Monday, May 2, 2011

Riggleman's Awful Inning

I realize that it's been a couple days and this is kinda old news, but Jim Riggleman on Saturday made some of the worst decisions I can remember any manager making in a long, long time.

The situation was tie score, top of the seventh, two outs, runners on second and third, John Lannan pitching, Giants' backup catcher Eli Whiteside due up, and Aubrey Huff on deck. And Jim Riggleman chose to intentionally walk Whiteside.

Walking Whiteside decreased the Nationals' win expectancy from 48.5% to 46.5%. It almost tripled the Giants' run expectancy from 0.22 to 0.57. This isn't a close call--the intentional walk clearly made a Giants victory more likely.

Maybe I'm making this too obvious, but lemme try to really break this down simply. With first base open and two outs, the Giants had to get a hit to score a run (barring a balk or wild pitch). With the bases loaded, a walk or HBP gets the go-ahead run home.

Across baseball last year, hits occurred in 22.3% of plate appearances. Walks and HBPs occurred in about 9.4% of plate appearances. So after the walk, about 32% of the likely outcomes of any given at bat get the run home, as opposed to just 22%. If you look at the rates of these events in the National League and in 2011, when offense is sharply down, these numbers are even more skewed against issuing the walk.

But this only scratches the surface of Riggleman's stupidity. Consider that Whiteside is a career back-up catcher with a career .233 / .284 / .366 line. He's 31 years old, and he's never gotten more than 140 plate appearances in a season ever. The reason is because he's a bad hitter, so his own team goes out of their way to make sure he hits as rarely as possible.

Aubrey Huff on the other hand ranked 7th in the MVP voting last season with a .290 / .385 / .506 line. He was the best hitter on the team that won the World Series. It's true Huff is scuffling in the early going this season, but if Jim Riggleman is deciding based on a 27-game sample size that Eli Whiteside is a superior hitter to Aubrey Huff, he's gone stark raving mad. This is like walking Wil Nieves to get to Ryan Zimmerman.

But FJB, you say, by walking Whiteside, Riggleman gained the platoon advantage! Alas, as bad as Whiteside has been against righties, here's his career line against lefties: .167 / .219 / .267. No, that's not a misprint. Jim Riggleman intentionally walked a .167 hitter in a situation where only a hit would get a run home. And in case you were wondering, Huff has basically no platoon split. He hit .296 / .378 / .506 against lefties last season.
And I could pull John Lannan's relatively small platoon splits, but my head is starting to hurt.

Riggleman is so wrong here, that you almost think maybe he got confused and thought he was walking Aubrey Huff to get to Eli Whiteside. Now THAT would have been a justifiable move.

Finally, after all that, we find out during the post-game press conference that Riggleman would have pulled Lannan, except that Lannan might have gotten the win(!) if he got out of the jam and if the Nationals managed to score a run in the bottom of the seventh and if the bullpen managed to hold that lead:
The right thing probably to do was just bring (Tyler) Clippard in to face Whiteside," Riggleman said. "Every now and then, you make a decision for your starting pitcher. If I pull John there, he's got a no-decision or a loss. If I let him try to work through it, he's got a no-decision or a win. It didn't work. The right decision to make was to just bring Clippard in, and whether Clip gets him or not, that's the way we go with that. I should have done that. That's one that's on me.
I'm just speechless. Maybe I shouldn't be. Managers manage to the stats all the time. Pretty much every manager in the league puts a higher premium on getting saves for their anointed closer than winning baseball games. But to admit openly that he believed that changing pitchers would have given the Nationals the best chance to win, but that he instead chose to hurt his team's chances of winning in favor of the infinitesimal chance that John Lannan would pick up a stat that even the BBWA Cy Young voters don't think matters anymore?

Personally, I think Riggleman's quick hook is a problem for this team, and I would have left Lannan in regardless. He only threw 93 pitches, and yeah he was struggling with his command a bit, but hell pitchers struggle with their command sometimes.

But this is a case where it doesn't matter whether he made the right decision or not. The REASON he made the decision was so bad, so completely misplaced, that this decision alone is nearly a firing offense.

And while this is a particularly egregious situation, this isn't the first time we've seen Riggleman manage to the win stat. Don't forget--the manager works for the GM, and it's up to Mike Rizzo to call Riggleman into his office and tell him to cut the crap. The fact that this keeps happening doesn't just reflect poorly on Interim Jim. Ultimately the buck stops with Rizzo.


JD Mathewson said...

And then tonight he leaves Gorzelany in to bat in the bottom of the 7th with 2 outs, bases loaded, and a 2 run lead. I know the bullpen's not that solid, but come on.

All's well that ends well I suppose. Hey, maybe that's what he means by "smart ball."

Stranded_in_Philly said...


I just stumbled over to this blog because of a link from Beyond the Box Score in my google reader, and I have to say, thank you.

I have been a Nationals fan since the move to D.C., which happened around my sophomore year in college. At that time I was just getting back into baseball. I quickly got caught up in the Nationals, and have been a die hard fan ever since.

Initially, I limited myself to Bill Ladson and the Nationals home page (yikes). As my interest in baseball has grown, I've slowly stepped more and more into the arena of sabermetrics, while still balancing with more traditional, Nationals dedicated writing (this means a combination of Fangraphs, Natsinsider, and Nationals Journal).

That being said, having stumbled upon a Nationals dedicated stats heavy site has been like a dream come true. I've spent the past couple days reading through the old posts (when I should have been studying for law school exams), all the way back to your year long hiatus.

This is all a long winded way of saying thank you for this blog. It makes following the Nats from an intelligent perspective very easy, and I will be sure to spread the word to fellow Nats fans and baseball geeks.

Steven said...

You forgot to mention that Whiteside hit a HR early in the game, at that time the Giants only run. This probably also figured into Riggleman's calculus (read: gut), even though that was only his 7th career HR.

I was at the game and listening to the radio broadcast. Charlie Slowes was in complete disbelief.