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:

BPro
    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 

Cool
    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?