This weekend the Mets and Dodgers played a series of three games. As far as managerial matchups are concerned, few produce as much entertainment as a proposed duel of wits between Jerry Manuel and Joe Torre. There were about a dozen different moves and tweaks to analyze from this series but one in particular stood out as worthy of examination: intentionally walking Garret Anderson.
Let me set the scene. It’s Saturday and a gorgeous day in Los Angeles, California, with the sun hanging out overhead like a halo. It’s also the bottom of the fourth. Blake Dewitt tripled to begin the inning and Casey Blake struck out. Mike Pelfrey is pitching with Garret Anderson due up, Brad Ausmus on deck, and the pitcher – Carlos Montasterios – in the hole. The Mets are down by one and Manuel is determined to keep it that way so he issues an intentional walk.
What inspired Manuel to walk Anderson? Well the catcher was on deck. Not just any catcher, a 41 year old catcher known for his game-calling skills rather than any offensive ability. Behind him stood the pitcher with fewer than 10 career plate appearances. Manuel could not handpick a better trio to potentially bat with a runner on third. It’s obvious the intentional walk only became a thought once Pelfrey retired Blake. ZiPS pegs Blake as a .345 wOBA hitter the rest of the way; it also has Anderson and Ausmus at .298 apiece. A double play was the goal, but only with one out. Manuel never thought about placing a runner on first without having at least one out because a double play from that situation plates a run.
Therefore, he walks Anderson; the same Anderson who has a .211 wOBA in 152 plate appearances this season and has a .205 on-base percentage. In effect, he’s banking on Ausmus to either ground into a double play, strike out, or hit an infield fly. Just about anything else results in that run that Manuel so desperately wants to keep off the board. Ausmus has barely played this season. Between 2007 and 2009, though, he racked up 754 plate appearances. During that time, he came up to bat in situations that could heed a double play 141 times and hit into a twin-killing 16 times – or 11%. Also during that time Ausmus struck out 18% of the time (of all plate appearances, not at-bats) and hit infield flies about 2% of the time.
Without regression, adjustment, or anything, we know that 167 of Ausmus’ 754 (22%) plate appearances ended like Manuel needed his fourth inning plate appearance to end yesterday. The likelihood increases when accounting for Pelfrey’s presence – a groundball pitcher who gets double plays in 15% of his opportunities with a fair amount of infield flies and strikeouts of his own. In the end, though, the probability of a double play is seemingly nowhere near 50%; whereas, if you assume Anderson and Ausmus are essentially true talent .300 OBP players, there is a near 50% chance that both make outs in consecutive at-bats.
The numbers might change based on Pelfrey as well as the situation at hand. The result is that walking Anderson is unwarranted when you go off probability. Pelfrey did get Ausmus to hit a grounder, by the way, but it went through the infield into center. The single plated one, eventually giving the Dodgers runners on third and second with two outs before Rafael Furcal grounded out.
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