How to Let a Pitcher off the Hook

Tim Stauffer tossed another gem, allowing one run in a game where he could give up none. The Padres loaded the bases in the ninth against Cubs closer Carlos Marmol but couldn’t score.

This was not an affordable loss.

Six games remain; if the Padres win five, they take the division no matter what anyone else does. Worst case in that scenario, they finish in a tie with San Francisco but win based on head-to-head. The bad news there is, to win five, the Padres must win that final series at PhoneCo (to say nothing of the current series)… unless they get some help from the Diamondbacks.

Help? You tell me how likely that is:

  • Tue: Rodrigo Lopez (7-14, 5.04 ERA) vs Jonathan Sanchez (11-9, 3.16 ERA)
  • Wed: Ian Kennedy (9-9, 3.76 ERA) vs Madison Bumgarner (6-6, 3.06 ERA)
  • Thu: Barry Enright (6-6, 3.73 ERA) vs Tim Lincecum (15-10, 3.51 ERA)

Don’t get me started on the Arizona bullpen.

Still, the Padres don’t need anyone else’s assistance to win this thing. It would be nice, but technically speaking, they do — please, is there another way to say “control their own destiny” that doesn’t sound so friggin’ lame? — control their own destiny (gah! no, there is not).

But I’m getting further and further away from my point, which is the seventh inning of Monday night’s contest. A day after the fourth inning changed everything, the Padres again saw the game slip away in the span of six outs.

Stauffer gave up his run in the top of the seventh. Alfonso Soriano hit a ball hard, Blake DeWitt followed with a hit in the right place… game over. We didn’t know it was over at the time, of course. That would be revealed in slow and painful detail over the final nine outs.

Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano, given his first lead of the night, starts the bottom half by walking Matt Stairs on four pitches. Chris Denorfia runs for Stairs and Yorvit Torrealba steps to the plate. Run expectancy is .867. (Given 15 such situations, we would expect a team to score 13 times.)

On Zambrano’s first pitch (he hasn’t thrown a strike yet), Denorfia breaks for second and Torrealba swings at a ball maybe six inches off the ground. To his credit, Torrealba makes contact and grounds to second base, moving Denorfia into scoring position with one out. Run expectancy drops to .680.

Chase Headley bats next. Like Stairs, he walks on four straight. Run expectancy now sits at .879.

Zambrano then misses with his first two pitches to Tony Gwynn Jr. Zambrano has thrown 11 pitches so far in the inning and the only strike was a pitch that Torrealba scraped off his shoetops to protect the baserunner. If ever one wanted to say a pitcher was “all over the place,” now would be the time.

Zambrano delivers a strike to Gwynn, then a ball to make the count 3-1. If Gwynn can coax a walk out of a guy who has missed on 12 of 13 pitches in the inning, the Padres will have loaded the bases with one out. Run expectancy for that situation: 1.526.

As a hitter, Gwynn does exactly one thing well: draw walks. It’s possible he might get a pitch to drive at 3-1, but when your SLG is .287, maybe looking for a “pitch to drive” isn’t high on the list of priorities. Presumably you’ve got a .287 SLG because you can’t drive those pitches.

But Gwynn draws walks and Zambrano isn’t throwing strikes. So you take a pitch and hope it misses. If it does, then you’re in business; if not, the count runs full and then you worry about trying to put the ball in play.

Gwynn doesn’t take the pitch. Instead, he “drives” a lazy fly ball to shallow center for the second out. Run expectancy has fallen to .454.

At the risk of belaboring the point, couldn’t Gwynn have flied out on a full count? When you can’t hit big-league pitching and have no power, but understand the difference between balls and strikes, don’t you owe it to yourself, your teammates, and your fans to take a friggin’ pitch?

Oscar Salazar then comes off the bench to bat for Stauffer. Ball one. Ball two. Swing and a high pop to first base, inning over. Run expectancy: .000. Rally fail. Two more innings of futility. Game over.

Oh well. We try again today. My advice: If at some point during the game Ryan Dempster (or anyone else) loses the strike zone, let him find it on his own. Don’t help him. He’s on the other team and isn’t entitled to your assistance. Capisce?

Results, Odds, Matchups

I’ve been informed that the Rockies chances are remote enough that we can stop tracking them.

  • Atl 2, Fla 1 – The Braves gave it their best shot (took 11 innings) but just couldn’t lose to four anonymous Marlins pitchers.

To the current playoff odds (Baseball Prospectus odds not updated at press time)…

Tm   W-L  BPro Cool
SF  88-68      83.5
Atl 88-69      76.9
SD  87-69      39.6

Here’s a look at movement over the course of the past several days:

    9/25 9/26 9/27 9/28
SF  76.0 64.7 81.1
Atl 55.7 68.0 54.1
SD  66.8 72.9 64.4 

    9/25 9/26 9/27 9/28
SF  79.2 64.7 83.0 83.5
Atl 60.1 68.0 59.8 76.9
SD  59.6 66.2 57.0 39.6

And finally, Tuesday’s matchups:

  • Fla @ Atl, Anibal Sanchez vs Tim Hudson, 4:10 p.m. PT
  • ChN @ SD, Ryan Dempster vs Mat Latos, 7:05 p.m. PT
  • Ari @ SF, Rodrigo Lopez vs Jonathan Sanchez, 5:40 p.m. PT

Go Padres, go Marlins, go Diamondbacks!

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14 Responses »

  1. How in the heck did Pepe Negro decide to pinch hit the guy with ice in his shorts? Did Baxter have fresher and colder shorts on that would perform better in the hot evening? I thought not.

    Inquiring mind wonders…

  2. You and me both, Geoff. You and me both.

  3. re: “Run expectancy is .867. (Given 15 such situations, we would expect a team to score 13 times.)” … I might very well be wrong, but as opposed to “13 times”, I think it might be more accurate to say “13 runs” … ie. they might score only 10 times, but, for example, 3 of the times might be 2 runs, resulting in 13 runs in 15 situations and a .867 run expectancy.

    re: “On Zambrano’s first pitch (he hasn’t thrown a strike yet), Denorfia breaks for second” … I think this one can be pin’d on Bud Black, right? Couldn’t the hit&run have waited for Zambrano to have thrown a strike?

  4. Geoff, excellent analysis as always, but you could have also mentioned Nick Hundley’s crappy AB in the 9th… Marmol fell behind and then Hundley swung at two straight breaking balls… if nothing else, wait for a fastball to try to drive.

  5. Boy, was I glad to see this post. I was infuriated that Tony was not taking all the way on that 3-1 pitch. Just don’t get it. Then Hundley follows that AB with maybe a worse at AB in the 9th not taking a strike with the bases juiced. I mean, how can guys be making such basic mistakes at the most critical point of the season?

    I would love to hear the explanations from Black, Gwynn and Hundley but cannot find any quotes from the 3.

  6. Didi, I didn’t get that either. Why not save Baxter for the pitcher’s spot?

    Man, Salazar’s AB killed me even more than Gwynn’s, and I was yellin’ at my TV for Gwynn to take that 3-1 pitch. But Salazar, how do you swing at a 2-0 pitch, that wasn’t even a great pitch to hit, when the guy cant find the zone?

    Geoff, maybe you can help me out here on the run probability thing… I am struggling to understand how a guy on 2nd, one out has a lower probability to score than first and second, one out. Doesn’t putting the guy on first increase the probability of a GIDP, which obviously results in zero runs scored?

  7. If Pads win 5/6, they’re guaranteed to be at least tied for first in the West. But that doesn’t mean it will automatically go to the tiebreak. If the Braves are in first for the Wildcard in that situation, the Pads & Giants would have to play a 1 game playoff, no?

  8. That was rough to watch — the guy still healing up from the broken bone in his hand decides to hack. Almost as bad was Hundley swinging before taking a strike in the 9th, when Marmol had gotten wild.

    Don’t recall seeing this linked, but I’m in a foul mood and I’ll spread it around some.

    If the Padres don’t make the playoffs this year, it’s a historic collapse, and would make 2 such ruinations in the last 4 seasons. Unlike GY, the low expectations don’t lessen my pain at seeing the team struggle to do things they do so well for so long. It would take a better, and less aggravated, analyst than me to shed light on whether Black is significantly culpable for 2007 and 2010. My gut, churning as it is, says No for the 07 and Yes for this year.

  9. How in the world can you justify pinch hitting Denorfia in that situation? Especially with this kid Baxter? Where is the logic? Isn’t Deno the guy that carried this same team for about a month in August to help get them to this point? It’s bad enough he’s not starting in center but pinch hit for in a huge spot? Am I missing something?

    Don’t tell me Gwynn is better in CF either. I do believe offense is the problem and JR’s .200 average isn’t exactly what they need. Thoughts?

  10. It was frustrating to see Baxter brought in to hit for Denorfia for some kind of, I guess, platoon advantage, when Denorfia’s OPS against lefties is only 25 points less than against righties and Baxter has one MLB hit on his resume. Also, not bringing in Thatcher to face DeWitt w/ Soriano in scoring position, when Thatcher’s been brought into that kind of situation all year… meh.

  11. Every darn fan was wondering the same thing… why not take some pitches? Look what it almost did in the ninth… until Hundley the automatic screw-up decides to try to hit a grand slam. Sigh…

  12. Hi Geoff,
    I read you all the time, but this is the first time I’ve found myself NEEDING to comment. You are dead on about the seventh inning, and could have just cut-and-pasted those comments about the 9th. When Marmol got wild and loaded the bases, I was beside myself when Nick swung (kinda check swing) at a 1-0 pitch that was out of the zone. Changed the whole at bat, and pretty much ended the game. That guy was primed to walk in the tying run.
    Thanks, keep up the great work.
    Joe in Boise.

  13. Glad to see I’m not alone in my frustration…

    @Didi, TZiakas, Wells: I don’t get the Baxter for Denorfia thing at all. I like Baxter, but even for whatever platoon advantage he might give you, I’d much rather have the more experienced guy who has been getting it done all year up in that situation.

    @LynchMob: Yes, your wording about the run expectancy is more precise than mine was; thanks… And yes, you’d think a hit-and-run could wait in that situation.

    @Richard D, tommy, berkeleyman, Joe: No doubt, Hundley’s at-bat was crushing… especially after the way the team battled back at the end.

    @Eric: Yeah, you’re right; I forgot about David Pinto’s massive headache scenario.

    @zmac: See LynchMob’s wording about run expectancy. Yes, there will be greater potential for double plays, but a home run results in three runs in the latter scenario rather than two, etc.

    @Tom Waits: Regarding ’07 vs ’10, I lean the opposite way. In ’07, the Padres had a championship caliber club that everyone expected to contend from the beginning. This year’s team… I still can’t believe they’re going to finish above .500. Give KT and Hoyer credit, but considering Black had to do battle without his projected #1 starter, shortstop, and left fielder for most of the year, I’m happy with the job he’s done.

    Thanks, all, for the insightful/interesting comments. Good to see some “lurkers” come out and say hey. Here’s hoping the Pads win tonight and we can meet back here tomorrow under happier circumstances.

  14. But in 2007, we almost certainly make the playoffs except for the Bradley-Cameron disaster. The team didn’t collapse until two key players were hurt, after there was any chance to replace them, and a third key player (Hoffman) lost effectiveness in two critical games. It’s been too long for my memory to be trusted, but I don’t recall Black doing anything questionable that last week.

    I’m not condemning his entire body of work this year. But some of his decisions in the last month — which admittedly may not have been his alone — were head-scratchers. He may have been managing his ass off during the 10-game skid to no avail, but if we’re praising him for the first 120 games, he’s at least open to question on the last 42.