The Absurdities of Batter/Pitcher Match-Up Numbers

With all due respect to the Dillon Gee-John Gast match-up in St. Louis tonight, there’s one marquee pitching match-up on the schedule for tonight’s games: Felix Hernandez vs CC Sabathia in New York. Neither pitcher throws as hard as they used to, but they’ve both managed to adapt to life without their fastest fastball, and both remain among the best starting pitchers on earth.

Sabathia, in particular, is lethal against left-handed hitters. Witness his strikeout rate by batter handedness, in graph form.

SabathiaPlatoon

Not only is Sabathia showing no signs of decline against LHBs, he’s actually getting better against them, as he’s learned to just destroy them with dominant sliders. While he’s allowed LHBs to post a .281 wOBA against him for his career, it’s just .261 since the start of the 2011 season, as the reduction in velocity hasn’t done anything to make his slider against LHBs any less lethal.

Right-handers have always done a little better against him, since he swaps out half of his sliders for the less effective change-up, and the sliders he does throw dive in towards opposite handed hitters. He’s still been plenty good against RHBs, just not quite as good, and in a very small sample of 2013 data, his performance against RHBs has gone the wrong the way, posting a 4.34 FIP and 4.18 xFIP, both of which would be the highest season marks he’s posted since 2003. He’s almost certainly better against RHBs than those numbers show because of the sample size, but it’s not hard to believe that the reduction in velocity hurts him more against RHBs than LHBs.

So, if you’re matching up with CC Sabathia in 2013, it probably makes sense to stack right-handed bats against him, or at least defer to right-handed hitters over left-handed hitters when there’s not a big gap in talent between the options.

Tonight, the Mariners are using Raul Ibanez as their designated hitter against CC Sabathia. Raul Ibanez is left-handed. The Mariners are doing this because Raul Ibanez has okay career numbers against Sabathia. The Mariners are starting a left-handed hitting DH who can’t hit lefties against a lefty killing LHP because of batter/pitcher match-up data. And it is perhaps the perfect example of how not to use numbers.

Ibanez has faced Sabathia 52 times in his career, hitting .250/.308/.458 in those 52 plate appearances. That’s not great or anything, but it’s not totally embarrassing, the way you might expect Sabathia/Ibanez match-up numbers to be based on their own individual platoon splits. But, it’s helpful to put those numbers in context. Specifically, to note when those plate appearances happened. Here’s the breakdown by year:

Year PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2002 9 3 1 1 0 0 2 0.333 0.333 0.667 1.000
2003 9 4 0 0 1 0 2 0.500 0.556 0.875 1.431
2004 11 1 0 0 1 1 3 0.100 0.182 0.400 0.582
2005 6 1 0 0 0 1 2 0.200 0.333 0.200 0.533
2006 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 0.250 0.250 0.250 0.500
2009 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0.250 0.250 0.500 0.750
2010 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0.500 0.667 0.500 1.167

In 2002, when Ibanez went 3 for 9 with a double and a triple against Sabathia, Ibanez was a 30-year-old who posted a .374 wOBA, the best mark of his career. Sabathia, on the other hand, was a 21-year-old in his second big league season who hadn’t yet figured out how to strike out left-handed hitters. In fact, back then, Sabathia had a higher strikeout rate against right-handed hitters (17.7%) than left-handed hitters (13.7%), as he threw a slower curve instead of his power slider, and the curve didn’t work very well against LHBs.

For the first three years of his career, Sabathia just wasn’t that great against LHBs, posting a combined strikeout rate of just 15.1%. He really took off in 2005 — when he junked the curve and adopted the slider — as his K% against LHBs jumped to 27.4%, and it hasn’t been below that mark since. Learning how to blow lefties away was the first step towards him becoming a dominant starting pitcher, something he was not in his first few years in the big leagues.

So, just for fun, let’s redo Ibanez’s career numbers against Sabathia, broken into the two parts of Sabathia’s career by dominance against lefties: 2002-2004, and then 2005-present. First, Sabathia the contact pitcher versus lefties.

Year PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2002 9 3 1 1 0 0 2 0.333 0.333 0.667 1.000
2003 9 4 0 0 1 0 2 0.500 0.556 0.875 1.431
2004 11 1 0 0 1 1 3 0.100 0.182 0.400 0.582
Total 29 8 1 1 2 1 7 0.286 0.345 0.630 0.975

And now, Sabathia the strikeout pitcher against lefties.

Year PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2005 6 1 0 0 0 1 2 0.200 0.333 0.200 0.533
2006 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 0.250 0.250 0.250 0.500
2009 10 1 1 0 0 0 4 0.100 0.100 0.222 0.322
2010 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0.500 0.667 0.500 1.167
Total 23 4 1 0 0 2 7 0.190 0.261 0.257 0.518

Back when Ibanez was at his peak in his Kansas City years and Sabathia didn’t yet know how to strike out left-handed hitters, Ibanez posted a .975 OPS against him. In their match-ups since then, Sabathia has shut him down the way you’d expect a dominant lefty starter to shut down a left-handed hitter with problems against LHPs.

In other words, the entirety of Ibanez’s historical success against Sabathia dates back to a decade ago, when Ibanez was in his prime and Sabathia was an entirely different pitcher. Ibanez is now 40-years-old, and Sabathia is going to attack him with an out-pitch he simply didn’t have 10 years ago. 10 year old data is suspect for many reasons, but to use match-up data from 10 years ago when one player is is eight years older is hilarious. And yet, this is the kind of data that some Major League managers still use to fill out the line-up card.

There probably are some hitters who just hit better against certain pitchers than their traditional splits would suggest, but you cannot identify those match-ups using historical match-up data. In The Book, the issue of batter/pitcher match-up data was studied extensively, and you can read most of that chapter for free via Amazon. The summary is reproduced below:

You see, we’re not saying that it doesn’t matter which pitcher is facing which batter. Every person is different, and there’s no reason to think that two overall equally talented pitchers, but talented for different reasons, will necessarily have the same success level against the same hitter. However, you can’t tell by looking at the numbers from 25 or 60 PA. There is simply too much noise masking the truth under those numbers. You can’t say Edgar owns La Familia Cormier, or that Mussina owns Varitek, because, well, look at the numbers. The numbers don’t support your statement, because of the small sample sizes. For you to say that a certain hitter owns a certain pitcher, you have to go beyond the numbers. You have to look at the specific traits of these players…

The book then goes on to identify some traits that make certain batter/pitcher match-ups more favorable than others, with handedness being the primary one. But none of that even factors in here. Raul Ibanez does not have the platoon advantage against Sabathia. Sabathia is not the type of lefty who lives off his change-up and thus demonstrates some reverse platoon splits; in fact, he’s the type of lefty who absolutely destroys left-handed hitters.

But, here we are in 2013, and Raul Ibanez is starting at DH against CC Sabathia. This is an example of where some data is far worse than no data, because without access to Ibanez’s career numbers against Sabathia, no one would ever think that starting him tonight was a good idea. Batter/pitcher match-up data is worse than nothing, because it not only doesn’t inform a manager of anything useful, it will trick him into doing things that just don’t make logical sense.

At the end of the day, this instance of bad data driving decision making isn’t going to have a huge result, because the 2013 Mariners season doesn’t hinge on this game, and it’s not like Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero are world beaters either. The Mariners are choosing Ibanez over two right-handed hitters, but they aren’t good right-handed hitters, and with Felix Hernandez pitching, they stand a decent chance of winning no matter what their DH does tonight.

But, this is the kind of move that shows how far major league managers are removed from the advances that front offices have made. MLB teams have gotten a lot smarter, but even with a flood of smart people working for big league clubs, stuff like this still happens. In 5, 10, 20 years, whenever it is that MLB starts hiring managers who understand a junk stat when they see one, we’ll look back at some of these decisions and wonder what took so long. For now, we can wonder how long it will take before a billion dollar industry stops letting people make obviously nonsensical decisions.




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


125 Responses to “The Absurdities of Batter/Pitcher Match-Up Numbers”

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  1. Rafi says:

    Next you’ll be telling us that Mark DeRosa shouldn’t be batting cleanup tonight vs Barry Zito despite having 3 HR against him in the past.

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    • NatsFan73 says:

      Wow …

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    • JC says:

      Did that comment happen?

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      • If I recall Weaver on Strategy, Earl Weaver kept batter/pitcher match-up numbers on index cards and used them repeatedly. Consider Weaver’s logic: DeRosa has crushed Zito repeatedly, therefore he’s likely to crush Zito again. Now consider the logic suggested here: CC dominates most lefties, Ibanez is lefty, therefore CC will dominate Ibanez (you can flip Ibanez & CC to the same effect). There’s internal logic, empiricism and conjecture in both approaches.

        It mighta made more sense in Weaver’s day to use direct evidence because batters faced a smaller group of pitchers during the course of a season and “true” matchups advantages revealed themselves in 50 PAs over two seasons. But with interleague, free agency, more teams, 5 man rotations, more bullpen innings, etc. the matchup conjecture is based on 50 PAs over 7 seasons, which, as Dave writes, encompasses a lot of changing batter/pitcher profile, diluting its value; so the aggregate statistics are more useful now (and more available).

        Weaver had great advice on team speed, too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-6RYPRlqZk
        (Profanity)

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    • Alex says:

      This is a good decision. Mark DeRosa is a career .363 wOBA hitter versus lefties, with a 118wRC+.

      But you say, okay, surely those numbers must be driven by earlier-in-his-career success.

      But this is untrue, for the most part.
      DeRosa’s wRC+ versus lefties in 2010 was 138, which dropped to 101 in the following season.

      In 2012? Here’s where you may have something, in which it dropped to 83, but significantly better than his wRC+ of 35 vs. RHP.

      And this season? 148 wRC+ against LHP. Now, this may be chalked up to small sample size, but DeRosa has been above average versus lefties in his whole career.

      Sure he may not be a cleanup hitter, but he isn’t a bad option with his numbers this year, and Gibbons is experimenting with Bautista hitting 2.

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  2. edgar4evar says:

    Really wish the M’s had someone on their staff who could inform them about this stuff. Or maybe they do and they ignore him/her/robot.

    Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if the real reason Ibanez is playing is because of the storyline around his “return to NY.” At least he isn’t playing left field.

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    • Phil Coke says:

      Sure glad I don’t have to face him again!

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    • Westside guy says:

      “Really wish the M’s had someone on their staff who could inform them about this stuff. Or maybe they do and they ignore him/her/robot.”

      At the start, Zduriencik’s Mariners hired Tony Blengino and retained Tom Tango (yes, THAT Tom Tango).

      Now Tango is advising a different team, and Blengino is still on the Mariners’ payroll but is living in a different state.

      I don’t know what changed, but a lot of us who had high hopes when Z was hired now are hoping to see him dismissed… after the draft, since drafting well is his one indisputable skill.

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  3. Jason B says:

    Fantastic article. Those of us looking forward to a more data-driven approach to the game have to be on guard for the misuse and misapplication of limited or flawed data, and this is an excellent example.

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    • But you should be careful, because large amounts of data can mislead you, too. Consider: if your team’s spending $133,000,000 on a player, do you want them to use WAR? I’d hope they focus on component measurements (not aggregates); proprietary defensive metrics developed by MLB’s proprietary tech (not observation by stringers); scouting & traditional HR (big contract + Operation Shutdown, actual age, poor discipline, etc. are hard to predict from a 23 year-olds track record); and then weigh it all according to their own secret sauce. After all, they’re comparing this player to a small set of projected FAs & prospects that might be available over the next year or two, not to the entire player pool or even position pool.

      In that context, WAR is kind of a fanboy short-hand tool for comparing huge pools of players across the league (or history) using past performance, not for granulated analysis required for a major investment. You could end up with the 2013 Angels.

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      • williams .482 says:

        I am a little confused here. You seem to be saying that MLB teams should look at a large amount of relevant data when they sign a player, as opposed to just checking fangraphs to see how high his WAR is.

        Forgive me if I am a bit crude here, but A) duh, and B) what does that have to do with Jason B’s post?

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        • drewcorb says:

          I think Brazen Reader is saying that perhaps Ibanez starting against Sabathia tonight wasn’t misuse and we saber-inclined fans might not be as enlightened as Jason B is implying. We can’t just berate teams when our publicly available advanced metrics indicate they are making mistakes. It’s not up to us to “be on guard”.

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        • Jason B. says:

          I don’t disagree that marshalling large amounts of data can present problems just like misapplying a small amount of data.

          And I don’t disagree that WAR can be a misused stat, by both its supporters and its detractors. People that like it may overrely on it and make it more than it is, and people that dislike the stat often use it for purposes that it’s ill-suited for.

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  4. tz says:

    Still my favorite SSS factoid, having actually seen it:

    On August 25, 1989, the Oriole’s Jeff Ballard, with a 6.8% K rate, struck out Don Mattingly 3 times. Mattingly’s K rate that season was 4.3% (2nd best in the AL), btw.

    Ballard must have really had his number, lol

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    • Glorpo says:

      My favorite, for how random/inexplicable it was, was Ben Francisco vs. Andy Sonnanstine:

      10PA, 8 hits, 1 walk, 1 double, 5 home runs. Francisco hit one out of every eight home runs Sonnanstine allowed allowed to righties for his career.

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  5. David says:

    I’m going with the notion that all of the options are bad in their own way, and management doesn’t really care which player scores the 0-3 for the night. The Mariners have the peculiar distinction of having a roster full of DHs who all happen to be pretty awful, there are no right answers here that do not involve the proper application of high explosives.

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  6. CPT says:

    One aspect to consider: Ibanez was with the Yankees last season. Could this be a potential reason why the M’s would want him in the lineup?

    This may sound silly, but perhaps Ibanez relaying information to fellow Mariners about his former teammate is different from actually getting PA’s against him and -showing- his fellow Mariners about what approach to take, etc.

    I dunno. I’m probably reaching here, especially because Montero caught him in NY. But Ibanez is a seasoned vet and the fatherly figure of that Mariners team. What do you all think?

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    • David says:

      that argument would work way better for Montero (since he might have some inside knowledge on their hitters that he could use to call the game). it’s not like Ibanez was routinely facing Sabathia in game situations while they were teammates. the closest thing would be split-squad games during spring training – but those are never a realistic simulation of regular season games.

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  7. TKDC says:

    This is so plainly an attempt at jinxing it is not even funny. Ibanez is going to hit two homers and only a fool will think that Dave Cameron did not see it coming.

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  8. Jason H. says:

    Out of curiosity, how do you know that the reason Ibanez is starting tonight is the reason you state? You provide no support for your assertion. Is it your inference, or is there actually evidence?

    The reason I ask is that the baseball season is very long, and in any given game there are lots of good reasons why you might not start the player that gives you the best chance to win at a particular position.

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    • David says:

      It’s certainly the most likely reason. Ibanez hasn’t started a single game against a LHP this season. He started 2 of the last 3 games, so it’s not to give him a game after sitting on the bench for a bunch of games in a row (he routinely sits for 4+ games in a row anyway). They had an off day last week so it’s presumably not because of fatigue. it’s not because he’s on a hot streak. He doesn’t offer any special advantage (like a base stealer against a slow pitcher, or a defensive whiz with a contact pitcher on the mound). And seeing as Ibanez is really old, it’s not to help him develop against LHP (like you might do with a young prospect).

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      • Jason H. says:

        But maybe it has nothing to do with Ibanez, and more to do with the other players who might otherwise start. ….or maybe it is to do with the fact that Pettitte is also pitching in the series and Wedge wanted Ibanez to play one of the two games, and he simply asked Ibanez which he preferred. …or maybe anything else. ….if we don’t actually know the reason, we don’t actually know, right?

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    • Richie says:

      What Jason says. Granted Wedge is probably being honest here. But you folks don’t always factor in how often it is a manager’s job to flat-out lie to us, for the good of the club.

      Overall, still a darn good article, tho, IMO.

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      • Jason H. says:

        The ideas behind the article are fine. Those ideas could have been communicated without building up a straw man and insinuating that Wedge is stupid. It is this kind of thing that really turns people off to this stuff.

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        • Me says:

          Wedge isn’t entirely stupid, but he is dumb enough to think we buy all his bullshit. Not to mention he repeatable makes terrible decisions, all of which are well documented.

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    • Utah Dave says:

      I agree with this point. It is conjecture. It may be true and it may not be true. There isn’t any way of proving the matter. They should see if Edgar Martinez is available.

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    • chuckb says:

      It could be that he was in there for his defense. Oh, wait…

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  9. Noah H says:

    You end this article like there aren’t other billion dollar companies that make nonsensical decisions… yay for logic?

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  10. Owen says:

    ’10 year old data is suspect for many reasons, but to use match-up data from 10 years ago when one player is is eight years older is hilarious.’ I also thought this was hilarious because in my mind, using match-up data from 10 years ago would suggest that both, not one, players are 10, not eight, years older. But then again, I am also enjoying some afternoon drinking so what do I know.

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  11. Jason H. says:

    In the same game, it appears that Vernon Wells is starting at DH for the Yankees over Travis Hafner. No idea what Joe’s reason is….

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  12. Jaker says:

    Is there any way we can test the assertion that prior matchups don’t predict future success?

    Because they seem to inform simulation models for oddsmakers’ purposes do they not?

    In this specific instance — where a batter’s success against a pitcher was literally a decade ago — you’re absolutely right that it makes no sense to start Ibanez (though we don’t know for sure why he’s starting).

    But pitchers have different windups, release points, motions, pitches and other tendencies. It’s not a stretch to think that some batters simply pick up the ball better off of certain pitchers. Then of course, there’s a mental aspect to the game as well.

    Now I’m not saying that we should ignore the greater numbers (which in this case undoubtedly tell us to sit Ibanez) but until you show me definitively that past success does not predict future success, I’m still inclined to believe that it may offer some advantage, particularly as the sample size increases.

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    • shoewizard says:

      It was tested in “The Book” written by Tango and MGL.

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      • Jaker says:

        I will need to pickup a copy soon but the excerpt that Dave quoted seems to support my assertion:

        ‘For you to say that a certain hitter owns a certain pitcher, you have to go beyond the numbers. You have to look at the specific traits of these players…’

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        • Jaker says:

          Granted that’s saying to go beyond strictly the matchup numbers but it’s recognizing that there is more to the matchup than numbers. Maybe Ibanez’ traits outside of handiness match well against CC?

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    • shoewizard says:

      Just to be clearer

      After handedness, historical L/R splits, and gaining the platoon advantage, the next biggest factors in matchups are hit trajectory tendancies. Ground ball pitchers generally do much better against ground ball hitters, and fly ball pitchers do slightly better against fly ball hitters, HR’s notwithstanding.

      Most Fly ball hitters will do better against GB or Neutral pitchers, and most ground ball hitters will do better against neutral or FB pitchers.

      This all has to do with swing plane of course.

      So if you add up the different pieces in a weighted matrix, weighting the L/R splits and tendancies the most, and then the BIP type splits the next heaviest, you are about as close as you can get to a predictive model for pitcher/hitter matchups.

      But there are always sample size issues in the splits, so you have to regress heavily.

      You can only do so much, but if you have an extreme right handed ground ball pitcher, facing an extreme right handed ground ball hitter, for example, you should probably have a pretty good matchup. (For the pitcher).

      It’s not straight chalk, but if you are looking for a slight edge and improve your odds in predicting matchups, this works as well as anything else you can do with numbers.

      I worked on a matrix like this for an entire season for a major league club, and ended up using color codes and a simple 1-10 score. I had a section of the matrix for Pitcher/Hitter matchups as well, just to assuage the coaches, but it was only weighted 5%.

      It worked pretty well, but the application of it was spotty.

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      • evo34 says:

        Interesting. How much bigger is the GB/GB matchup effect than the other types?

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        • shoewizard says:

          I don’t have my old data handy, (or my copy of the The Book either) but if I remember it was worth at least an extra 10 wOBA points, maybe 20.

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  13. Scraps says:

    Oddsmaker’s purposes are informed by only what will make the public bet 50/50. If the public will bet wrongly, oddsmakers will happily lay odds that way.

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    • Scraps says:

      (replying to Jaker’s comment)

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    • Jaker says:

      You have no idea how oddsmakers generate lines.

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      • Scraps says:

        Well, I haven’t been there in the room when they’re setting odds. But otherwise, educated people writing books and articles about odds-setting have been saying this for years, and it makes sense. In other words, do you maintain that they don’t? I’m interested.

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        • Greg says:

          Some oddsmakers have become much more aggressive and do not mind taking a side on games or propositions. They also can (and do) trade exposure with one another

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  14. Jason says:

    This article highlights two of the repeated errors that show up in analysis on this blog:

    First – SSS only applies to statistical analysis, not direct observation. These managers have more data available to them than just the stats, they can look at video and see the quality of the at bats as well. So while the statistical sample may not be predictive, the direct observation maybe.

    Second – Managers are not trying to optimize their results for one game. They are trying to optimize over 162 games. So if you want to give a guy deeper down the bench some at bats, or rest a starter, why not pick spots where guys have had some historical success?

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    • Jason H. says:

      SSS also applies to direct qualitative observation. However, your point that managers may be using lots of information is a good one. I am certainly a believer in the idea that a players ability is not constant and quality of at bats matters.

      This site gave Girardi hell last postseason for batting Ibanez and Chavez over Arod against lefties. Even if the numbers compiled over the course of the year say it was a bad call, my eyes told me Arod had no chance of getting a hit against anybody at that particular time. He wasn’t the same player he was when the numbers were accumulated. Even if Ibanez and Chavez were completely overmatched, they at least had a chance!

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    • John Morgan says:

      SSS applies to almost all things, but what constitutes a small sample is variable. I don’t trust managers to judge the quality of an bat, and even if such an ability were possible and possible by managers, I don’t believe four hits in 2003 tell us much, or three at bats in 2010, etc. As for the more managers have data argument, that fits in with the oft-guessed at treasure trove of information and methods people in positions of authority are so often credited with when challenged–if it’s not total bs, it’s at least abusive argumentation. Five seconds of listening to Eric Wedge attests it’s bs. His job is paternal guidance. His job is not strategy.

      The second argument doesn’t make much sense. How would an act that sacrifices value in one game add value over the 162-game season? Clearly a third possibility exists: Wedge could find starts for Ibanez against pitchers he has demonstrable and sound reason to think he will do well against.

      As for pitcher batter matchups: it seems possible that a batter could have something on a pitcher, something about how he sees the ball and swings that makes him better able to hit a certain pitcher, and visa versa. Proving that’s the case and that the evidence is not just the product of noise within a small sample, that’s the difficult task.

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      • Jason H says:

        “The second argument doesn’t make much sense. How would an act that sacrifices value in one game add value over the 162-game season?”

        So, players should never get a rest?

        “Proving that’s the case and that the evidence is not just the product of noise within a small sample, that’s the difficult task.”

        …but that is not the manager’s task. His task is to win games. Just because you can’t demonstrate that his strategy is sound, 1) does not mean it is not, and 2) does not mean he should stop doing it.

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    • chuckb says:

      SSS absolutely does apply to direct observation as well. Just because Ibanez may have “looked good” or “had a good AB” against Sabathia in 1 PA doesn’t mean that he will in his next PA or his next 400 PAs.

      Your points about managers having more info than we do and about playing for more than 1 game at this point in the season are well-taken but you’re mistaken in your comment about SSS.

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  15. Colin says:

    1-for-1 to start…

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  16. Maverick Squad says:

    Isn’t it ironic that the luddite types who hate sabermetrics (eg. Hawk Harrellson) would happily quote these batter/hitter matchup stats- yet deride modern use of statistics.

    Surely pure scouting would tell you it’s not optimal to start Ibanez tonight. This is a situation where scouting and sabermetrics disagree with basic traditional stat use.

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    • Jay29 says:

      They like matchup stats because it’s another chance to spit out batting averages and RBIs. Same with BA w/ RISP.

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  17. Edgar, Teller of Truths says:

    Phillies middle innings radio guy Jim Jackson just used the phrase “small sample size”, thought you guys should know

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    • Jake says:

      He’s the best play-by-play guy around these days, if you ask me. He is fantastic on Flyers’ broadcasts.

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  18. Mike N says:

    Great article. The absolute worst at this is the “Matchup Ratings” that appear in Yahoo fantasy leagues. They purport to offer advice along the lines of “Batting Average is .353 (6-for-17) against other bottom-tier, right-handed pitchers since last season.”

    Seriously I just cut and pasted that one. Anyway it’s complete garbage and they will offer advice based on as little as 5 PA. And who sets these tiers anyway? Especially as that was for a Phillie vs. Kazmir, who is left-handed.

    What complete garbage, Yahoo.

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  19. phoenix2042 says:

    Raul Ibanez just homered off of Sabathia. Baseball!!!!

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  20. Eli says:

    lol That lefty just slammed CC for a HR. No one’s perfect I guess…

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  21. Gibbo says:

    I think that Raul may of read this post and is showing some people up…. got to love the game aye!!!!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Eric wedge says:

    Eric Wedge 1 – Fangraphs 0

    +45 Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Brett says:

    I’m so happy to come to a place after Ibanez goes yard that celebrates the randomness of baseball.

    To quote, “Baseball!”

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. ML says:

    Eric Wedge > Dave Cameron

    +31 Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. Bodhizefa says:

    Eric Wedge: 1
    Dave: 1,000,001

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Murray says:

    hows that for small sample size…muahaha

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. rob says:

    I just had to post here since it’s ridiculously funny to see Raul homer after I have read this article. Just love it.

    +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. Jason H says:

    Ibanez looks totally overmatched. Good call Dave….. …I know, I know, it’s process. Results don’t matter….

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

      Nice subtle #6Org reference. The writers at USSMariner have been lobbying for the firing of Jackie Z recently. So, while Dave may not say that results > process, I think that they will say (and this article is proof that they will) that sample size matters.

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    • chuckb says:

      You’re right. 1 PA totally debunks the conclusions reached in “The Book” and myriad studies in the years since it was published.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason B says:

        Agreed Chuck, it was an absolute (read: 100.0%) certainty that whoever appeared “right” based on last night would be crowing about it the next day (if not that night).

        Hit a home run? Dave was wrong, #6org, Wedge is a GENIUS, derp derp.

        Go 0-for-4 with 3 K’s? Look how smart Dave was, chalk one up for the stat guys, Eric Wedge is an asshat, derp derp derp derp.

        Talk about misusing a tiny sample of information!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason H says:

        Of course, no one is claiming, or even insinuating that Ibanez’ HR debunks “The Book” or other such research.

        However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with goofing on Dave when his certitude gets him in trouble (as it often does). Dave is like the fundamentalist Christian of the SABR world; there isn’t a doubt in his mind. In Dave’s mind baseball is simple and it is described perfectly by models. People who defy the models are, therefor, stupid to Dave, even when they are successful doing it.

        The problem is that baseball, like the world, is complicated. The models only approximate reality. They do so by smoothing over the complexities that are, perhaps, unique to any given situation and cannot be incorporated into the model.

        Just because, on average, starting a lefty like Ibanez over some alternative righty will result in greater production does not mean that it is the correct thing to do in every such circumstance. It is very possible that there are some circumstances that Ibanez is the preferable hitter, but that these circumstances are not readily apparent because they are getting smoothed over by averaging in the model. This is the mistake that Dave makes over and over again. He thinks that the GENERALIZED situation of the model always describes the PARTICULAR situation of the at bat.

        But the generalized model does not have CC Sabathia pitching at Yankee stadium. It also does not have the godawful Mariners lineup. Sabathia is a very good pitcher, and the Mariners are very, very bad at hitting. The favorable batting outcomes (hits and walks) are not worth as much hitting in the Mariners lineup as they are on average across the league. What good is a single for the Mariners when the chance of anyone else ever getting a hit in the same inning is very low. This is especially true against CC Sabathia. However, even the Mariners always get to score with a HR. And Yankee stadium gives up HR to rightfield. And Ibanez hits HR to rightfield. It may very well be the case that against Sabathia at Yankee Stadium with that Mariner lineup, Ibanez is expected to produce better value than the right-handed alternative. This may be because the hits he is likely to get in this situation are HR, while the hits the right-hander would get are singles and doubles and unlikely to produce runs in any case.

        Dave thinks this decision was obviously wrong, and that MLB allows it to happen is evidence of their collective stupidity. It is only “obviously wrong” if you think baseball is simple. Baseball is not simple.

        +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

  29. Bryant says:

    The last line sums it up beautifully.

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  30. Stathead says:

    It’s not unreasonable to think that matchup numbers would converge faster than overall numbers, but the sample size may still be too small.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  31. Synovia says:

    Why the hell are you still using the shitty mess that is K/9 instead of K%?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  32. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    Guys, Dave is a Mariners fan. He knew that if he wrote an article berating Wedge for DHing a lefty against Sabathia, the baseball gods- in true baseball gods fasion- would allow Ibanez to take him deep.

    Unfortunatly for Dave, the aforementioned deities realized that they had been duped, and the Yankees won the game.

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  33. Darren Ford says:

    I was hoping to see mention of my former organizationmate Rickie Weeks against my former teammate Sergio Romo. That’s an absurd batter vs. pitcher matchup…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  34. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Ibanez read this article and got mad, so he decided to put his anger into hitting a homer.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  35. jfree says:

    to use match-up data from 10 years ago when one player is is eight years older is hilarious

    Actually this sentence is hilarious. I’m pretty sure that neither player is only 8 years older than they were 10 years ago.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Correction says:

      It’s awkward phrasing, but what Dave was implying was “use match-up data from 10 years ago when one player is eight years older [than the other one]”

      He left out the last clause because he thought it was implied, but it is kind of nebulous in that sentence. Anyway, Ibanez is 8 years older than Sabathia (and he was 8 years older 10 years ago too!).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bronnt says:

        Or he could have said, “To use match-up data that’s ten years old on top of an eight-year age disparity between players”

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • WhydidFangraphssignmeout? says:

          “On top of” implies that there’s a particular problem with match-up data when players are different ages, but the problem only arises when the data is from different seasons. It’s the fact that Ibanez has declined in skill (as aging would predict) while Sabathia has improved (though a young pitcher should still arguably be slightly declining in skill) that makes it egregiously illogical.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  36. Brendan J. says:

    Mr. Cameron, you left out the most important statistic: TWTW. CC just can’t go up against that.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  37. gnomez says:

    My favorite anecdote (although it’s the opposite of Ibanez-Sabathia) is easily Lance Berkman vs Randy Wolf. Sure, Wolf was a solid pitcher for most of his career, but Berkman is headed to Cooperstown.

    3-33.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • chuckb says:

      Berkman’s not headed to Cooperstown. He may deserve it, but he won’t get there.

      I’ve read quotes from Berkman re: his futility vs. Wolf. He’s aware of it and, IMO, it’s in his head. I think that his awareness of those numbers made him believe that he wasn’t going to get a hit off of him. He would ask out of the lineup when Wolf was on the mound (when he was with the Cards) and I think it was right to bench him then. If he had no confidence that he could hit Wolf, then he was bound to be right.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  38. keegs says:

    DAVE CAMERON IS A SORCERER

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  39. nycSean says:

    IT DOES MATTER. sometimes hitters just have a better feel against certain pitchers. if you ever played on a competitive level, you’d know that you just feel better against certain guys even after 2-3 years of change. and HEY LOOK IBANEZ HIT A HR OFF CC TODAY….

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      DERP!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • WhydidFangraphssignmeout? says:

      The point is that they actually checked the match-ups, in The Book, where the batters really seemed to have the pitchers’ number (and vice versa). They tested that hypothesis, that at least something psychological was going on, but the end result disproved it. In the end, some few batters continued to “own” those pitchers, some batters were suddenly “owned” in a reversal of fortune, and most batters hit about what you’d expect them to hit normally. In the aggregate, all of the batters who really “owned” their pitchers, taken together, performed exactly as you’d expect them to perform against an average pitcher.

      That’s what we mean when we point to the evidence. We assume the common wisdom is correct, determine where we would see the results of it, and check to see if those results happen. The problem is, after even 50-100 PA between a certain batter and pitcher, there’s too much noise to identify which batters actually have which pitchers’ numbers. Just like you can flip a stack of coins 10 times each and fail to identify the weighted coin. There’s just too much randomness and not enough data.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  40. Ryan says:

    Dave, for your next trick can you breakdown the Braves and state how they have little to no chance to win the World Series?

    Thanks! :)

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • nick says:

      read the article, he had a supposed “better feel” against Sabathia 10 years ago. Hasn’t hit him well since. That being said, baseball.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  41. Kurt says:

    I’m a Mariners fan. I used to like Dave Cameron’s blog posts. I haven’t liked his opinions, analysis, or his bias for or against the Mariners. In fact, I would recommend Dave to stop writing about the Mariners all together because he cannot be objective, at all.

    Dave, next time, write this about a team you aren’t mentally, emotionally, or fanatically connected to, so as to leave the perception that this post has even the slightest bit to do with baseball analysis and not your anger over Ibáñez being on the team, getting too much playing time, or a dislike of Wedge. For the record, I think Ibáñez should be the new 3rd base coach and I’m definitely not a fan of Wedge, but at least he’s better than most managers we have run out there in the last decade.

    Points of contention…

    125-150 ABs is too small a sample size to draw conclusions as to whether Pujols could bounce back last year, when he managed to hit like 2012 Figgins for the first 25% of the season, yet 45 career plate appearances (unless he has 7 sacrifices/HBPs that I can’t find) is enough to draw conclusions.

    His real career line BEFORE tonight against C.C. Sabathia…

    AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
    42 12 2 1 2 3 10 .286 .348 .524 .872

    Which brings me to my next point… If Ibáñez was as horrible against Sabathia as you indicated, Dave, then why would he have totally skewed his numbers with just a homerun and a crap single? If 4 ABs can change the data points that much, than the simple size is clearly too small.

    Another thing, what about the fact that Ibáñez can stretch ABs, even an unproductive bat can make the other pitchers throw 20 pitches or more in a single game, which in and of itself is a positive and can lead to a more tired starter (more mistakes=more hits), a more exhausted bullpen (helps the team in future games), and gives the guys in the dugout more chances to see the pitcher throw.

    Which brings me to my final point, statistics (that with which Dave bathes regularly, supposedly) clearly indicate that every time a batter sees a pitcher he gains a greater advantage over him. That over-exposure can assist the player in finding the pitchers rhythm and pattern of pitching, both aid in the attempt to hit the ball. Could we also speculate that Ibáñez was more due to repeat past success against Sabathia due to a confidence created in prior success and familiarity with the pitcher, rather than a belief that he truly forgot to hit? The argument in this case should be whether Ibáñez is really a major league caliber hitter at this point in his career and not whether he could theoretically hit a Sabathia slider. Clearly he proved the first (that he can still hit) by being EXPERIENCED enough to avoid the second (the slider). While he’s only a DH option in my opinión and close to retirement, there is clearly enough there for a spot start. Would I have played Raul over Smoak? No. But maybe they wanted to take today to work on Smoak’s swing against lefties rather than watch him struggle and lose confidence. He is hitting around an 850 OPS over the last 3+ weeks, so maybe Smoak will be another chance for Dave to eat a piece of humble pie.

    -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • PitchersRule says:

      Ibanez is getting to the end, but great shot tonight. I mean he Turned on that pitch, brothers and sisters. Yes, I are a Ms fan. Good article, Dave. Statistically Raul (werewolves of London..) Ibanez should not have been out there tonight. But baseball will be baseball, no matter how much we want to try and predict outcomes.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • chuckb says:

      “statistics (that with which Dave bathes regularly, supposedly) clearly indicate that every time a batter sees a pitcher he gains a greater advantage over him.”

      I’d like to see your link to that information. If this is as much a truism as you suggest, isn’t therefore also true that Sabathia (having seen Ibanez more) would gain a greater advantage over him as well? Let’s face it, he has a better grasp of his strengths and weaknesses and Sabathia, possessing that deadly slider, is in a greater position to exploit it. Is there any real reason to believe — and you know of and can point to references to this information — that hitters get better vs. pitchers as PAs increase and that pitchers necessarily get worse vs. hitters as PAs increase? Again, please provide links so that we can all take advantage of the knowledge that you imply is so well-documented.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Kurt says:

        Way to be Dave’s lapdog, even when my points make PERFECT sense. And his clearly don’t. My arguments are solid, good re-read it, so I don’t have to re-type the same things I just said until you comprehend it.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jason B. says:

          I love that you think your arguments made perfect sense, and are rock solid. No crap! That’s why you posted them, I would venture. :)

          Methinks you might not be the best party to test the validity or soundness of your own arguments, though.

          (Which is not to say that they are awesome, awful, or anywhere in between. Just that none of us can objectively evaluate our own work. Even Ted Bundy’s ma thought he was innocent for a long time…)

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • evo34 says:

        chuckb — Google is your friend. You don’t have to hire a P.I. to find out that familiarity benefits the hitter, not the pitcher. Here’s one link of many (conveniently listed #2 when you search for ‘pitcher familiarity benefits the hitter’), to satiate your lazy soul:

        http://books.google.com/books?id=ssAPTAgCKb8C&pg=PT217

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Benjamin says:

          The pitcher initiates the action, whereas the hitter reacts to it. It seems intuitive to me that additional matchup experience favors the one who must react to his opponent (i.e. the batter), because you get a better idea of what to expect from the pitcher as time goes on. The hitter isn’t surprised as often and doesn’t have to guess as much about what he’s going to see from the pitcher.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  42. Kurt says:

    I didn’t explain the first part of my post, so to clarify, I haven’t liked Dave’s posts since Derek left USSMariner and I think he lost his positivity over doing all of the background stuff without his partner. Maybe it’s all a little too much for him because he never takes time to watch the games as a fan with all his sites and t.v. spots. I know that every once in a while I need to step away from the data and just… WATCH the game, maybe Dave needs to do that too. Maybe if the Mariners can start winning regularly, the real fan in him can come back out, but these contrived attempts at attacking by blog is ridiculous, one can make a point without always siting the contemptous decisions of one’s own team, as to not only appear unbiased, but to be unbiased as well…

    -8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      Hey at least we got someone to trot out the “watch the game, you can’t just look at the numbers” old saw! It’s the “living in his mom’s basement eating cheetos and playing X-box” of this decade!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  43. evo34 says:

    I don’t see how Cameron writes a whole article blasting someone for using a decision-making process that Cameron has no idea was actually used? After reading what I would call fairly large sample of his work, I find his articles to be bottom 20th percentile for this site. And it certainly has nothing to do with the Mariners or any other team. Just repeatedly poor assumptions/math/logic.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  44. DallasTexasSaqartvelo says:

    I didn’t read all the comments, and I really liked the article. The variable Cameron pointed out in this particular situation (Sabathia’s career arc and the higher volume of Ibanez’s success in that matchup being before 2005) was absolutly relevant. However, I feel as though it is an example of a particular instance that does not undermind the value of a player’s success against a pitcher………..

    Oh and just because I have to say it……

    Ibanez went 2 for 4 with a run and two RBIs tonight =)….

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RMD says:

      Ibanez had a .500 BABIP in that game. UNSUSTAINABLE! They should just release him and keep their winnings!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  45. bballislife17 says:

    I’m really wondering what these comments look like in an alternate reality where Ibanez goes 0-4 with 2 Ks last night.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      Yep- we talk about being vigilant to guard against misuse (if not outright abuse) of a tiny sliver of information, then proceed to see it in about 50 comments. (And I think it would have been just as bad the other way, had Ibanez put up an 0-fer.)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • evo34 says:

      I think they would have been roughly the same. Any time an author randomly assumes he knows the specific motivation of a manager for starting/sitting someone, it will draw sharp criticism. Or at least it should.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brad Hage says:

      Much less snark, probably. But there’s nothing wrong with poking fun at a guy for the situation, so long as you don’t take yourself seriously and actually think that a small sample size argument is proven one way or the other by the results of an even smaller sample size.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  46. Carl says:

    Dave is 100% correct. Sometimes the other side draws an inside straight. Doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy.

    Keep up the great analysis Dave.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • pickle cars says:

      The hyperbole you employ with the poker logic doesn’t improve your point, it diminishes it. Drawing to an inside straight can be tremendously profitable if you’re given the right odds to do so, actual and/or implied. The problem comes when you ignore those probabilities. And this is part of the problem with DC’s logic here (where the outcome, apologies to the revelers, shouldn’t really matter… except as a reminder that none of us knows quite as much as we think we do).

      We inappropriately have assigned motive to Wedge. Who’s to say that Wedge didn’t see Ibanez’s batted ball data and Ibanez’s numbers at (New) Yankee Stadium and say…ok. His profile fits this stadium well. Who knows if the plan was to stomach an 0-4 3Ks two times out of three to get 1-4 1 HR the other time? In a low scoring affair, maybe looking for a HR at the expense of OBP makes sense. We don’t know what his plan is for other games on the trip. We don’t know how much he wants to have Ibanez avoid the PH-disadvantage later in the season by accruing more ABs now. We just don’t know.

      Plus, do all the expected values match? We might know that over the next 100 ABs, righties will, on average perform better than lefties against Sabathia by wOBA. But doesn’t that at least partially assume that all righties and all lefties are the same. Is this warranted? Is Montero, with a 64 wOBA on the year, much more likely to produce the same as Ibanez? Does the team have data on Montero’s batspeed that suggests this is a good off day for him?

      I mean, I don’t know. This is a nice thought experiment, and I’d wager Cameron is right more often than not here, but to present it as 100% is silly. There’s just too much we don’t know to feel outraged by this decision, regardless of the outcome.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • evo34 says:

        Well said. In particular, the mention of the absurd L/R hitter splits in Yankee Stadium is spot on. According to Statcorner, the HR factor there is 1.41 for LHB last three years, vs. 1.01 for RHB. How a guy could write an entire article on the topic of platoon splits for managing an individual game and not be aware of this is beyond belief.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  47. Wobatus says:

    Well, apparently Raul just loves that short right field porch and new Yankee Stadium. Two more homers tonight, albeit against homer prone righties. You hafta laugh.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  48. Wobatus says:

    .280/.355/.570. That’s Ibanez’s career line at new Yankee Stadium in 240 career plate appearances, 205 of which were last year. That’s after the CC home run but before his 2-homer game last night. Not sure if it includes his playoff theatrics last year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Wobatus says:

      Yeah, that doesn’t include his 6-13 with 3 homers and a double at home in last year’s playoffs. He must love that place. Basically slugging .600 there. The short porch. It’s like a 7-iron for him. Maybe he likes the background, sees the ball well there. He was born in New York.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Wobatus says:

        Ibanez did hit a homer against a lefty last year. Off Brian Matusz in the playoffs. Brian Matusz isn’t CC Sabathia. But he did pitch much better in relief than as a starter last year and he is a fastball slider pitcher, with a decent success rate with the slider last year. Especially against lefties. Matusz held lefties to a .234 wOBA last year in 34 innings, and 3 homers. CC gave up a .288 wOBA to lefties last year, and 6 homers in 51 innings. And Ibanez quite famously took him deep in the playoffs. Dave wrote an article about it last year, Ibanez’s 2-homer game after coming in as a PH in the 9th.

        Ibanez hasn’t hit lefties well the last few years, but these are fairly small sample sizes. Only 61 at-bats last year.

        Here are his numbers at Yankee Stadium II in his career, including last year’s playoffs, and before facing Sabathia the other night:

        .287/.365/.596 in 236 plate appearances. A bigger sample than his limited PAs against lefties recently, and you need to regress extreme platoon splits somewhat.

        Now, here is Ibanez’s career numbers at the new Yankee Stadium, including last year’s playoffs and the current series this year:

        .293/.368/.629 in 261 plate appearances. That includes 2 homers against tough lefties against lefty hitters in about 40 at-bats.

        I wonder if they’ll start him against Pettitte.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Wobatus says:

          Ibanez is basically 1961 Roger Maris in new Yankee Stadium.

          Maris in 1961: .269/.372/.620.
          Ibanez: .293/.368/.629

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  49. Bill says:

    Raul! So cool. Wedge figured Raul had success in Yankee stadium, success against CC, and had hit in 5 out of his past 6 games before coming into the NYY series. Wedge also figured Raul is a streaky hitter and may be on one of his hot streaks now. He trusted himself and it paid off. No need for the author to call him out on it because now it makes the author look stupid.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Wobatus says:

      I still think Dave is right. The old history against Sabathia is meaningless. 5 games out of 6 with hits is fairly meaningless too. So is the matusz playoff homer I mention above. But one thing I think Dave may have missed, and I didn’t realize it until I looked, was just how good Ibanez’s numbers have been at that little bandbox little league stadium. A combination of short porch, seeing really well against the black background in center or against a field of drunken bums from Smithtown in the bleachers, and the vortex caused by a passing D train, Ibanez is just an awesome hitter at YSII

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  50. Geoff_Baker says:

    Suck that numbers geek and go back to fantasizing about internet women in your mother’s basement.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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