We’ve noted that Bud Black has done a good job of protecting his pitchers in three years as manager of the Padres. At the end of that little ditty, I alluded to another aspect of Black’s managerial style that caught my eye. I speak of his affinity for the pitchout.
Black led National League managers with 55 pitchouts in 2009 (he paced the NL in 2007 as well). That’s more than the next two NL skippers combined (Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella each called 23). Only one big-league manager came close to Black: his former mentor Mike Scioscia called 40 pitchouts. Who knows whether there’s a relationship between Scioscia’s use of the pitchout and Black’s, but I find this intriguing.
I’m not sure what the Official Sabermetric Stance (TM) on pitchouts is, but for the most part I don’t like to see a pitcher intentionally deliver a ball outside the strike zone and put himself into a worse count unless he has impeccable control. There are other ways to control the running game, e.g., throwing over to first, varying delivery, that tend not to put the pitcher at such a disadvantage (although those bring their own baggage, e.g., possibility of errant pickoff throws, diminished effectiveness with slide step, but we’ll worry about one factor at a time). Beyond that, there is wisdom in Greg Maddux’s assertion that “it makes sense to go after the hitter and not worry about the runners” (more sense than some of his specific reasons for making that assertion, anyway).
Speaking of Maddux, who was known for his control (uh, slightly), it’s worth noting that his former manager, Bobby Cox, used to call a lot of pitchouts. From 1999 to 2001, Cox called 203 pitchouts (54 in ’99, 59 in ’00, and 90 in ’01), leading the NL in each of those seasons. In more recent years, he has adopted a more conservative approach (72 pitchouts over the past three seasons combined). One wonders whether this tactical shift has anything to do with his personnel and, if so, to what degree.
That might make for an interesting study. Testable hypothesis: The pitchout is more effective and less risky when executed by pitchers who possess excellent control. Someone other than me should investigate this.