Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I'd rather have a homerun

This one probably belongs on either Fire Joe Morgan or Awful Announcing more than here, but here goes. Last night during the travesty that was a AAA Pirates-Braves game the Bucs took a 5-run lead late into the ninth. Pirate color analyst Steve Blass made the following observation which is inexplicable.

When having a big lead late in the game, giving up a homerun is better for the pitcher than walking the batter. Now I could have let it go, but he did it again in the 12th when the Buccos had a three run lead going into the inning.

Here is what he may have meant. Throwing strikes it better in that situation than walking the batter because even the best home-run hitter only averages a big fly once every 8 at bats or so (50 HRs in 400 ABs = good season) or 12% of the time. He also makes outs at least 65% of the time. Since a run can't tie the game it is better to try to get the out than give in and walk the batter. That makes sense. The other is preposterous.

The reasoning by Blass follows. 1. Lead-off walks lead to big innings; 2. A walk forces the infield to play differently than normal; 3. The outfielders will be thinking about their throws and not the game; and 4. The pitcher must go from the stretch and maybe their confidence is shaken. Let's take these one at a time.

1. This doesn't make sense. I'll show you. Ask any person you see today that watches baseball if they would rather have their team hit a lead off home-run in every inning the next game or have the lead off guy walk (which could lead to 9 "big-innings"). I bet they take option 1 since you get 9 guaranteed runs. The reasoning is simple. Once the guy hits the homerun you have a run. A walked batter can still make an out a variety of ways. Caught stealing, picked off, caught trying to take an extra base, forced out, double play, interference, etc. The guy who hit the homerun can only sit and drink Gatorade. Another scenario; your team trails by 4 going into the ninth. Would you rather have your team hit three straight solo homers or three straight walks to start the inning? Both situations bring the tying run to the plate, but only in one situation can a pitcher get out of the inning with a single pitch.

2. The infield doesn't have to play differently. If the run is meaningless (the point of the "give up the home run" strategy) just play the infield at normal depth. Or have your pitcher balk three times to get the run in and the runner off the field. Better yet have your catcher throw the ball into right field on ball four while the entire outfield runs to sign autographs. Why don't people do this? Because it would be stupid to give up the run even if it is meaningless when you could get an extra out on a linedrive or hard hit ground ball.

3. That doesn't deserve a response other than if your outfielders are so dumb they can't catch the ball while thinking about a potential cut-off throw they probably endorse this strategy of walks being deadlier than a home run.

4. Once again have the pitcher wind up. Who cares if the guy steals 2nd, 3rd, and home? If the run is meaningless just forget about him (note this does happen sometimes in games). And while you are doing that the runner could still fall down and be tagged out or get doubled up on a pop-out. Neither of which could happen if he hit a home run to start the inning. The confidence thing may be true. If a guy can't throw strikes his confidence will be shaken. Especially three walks in a row. But, you know what else could cause a confidence slippage? Giving up three straight homeruns to start an inning. At least the first guy can still get a double play with one pitch and hasn't given up a run yet. The second guy is probably scared to throw strikes now and could walk the next batter which will probably cause a "big inning."

Note: After searching around on FJM I found out they had a similar discussion last year (with of all people Tim McCarver surprised that a study showed more big innings start with homeruns over walks) and guess what? Statistics show that you are more likely to score 2+ runs in an inning starting out with a homerun over a walk.

1 comment:

J.D. said...

FWIW it was Bob Walk doing the color on FSN Pittsburgh last night if that's what you're talking about. I can at least see where he's coming from, walks wear on a pitcher's psyche like nothing else. From the pitcher's perspective, I'd rather have my stuff and maybe someone gets a hold of it than to not be able to find the plate whatsoever. Great discussion though.