Author Archive

A Situational Lineup: Management Questions With No Clear Answers

It has come to my attention that in the 1880’s and early 1890’s an interesting management phenomenon presented itself around baseball. At this time, managers were not required to submit a lineup card before the start of the day’s game. Due to this, the first time through the batting order could be constructed the way the manager saw fit, based upon situations in the game. That being said, once the lineup went through its progression once, its construction would pervade throughout the rest of play. In lieu of this, an interesting set of strategical questions come into play. How would managers set lineups if this rule existed today? How would this effect run totals for the season for a given team? Would lineup construction change its form or remain largely the same as the way it is done now? This article is not one that analyzes or provides solutions but, instead, provides questions that are interesting and engaging to any baseball connoisseur.

The implications and strategy behind this lineup maneuverability are something that provides tons of differing opportunities for discussion. I think the lead-off hitter, if this rule was applied to the game today, would remain mostly the same. Managers would continue to look for an on-base machine to start off the game in a positive fashion. Along with this, I believe that the seven through nine batters would remain mostly static. Managers would look to place their worst hitters and their pitcher in these spots in order to diminish their number of at-bats in impact situations. With these assumptions established, a world of possibilities open up for the two through six hitters in the lineup. Each manager would approach this construction differently based upon the day’s match-up and the game’s progression. That said, here are a set of interesting scenarios that can provide interesting implications for the progression of a game and for run production in that game.

Let’s assume we’re the Angels and we have their current set of middling players that play alongside a healthy, and studly, Mike Trout. It’s the top of the first inning and the first two outs have already been made, no one’s on base, and we have to choose who will hit. Although there are no runners in scoring position, would you (as the manager) decide to hit Trout in this spot? Or, would you wait and hit Trout to lead off next inning and hope he starts off the inning strong? Or, would you wait to bat Trout sixth and hope that the first two batters in the next inning get on base and Trout can drive them in?

If you choose the latter, the implications of such would be a diminished number of at-bats in the game for Trout. Would it be worth it to wait on an impact situation to have Trout hit for the first time, even if this led to one less at-bat for the rest of the game? I think, personally, in this scenario I would hit Cameron Maybin in the three hole, following Yunel Escobar and Kole Calhoun. I think Maybin has enough pop to hit a home run every once in a while with the bases empty. I also think that if he got on base, I’d hit Trout directly following in the four hole. If it were a single by which Maybin got on, he would go first pitch and try to swipe second. If he got thrown out, it would be fine and I’d have Trout leading off my next inning, followed by Albert Pujols and Luis Valbuena. If he swiped the bag, we would now have a runner in scoring position for our best hitter, which is exactly what we want.

I can see as I’m writing that my ideas are getting harder and harder to follow, but I think this is a direct result of the vast array of possibilities this type of management choice presents. It would be interesting to see major-league managers, much more knowledgeable than myself, go about making these decisions on a daily basis. What do you think would be the best lineup set in this situation? And what other situations would be interesting to discuss as baseball fans?

Fastball Confidence a Focal Point for Harvey

To express the extent of a player’s confidence is difficult, and using numbers to back up this assertion is even harder. When a player lacks confidence, it can be seen through a slew of on-field mannerisms that don’t always present themselves inside statistics. Instead, the numbers tell us the story of a pitcher, once of dominant form, who is struggling to get outs and display any sort of consistent performance. The statistics paint this picture about Matt Harvey. They tell us a tale of dominance, hindered and erased by injury and ineffectiveness. Although this story is told, it seems to be far from the truth. I believe in an alternate story. A story that displays a human being struggling with the confidence to throw his pitches and retire hitters. A lack of confidence stemming from a large set of off-field hindrances and a set of recent on-field struggles. A problem that will be moved past and put behind in the months to come, making it only a distant memory to both Matt and Met fans.

If we rewind back to September of 2015, we can see that Harvey is no stranger to hardships or headlines. After Tommy John surgery following his stellar 2013 campaign, he seemed back to form throughout 2015, culminating in an impeccable playoff start against the Cubs and a World Series game 1 nod. Throughout the season, questions about Harvey’s innings limit hovered around the Mets clubhouse, reaching its climax in early September. After a start against the Philadelphia Phillies where Harvey exited early due to dehydration, agent Scott Boras spoke about the doctor’s indication that Matt should not exceed 180 innings pitched that season. With Matt already at 166 1/3 innings, it seemed like the Mets organization was directly ignoring these suggestions.

This back and forth between the front office and Boras propelled Matt into the spotlight preceding his next start against Washington, who had become their rival in the midst of a pennant race. He pitched poorly, to the tune of 7 R (4 ER) in only 5 1/3 innings. This tough outing doesn’t hold a torch to his current struggles, but the difference in approach between this start and his recent starts form an interesting comparison.

Throughout this start in particular, and the entirety of the 2015 season, Matt Harvey was unafraid to throw his fastball to any hitter. He challenged hitters like Bryce Harper, in the midst of an MVP season, with fastball after fastball. In Harvey’s most recent start, he wouldn’t even challenge Manuel Margot with the same. Of his 74 pitches in that 2015 start, he threw 51 fastballs 95 and above, constantly pounding the zone. In his most recent start, Harvey nibbled around corners, he never challenged hitters, and he relied on his breaking ball (usually out of the zone) even when behind in the count. This tendency showed a lack of confidence to throw his fastball and challenge hitters, something that Harvey needs desperately to be successful. Overall, the dichotomy in approach between 2015 and 2017 for Matt is striking. Here are some of the numbers based on his position in the count:

2015, 2017
CU, CH: 22.3%, 19.7%
SL: 15.5%, 23.4%
FA, FT: 62.2%, 56.9%
CU, CH: 19.0%, 25.3%
SL: 16.5%, 21.7%
FA, FT: 64.6%, 53.0%
AHEAD% 32.6%, 20.8%
BEHIND% 20.8%, 25.9%

In 2015, when ahead in the count, Matt threw 62.2% fastballs. When behind, he threw even more, to the tune of 64.6% of the time. Because of his ability to pound the zone with his fastball, he spent 32.6% of his time ahead in the count while only 20.7% behind. This allowed him to control the pace of the at-bat and the expectations of the hitter. When he wanted to break off a curveball or a slider it became much more effective in relationship to his established fastball.

So far in 2017, he’s been unable to get ahead in the count or develop any rhythm with the pitch. His inability to challenge hitters has left him nibbling around the plate, leaving him ahead in the count only 20.7% of the time. This problem grows when behind in the count, as Harvey continues to throw off-speed pitches 47% of the time. His inability to command these pitches leads to even worse counts, and compounds the problem. Throughout his most recent start again San Diego, Harvey continued to nibble around the corners of the zone, seemingly afraid to challenge hitters with his fastball or throw off-speed pitches consistently in the zone.

This tendency, pointed out by Ron Darling during the SNY Broadcast, can be evidenced by his complete change in pitch usage as shown above. Although diminishing fastball usage is occurring league round, Harvey has to use his fastball more consistently to be more effective this season. By establishing his fastball early, he can play off of it, creating more effective offspeed pitches as well as more powerful fastballs. To be a Cy Young caliber pitcher, you have to trust your stuff and believe in your ability to dominate. As of now, Matt doesn’t believe in either.