balls to Ellsbury before he hit the blooper. The first pitch to Victorino was a ball. Pedroia went up swinging away. Carp was swinging away. Rodney can’t throw a strike and these guys are letting him off the hook.

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  4. CS

    This isn’t just true in baseball, but in almost all sports. Too many coaches see their job as what they do on game days, rather than in practice. The success of a baseball manager boils down to what players management gives him (at least 60% of his success/failure rides on this), his ability to manage a clubhouse and its personalities (30%) and the rest is tactics (10%). But because that last 10% is the only part entirely within his control, managers cling to it heavily and overdo it (and sometimes ruin their ability to manage a clubhouse in the process).

    But this goes to football as well. My high school alma mater has struggled at football for the past 20 years. Very few winning seasons during that time (<5). A few years after I graduated, I asked one of my ex-classmates who was on the coaching staff why our school always had a pretty good offense, but awful defenses. His response, "Rosey (the OC) knows what he is doing on offense and the Head Coach leaves him alone. But the HC loves coaching defense and always comes up with these complex schemes to stop the other team and the kids are always trying to remember what they are supposed to be doing. Our defensive playbook is almost as big as our offensive playbook. If he'd just let them go out there and read and react to the play, we'd be a much better team." Basketball coaches are always looking to strangle the last two minutes of a close game with endless timeouts so they can give their players the perfect play, when the best bet for a score might be to just let the game play out and let your players find the guy on defense who is out of position and attack him.

    If more coaches would embrace the John Wooden attitude that coaching and teaching is accomplished at practice and games are just the test, they would probably be more successful and sports would be a lot more enjoyable to watch.

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    1. invitro

      “(at least 60% of his success/failure rides on this), his ability to manage a clubhouse and its personalities (30%) and the rest is tactics (10%).”

      Do you have any hard evidence at all for those numbers? Just curious.

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    2. Rob Smith

      My sons high school basketball coach, with a lead in the last four minutes instructs the team to hold the ball and run clock… No shot clock in this state. Following turnovers and missed free throws, the best we can hope for is to hang on once the positive momentum is purposely given away. It’s among the dumbest strategies in sport.

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  5. Ian

    I admit, I don’t hate the bunt but I don’t really like it either. With one exception. I love it when a hitter can actually bunt for a hit.

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    1. Jake Bucsko

      Sometimes bunting can be a good play, you can catch the defense unawares and be standing on 1st by the time the 3rd baseman or whoever picks the ball up. Like onside kicks in football, they tend to work best when the other team doesn’t know that its coming.

      I have no problem, of course, with pitchers bunting runners over, but when someone like Shane Victorino comes in and you give up his bat and an out just to move one extra guy into scoring position…it can drive you nuts.

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    2. TheAngryYoungMan

      When Joe (or just about anyone else) talks about hating the bunt, they’re ONLY talking about sacrifice bunts (i.e., purposely giving up an out). Bunting for a hit is a completely different animal. Nobody is against that.

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  6. W. Blake Gray

    Twice in the A’s-Tigers series already I have had to turn off the volume in frustration at the stupidity. Of course it will only get worse once Fox takes over.

    I have a theory that the networks believe most Americans disdain statistics-based tactics, which is why guys like Harold Reynolds continue to have jobs talking about baseball, and Joe Morgan stayed on ESPN for so many years.

    The problem is that most Americans will believe, eventually, what they’re told over and over. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

    And not just about baseball. Did I mention Fox?

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    1. Rob Smith

      Just be thankful that Tim McCarver no longer graces us with his presence…. Although I’m honestly blown away by how bad Smoltz is, both in announcing ability and his ability to articulate intelligent baseball strategy. I guess it’s a good thing he threw 98 mph with a nasty slider. He didn’t have many hard pitch selections to make when every pitch he throws is going to be trouble for any batter. His brain was unnecessary to be successful.

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    2. Dinky

      When Vin Scully sat down for innings 4-6 on the Dodger radio network yesterday, I switched over to the Fox broadcast as it has a stronger signal. Orel Hershiser does not have a great speaking voice. But in one sequence he correctly called a fastball with no swing by the pitcher, then a fastball with a likely hack by Garcia leading to a foul in the stands. The foul ball was dropped. Hershiser said that he can’t anticipate everything. His brilliant analysis of the on field activities was almost enough to keep me listening to Fox when Scully returned in the seventh, and I like Charlie Steiner a lot. Either Hershiser or Rick Monday pointed out that on Gonzalez’s second error, his job is to throw to second base and it was Ramirez’s job to get over there in time to catch it. But the best play would have been to note that Freeman is slow, step on first, then throw to second for a tag play.

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  7. timifill

    Based on my very rough math, the Rex Sox offense this year gets about 1.46 plate appearances in for every out they record (this isn’t exact – I did it quick and dirty and based it on 27 outs per game). So at that point in the game, with Ortiz on base and 6 outs remaining, it’s actually quite likely that his spot in the lineup would come up again in the game (on average, the Sox got in 8.75 PAs for every 6 outs recorded). If there had been two outs, or it had been the 9th, yeah you pull him for the speedster. But I agree with Joe that leaving him in for the fairly likely eventuality of having him hit again (and when he was pulled no one had any idea how the rest of the game would play out) is the much smarter move.

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  8. Mark Daniel

    Runners on 1st and 2nd with 0 outs may have a higher run expectancy that 2nd and 3rd and 1 out. But my guess is that at least half the time in such a situation, the opposing manager walks the next batter, making it bases loaded and 1 out. This scenario as the highest run expectancy of the three. I bet if you you average ‘Bases Loaded 1 out’ and ’2nd and 3rd 1 out’, you might just end up with equivalent run expectancy to 1st and 2nd with 0 out. In short, the move made no difference.

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  9. doc

    What really interested me in that game is that the announcing team, in the bottom of the eighth, also insisted that Tampa really had to bunt with Matt Joyce at the plate & runners on first & second. He popped a foul ball, which was, of course, caught. And then, *after* the pop out, someone points out that Joyce has had, in his MLB career, 1 successful sacrifice bunt. In 2040 PA. Meanwhile, he has a .340 OBA and a .455 SA, and more than 40% of his hits this year (AND in his career) have extra base hits. HE SHOULD BUNT? (Please forgive my shouting, but, it was unbelievable.)

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  10. Michael Monk

    I was confused by the Double Switch in the ST. Louis/Pittsburgh game when they pulled David Freese during a pitching change in, what I believe was still a tie game. I get that he wasn’t having the year he normally does, but hasn’t he proven an clutch hitter in the playoffs? I am only superficially following the series, but flipped over and they were talking about the double switch.

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    1. Rob Smith

      The double switch usually involves whoever made the last out in the prior inning. Insert the pitcher in that player that made the last out’s spot & replace that player and bat his replacement in the pitchers’s spot. That way the pitchers spot doesn’t come up for 9 spots & probably doesn’t come up gain (if used properly). But yeah, you wouldn’t double switch out a good hitter, unless you are also getting a defensive upgrade in the process. I’m guessing the fact that Freese is 2 for 13 in the series had something to do with it…. along with his sub-average season overall.

      Reply
  11. Wilbur

    It’s why football coaches for decades punted on 4th and inches at the 50; they’re afraid of the criticism inevitably leveled at a coach who goes against “the book”.

    I remember reading some Negro League player say that when they’d get the leadoff man on in the first inning, they would always sacrifice, under the theory “Takes two to beat ya”. Apparently, no thought was given to the fact that it takes three to beat two.

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  12. Sid

    This is just the latest example of a very human or social instinct that’s taken stronger and stronger hold in recent years — the need for someone who is a manager to be seen as “doing something” to justify their existence, compensation or lack of culpability. Somewhere along the way the notion of “NOT doing something” being a legitimate strategic choice has been lost — you see it in managing sports teams and birthing babies and portfolio management and who knows how many other places. Actively doing things (even if they turn out wrong) can always be defended — “I looked at this and that and decided this was best” — whereas a lack of action runs the risk of being perceived as negligent, regardless of the explanation. 30 years ago quarterbacks called their own plays, pitchers (and catchers) called their own pitches, and basketball teams hardly had timeouts much less plays to be called each time down the floor.

    All of these guys in the baseball playoffs aren’t just managing, they’re MANAGING in bold capital letters. They want to demonstrate their prowess and justify their existence (and success), and each pinch hitter, pitching change, sacrifice bunt and intentional walk they choose serves that purpose.

    I wonder how much of it is reinforced by all of the column inches (real and virtual) and air time (audio and video) needs to be filled by today’s voracious sports media — there are SO MANY more people out there with a platform to comment on and critique every last decision, that that just magnifies the risk of being perceived as inattentive and amplifies the need to act, Act, ACT…

    I’m way out of my league — somebody who knows something about social psych help me out here…

    Reply
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  14. Vidor

    Does the fact that it’s the ninth inning change the equation? Yes, it lowers their chance at a big inning, but it raises their chance at one run, and if they don’t score that one run, they definitely lose.

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  15. Michael Monk

    And last night, the Dodgers did it too. Pulled Adrian Gonzalez in a 2-2 game and put in Dee Gordon to pinch run. He never tried to steal because Puig was up and was out on a fielder’s choice. They then put in Michael Young in that spot and at first. Sure enough, A-Gon’s spot came up in the 10th with 1st and 3rd and 1 out and Young flied out to right in what became a double play as Ellis was thrown out at home tagging. Now maybe A-Gon would have done the same, but wouldn’t, as a Dodger fan, you had rather seen him up there?

    Reply
  16. Idiot Proof

    “I have long believed that managers hurt their teams as much or more than they help when they decide, as Bugs Bunny once did, that a moment calls for a little stragety.” …How did that get through the spell-check?

    Reply

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