Bud Black and Pitchouts

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.

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10 Responses »

  1. Also worth looking at:
    1) Percentage of pitchouts which are “correct”; i.e, the runner is going.
    2) Of those, how many are “successful” – the runner is put out?
    3) How many are “failures” — the runner steals anyway?

  2. So how many did Bud guess right on and catch the runner? Any differences between Blanco, Hundley or Eliezer with pitchouts?

  3. It’d be interesting to see how many of those pitchouts turns into outs, and what at count and which situations the calls were being made.

    Also if more pitchouts were called with certain pitchers.

  4. Wouldn’t the frequency of a pitchout be just as likely to be associated with things like the propensity of a guy to be stealing on a pitcher? Things like time to the plate, how good the catcher is, etc. A reputation for pitchouts could also act as a deterrent, i think.

  5. Good stuff…

    @Marshall: Scenario #3 kills me. You give up the base and put yourself into a hole. It’s like botching a rundown play.

    @James: Unfortunately the Bill James Handbook doesn’t go into that much detail. We’d need to examine the play-by-play data.

    @Didi: Right. We’d expect more pitchouts called with CY on the mound than with, well, pretty much anyone else.

    @Sam: That’s a good point. There are many variables involved, and it might be difficult to control for (or even identify) all them. Also, a pitchout is a relatively rare event, which makes differentiating between signal and noise tricky. It also, I hate to admit, makes any information gleaned from such a study of dubious value… Maybe this is best left as a thought experiment?

  6. Man, I love baseball, but are you guys seriously interested in these various pitchout scenarios and outcomes? Whoo, it must be winter time. :-)

  7. Pat, this is what happens when there are no games. ;-)

  8. Come on, admit it. We’re baseball nerds. :-)

  9. I bet being a baseball nerd and fan of a year to year contender is a sweet life.