Crunching the Numbers on Letting Lewis Hit

It’s the World Series. Your team hasn’t played since Monday. You have a deep bullpen and the availability of a starting pitcher working on three days rest. It’s the World Series.

Top 5: Texas 4, St. Louis 3

Bases loaded, 2 outs: Colby Lewis struck out swinging

Ron Washington sent his pitcher up to bat with three men on base in a one run game. It’s hard to put into words just how bad of a decision that was. Let’s try anyway.

Lewis has only 17 Major League place appearances, since he’s an AL pitcher and all, so his .188/.188/.250 line is a small sample. But he’s a pitcher – an AL pitcher – so there’s no real reason to believe he’s significantly better than that. After all, the average pitcher hit just .143/.175/.183 this year, so Lewis belongs to a population of guys who hit about as well as he has. Even if we just take Lewis’ line (remember, better than an average pitcher’s line), there was something like an 81% chance that Lewis would make an out in that situation, ending the inning and leaving all three runners on base.

Yorvit Torrealba was the fake pinch-hitter, so let’s assume he would have been the guy to take Lewis’ place had Washington lifted Lewis. He’s a career .260/.318/.390 hitter, and his 2011 line was nearly identical to that mark. You have to discount his performance a bit to account for the pinch-hitter penalty, so let’s knock 10% off his of career line, so as a PH, that would make him a .234/.286/.351 hitter. Not great, but way better than Lewis.

In that situation, Torrealba has approximately a 5% better chance of getting a hit (likely scores two runs) and a 5% better chance of reaching base via a non-hit (likely scores one run). The cumulative probability of not making an out there is worth .15 runs, and that’s before you account for the fact that not making an out also gives Ian Kinsler a chance to expand the lead even more. Given the chances for a big rally where Torrealba reaches and Kinsler also gets a hit, the average gain from pinch hitting for Lewis there is around 0.2 runs.

That might not sound like a lot, but when you compare the expected gain from keeping Lewis in the game, it’s enormous.

First off, nearly any reliever that the Rangers brought in would be even less likely than Lewis to allow runs going forward. His 4.40 ERA/4.54 FIP/4.10 xFIP line in 2011 is worse than nearly everyone else in the bullpen, and he was about to face the Cardinals line-up for the third time. Hitters perform demonstrably better against a pitcher the more they face them in a game.

You just can’t make a rational case for Lewis being likely to outperform any of the Rangers bullpen guys going forward unless you dramatically overweight the value of his last few batters faced, ignore the first inning, and believe that Lewis had somehow reached a new level of enlightenment somewhere in inning #2. Pinch-hitting for Lewis not only makes you far more likely to score, it makes it less likely that the Cardinals score in the bottom of the fifth inning.

But, just for fun, let’s see how much better you’d have to believe Lewis was than the alternative to justify the decision. Remember, you’ve created a .2 run hole for yourself by letting Lewis hit.

If you plan on getting one more inning from Lewis, you’d have to believe that his true talent ERA at that point was 1.80 runs lower than his replacements. If you believe he was likely a 4.50 ERA pitcher in the next inning (basically, his 2011 ERA/FIP), then the alternatives would have had to have an expected 6.30 ERA to make it a break even decision. Pitcher who had a 6.30+ ERA in 2011: John Lackey.

If you plan on getting two more innings from Lewis, you’d have to believe that his true talent ERA was 0.90 runs lower than his replacements. If you again believe that he’s a 4.50 ERA pitcher (this is really stretching it, given his pitch count and the fact that he’d be facing the middle of the Cardinals order the third time through the order), then you’d have to believe his replacements would have had an expected 5.40 ERA over the next two innings. Pitcher who had a 5.40+ ERA in 2011: Andrew Miller.

And remember, if you’re asking Lewis to go two innings, you’re asking him to get Pujols/Berkman/Holliday out in that second inning of work. Both Lewis and Berkman have massive platoon splits, and there’s simply no way you should be willing to let Berkman face an RHP in that at-bat. So, if you factor in the match-ups, making the case that Lewis would provide any kind of advantage in that second inning of work is nearly impossible.

Can you imagine the reaction Rangers fans would have had if Washington went to the mound and called for Lackey or Miller to preserve a one run lead in Game Six of the World Series? That’s basically what he did by letting Colby Lewis hit.

As I type this, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz have hit back to back home runs to give Texas the lead. The Rangers are now 83% favorites to win the game and take home their first World Championship. Within an hour of posting this, Washington will probably be holding a trophy, and this will just be a footnote in history that ended up not affecting the outcome of the game.

But, we gave Tony LaRussa a lot of flak for the decisions he made in Game 5, and what Washington did in the fifth inning of this game was worse than anything LaRussa did during phone-gate. It was one of the worst managerial decisions you’ll ever see. Ron Washington should be extremely thankful that he’s managing a fantastically talented group of players.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

26 Responses to “Crunching the Numbers on Letting Lewis Hit”

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  1. spankystout says:

    “Cocaine is a hell of a drug!”

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  2. Rogers Hornsby says:

    brilliant work, almost real time

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  3. Xeifrank says:

    Run expectancy of bases loaded two outs is 0.85 runs in a neutral context. So yeah. Pretty dumb.

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  4. Matty says:

    This article is awesome. Couldn’t agree more, and the worst part about it is that 99% of the general population is results oriented. Love Washington, and love managers that manage with heart but in no way shape or form could I ever see an argument that backs up leaving him in there to hit.

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    How about having Jay bat versus LHP instead of Craig with bases loaded?

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    • steex says:

      How about if he had taken Jay out for Craig, then the Cardinals wouldn’t have a third OF since Holliday left injured?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        If Holliday were playing with a badly bruised pinky finger, would we be able to tell any difference?

        I think he could have stayed in the game. I’m thinking neither he nor StL really wanted him to given how things are going. Seriously.

        I was only interested in the changing value of having those two batters at the plate, not whether he might get injured later in the game and things of that nature.

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  6. John P. says:

    How is the cumulative probability of not making an out worth .15 runs? What sort of calculation leads to that conclusion?

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  7. Puffy says:

    It’s pretty convenient to be able to pretend that the Rangers pen hasn’t been getting hammered this series, especially if you remove Feliz’s performance. Feliz is obviously not available in the 5th inning.

    RW doesn’t have this convenience. He needs to perform in the context of reality. There’s enormous variance in human performance, particularly with pitchers, which you web sabers love to dismiss when trying to look smarter than the guy who is managing in his 2nd consecutive World Series and is one of the most respected people in the sport. (Don’t forget he’s done it in the AL, which is the real major league at this point.)

    The pen has not been particularly sharp this series. Lewis, who handled the Cards quite well in his first start, looked solid after battling through the first inning. Lewis was inconsistent this year, but when he was good, he was very good for stretches of 2-5 games.

    The most significant value a manager offers is the ability to see past the numbers sometimes, because players are in fact humans. We are far too inconsistent to be relied upon to be the same guy where the difference between success and failure is fractions of an inch, a second or a gust of wind.

    Your point is worth thinking about, but to say definitively that it is one of the worst managerial decision you will ever see is absurd. If players were robots, you’d have a much stronger argument. And if my aunt had a penis, she’d be my uncle.

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    • Puffy says:

      Also consider that the only other pitcher that has looked good is Holland, and he isn’t available to start game 7. It’s likely the pen would play a larger role in game 7 if it comes to that.

      Pitching is heavily dependent upon feel. “Going with the hot hand” is a meaningful strategy.

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    • Brian says:

      It’s pretty convenient to pretend that the Rangers aren’t a very good team and that the reason they may be in back-to-back World Series is because of that and not their manager’s in-game decision making.

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      • Puffy says:

        The Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Tigers are very good teams too, and none of them are in the series.

        It’s a combination of both arsehole.

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    • chuckb says:

      What’s also convenient is making judgments based upon sample sizes of a dozen and a half innings rather than a season’s worth of work. It’s convenient, just poor decision making.

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      • Puffy says:

        It’s incredible how much time you people spend “thinking” about this game, and how full of shit you are when you discuss it.

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  8. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    “believe that Lewis had somehow reached a new level of enlightenment somewhere in inning #2.”

    Unfortunately, this is more important than sabermetrics have mastered.

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    • Ken says:

      And it looks like Lewis did reach some level of enlightenment, if not nirvana. He got two grounders and weak lineout in the bottom of the fifth, and K’d the first batter in the sixth. Then an infield hit, then an error by Young. Lewis did his job.

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  9. Mr. Jones says:

    “Within an hour of posting this, Washington will probably be holding a trophy, and this will just be a footnote in history that ended up not affecting the outcome of the game.”

    Thanks for the jynx, Dave.

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  10. Eric W. says:

    Is it just me or do like 95% of Major League (read: elite status) managers not really have much of an idea what they are doing? I see managers make these blatantly wrong moves so often and yet no GM out there wants to go find somebody who understands how to make consistently good moves. Two of the worst decision making managers in the Majors are in the World Series so what I’m writing here will likely always fall on deaf ears.

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    • Pat says:

      Yea but the in game moves you are talking about are a small part of what being a manager is, try reprimanding a guy making 10+ M dollars and get any sort of respect… i think too often people don’t realize this

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      • Matt Trueblood says:

        Not impressed by that argument. Make it two jobs if you have to. A head coach, and a MANAGER, who job is to manage the game.

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  11. chuckb says:

    Great article. I think we all had a sense that this was a bad decision at the time (though, as a Cards’ fan, I was happy it was made) but no idea really how bad it was. Comparing sending him to the mound to sending Andrew Miller or John Lackey really puts it into perspective, and that doesn’t even account for the decision to allow Wilson to hit rather than Torrealba or someone better than Torrealba.

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  12. Bob R. says:

    To reiterate a point I made in another thread, there were a number of managerial decisions with which I disagreed, but I am willing to credit arguments that support them such as those presented by Puffy. I think Dave’s approach makes more sense but recognize there may be other factors to consider.

    But the one decision that seems to me indefensible was removing Feldman from the game. Wouldn’t the single most important factor in an extra inning game be to keep the home team from scoring? With 2 outs and a runner on 1B, is it better to pinch hit with German or to keep Feldman in the game?

    This is not hindsight. At the time, during the confusion in the on deck circle, my son and I were commenting that Washington could not replace Feldman with Lowe. Maybe if there were a runner on 2B or fewer than 2 outs, and even then very questionable.

    What do the numbers indicate? I can’t believe anyone thinks that some gut feeling would indicate Lowe was the best choice or that German was going to drive in the run or even keep the inning alive. So all that remains are the probabilities. Is there any way to defend that decision?

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  13. Sean says:

    Mitch Moreland? Wasn’t he available?

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