Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rating the Managers by Intentional Walks

The intentional walk is one of the more more overused moves in MLB. The goal of this post is to identify which managers most frequently overuse the free pass. (I did a similar post last season that you can view by clicking here.)

The reason why IBBs are usually a bad idea is because putting a runner on increases the opposing team's chances of scoring in every base-out combination possible. Of course, despite that, intentional walks can still help a team's chances of winning in specific, strategic situations, like late in close games, two outs, a star hitter at the plate, and a much less dangerous hitter on deck. But you have to be judicious, and most managers are not.

Chapter 10 of The Book, Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin analyze when issuing a free pass does and doesn't increase a team's odds of victory and provide a very helpful table listing all the different base-out-score situations when an IBB might be beneficial, depending on the relative strength of the hitters due up.

Determining the relative strength of the hitter at the plate and those due up is more than a bit subjective, including the hitter-pitcher match-up, the health and recent performance of the hitter, and a host of other factors. So I'm (very generously) giving managers the benefit of the doubt there. Instead, I'm just pulling together all the instances in which a free pass was issued in which there's no statistical chance that the walk improved the pitching team's odds of winning.

Here's the list of managers in 2009, ranked in order from most to least frequent "bad" intentional walks (noted as "BIBBs" in the chart):

Manager Team League IBBs BIBBs BIBBs/G
Washington TEX AL 14 2 0.012
Maddon TBR AL 22 2 0.012
Geren OAK AL 30 3 0.019
Gardenhire MIN AL 20 3 0.019
Wakamatsu SEA AL 13 3 0.019
LaRussa STL NL 23 3 0.019
Acta WAS NL 26 2 0.023
Girardi NYY AL 28 4 0.025
Hillman KCR AL 28 4 0.025
Gaston TOR AL 26 4 0.025
Russell PIT NL 37 5 0.031
Hinch ARI NL 24 5 0.034
C. Manuel PHI NL 31 6 0.037
Wedge CLE AL 31 6 0.037
Francona BOS AL 24 6 0.037
Baker CIN NL 36 7 0.043
Leyland DET AL 42 8 0.049
Scioscia LAA AL 35 8 0.049
Trembley BAL AL 45 9 0.056
Guillen CHW AL 41 9 0.056
J. Manuel NYM NL 60 9 0.056
Cooper HOU NL 56 10 0.062
Piniella CHC NL 46 10 0.062
Hurdle COL NL 11 3 0.065
Melvin ARI NL 3 2 0.069
Cox ATL NL 59 12 0.074
Black SDP NL 58 12 0.074
Bochy SFG NL 49 13 0.080
Gonzalez FLA NL 60 14 0.086
Torre LAD NL 68 17 0.105
Tracy COL NL 40 13 0.112
Riggleman WAS NL 33 9 0.120
Macha MIL NL 60 23 0.142

Since my teachers taught me to show my work, you can look at all 1179 walks here.

A few observations here:
  • As he did throughout his tenure, Manny Acta did a better job than most avoiding bad IBBs. Like him or hate him, this is a part of the game that Manny understood well.
  • Riggleman, on the other hand, was quite generous when it came to giving away bases. Three times he ordered an intentional walk with no outs and a tie score or down by one. Probably his worst free pass of the season came on September 22, when he ordered Livan Hernandez to walk the season-long-slumping Russell Martin (.256 / .354 / .333) with no outs, runners on second and third, and the score tied 2-2 in the top of the fourth with Hiroki Kuroda, Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, and Manny Ramirez due up. The Dodgers would eventually score seven runs in the inning and win the game 14-2.
  • Jim Leyland was second in all of baseball last year with 17 "bad IBBs." This year, he cut that number in half, but the difference between his eight bad walks and Gardy's three could very well have been the difference in the division.
  • The Brewers' Ken Macha ran away from the field issuing by far the most "bad" IBBs in baseball. Some of his gaffes were real head-slappers. On June 16, Macha walked Travis Hafner in the bottom of the seventh with one out and a runner on second and his team ahead by a run--the team survived that one, but they were less lucky on August 11. On that day, facing the Padres and down 2-4 in the top of the sixth with runners on second and third and no one out, Macha walked light-hitting but fast Everth Cabrera with David Eckstein, Adrian Gonzalez (!), and Chase Headley due up; eventually six runs would score in the inning, blowing the game wide open. Two days later, with one out and runners on second and third in the top of the second inning of a tie game, Macha intentionally walked the apparently terrifying Cabrera again, this time to face the pitcher and then the top of the order. Other terrible hitters Macha chose to put on base included Ramon Vazquez, Joe Thurston, and Matt Tolbert.
  • Worst intentional walk of the year goes to Bud Black. On June 7th, in the top of the 17th inning, score tied 6-6 and no one on, Black had Chad Gaudin intentionally walk Josh Whitesell, who at the time was hitting .150 / .292 / .250. Arizona Pitcher Leo Rosales was due up next and grounded out to short, but in the next inning, Black, out of pitchers, brought in former Nationals shortstop Josh Wilson to pitch. Wilson got two outs, which, if he had been able to pitch to Rosales, probably would have gotten him out of the inning. But the fifth batter Wilson faced, Mark Reynolds, took him deep to win the game. Black basically chose to have Gaudin walk Whitesell in order to have a position player pitch to one of the most dangerous home run hitters in the game. He should have been fired on the spot.


Positively Half St. said...

Excellent work. Definitely the kind of analysis that helps get me through the offseason. Thanks.

Harper said...

"Black basically chose to have Gaudin walk Whitesell in order to have a position player pitch to one of the most dangerous home run hitters in the game. He should have been fired on the spot. "

Yay, Overreaction!

It was the 17th inning! At that point you deal with the inning in front of you - you don't look an inning ahead to see who might be the 5th batter. He had Gaudin walk Whitesell to make sure Arizona didn't score in the top of the inning, and hoped his team could pull it out in the bottom. It wasn't a great IBB but it WAS THE 17th Inning and he knew he'd be out of pitchers in the next one.

Steven said...

Sorry, but it could be the 900th inning. You don't intentionally walk Josh Whitesell. Period.

e poc said...

I'd recommend dividing BIBB by the actual number of games managed rather than just dividing each by 162. That would be more accurate. So Acta's more like 9th than tied for first, and Riggleman's by far the worst in baseball.

Section 222 said...

Very interesting stuff. I assume you recommend "The Book." Having recently finally read Moneyball, I'm definitely interested in reading it.

The excerpt talked about the extraordinary number of IBBs given to Barry Bonds in 2004. Who were the biggest IBB receivers this past year? I assume you can manipulate your spreadsheet pretty easily to find that out, but I couldn't figure out how to do it on the Google Doc.

Thanks for this analysis.

Steven said...

Pujols of course:

Yes, The Book is the best single book on baseball I've ever read. Baseball Between the Numbers would be a close #2.

mrsandyd said...

I wonder if part of the difference between Acta's and Riggelman's ratios can be explained by the Nats being more competitive under Riggelman. My sense is Riggelman found himself in more situations where he was managing to win, rather than just "getting the stoopid game over with."

mrsandyd said...

Another thought: Did Acta "avoid" IBBs, or just not employ them? We might find his "caught stealing" ratio is lower than average, too, because he so rarely called for stolen bases. Is this a sign of gifted management, or just a general tendency toward uncreative management?