In the fifth inning of yesterday’s game between the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees, the Mariners decided to intentionally walk Mark Teixeira with runners on second and third and one out in a 1-0 game. With Alex Rodriguez out of the lineup, that brought up Robinson Cano with the bases loaded. Cano hit a grand slam, putting the Yankees up 5-0. At that point, the Yankees win expectancy was over 95%, and a formerly close game was effectively over.
The Yankees scoring after an intentional walk of Teixeira isn’t exactly something new. Yesterday marked Teixeira’s fourth intentional walk. Three times, including yesterday, the result was a grand slam. The other resulted in a run-scoring wild pitch, a strikeout, and then a two-RBI single. Overall, Teixeira and both runners in front of him have scored every single time that he’s been intentionally walked.
Obviously, we wouldn’t expect this to continue to happen every single time, but that doesn’t make the intentional walk a good strategy in this case. Here’s what The Book has to say:
If all batters have equal ability, intentionally walking a batter to set up a double play, force, or other situation is at best a break-even move (or insignficantly better than a break-even move). Doing so early in the game is counterproductive, since it increases the odds of a big inning more than it increases the odds of a scoreless inning.
Now, all batters in the Yankees lineup aren’t of equal ability, but when we look at those after Teixeira, they are all very good. Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano are typically the two hitting after Teixeira, making them the important two to examine when it comes to analyzing the value of the intentional walk. The third batter also matters, but far less; this season it has been a mix of players such as Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames, Nick Swisher, and Randy Winn. Overall, though, what matters is that the hitters that come to bat after Mark Teixeira are well above average, particularly Rodriguez and Cano.
Using the Markov chain calculator at Tom Tango’s website, we can take a look at the run expectancy for the composite line of Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano, which is essentially what managers are looking at after walking Mark Teixeira. The results, unsurprisingly, suggest that the Yankees are probably going to score a lot of runs after walking Teixeira, even in the situation with one out and runners and second and third, the situation most conducive to a productive intentional walk. Here’s what the calculator spits out.
Runners on 2nd, 3rd, 1 out: 1.578 runs
Bases loaded, 1 out: 1.986 runs
So opposing managers are essentially forfeiting .4 runs for the opportunity to say “Well, I didn’t let Mark Teixeira beat me!” at the post game press conference. The odds of scoring at least 1 run in an inning don’t justify the managers’ decisions either.
Runners on 2nd, 3rd, 1 out: .707
Bases loaded, 1 out: .752
Intentionally walking Mark Teixeira is simply not a smart move. The Yankees lineup behind Teixeira, particularly Cano and Rodriguez, is simply too good, which just magnifies the fact that the intentional walk adds to the possibility of a big inning. Four times, opposing managers have attempted to get out from a jam by walking Teixeira. Four times, at least three runs have scored. If a manager wants to win, his best option is to pitch to Teixeira and hope for the best.