Should Arizona Have Pitched Around Fielder?

In the bottom of the seventh inning of Game One of the National League Division Series between the Diamondbacks and Brewers, Arizona’s starting pitcher Ian Kennedy faced Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder with the Diamondbacks losing by two, a runner on second, and two outs. Fielder hit a home run. Almost immediately after the event, commentators questioned the wisdom of letting Kennedy pitch to Fielder in that situation. I even heard the suggestion that the Diamondbacks should have given Fielder a free pass to first base. Did Arizona make the wrong (non-) move?

From a number-crunching perspective along the lines of the one found in The Book (the basic method of which I will follow here), a number of things should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not a pitcher should “pitch around” a particular hitter (I will simplify by treating an “unintentional intentional walk” as functionally equivalent to a regular intentional walk). Among the issues to take into account are the true talent of the hitter, the true talent of those hitting behind him, the inning, the base-out state, and the score.

Read The Book to get the full details as to how why, but to get to the point: in the bottom of the seventh, two outs, a runner on second, and the pitching team down by two runs, the batter at hand needs to have an expected wOBA at least 1.21 times that of the batter on deck for an intentional walk to be a good idea.

Obviously, Prince Fielder is a great hitter. The most recent update of the Oliver projection system estimates him to be a .408 wOBA true talent hitter. Rickie Weeks was the hitter on deck, and while his projected .366 wOBA is good, Fielder’s .408 is obviously far better. However, the ratio of Fielder’s wOBA to Weeks’ is only 1.11, lower than the 1.21 needed to make an intentional walk (or other “free pass”) a good move.

Before closing the book, however, we should take another important factor into account. Assuming the right-handed pitching Kennedy would be pitching to both (Brad Ziegler and Joe Paterson were warming up in the pen), we should take the expected platoon skills of the hitters into account. Using the method outlined here combined with the Oliver’s overall wOBA projections for Fielder and Weeks as given above, we would expect Fielder to have a .424 wOBA and Weeks a .358 wOBA versus right-handed pitchers. That makes the gap between the two wider, but the ratio of Fielder’s expected wOBA versus right-handers compared to Weeks’ 1.18 — still not quite there. Although the general quality of pitcher is not as important in this case, ideally we would want to take the pitcher’s platoon skill into account. However, for his career Kennedy has actually pitched better against lefties, so doing the more complicated work necessary for estimating pitcher platoon skill and how it would interact with the hitters skill still probably would not make deliberately walking Fielder a good idea.

This is not to say that these are the only considerations to take into account. Perhaps Arizona manager Kirk Gibson or his coaches could have seen something in Kennedy at that point that would have indicated he should be pulled (I don’t know). Maybe Gibson would have been better served to bring in an appropriate lefty-killing reliever to get Fielder out.

It is easy to speak with the benefit of hindsight — after all, Fielder did hit a home run, a play that was the third-greatest contribution to the Brewers’ victory. But it simply is not the case that Fielder was likely to hit a home run off of Kennedy, or even get on-base. Even the best hitters make outs in 60 percent of their plate appearances, and Kennedy is a better-than-average pitcher. I seriously doubt people would have even mentioned Kennedy pitching to Fielder if the plate appearance had ended in a lazy fly to left field, or even a walk followed by a Weeks ground out to end the innings. The ratio of Fielder’s versus Weeks’ projected wOBAs versus right-handed pitchers is close enough that having Kennedy intentionally walk or pitch around Fielder would have been understandable. However, on the basis of the numbers, there was nothing wrong with letting Kennedy pitch to Fielder in that situation.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

26 Responses to “Should Arizona Have Pitched Around Fielder?”

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  1. JTripp says:

    Obviously he should have pitched around him. Did you not see the home run?

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  2. Randiforous says:

    Next Fangraphs Post:
    “Should Tony La Russa have let Kyle Lohse pitch to Ryan Howard?”
    By Matt Klaassen

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  3. Rob says:

    No the question should be should Gibson allow his right handed pitcher at 110 pitches pitch to Fielder with a man on 2B. A home run is big, but so would have been a single in that situation. Pitching to Fielder is not a terrible idea, having a tired starter do it is.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      That’s what I was thinking. I was hearing MGL (co-author of The Book) ringing in my ears about how a fresh average reliever is superior to any tiring starter. Kennedy shouldn’t be pitching to anyone in that situation.

      This is one aspect of statistical analysis where we have to look at the numbers after the decimal point and see them as “more grey”.

      1.11, 1.18, and 1.21 could likely all fall into the “go with your gut” type category.

      When you’re losing by multiple runs late in the game, many times allowing a grand slam isn’t that much different than giving up a single in regards to your chances to win the game. This is one area where I think the data can be misleading. Who cares if you lose 7-2 or 5-2, you still lose. MIL should have been looking at the situation as “What gives us the best chance at getting out of this inning without allowing a run” (while also realizing that it’s not going to be in their favor in any scenario).

      I think you could defend walking Fielder and going after Weeks with the righty. Allowing Fielder another at bat against a tiring starter is a mistake IMO.

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  4. chuckb says:

    Kennedy was at 108 pitches. If Gibson was going to pitch to Fielder, he should have had the lefty do it. If not, why bother warming him up? The lefty for Fielder, then the righty for Weeks if necessary: those were the right moves.

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  5. joe says:

    Why was Gibson pitching to Lucroy with a guy on third with 2 out the inning before. The “Gallardo is a good hitter for a pitcher” narrative is nice but the guy has a sub .600 OPS.

    Granted Lucroy got lucky with the bloop hit, but already down a run he should not have been pitched to.

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    • Kenley Jansen says:

      Lucroy has a .310 wOBA and is right handed. There were two outs. I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to intentionally walk a guy with a .310 wOBA.

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      • joe says:

        pitcher on deck? (who’s not going to be removed)

        If there ever was a good time to intentionally walk someone with a .310 wOBA… perhaps a .255 wOBA on deck was a good time?

        Or you could just go with the good hitter for a pitcher narrative…. that always works… except when you are down one and the narrative seems like it’s good.

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      • Black_Rose says:

        You’ll just either K him or walk him, Kenley. If I were you, I’d just throw cutters with the occasional fastball and slider to him, and strike him out 44% of the time.

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  6. Xeifrank says:

    Should’ve walked Lucroy earlier and brought in a LOOGY to face Fielder. Kenneday was 100+ pitches, fourth time through the lineup when he faced Fielder.

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  7. IvanGrushenko says:

    If you believe that Weeks was not completely healthy, then it may well be that Fielder was more than 1.21 times better

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  8. Slats says:

    Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

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  9. filihok says:

    Fielder’s wOBA vs R
    .429 (2011), .410 (career)
    Weeks’ wOBA vs R


    Walk him

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  10. Raf says:

    FWIW, the commentators did mention that Braun was on 2nd and that 1b was open.

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  11. jesse says:

    Bottom of the 7th, 2 out, runner on, opposing teams best left handed hitter up, if your not going to use your loogy there, when?

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  12. Richie says:

    What Raf says. The commentators did ‘first-guess’, rather than second-guess pitching to Fielder.

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  13. The Giants, Dodgers and Phillies are the only teams in the NL to keep Fielder in the park this year. He’s had 5 singles against the Giants.

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  14. Bob says:

    Along with what Raf and Richie said:

    The broadcast I heard said something like “Quite frankly I’m surprised they’re pitching to him. Not a lot of teams would do this.”

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  15. Peter says:

    I think it’s important to take in consideration how Kennedy went about facing Fielder, not the fact that the Diamondbacks chose to pitch to him. What I mean is, the first pitch was a cockshot fastball that made Prince literally smirk. The second pitch was a decent curveball, but it was inside, and it’s pretty safe to safe Fielder is an above average inside pitch hitter.

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  16. Eric says:

    So reading the last two articles, it’s right to pitch to Fielder, even though he hit a home run, because it’s the probabilities that matter and not the outcome… but it’s wrong for Hamilton to try to bunt for a base hit to a wide open 3B due to a shifted infield because he didn’t succeed?

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    • Larry says:

      I think the belief held by the site is that Josh Hamilton is an excellent hitter, but most likely not a good bunter. Guys like Hamilton rarely/never bunt because their expected runs created by swinging away is greater than by bunting, even against an exaggerated shift. If this were not the case, wouldn’t he bunt more often to punish teams for shifting against him?

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    • Bill says:

      Even if Hamilton had gotten a hit, the decision too bunt was a bad one because Hamilton is a very good power hitter and by bunting he loses that advantage. I think this is the point of the Hamilton post.

      Not walking Fielder makes sense because of the increased probability of scoring multiple runs based upon who was hitting behind him.

      Both arguments are ignoring the outcome.

      I agree with the consensus here that they should have brought in their LOOGY. This is the exact situation you pay them for.

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      • The Nicker says:

        “Even if Hamilton had gotten a hit, the decision too bunt was a bad one because Hamilton is a very good power hitter and by bunting he loses that advantage. I think this is the point of the Hamilton post.”

        When down by 8 runs late in the game, power matters very little. On base is almost everything. You need baserunners. If Hamilton hits a home run his team is still down 6 runs. A home run has almost the same WPA as a single at that point in the game. If Hamilton feels he can execute the bunt then it is still a good decision.

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  17. CircleChange11 says:


    It’s also possible that Hamilton has been working on this.

    I don’t want to state the obvious, ut with Hamilton’s ability it wouldn’t take him very long to learn how to “bunt it to the right of the pitcher”.

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    • adohaj says:

      You would think so. But you would also think Shaq would have learned to make free throws…oh wait he doesn’t have to. AHHH cross sport analogy

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  18. Dave G says:

    It was a stupid decision, not because of the result, because it was stupid.

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