Giving Away Outs–A Cardinal Sin In the New Environment

Offense is down in Major League Baseball in the last several years. On-base percentages are down. Homers are down. Walk totals are in decline. There are fewer balls in play. Strikeouts are up. Strikeouts used to be indicators–for hitters–of the ability to hit home runs and get on base in another way, specifically by walking. Everything has been traded in for strikeouts in the new, low-offense environment of today’s baseball.* Spread out over more time, look at last year compared to the “year of the pitcher”:

Year    R/G   AVG   OBP   SLG   ISO   K/PA  K/BB 1B/PA HR/con

 2013   4.17  .253  .318  .396  .143  20.0%  2.70 15.4%  3.6%

1968   3.42  .237  .299  .340  .103  16.0%  2.41 15.8%  2.2%

 Baseball today is not like 1992. Have a look:

 Year    R/G   AVG   OBP   SLG   ISO   K/PA  K/BB 1B/PA HR/con

 2013   4.17  .253  .318  .396  .143  20.0%  2.70 15.4%  3.6%

1992   4.12  .256  .322  .377  .121  14.8%  1.90 16.3%  2.5%

 Joe Sheehan documents this in his ongoing “State of the Game” series in his newsletter. He discusses the various reasons for the decline, and convincingly points out two: the parade of robo-relievers who throw 95+ miles per hour, and a de facto strike zone that trades off strikes that can be hit–those between the waist and the letters–for ones that cannot–ones off the corner. In other words, hitters can drive what are technically strikes over the plate and up– put them in play– but they know that they will be called balls. Obversely, calling balls and strikes is harder today. When a guy throws 98 mph and puts one close it is very difficult for the best umpire to determine if it crosses the plate. There are more pitchers who possess such velocity in baseball. **

  FBVelo     K%   K/BB   P95+  P93+

 2013    91.7   20.0   2.70    28    95

2012    91.6   19.9   2.67    26    86

2011    91.5   18.7   2.50    28    85

2010    91.2   18.6   2.36    24    85

2009    91.2   18.1   2.18    18    69

2008    90.7   17.6   2.19    11    63

2007    90.3   17.2   2.18    10    54

2006    90.5   17.0   2.19    15    57

2005    90.1   16.6   2.19    11    46

2004    90.1   17.0   2.15    10    49

2003    89.9   16.5   2.11     9    38

2002    89.9   17.0   2.12    11    40

 FBVelo: Avg FB velocity, all pitchers

P95+: Number of pitchers (min: 50 IP) averaging a 95-mph FB

P93+: Number of pitchers (min: 50 IP) averaging a 93-mph FB

 It is becoming harder to break games open late in a sport where managers have at their disposal several relievers capable of lighting up radar guns and blowing guys away. Bunting runners over, so-called “small ball”, is less effective in an environment where balls in play have been reduced and reaching base is increasingly more difficult.

 Inadvertently, Mike Matheny highlighted the folly of giving away outs Friday night at Busch Stadium against the Cubs. The Cubs were leading 3-1 when the Cardinals came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning. Yadier Molina singled off the hard-throwing new pitcher Pedro Strop. Strop proceeded to hit Allen Craig with a pitch. Two on, nobody out. Peralta was already out of the game in an earlier double-switch. Matheny inserted Shane Robinson to run for Allen Craig. Then he pinch-hit with Jon Jay, asking him to bunt the runners over to second and third. Down by two, three outs to go, pitcher struggling, favorable right-left platoon, asking Jay to make an out. Ultimately, it worked. Let’s look at what had to happen to make it possible:

 Jay successfully sacrifices Molina to third and Robinson to second. Cubs catcher Welington Castillo commits a passed ball, allowing Molina to score, making it 3-2. Strop hits his second batter of the inning, Peter Bourjos. Bourjos steals second base. Daniel Descalso, now playing for Peralta, walks. Matt Carpenter hits a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Robinson, now taking Craig’s place. The game is tied, 3-3.

 The Cubs made many moves in this part of the game. Justin Grimm took the mound in the 10th to face Matt Holliday. Grimm walked Holliday and Matt Adams quickly. Grimm is on the ropes. Molina couldn’t check his swing early in the count and wound up striking out. Robinson flied out. Now it’s Peralta’s spot in the lineup. Two on, two out, position players available to take an at-bat. The Cardinals’ manager elected to bat closer Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out. He displayed more confidence in using Rosenthal, (and not someone else), in a prospective 11th inning, than in deploying Tony Cruz or Pete Kozma as a hitter, in a tied game at home.

 They gave away an out in the ninth. Now in the 10th, after the first two men reached base and a very good hitter struck out, the Cardinals’ hopes rode on Shane Robinson or Trevor Rosenthal getting an extra base hit. Too many chances for outs, in a game the Cubs were trying to give away.

 The Cubs went on to win in 11 innings when, after an intentional walk, Castillo blasted a three-run homer off Rosenthal, which the Cardinals could not answer. Some have speculated that the at-bat threw Rosenthal off.

 When it got tight, Matheny’s process became tangled. It’s hoped that the defensive-minded former catcher Mike Matheny becomes stingier at giving away precious outs in close baseball games. It’s putting your players in the best position to succeed.

*Sheehan, Joe. “State of the Game, Pt. 1” The Joe Sheehan Newsletter (7 Apr. 2014)

**Sheehan, Joe. “State of the Game, Pt. 2” The Joe Sheehan Newsletter (9 Apr. 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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