Anatomy of a really dumb series of moves

DMZ · April 20, 2007 at 1:21 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Today’s game offers us some unwelcome insights into how Hargrove thinks, and how that thinking costs the team games (I recommend Geoff Baker’s entries here, and here, which are likely as close to transcriptions of Hargrove’s brain process as we’re likely to get).

The situation before Hargrove starts making decisions:
1b: empty
2b: Alexi Casilla (who is crazy fast)
3b: Jason Bartlett

The M’s lead 2-1 and have one out.

Up next:
C-L Mauer
RF-R Cuddyer
1B-L Morneau
DH-R Redmond

Notes on those guys:
Mauer has a huge platoon split: 04-06, he hit .275/.337/.334 against LHP and .342/.427/.535 against RHP.

Cuddyer’s hit significantly better against lefties than righties (his OPS split is .845/.788) but it’s not that huge.

Morneau’s not as bad as Mauer, but he’s got a split vulnerability (.262/.304/.457 v LHP, .290/.360/.536 v RHP).

Redmond’s a less-good Cuddyer: .795 OPS v LHP, .678 v RHP.

In the bullpen:
RHP Sean Green
RHP Julio Mateo
RHP Chris Reitsma
RHP Sean White
LHP George Sherill

Also, RHP Brandon Morrow, who Hargrove seems to have forgotten (side note: Morrow would now have three starts under his belt had he not broken camp with the team, instead of 3 innings).

Assumptions: Washburn’s done and needs to come out.

Desired outcome: get out of the inning with as few runs scored as possible.

Potential strategies:
No roles. Put Putz in. This is a critical juncture in the game, so you want your best reliever out there. Putz can get strikeouts and keep the ball in the infield. He’s effective against lefties. But this isn’t even a possibility, since Putz is the closer. Hargrove brings him in much later in the game, with the M’s way down.

Assume the closer is sacred. So we don’t get Putz, because Putz must be saved for a possible close situation later. Who do you want? There seem to be two obvious choices:
– Bring a lefty – which means Sherill – to face Mauer. Mauer’s a kitten versus lefties, hopefully you get a K, or an easy pop-out. A fly out might score Bartlett and advance Casilla, but you’re already in trouble there. Either way, you could then intentionally walk Cuddyer, even, and face another guy who has trouble with lefties in Morneau. Given Sherill’s spring, it would clearly take some stones to make the move, and maybe you’d even rather there was a different lefty here… but there isn’t. Tough call to make.

– Bring in an effective righty who isn’t Putz. Almost certainly you want Reitsma. Given how the next set of hitters do against righties, though, tough call between Sherill and Reitsma.

Walk Mauer and hope for a double play. I almost never like intentional walks, but with only one lefty in the bullpen (and that being Sherill, who you might understandably be reluctant to gamble on) let’s say this a valid strategy.

What then? You’ve loaded the bases with the intention of getting a double-play, which requires a ground ball and reliance on your infield. Who do you look to?

By 2006 G/F ratio

RHP Sean Green 2.48
RHP Chris Reitsma 1.68
LHP George Sherill 0.59
RHP Julio Mateo 0.51
RHP Sean White (?)

(excludes Morrow, Putz)

Mateo is the pitcher least likely to succeed in this situation. Equally clearly, if you want an experienced veteran groundballer to pound the strike zone with breaking pitches to get a grounder, Reitsma is your guy.

There’s an argument that Hargrove was looking to a batter-pitcher matchup and liked Mateo. That may be possible. But if that’s the case, it’s a further evidence that Hargrove can’t make these decisions. Mateo can get groundouts. But he doesn’t. He’s not that good at it. He has a pitch you might think should get a groundball – Hargrove clearly does – but Mateo does not throw it well enough to be effective with it.

And the rest is much the same. Once Mateo’s in there and gives up a double to Cuddyer, Hargrove has a similar choice, and choses to walk Morneau with Mateo instead of bringing Sherill in to defang him. The double play is set up again, and Mateo is no more suited to get a ground ball here than he was the last time. He predictably fails to get one. Finally, he gets Josh Rabe to ground to short – and then is removed for Sherill. In terms of G/F ratio, this is about what you’d expect from Mateo.

There’s a further argument here, that you can’t use Reitsma early because he’s reserved for later innings, to which I make the same counter-point: with two men on, facing the heart of the Twins lineup, putting a bad pitcher in there means that there’s no lead to protect later in a neat 8th-9th fashion, no save situation for Putz, nothing. If this adherence to roles is really so strict that in a crucial situation in the 7th the two best-suited pitchers are barred from helping the team win a game because they’re going to be used in less-meaningful situations later, that is a gift to every opponent the team faces, a significant disadvantage the team is taking on willingly, for no better reason than the modern book on reliever usage is rigid, and the team follows its dogma.

Is the team really better off having Putz and Reitsma watch from the bullpen as Mateo lets inherited runners score and squanders games, ensuring they don’t get in?

Are they better off letting other teams know that if they can work a starter for enough pitches and chase them from the game early they’re guaranteed a gift-wrapped chance to put up a nice, crooked number on the board?

And how can the M’s management tolerate having a manager this inflexible who, even in choosing poor strategies, finds the most destructive way to implement them?


65 Responses to “Anatomy of a really dumb series of moves”

  1. Nuss on April 20th, 2007 9:25 am

    Are there any good statistical references for how often pitchers actually induce double plays following an IBB? Seems to me that it’s almost never a good strategy to put another baserunner on for free — last night’s game as good an example as any …

  2. dks on April 20th, 2007 9:49 am

    I don’t have statistics at my fingertips for GIDP following an IBB to load the bases, but the league-wide GIDP in all DP situations — runner on first, less than 2 outs — is just 14%. The bases loaded alsoo gives you the force at the plate even w/o a double play, but its still not good odds. I would’ve brought in Sherill, Spring Training be damned.

  3. Derek (not DMZ, but nearly as awesome) on April 20th, 2007 10:06 am

    Your analysis is terrific, DMZ. But can we please, please start discussing the important issue? We can’t skate around it any longer.

    Is Julio Mateo pregnant?

  4. Mariner Fan in CO Exile on April 20th, 2007 10:11 am

    #53 – the more important question is, who is the father? It might explain a lot.

  5. Steve T on April 20th, 2007 10:25 am

    I’ll bet if you asked Hargrove flat out he’d tell you that Mateo WAS a groundball pitcher. I’m sure he remembers plenty of ground balls that Mateo has gotten at various times. In fact, I’ll bet if you asked him, he’d bring up a specific ground ball that Mateo got on such-and-such a date that stuck in his mind. Hargrove isn’t a complete moron. He’s just trying to do the impossible: keep track of things like that WITHOUT KEEPING TRACK OF THINGS LIKE THAT.

    No one, NO ONE can remember these kinds of details about trends and tendencies, even super-obvious ones like home runs, without counting them. That’s what statistics are for. EVERYONE remembers some events and forgets others, and forms incorrect ideas about what happened. It’s human nature. Only if you write it down, and refer back to the numbers, can you grasp reality.

    Hargrove can’t do that. It’s a tool he doesn’t know how to make, how to find, how to use. He’s living in the Stone Age while everyone around him is up to Bronze at the very least. He’s hunkered down there in the dugout chipping flints, trying to get a good one, while a guy is standing right behind him with an assortment of Sheffield steel blades. But he doesn’t know they’re there.

  6. dks on April 20th, 2007 10:54 am

    Fangraphs says both IBB’s hurt, though not much — -0.017 WPA for the first, -0.005 for the second.

  7. mikethomas22 on April 20th, 2007 11:10 am

    hideous hideous hargrove. i would be a better manager right now. that’s the sad truth.

  8. mycroft on April 20th, 2007 11:43 am

    Everything said about leverage makes sense to me. I would ask, though, why don’t any managers seem to follow this logic (hopefully, I’m not missing someone obvious)? It’s one thing to dismiss Hargrove as a short-bus kinda guy, but shouldn’t someone in the rest of the league be smarter? In particular, we’ve seen the rise of some young, smart GMs in the past few years, yet their teams seem to retain the closer role.

    It just makes me wonder if there’s something else factoring in. For example, my impression from interviews is that relievers consider it really important to know their roles. Do they just bitch and moan too much when anyone proposes using them more flexibly?

    Just curious.

  9. Nuss on April 20th, 2007 12:26 pm

    Some do. It’s just that it takes an organizational shift in thinking — read Moneyball if you want to know why more managers don’t manage that way.

    Baseball is old. The way most of them think is old. In fact, I was over at “Mariners Insider” this morning and this is what an old beat writer had to say: “As for the lads at Big Boat Mariners, there’s a reason they manage a web site and not a major league team.”

    Well, duh — they’re forward thinking individuals, not old former baseball players.

  10. msb on April 20th, 2007 12:27 pm

    can we make Batista manager?

    Miguel Batista believes that the best way to safeguard the health of Seattle Mariners staff ace Felix Hernandez is to win without him.

    “We have to make sure we get ourselves in a good position,” Batista said. “When Felix comes back, you don’t want him to force himself to win. He’ll pitch his heart out, because we’d be in a tight situation. The more comfortable we make it for him, the better he’ll be.”

  11. davepaisley on April 20th, 2007 1:44 pm

    I’d be more impressed if Batista had said,

    “Well, if Grover would just stop using Gas Can in high leverage situations, we’d win a lot more games before Felix gets back.”

  12. Josh on April 20th, 2007 2:01 pm

    Consider not only that Mateo is the least likely to get a groundball of those options mentioned, but he is also amongst the least likely to stop the batter from reaching base. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt against some of the other questionable pitchers, Reitsma, Sherill and Putz all have to be considered better at simply getting the batter out, as well as, to varying degrees, getting groundballs.

    Point being that I’d love to get a double play, but if not, I’d rather have a sac fly (2-2) than a couple of doubles (6-2).

  13. darrylzero on April 20th, 2007 2:56 pm

    Josh, yeah, the GB issue tends to overshadow the cost/benefit issue, but I think it’s huge. That was recklessly protecting a lead as if we’d be doomed if the game was tied. Then we scored 3 more runs later…you’d hope he could learn from that but it’s clearly not true.

  14. Josh on April 20th, 2007 3:02 pm

    Yeah, it was not a defensible move by any possible train of thought.

  15. joser on April 22nd, 2007 3:25 am

    I realize nobody is reading these comments at this point (the post is no longer even on the front page) but I have to relate this anecdote:

    I was at the game. I had a good seat where I could see Santana’s stuff (his changeup looks exactly like his fastball), but as the game wore on I moved around to the outfield bleachers so I could sit in the sun. I found myself sitting near a couple of Twins fans. When this situation came up (and let’s not overlook the fact that the situation was created by two bunts — ie smart strategy by Gardenhire) and Hargrove came out to the mound, they started discussing the situation loudly enough for me to overhear. They were surprised Hargrove was pulling Washburn at that point, because he’s a lefty and Mauer had done nothing against him all day. (I had to agree, though Washburn’s pitchcount was at 98.) So at that point one of them actually said “Well, I guess they want to bring in a groundball guy to avoid the sacrifice, or maybe load the bases and look for a double-play.” And I was just thinking “Knowing Hargrove he’ll bring in Mateo,” hoping of course I was wrong — and who should stroll out of the bullpen. We all know what happened after that. So as I sat there groaning, knowing that Hargrove actually thought Mateo was the guy to get a groundball even though we all know he’s the least likely to do that of any reliever on the statff, these guys said to the bleachers in general “Man, your manager really sucks.”

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