Batter Pitcher Match-Up Data

Dave · May 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Yesterday, the Mariners faced a left-handed starting pitcher, and one who is traditionally very tough on left-handed batters. Opposing LHBs are hitting .149/.171/.216 against Harrison this year, compared to the .343/.387/.537 mark that RHBs are putting up, so he basically turns lefties into the equivalent of an average hitting pitcher. So, Eric Wedge put both Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp on the bench, and after the game, he noted that he was trying to put the team on the field that gives them the best chance to win. Giving them a day off against a very tough left-hander is entirely defendable, even in a rebuilding year, especially when you’re trying to stop a losing streak.

So, I don’t have any problem with Wedge deciding to rest those guys yesterday. It’s just that the rest of his decisions make no sense.

Miguel Olivo, right-handed hitter, was on the bench. Left-handed hitter John Jaso started at DH and hit leadoff. John Jaso, he of the career .172/.301/.247 line against southpaws, was chosen to get the most plate appearances of anyone in the line-up against a guy who is absolutely murder on left-handed batters. Obviously, we’ve been asking for more playing time for Jaso and less playing time for Olivo, so it might seem weird to point out displeasure with Wedge deciding to play Jaso over Olivo, but a major league manager should understand basic things like platoon advantages.

Instead, it appears that Wedge was paying attention to a different kind of number – batter/pitcher match-up data. Here’s Greg Johns, before the game, on his blog:

Interesting lineup today for the Mariners against the Rangers, with John Jaso leading off and Chone Figgins batting second and playing left field, while Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp have the day off.

Why? It appears manager Eric Wedge is playing the percentages, with Ackley 0-for-15 in his career against Rangers starter Matt Harrison and Carp 0-for-10.

Figgins is 4-for-14, while Alexi Liddi is 3-for-6.

Here’s Wedge’s quote about why Ackley’s not playing:

It’s just a matchup situation,” Wedge said. “And he’s still trying to find it. We’re trying to put the best lineup out there to win. When this kid throwing against us is on, he’s pretty good. So we want to give ourselves the best chance to win today. That’s that fine line that you’re walking.”

And finally, here’s Dustin Ackley talking about why he thinks he was on the bench after the game.

“I’m just playing it day by day,” Ackley said. “I know Harrison is throwing today and I haven’t had much success against him. I’m sure that’s a lot of the reason. I know [Wedge] likes the matchups a lot and what you’ve done off guys in the past.”

When a strange looking line-up was posted, Johns looked at the batter/pitcher match-up data and realized that the decisions looked like they were influenced from those numbers. When asked about it, Wedge cited the match-up. When Ackley was asked about it, he referenced that he knew Wedge puts a lot of stock into specific batter/pitcher history.

This is a problem, because specific batter/pitcher match-up data is worthless. It literally has no predictive value whatsoever. This isn’t just some gray area where Wedge is referencing information that outsiders don’t have access to that might not line up with the numbers – this is the Mariners manager relying exclusively on numbers, but not understanding which ones matter and which ones don’t.

This issue has been extensively studied. There’s an entire chapter devoted to it in The Book, much of which is available for you to read through Amazon without even going through the hassle of buying a paper copy. This is freely available information, and the conclusion is indisputable – knowing what a hitter did against a pitcher in the past will tell you nothing about what a player will do against that pitcher in the future. You can argue against it all you want, but the data is overwhelmingly conclusive – batter/pitcher match-up data is useless.

Not useless, though, are platoon splits. Left/right match-ups are probably the most significant type of split data, and a manager could do a decent job of selecting who to play on a given day by simply maximizing the platoon advantage. If you literally just started all of your right-handers against a lefty and vice versa, you’d probably do a better job of setting line-ups than a human looking at batter/pitcher match-up data. Of course, the ideal is to incorporate all information and not just select on one variable, so we’re not arguing that every batter should be platooned every night, but if you’re going to choose between an LHB and an RHB against a guy like Matt Harrison, you better have compelling reasoning for why you’re choosing the lefty. And then, if you choose the lefty, you should probably hit him ninth. Instead, Wedge hit Jaso first, essentially giving Harrison three or four free outs at the top of the order.

Miguel Olivo wasn’t going to win the game for the Mariners yesterday, so maybe this seems like a minor issue that didn’t actually have much of an influence on the outcome of the game. But, it’s impossible to look at the stated reasons for making out yesterday’s line-up and not realize that Eric Wedge’s decision making process is completely broken. There are some basic truths about the sport that he’s unaware of. Eric Wedge stated with a straight face that he was trying to put the best team on the field to win yesterday’s game, and then proceeded to put John Jaso in the line-up against a southpaw and hit him at the top of the batting order. This is Mike Hargrove bringing in Julio Mateo to get a groundball all over again. This is the kind of decision that is just blindingly wrong, and the organization shouldn’t have to put up with.

The M’s need more talent, but they also could use a manager who actually understands how to play the percentages. When they get around to trying to win games every night, Eric Wedge should not be the guy deciding who gets to play.


27 Responses to “Batter Pitcher Match-Up Data”

  1. Dennisss on May 29th, 2012 2:15 pm

    “…so maybe this seems like a minor issue…”

    Not really. There were a lot of questions about what Jaso was doing leading off yesterday. Sometimes managers have reasons we don’t know about, but to realize that Wedge had Jaso batting first because he honestly thought it was a good matchup – wow.

    The Mariners aren’t that great right now regardless, but this kind of leadership is disheartening.

  2. justinh on May 29th, 2012 2:16 pm

    But John Jaso was batting .409 when facing Texas on the road, on Memorial Day, in over 90 degree weather.

  3. nwade on May 29th, 2012 2:27 pm

    I distinctly remember watching a baseball game on TV about a decade ago (can’t remember which teams were playing), and some former players were chatting in the booth with the play-by-play team. The former players very nicely explained that once a batter had faced a pitcher around 10 times, you really got a good feel of who would come out on top in future at-bats.

    So I think this is just one of those “stats” that are ingrained into the current/older baseball culture (see: RBI). I’m not surprised to see Eric “old-school” Wedge sticking to it.

    I’ve been less-harsh on Wedge than some of the folks in the USSM/LL community this year as I recognize that he has players making guaranteed money doing god-knows-what in the clubhouse; and sometimes he may have to do odd things on the field in order to make the team work more smoothly over the long-haul. But I *am* getting tired of some of these antics, and I won’t miss Wedge when he’s gone.

    I have to wonder what the relationship is with Z and Wedge and the Prez/Ownership. With the smarts that Z has on the scouting & stats side, he _has_ to be hearing some of the same things from his own guys… So why isn’t he trying to guide Wedge in a certain direction? Is Wedge too hard-nosed for Z to control? Does Wedge have the trust of the higher-ups and thus Z can’t do much without putting himself on the outs? We’ll probably never know, but there’s gotta be something going on in terms of politics or leadership…

  4. Westside guy on May 29th, 2012 2:29 pm

    Is it really that hard for a team to find a competent manager? The Mariners do seem to have a lot of difficulty with it, historically speaking.

  5. wetzelcoatl on May 29th, 2012 2:36 pm

    Conspiracy theory: Wedge started Jaso in a situation where he was doomed to highly visible failure so he could continue playing Olivo every day.

  6. eponymous coward on May 29th, 2012 2:36 pm

    “When they get around to trying to win games every night, Eric Wedge should not be the guy deciding who gets to play.”

    Not that I really disagree with this sentiment, but I see a problem with that. If your organizational hiring process is defective enough to hire Eric Wedge in the first place, because he has grit and he’ll put your kids in their place with his toughness, as opposed to finding someone who isn’t braindead when it comes to figuring out how to optimize the roster he’s given… you’re not going to GET to the point where you’re competitive.

    The time to have the right manager in place is right now, not “we’ll worry about this when we have talent”. And if they can eighty-six Wakamatsu for falling flat on his face for HALF a season, why not Wedge for being terrible for almost a season and a half?

  7. Westside guy on May 29th, 2012 2:55 pm

    While I doubt the organization would admit to it, I suspect Wak was sacrificed on the Altar of Griffey rather than being fired for the team’s performance. Wanting Junior to have an ongoing relationship with the Mariners was too important to the powers that be.

  8. eponymous coward on May 29th, 2012 3:09 pm

    If true, that’s really, really bad news- they disrupted the organization and hired someone who’s an active impediment, just so they could placate a retired player? So what if Griffey goes and decides to have a sulk for a couple of years? RJ came back, and he got dumped on far more harshly than Junior did. Time heals wounds, and winning games is far more important to attendance and the health of the organization, than whether or not you can bring Griffey back and try to milk some 1995 nostalgia for the 643615766th time.

    Then again, milking nostalgia for past Mariners teams is about all this management group’s been competent at lately, outside of hiring Zduriencik, huh? I guess they think they should stick to their strengths.

  9. Glen on May 29th, 2012 3:13 pm

    I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but Wedge makes me rage more than he should. Little things like this, telling fans “you don’t know (expletive)”, or his faith in needing “Veteran leadership” don’t help his cause.

    Wedge is causing a proverbial wedge between the team and its fans.

  10. CCW on May 29th, 2012 3:20 pm

    First, let me say I don’t disagree at all with Dave’s main point. Wedge’s decision making seems flawed, and I find it incredibly frustrating that at the highest level this is really accepted and deemed acceptable.

    That said, I just don’t think it’s very easy to find a manager who makes the choices Dave would like AND has the right personality and cache to manage a major league clubhouse. Look at all the managers in the game. The ones who are really on the same page with the sabermetric community (and I use that term only because I don’t know what else to use) are few and far between. Manny Acta, Joe Maddon… who else? And I’ll bet even those two make choices that don’t pencil out sometimes.

    Look at our history of Managers. Piniella, Melvin, Hargrove, McLaren, Wak, Wedge… every single one of them drew and is drawing a ton of criticism from the more statistically inclined. Is that just bad luck, or is it a reflection of the reality of the pool of available and “qualified” major league managers.

    I distinctly remember working myself into a tizzy about Lou’s crazy decisions with relievers (among other things) back in the day, yet every new manager brings his own set of issues. I’m just exhausted with complaining about the manager. I feel like the question whether his “field general” abilities trump his statistical deficiencies is unanswerable. I applaud Dave for shedding light on the issue – maybe it will have an effect – but I kind of think firing the manager right now would be counterproductive.

  11. Westside guy on May 29th, 2012 3:35 pm

    I actually liked a guy you left off your list, CCW – Jim Riggleman. He tended to not put up with a lot of BS in the clubhouse, which is something Wedge actually seems to do well. And he seemed to take a “less is more” attitude towards management, which seemed at the time like a refreshing approach: First, do no harm.

  12. ctdawg on May 29th, 2012 3:36 pm

    So you are trying to argue that Olivo with a .277 career OBP vs LHP should be in the lineup in favor of Jaso who has a .301 career OBP vs LHP?

    The awesome thing about Olivo is that he’s platoon-proof……….277 OBP vs RHP too. Though his slugging is slightly better vs LHP.

  13. Westside guy on May 29th, 2012 3:40 pm

    Olivo’s career OBP against lefties is actually .309 – and his career slugging against lefties is 200 points higher than Jaso’s.

    Olivo career OPS vs left: .788
    Jaso career OPS vs left: .548

  14. Mariners35 on May 29th, 2012 3:42 pm

    It’s almost to the point where complaining about the manager is like complaining about umpires… they’re just part of the game, and at best they do no harm. Good teams are rarely done in by them, over the course of a whole season; streaky teams might occasionally stumble significantly due to them, but still average out; bad teams blame them, when really the problems go a lot deeper.

    The M’s just need to continue to improve until they have enough good players that the everyday lineup is fine and dead-simple for even a bad manager to write up. Or put another way, the M’s need to be good enough most of the time to do better than the margin of error – and that margin of error includes semi-random strike zones and weird lineup/bullpen choices by the manager.

  15. r-gordon-7 on May 29th, 2012 4:02 pm

    > I feel like the question whether his “field general” abilities trump his statistical deficiencies is unanswerable.

    Frankly, assessing Wedge’s “field general” abilities without even any regard to his statistical abilities doesn’t exactly impress… Just for starters there’s: Wedge’s missing 5-ball walks twice in one week (that’s a failure to count/stay awake on the bench, not a failure to apply principles of sabermetrics/statistics); Wedge’s not starting Ackley on his bobblehead night (and forget the impact of this on the fans in the stands – what about the impact of this on the player? – sure Ackley is a professional, etc… but he’s also a young player – and it was his first promotional night, likely with friends & relatives in the stands who were there because of the promotion – on some level it has to have some negative impact on the player and possibly on the illusive “clubhouse chemistry”); Wedge’s not even using Ackley to pinch hit late in that game when Wedge instead unsuccessfully sent in to pinch hit one of his weakest hitters; Wedge’s obviously inconsistent/hypocritical failure to apply his “accountability” and ”adjustment” lines evenly & fairly across the board; Wedge’s screwy lineup decisions that make no sense even to those who wouldn’t necessarily base lineup decisions on advanced statistical analysis … The list goes on and on…

  16. CCW on May 29th, 2012 4:04 pm

    I left Riggleman off the list because he wasn’t here long enough for us to identify his shortcomings. I’m quite confident that, given a full year in the organization, Riggleman, too, would have been exposed as not particularly progressive when it comes to understanding how to use statistics.

  17. samregens on May 29th, 2012 4:28 pm

    –And if they can eighty-six Wakamatsu for falling flat on his face for HALF a season, why not Wedge for being terrible for almost a season and a half?–

    I was thinking about this also. The player talent wasn’t exactly great but Wak gave us a good season and I don’t feel as aggravated about his managing as I do now with Wedge.

    My main problem about Wedge is that he’s very reactionary about calling out players to the press (like criticizing Ichiro for hitting worse with RISP so far this season) which does not seem to have done any good, and actually possibly bad because you have players tightening up, and at the same time having this huge blind spot for Olivo (last year it was Peguero).

    And he himself makes these bad decisions and furthermore has his buddy Datz manning the 3rd base coaching duties, who actually sucks and has possibly cost the M’s a game or two.

  18. stevemotivateir on May 29th, 2012 4:29 pm

    I’d love for the entire Mariners management to read this post. Not confident they’d learn anything, but I’d still like them to read it.

  19. eponymous coward on May 29th, 2012 4:30 pm

    I applaud Dave for shedding light on the issue – maybe it will have an effect – but I kind of think firing the manager right now would be counterproductive.

    As opposed to when? Do we have to wait until Wedge has a good year and then the team falls on its face, like Cleveland did when they fired him? Then we have the excuse to fire the guy?

    The M’s just need to continue to improve until they have enough good players that the everyday lineup is fine and dead-simple for even a bad manager to write up.

    The problem is bad organizations hire bad people- so what if the problem is that the organization isn’t going to improve to any meaningful extent, in part because they don’t hire good people throughout the organization?

  20. eponymous coward on May 29th, 2012 4:35 pm

    Oh, and I’ll say a midseason firing? OK, sure, fine, you wait and do the end of the year evaluation. Don’t fire him today if you’d rather bring order to the process.

    But really, is there any compelling reason why he should keep his job based on the 200+ games he’s managed for the Mariners, and his overall record in MLB?

  21. csteavens on May 29th, 2012 6:05 pm

    They didn’t fire Wak for his love of the bunt or bringing in Sean White again and again in high leverage situations. They fired him because he wasn’t a strong enough ‘club house presence’. Mariners upper management has a firm track record of supporting and making murky qualitative decision into a governing business principle. If it’s not Wedge today, it will just be some other baseball good old boy tomorrow.

  22. dang on May 29th, 2012 6:37 pm

    It seems to me that some people are forgetting that Z hired Wedge – he knew what he was getting. Why expect that Z would be guiding or instructing Wedge on who to play? Also, I’m in the camp that the jury is still out on Z as GM. The fact that he could not manage to put together even a below-average offense for three (counting 2012) consecutive years suggests to me he has his own talent evaluation problems.

  23. djw on May 29th, 2012 9:01 pm

    The awesome thing about Olivo is that he’s platoon-proof

    Over the course of his career, Olivo has been roughly a league average hitter against lefties, with a wOBA of 322. Against Right-handed pitchers, he’s been terrible (wOBA of 284). In addition to being completely wrong on the specific detail you cited, you’re larger point is also entirely incorrect.

  24. low on May 29th, 2012 11:16 pm

    wait, Wedge didn’t play Ackley on Ackley bobblehead night? That’s far more egregious than putting Jaso at the top of the order against Harrison.

  25. ctdawg on May 30th, 2012 4:55 am

    Oops, I pulled the numbers in Olivo’s career vs LH starters. I’ll go back to never posting.

  26. Double Suicide Squeeze on May 30th, 2012 11:56 am

    Wedge sucks. He’s an old man clinging to old maxims. But what do we know, we never played or coached major league baseball. Us stupid fans should know our place, cuz we don’t know shit.

  27. Westside guy on May 30th, 2012 3:15 pm

    Yeah, ctdawg – none of the rest of us EVER make mistakes… 😀

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