Written by: John Storey
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The American League Championship Series’ fourth game included an inevitable decision. Stick with your starter or go to the bullpen? In the sixth inning, with two base runners and one out, despite a mound visit, Dusty Baker chose to stay with his starter, Zack Greinke.
It will be one of the only times anyone remembers a team’s manager strolling to the mound and not removing his pitcher. We’ll likely never know exactly what Baker considered when he made his decision or exactly when he made that decision.
No matter who was on the mound it’s entirely possible the Rays do damage. And for a manager, often a scapegoat, it’s much easier to make the universally accepted choice. For Dusty to have the courage to stick with his starter in today’s world was about as gutsy a call as they come. Knowing full well where the blame for any resulting trouble would fall, Baker ignored the call to conformity and implemented his intuition. A constant for him, managing Houston with his vast experience, relying on instinct at least as much as numbers, especially relative to other teams, most notably his opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays. Here’s a look at some of the numbers that could have gone into that decision:
Zack Greinke’s strong year helped the Astros get to this fourth game. He achieved one of his best seasons by strikeout rate despite less than dominant results. And his FIP communicates that. At 2.80, Greinke ranked sixth in Major League Baseball this season. However, despite emphasizing Zack’s abilities, that shouldn’t factor that into this decision.
|Zack Greinke||Runners on Base (tOPS+)||Bases Loaded (tOPS+)|
What should, is the extra 24% hitters added to their OPS against Greinke with runners on base this year. A little less than one-third of that is inherent – hitters hit better with runners on base (hitting is contagious). Major League Baseball collectively improved their OPS by seven percent with runners on this year. And that’s nothing out of the ordinary. It’s a value that has remained essentially constant in the last decade.
|MLB||Runners on Base (tOPS+)||Bases Loaded (tOPS+)|
Zack Greinke has been fine with runners on but has struggled a little with the bases loaded in his career. Baker came out to the mound with two on (first and second) however had the same opportunity to call upon Ryan Pressley who was ready in the bullpen after Ji-Man Choi loaded the bases. As with any decision, the question comes down to how much weight one places in a hand-selected split versus a player’s cumulative production. And this is a classic example. Take elite Greinke and tarnish his value with an unfavorable split.
Had this situation arisen in the first or second inning, the likelihood of even considering removing Greinke would have been much lower. We’re all familiar with the times through the order tax – and that obviously played a significant role here. Having already pitched five and two thirds, 79 pitches, Greinke was nearing the end of his day anyway and the lineup had just turned over for the third time. Unlike teammate Framber Valdez, Zack is mortal and feels the wrath of the times through the order tax.
As is to be expected facing your opponent for the third time in a game Greinke’s pitch count was nearing triple digits. Thus, the opportunity cost of pulling him was much smaller than it would be had he run into trouble earlier. It’s not asking your bullpen to go another inning, it’s asking them to get an additional out or two – as few as a single pitch. This tells us a lot about Dusty Baker’s pecking order. It highlights that (assuming he used logical deduction – and that’s no guarantee) Dusty had (has) more faith in Zack Greinke than Ryan Pressley.
Any major league reliever is capable of tossing a few extra pitches, especially under this circumstance – the most critical point in the game.
So, we know Greinke is elite. We know he’s negatively impacted by pitching deeper into games. And now, we know he’s likely a more trusted arm than closer Ryan Presley. But there’s another factor: Randy Arozarena.
Calling Randy Arozarena a factor is the understatement of this postseason. He is dominating at an unprecedented level. The chasm between this production and what he’s accomplished in the past (not insignificant) makes him by far the scariest hitter in the game right now. Old school or stats, that’s going to have some impact. Randy was the batter at the plate when Dusty made his mound visit. If any hitter could have scared Zack (or any pitcher) off the mound it was him. There is perhaps no other situation that could have been more appropriate for a call to the bullpen than this.
It’s difficult to imagine any pitcher staying in the game through this situation. But consider a similar situation. To provide some context, let’s look at a sample of starters pitching in the sixth inning or later with the go-ahead run at the plate or on-base. This is a much less restrictive sample, and thus not completely representative of the Astros’ situation in game four. This includes games with zero implications. It includes situations where a starter has shutout his opponent without receiving any run support. But it’s a start. A simple baseline.
In this sample, the aforementioned situation, through 2020, Zack Greinke faced the second most batters. And he’s had a lot of success. He’s produced a favorable (including sacrifices) outcome 78.26% of the time. Even elite aces Lucas Giolito and Max Scherzer only managed to retire a batter in 52.6% and 59.1% of said situations, respectively.
|Sixth inning or later, tying run at the plate or on base (Starters)||Successful Outcomes (sacrifices included)||Opportunities||Percentage|
That says more about Zack Greinke than Dusty Baker. Is Dusty aware of his veteran ace’s ability to get outs when it matters most? Maybe. Regardless, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Dusty Baker operate in this manner. He’s managed more games than any other active skipper, ranking 14th all-time. And he’s probably old enough to be your grandfather. He’s bound to hold onto some tradition.
Especially when it’s not your favourite team, when you’re not financially or emotionally tethered to the outcome of the game, watching non-quantitative management is just fun. It is an engaging change of pace that stimulates discussion. Sure, it can be frustrating for those analytically inclined (myself included). But this is the Postseason. In 2020. So instead of letting the kids play, let’s let Dusty manage.
All data sourced from baseball-reference.com and baseballsavant.mlb.com.
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