OK, You Need to Do Something Else   (09/30/01)

Part 1

I firmly believe that in order to be a major league manager for many teams, you can not exceed a maximum IQ of 50.

Perhaps that's a bit too strenuous a condemnation, but there definitely appears to be a particularly virulent case of stupiditis that's making it's way around the major leagues.

To wit: today, 2 major league managers lost games for their teams, and in the process cost them any remote chance at the post-season, with one of the dumbest strategies ever devised in sports.

In the home half of the ninth, with 2 out but a man in scoring position and his visiting team up by at least a run, both Tom Kelly and Bobby Valentine (who had been ejected earlier in the game, but was still clearly in control of his team) elected to WALK the go-ahead run on 4 pitches.  Let me make sure this is absolutely clear: he put the winning run on base when he only needed to get one out to win the game.  The only advantage this "strategy" affords is that it allows the infielders to make a shorter throw to second for the final out, or the third baseman to run to third for a force out.  That's it.  Percentage-wise for the fielders, I'm not sure there is any advantage to this maneuver, as making the catch standing at first is a lot easier than making the catch on the run at second.  And if a ball is hit close enough for a third baseman to run to third for the force, then more than likely, it's close enough that he can make the throw to first almost as easily.

The big disadvantage of this strategy is that THE WINNING RUN IS NOW ON BASE!!!  Whereas before the hitter at the plate needed to hit a home run to win the game, now the hitter only needs to hit for extra bases for the win.  As if pitching in the bottom of the ninth isn't stressful enough.  It also means that a single not only ties the game, but puts the winning run in scoring position, whereas without the walk, the single only ties the game and makes it likely that there'll be extra innings.

A team with a man on second with 2 outs scores an average of 0.34 runs that inning.  A team with runners on first and second with 2 outs scores an average of 0.46 runs that inning.  So by putting the winning run on base, you actually increase the opposing teams' chances of scoring. (!!!)

You wanna know what's really sad?  I see managers do this all the time.

As the percentages dictated, both the Twins and Mets lost as the winning runs that they elected to voluntarily put on base scored.

I don't care how many wins a manager has - this kind of thinking merits immediate firing in my book.  If you don't understand that the currency of baseball is outs, that the more opportunities you give your opponent to score, the more likely he will... if you don't understand that most basic principle, then you don't need to be managing a major league baseball team.  Simple as that.

Part 2

Pitching to Barry Bonds... why?

According to Padre starter Jason Middlebrook, "Part of being a professional is not being bothered by what the fans think, and part of being a professional is going out there with your best stuff and trying to get him out. Unfortunately, I haven't kept him in the ballpark. But really, what can you do?"

Well, Jason, you can ignore that voice in your head that tells you that getting Barry Bonds out is the most important thing in your life and replace it with a voice that says, "hey, trying to win the game would be a good thing to do".

Lemme put it another way.  Middlebrook has faced Bonds 5 times this year.  Bonds has walked twice and homered the other 3 times.  One would think after the second homer, Middlebrook might think, "ok, this guy has my number.  I'll go look at video this offseason to figure out how come he's hitting me so hard, but in the mean time, I'll just walk him.  Giving up one base to him gives my team a much better chance of winning that giving up 4 bases."

I know that's an unpopular point of view; after all, lots of "fans" want to claim they saw a record broken, or at least to be tangentially part of history.  But baseball is a team competition and pitching to Bonds when he's this tuned in is simply counter to any effort to helping your team win, especially in light of the fact that you could pitch to any number of much weaker Giants hitters instead.

Even if your team is out of the playoff races, as a manager or as a player, which would you rather be telling yourself next spring:

a) "Hey, we finished strong, winning a bunch of our games down the stretch against playoff teams... we might have a chance to compete this year," or...

b) "Hey, we made sure Barry Bonds broke the home run record".

The choice seems obvious.  I'm not saying intentionally walk him every time he's at the plate, but I wouldn't throw him anything near the plate.  If he wants to go outside the strikezone to try to help his team with a hit, more power to him.  But throwing him belt high fastballs because you wanna see if he can hit your best stuff is just stupid.  Especially if he does it 3 times in a row.

You can talk about being a man, or being a professional all you want... but part of being a man, and being a professional (especially being a professional) is using your head.  And guys like Middlebrook just aren't using theirs.

You wanna pitch to Bonds?  OK, here's how you do it... give him nothing to hit.  Force him to make the choice to either swing at bad pitches or take the walk.  If his team is down often enough or he gets stranded on the basepaths enough, he'll start pressing, trying to hit anything to help his team win.  That's when you pitch to him... when you've fouled up his timing and mechanics.  That's what good pitchers like Greg Maddux do.  They use their head instead of their ego and they make the hitter hit their pitch.  That's why they're good pitchers.