Before Dale Sveum was hired as Cubs manager, I wrote a piece about what managers should be expected to do. Basically you just want a guy to manage egos and not screw up too often. Of course, the bulk of the team’s wins is going to be determined by the composition of players on the team and their talent level; the manager probably only swings one or two wins a year and that’s probably being generous.
Sveum has been an interesting manager with his employment of shifts, his bunt fest and other random decisions that either worked or didn’t work, but that’s true of most managers (well, not so much the bunt fest). Managers are going to end up doing stupid crap here and there. Let’s analyze a couple of scenarios from this past Cardinals series…
To begin, there are two tools that I am using here. One is the run expectancy matrix courtesy of Tango, and the other is Tango’s win expectancy chart from the bottom of the 7th inning onward. These charts were (to the best of my knowledge) generated by compiling many seasons’ worth of data based on every conceivable base/out situation across all games. To cut out some of the statistical “noise” these charts don’t take into account who the next batter is, who the runners on base are, etc. It merely tells you how likely runs will score, how many, and in the case of the win chart, how much it boosts or kills the team’s chance of winning the game.
Cubs vs. Cards, 8th inning bunt fest
Let’s look at this after we calmed down from the epic fail. Okay, breathe…aaaah.
Here’s the play-by-play:
|Chicago – Top of 8th||SCORE|
|Mitchell Boggs pitching for St. Louis||CHC||STL|
|M Boggs relieved V Marte.||4||4|
|D DeJesus singled to right.||4||4|
|T Campana sacrificed into fielder’s choice to catcher, D DeJesus to second.||4||4|
|S Castro bunted into double play, first to third to second, D DeJesus out at third, T Campana to second.||4||4|
|B LaHair intentionally walked.||4||4|
|A Soriano singled to left, T Campana scored, B LaHair to second.||5||4|
|I Stewart grounded out to pitcher.||5||4|
|1 Runs, 2 Hits, 0 Errors|
Okay, let’s forgive the first bunt because Tony Campana (despite his healthy-looking slash line) probably isn’t the best number two hitter and his only true weapon is the perfectly placed bunt. At the point where Tony got to first base safely with David DeJesus at second base, the Cubs would have been expected to score 1.556 runs that inning and Tango’s chart suggested the Cardinals only had a 32.9% chance of winning. FanGraphs is a bit more lenient at 33.2% probability of STL winning:
So now Starlin Castro is up. Bryan LaHair is right behind him. Instead of letting Starlin hit, Sveum calls for a sacrifice bunt to stay out of the double play. Let’s put aside how silly that philosophy is for a moment and see what happens in each situation.
If Starlin gets plunked or was allowed to hit and somehow loads the bases with no out, the run expectancy goes up to 2.39 runs. The Cardinals’ win expectancy would drop to 20.8%.
If Starlin drops down a successful bunt, you have guys on second and third with one out. The run expectancy goes from the original 1.556 to 1.447 (not that big of a drop) but because it’s an end-game scenario, the Cubs actually drop STL’s win probability to 32.1% so that’s not an absolutely terrible decision, except for the part where Starlin is one of the team’s best hitters and the Cardinals are likely to take the bat out of Bryan LaHair’s hands, loading the bases with one out. Bases loaded, one out leads to a run expectancy of 1.631 (bad for Cards) and a win expectancy of 31.3% for the Cardinals despite there being again a force at every base. So that in itself isn’t terrible for the Cubs.
If Starlin does the worst-case scenario that prompted Sveum to call for the bunt and grounds into a double play, you have a runner on third base with two outs and LaHair up. That scenario has a run expectancy of .385 and the Cardinals’ win probability jumps to 50.8%, so you can imagine why the manager would want to stay out of that situation.
Except that Starlin isn’t exactly a proficient or frequent bunter. In reality, the Cubs ended up with Tony Campana on second base and two outs, which has a run expectancy of .348 and the Cards’ win probability jumped all the way to 52.5%, or 52.7% on FanGraph’s chart. The fail-bunt actually resulted in a slightly worse outcome than if Starlin had just swung away. Luckily Alfonso Soriano bailed the manager out.
I didn’t discuss the situation where Castro might have popped out on an infield fly or otherwise made an out without advancing the running, and I won’t even get into the fail-bunt situation in the 9th (oy vey…) but there is some justification for what Sveum tried to do. However, you got a gift out when Campana beat out the sac bunt. You have your two best (allegedly) hitters due up. Let them swing away!
Cubs vs. Cards, bottom of the 9th failpen
Poor Rafael Dolis…he got two outs but couldn’t get out number three. To his credit, Dolis kept everything on the ground, and for the most part if you keep the ball on the ground, it might find a defender, but sometimes the BABIP fairy just hates you. Or Yadier Molina just beats the shift. It happens.
Before we get into the game-ending scenario, let’s talk about the bullpen. The bullpen consists of the following:
Okay, now that we got through that, you probably know Shawn Camp pitched two good innings in the first game and so was probably not available. Michael Bowden and Lendy Castillo should only be used in mop-up duty. Casey Coleman has his own legion of haters. So you’re left with Kerry Wood, James Russell and Dolis to choose from in a high-leverage situation. Wood and Russell gave up runs and Dolis got screwed by Molina beating the shift. You can see how Sveum would have issues here because the Cubs brass didn’t exactly give him a great bullpen, but that wasn’t their game plan for this season anyway.
Anyway, back to the ninth inning…Dolis got two outs, Matt Holliday is on second, Molina up to bat. This situation has a run expectancy of 0.348 (as we illustrated above) and a win expectancy for the Cardinals of 61%. FanGraphs had the Cards at 60.5% which is close enough. The Cards are the home team and if Holliday scores, it’s over. Dolis needs that last out.
Dolis has a couple of choices here. He can either pitch to Molina or intentionally walk him. What happens with an IBB? First and second, two outs, Matt Carpenter up. The same Matt Carpenter who took James Russell deep an inning ago, who is batting .273/.340/.523 which means he gets on base about the same as Molina, has a bit more power, and kills the platoon advantage because he is left-handed, unlike Inigo Montoya. But regardless of who the batter is, 1B/2B/two out situation means the Cards are expected to score an average of 0.471 runs (oooh, that’s more than if there’s just a guy on second) and would increase their win probability to 61.3%. Of course, that’s not too much worse than the man on second/two out situation, so this could have gone either way. I would’ve pitched to Molina given the platoon advantage to the pitcher, but I can understand why you’d want to pitch to Carpenter with a force at every base but home.
Lesson learned, I guess. At least Soriano finally homered.