By In Baseball

Walking Ortiz

There are many, many reasons why I despise the Intentional Walk. It’s anti-competitive. It’s often terrible strategy. It’s basically taking advantage of a loophole in the rules — I’m not a fan of loopholes in general. Etc. But in Game 6 of the World Series, when the Cardinals intentionally walked David Ortiz three times (twice to their own huge disadvantage) I came up with another reason why I despise the Intentional Walk.

Think about David Ortiz for a moment. Great hitter. Awesome hitter. I’m not sure about all this Hall of Fame talk already — I mean, up to this point, Ortiz’s career offensive WAR is still behind Carney Lansford, Tony Phillips, Amos Otis and Chet Lemon, and offensive WAR is basically his whole case — but he’s great for the game, he has been fantastic in the postseason, and he still has some years left. I’m a huge fan.

But think about the REAL David Ortiz. This year he hit .308 and slugged .554. Very good numbers. The two seasons before this one, it was about the same (.312 average and .576 slugging). We all know this: David Ortiz is a fantastic hitter, one of the very best of his generation.

In the World Series though, coming into Game 6, Ortiz had been something else. He had been otherworldly. As people kept saying, he was hitting .733! He was slugging 1.267! He had Thor’s hammer! He had The Hulk’s rage! He had Iron Man’s suit! (Yes, I just watched The Avengers with the kids). You couldn’t pitch to this man. He was so hot that people blamed him for global warming. He was so on fire that people were using him for barbecues. You would not dare pitch to this man.

And the Cardinals, who absolutely should know better, fell for these fairy tales. David Ortiz got 11 hits in 15 at-bats in those first five games. Let’s start by using the right numbers here. He did not hit .733. That’s suggesting he had enough at-bats to make a batting average credible. No. He went 11 for 15. I don’t know whose idea it was to start giving batting averages for numbers that small, but they should stop. If a guy goes four for five in a game, we say that. We don’t say: Oh my gosh, he hit .800.

OK, so Ortiz went 11 for 15, which is obviously spectacular. It’s not the first time he’s gone cuckoo for a few games. In 2000, he had a five game stretch where he got 14 hits in 19 at-bats. He hit .266 the rest of the year. In July this year he had had three games in July where he went eight for 10 with two home runs. He went one for 15 the next four games. People want to believe in hitters who can go clutchy on demand. People want to believe that hot hitters will stay hot because they’re seeing the ball well, because it’s the size of a coconut coming up there, because they’re locked in. But there’s just so much data that shows these things to be myths. And even if you can’t buy into them being total myths, even if you just cannot stop thinking that some hitters ARE clutch and some hitters DO stay hot, maybe you can concede that there’s a lot less to those theories than meets the eyes.

Maybe you wouldn’t build a baseball STRATEGY around these things.

The Cardinals completely bought into what a man had done in 15 measly at-bats. They knew how good David Ortiz was before the series started. Suddenly, they believed he was actually much better than that. They threw their entire playbook out the window based on 15 at-bats. Instead of respecting David Ortiz for the player he really is, they worshipped him as an immortal and brought out a self-destructive intentional walk strategy based on a tiny sample size and the folklore of the World Series stage.

One thing I will take away from this Series was the one time in the middle of Game 6 when the Cardinals DID pitch to Ortiz. Nobody was on base so I guess it was OK. Tim McCarver, in his last game broadcasting for FOX, gushed about how Ortiz “just doesn’t swing through pitches.” He said this seconds before Ortiz swung through strike three.

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47 Responses to Walking Ortiz

  1. Larry Rosenthal says:

    The Cards need a manager who can reason past the book. As long as they buy into this jackass, they will lose, despite an incredible roster and farm.

    • Jake Bucsko says:

      Best fans in baseball, everybody!

    • Fabian says:

      Or at least a manager who manages by a more reasonable book.
      But I think you are overstating the importance of the manager here. A lousy manager will only cost his team so many wins a year. Thing with baseball is, the difference in outcome between a good and a bad decision is really small. Having an actual hitter hit over Kozma might only lead to a better outcome something like 10% of the time (if that guy can get on base at a 10% better clip, not an easy task). 90% of the time it won’t make a difference. Same with the IBB. Here it might have brought home two runs but given his OBP Ortiz would probably have gotten on base once anyway.
      What I am saying is, managers only matter at the margins. Also, Matheny is not a great manager.

      • In a 6-1 blowout, walking Ortiz probably didn’t impact the game much. Although Ortiz did score twice after being intentionally walked…. and, of course, he could have made out and shortened the innings.

        • stevemarines says:

          I think you have it backwards here – it only became a 6-1 game because of (partially) the walks to Ortiz. They were central to the scoring. They didn’t come after the game was already decided.

          Bad strategy.

    • Nick says:

      What, after the Dodgers series everyone was praising him! Matheny’s fine, c’mon man.

    • dominicancamp says:

      The Cards should not change a thing about what they are doing. Look at how often they have 1) been to the post season 2) been to the world series 3) won the World Series in the past decade. They had a great year and just didn’t happen to beat a good Boston team in the World Series. Not a reason to panic and replace the manager.

  2. 18thstreet says:

    Correction: when you’re hitting well, a baseball looks like a cantaloupe with seams. I don’t know where you got the crazy idea that that a baseball would look like a coconut. Must be because you never played the game, Joe.

    • owenpoin says:

      Eighteenth, you just served one up right down Broadway. The cantaloupe with seams idea is from the Moneyball years. Tom Tango had a week of blog posts in 2011 about how a locked in hitter actually sees the ball as an oversized peach with rows of ants on it. Counterintuitive, but the numbers back it up.

    • JOC56 says:

      Beach ball! it looks like a beach ball when you’re in the zone. I remember hearing that on Kiner’s Korner when I was a young lad and it stuck with me ever since.

    • Having played the game, despite what you think, I had many hot streaks where I almost couldn’t make out. I think the Cards overdid it by not even doing it situationally, even hot, he’ll make some outs…. but the strategy wasn’t completely bereft of logic.

  3. Grzegorz Brzeszczyszczykiewicz says:

    Why isn’t the rule for the catcher on intentional walks enforced? Rule 4.03(a) requires the catcher to have both feet in the catcher’s box on an intentional walk until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. On the intentional walks to Ortiz, Molina jumped out of the catcher’s box as the pitcher went into the windup. The intentional walk would be an entirely different adventure if this rule were enforced.

  4. Pokey Joe says:

    Didn’t this guy fail a drug test? Or be named on the Mitchell Report? Didn’t he have three or four crummy years and suddenly find the fountain of youth at 35 or so? Doesn’t this seem suspicious to anyone else?

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      Ortiz’s name was leaked as one of the players who failed the anonymous testing that led to implementation of the drug program to begin with.

      He did not have 3 or 4 crummy years. He had 2 years in which he was terrible for the first 2 1/2 months of the season. Terrible enough to look like he was on the verge of being out of the league. Hitting below .200 terrible. But in both seasons he hit more or less like himself the rest of the way. His OPS+ by season since he came to Boston: 144, 145, 158, 161, 171, 124, 102, 137, 154, 173, 160.

      So there is a bit of a 2-year valley there, but not 3 or 4 (although it is true that the last 3 years have been significantly better than the 3 that preceded them). But even at his worst his OPS+ was still better than league average. Quite a bit better, except for one season. That said, it is true that hitters are not usually better at 35, 36 and 37 than they were at 32, 33 and 34.

      • Bob Lince says:

        >>anonymous testing<>144, 145, 158, 161, 171, 124, 102, 137, 154, 173, 160<<

        Just curious, but how many players before the "steroid era" had their best OPS+ year at the age of 36, and their fourth best at the age of 37?

      • Fabian says:

        Hank Aaron had his highest WRC+ at age 37. Also remember that power ages better than defense or other more athleticism-dependent skills.

    • power and patience are 2 skills that age well – that is Ortiz’a game.. Half his hits are for extra bases ( his % of hits that are doubles is highest in MLB history – at least amongst those in top 200 alltime. not a Fenway illusion as his % was higher as a Twin)
      taking 2 very different players with power, check out Hank Aaron and Dave Kingman at same ages.

  5. Jerru says:

    How can you deny that David Ortiz is the greatest clutch hitter ever? I mean, I know he went 1 for 12 in the 2009 ALDS & 8 for 43 in 2008 ALDS & ALCS but those weren’t real clutch situations. And besides he didn’t have Johnny Gomes and those beards that make you clutch in those years.

    • Yuri Wilkommen says:

      Joe denies it because wonks won’t/can’t (I dunno which, I’m not a wonk) see the world outside a numerical representation of it. Even though it’s obvious how clutch David Ortiz is to most people, some just can’t/won’t see it because the numbers don’t allow them to… kinda like being colorblind. There are many kinds of people in the world.

  6. Ed says:

    Amen, it drives me crazy when a big deal is made about the average a player posts in a playoff series. How often does a player go 2-16 in a four game stretch or 12-16 in a four game stretch? It happens all the time during the regular season. During the season the player is considered cold or hot, not, as you said, Thor with his Hammer.

  7. toratoratora says:

    “He did not have 3 or 4 crummy years. He had 2 years in which he was terrible for the first 2 1/2 months of the season.”

    He was coming back from a wrist injury and those take a notoriously long time to heal for power hitter. IIRC, it takes about a full season,season and a half to fully get the power back.

    2 notes.
    1-Napoli was 6 for 13 with 2 HR hitting behind Ortiz this year after an IB, the Sox hit .363
    with an OBP of .481 and slugged.727,had15 RBI’s and scored 27 runs. Not at all the team or the player to IBB.SSS and all I know, but still…
    2-All that said, the Cards didn’t lose because of Matheny’s absurd managing or walking Ortiz, the lost because they couldn’t hit.Everything else is irrelevant to that base fact

    • TJMac says:

      “…they lost because they couldn’t hit. Everything else is irrelevant to that base fact.” No, it’s not irrelevant. All but one of Boston’s runs came after an intentional walk of Ortiz, in a situation where the 3rd out could conceivably have been recorded as a result of the Ortiz at-bat. Certainly, the Cards’ anemic hitting was a huge, if not the biggest, factor in their losing the Series. But note (1) they had more hits in game 6 than the Sox and (2) sometimes a team can overcome dead spots of hitting to win a series – see the 2013 NLCS for a fairly recent example. Bottom-line: a manager has little overall control over a game, so you at least want a strategy that doesn’t hurt a team’s chances to win. In Poz’s view this strategy hurt the Cards’ chances. I tend to agree with him. The win probability calculator he’s used before here can likely back us up or refute this. But, regardless, it’s not irrelevant.

  8. You mean the Johnny Gomes who railed on sabermetrics in his postgame interview? The same Johnny Gomes who was 2-17 in the World Series, 3-16 in the ALCS and 7-49 liftime in the playoffs with an OPS of .481? Yeah, he’s awesome.

    • jerry says:

      The funny thing about Gomes’ rant was that the stat that folks were using to say Nava should play instead of him was batting average, not exactly cutting edge

    • Mark Daniel says:

      bellweather22, The Red Sox and Giants over the past 2 seasons identified the new market inefficiency – intangibles. Johnny Gomes is the poster child for this.

  9. Rick R says:

    I hate the intentional walk,and agree with your argument in a previous post that there should be an option to decline it (though I believe it should be limited to once in regulation and once in extra innings). But the point of an intentional walk is only half about the batter at the plate. It’s also about the batter hitting behind him. The Sox had nobody as good as David Ortiz in their lineup. So if you have a choice between pitching to a team’s best hitter and pitching to a lesser hitter, you always pitch to the lesser hitter. Those people who argue that protection in a lineup is a myth are out of their minds. If David Ortiz had Manny Ramirez in his prime hitting behind him, David Ortiz would not have been walked three times, no matter how hot he was.

  10. MisterMJ says:

    Casual fans love narratives and the media is more and willing to supply them. Ortiz is “Ruthian” … Ortiz is the “greatest World Series player ever” – all said seriously. No doubt, Ortiz is a borderline HOF hitter and when you leave fastballs over the plate … he’ll crush them.

    But the postseason has always been about curses, heroes, and goats. Even earlier in this postseason, Freese was praised lavishly at each at-bat – the whole 2011 “clutch” hero ready to be clutch yet again in 2013. But after several games, the media began to realize that 2013 version Freese was horrible and 2013 playoff version Freese was no different. But the guy put up .397/.793/1.256 slashes in 2011! Sure, and he put up .179/.268/.526 figures in 2013.

    Ortiz has always carried the “passionate clubhouse leader”, “larger-than-life slugger”, and “super clutch hitter” labels. As any slugger, he has great weeks and he has bad weeks. If he has a great week, the narratives write themselves. No one remembers that Ortiz went 2 for 25 against Detroit the week before. But people remember that one grand slam against Benoit.

  11. dominicancamp says:

    I never really had a huge problem with the IBB. I think it gives the next guy in the lineup a chance to prove they made a mistake.

  12. Ross says:

    One that annoyed me even more than usual: they walked him after they already had a strike! It was when the pitcher balked on the second pitch. I know 0-1 isn’t a huge advantage, but still an advantage. And they gave that up.

  13. Ross: At least Ortiz didn’t score that time… unlike the other times. And I’m completely rethinking my thoughts that the IW’s to Ortiz didn’t matter (because of the blowout). In the three run 3rd, Ortiz was IW’d with one out. Napoli then struckout. So, if you managed to get Ortiz out (no guarantee), then the inning could potentially have ended scoreless. In the three run fourth, Ortiz was walked with two outs and a runner on second. If you get Ortiz out, again potentially no runs score. No way to really guarantee the results, but since Ortiz ended up scoring both times, the score wouldn’t have been any worse if Ortiz had homered both times. So, the IW definitely backfired on both occasions…. possibly costing the Cardinals a chance at winning the game. That, and the fact that they were knocking Wacha and Lynn around like a pinball machine (which may have ended up playing out anyway)… and the Cardinals scraped out exactly one run…. but without the IW’s, a case could be made that the game could have been close & possibly could have played out differently.

    • Fabian says:

      That’s not really how the evaluation should go though. You can’t just base it on the outcome. Baseball is a game of percentages. If intentionally walking Ortiz increases your opponents run expectancy, don’t do it. The actual outcome is interesting to talk about but it “working out” would not have justified it either.
      Intentional walks should probably be reserved for the NL with the pitchers spot coming up. In every other situation it is, on average, a bad idea.

      • I think you missed my first comment where I said the IWs didn’t matter because it wasn’t a close game. I changed my mind to saying it did matter, because it quite possibly led to all six runs. If you want to debate the odds that it would have gone that way, guessing before the fact, that’s fine. But it’s undeniable that, in this instance, the IW killed the Cards chance at winning….. Which matches up with the main criticism of IWs…. That they are free base runners that, too often, end up scoring and/or extend innings unnecessarily.

  14. Cathead says:

    I think there is something in Joe’s take with this about which I disagree, and I think it goes to the heart of the use of statistics in determining in-game strategy at particular moments. There is a certain logic that goes along the lines of this: For his career, Ortiz’ line is 292 / 390 / 572. In the 2013 WS it was 733 / 750 / 1200 for the first five games. The law of averages says that Ortiz cannot keep up this pace, so pitch to him every time because he is due to make outs. In fact, Mike Napoli’s numbers for career vs. 2013 WS thru five games is exactly the opposite. The law of averages says that he is due to get hits, so if you are going to walk anyone, walk Napoli.

    If I am playing Strat-o-matic, that’s the approach I would take – stats, probability, next dice roll.

    Is that the approach to take in a game on the field? Is it ever a possibility that a player truly is performing above his usual level for a period of time? Why are some players “streaky” and some not? Is that even true? Should short-term performance be ignored altogether?

    I think the truth might be somewhere in the middle. There may be a tendency by managers to over-rate streakiness, but there is a place to realize the human factors, including the facts that success builds confidence and failure breeds insecurity.

    • MRH says:

      There are similar batting streaks in the regular season, but the post-season differs for two reasons.

      1) The pressure/stakes aren’t as high. Not sure how this is quantifiable. If you lose 60 games in the regular season you are doing great, if you lose 4 games in the post season you are done for the year. I’d say that makes the post-season 15x as difficult, mentally.

      2) Some even deeper research would have to back this up or refute it, but I’d say in the post season you are facing better pitching. Going 10-for-12 against the 4th and 5th men in the rotation on a basement dweller in May is not the same as going against the aces that were on the mound in October.

    • BlahBlahBlah says:

      No. That’s the gamblers fallacy, thinking that the statistical odds of a single event are changed by those preceding.

      • Which hunt? says:

        I was going to say that. Man am I on a cold streak, but I’m due for some regression so I’m buying a lottery ticket!

  15. Yo La Tengo says:

    Great post by Posnanski on a fascinating topic, but I think he gets a bit carried away here. I agree that the IW is a questionable strategy (esp. in hindsight after a 6-1 result), but you don’t need to “worship” Ortiz as an immortal or be blinded by “the folklore of the World Series stage” to seriously consider it in this situation. It’s not just the size of the sample that matters, I would argue, but also its recency. The sample wasn’t just picked out at random from some period of time in Ortiz’s career, or even in the 2013 season, but from the past several games –with as yet no evidence to suggest that the trend was abating. Unless you don’t believe in hot and cold hitting streaks at all, you should put some weight on the recency of this sample. Even if we recognize that some of law of averages would catch up to Ortiz at some point and put a halt to his hot streak, there were no signs of that happening yet: i.e., there was no evidence for disregarding it. If I’m a manager, those “15 measly at-bats” with the .733 average (compared to the .156 for the rest of the team) might be a small sample, but they are at least as valid a basis for decision-making as the .308 average Ortiz posted for the entire 2013 season (if that’s the average Posnanski would have based his decisions upon….it’s not clear).

  16. Bob Lince says:

    This season (2013) in the NL, you had to watch a trace over 38 innings to see one of these terrible, “despised” IBBs. That’s over four 9-inning games.

    In the AL this season, you had to watch 50 innings to see a despicable IBB. That’s over five 9-inning games.

    Is it really that big of a deal?

    Mr. Poznanski eviscerates the Cardinals for letting a small base-hit sample – 11 for 15 – so irrationally discombobulate them that they issued four IBBs to David Ortiz. Especially given the fact that he did strikeout swinging once.

    But given the above referenced facts concerning the rarity of IBBs, isn’t Mr. Poznanski allowing himself, like the Cardinals, to be irrationally discombobulated by a small sample?

    The Ortiz cluster in no way reflects the non-prevalence of IBBs in the game.

  17. Yuri Wilkommen says:

    Pretty spot on about IBBs. I had a couple of debates with people around town as I was making my way to the bar to watch the game and then again in the bar about this subject. Every one of these four people brought up Barry Bonds. This is exactly the myth. By 2004 Bonds was such a mythical hero that people helped him out (both by increasing his mythical status and his OBP) while claiming strategical self preservation.

    No player is so good you should just walk him in any situation, no matter what his branding says.

    To give Ortiz a free base when the Red Sox are working together on this “brotherhood of one to reach the goal of redemption and badassery” thing that they have going; well that is just foolish. They feast on fear. It put too much pressure on Wacha. The Red Sox take pitches, so its not gonna be easy for your pitcher to get out of this because no one is expanding the strike zone and to make things worse Ellsbury is on second, which is very distracting.

    …And that he did it again with 2 outs none the less… slow on the uptake.

  18. Love Baseball says:

    Don’t know about dedicated fan but you are definitely one of the best Corporate Shills ever.

    Down with strategy, the sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, stolen base, batting average, (right…Tony Gwynn is a really very overrated player, what with all those worthless batting titles) down with resistance to the steroid/PED behemoths, (er…uh…worship PED user Ortiz, hate PED user Rodriguez) down with knowledgable (and independent) managers – and – up with the strikeouts and walks, up with the celebrity worship of baseball players, dubious home runs in tiny ballparks, ratings, corporate agenda butt-kissing manager-pretenders, and hey, Joe – are you sure you like baseball? I’m sure you could devise and create a game of your own that everyone would enjoy for centuries to come. One that wouldn’t be so contrary to the agenda you promote so well…

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