A question from the ballgame…

Can someone (preferably somebody whose very keen on baseball, especially sabermetrics) answer me a question?

Tonight I was at the game between the Athletics and Twins in Oakland. After trailing 1-3, the A’s score twice in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the game up going into the ninth. Danny Valencia strikes out. With nobody out, Justin Morneau replaces Brendan Harris.

Okay, here’s the question: you are in a tie game, with nobody on base. Justin Morneau is batting .376, to be followed by Nick Punto, who is batting around .200. What do you do?

The Athletics chose to intentionally walk Morneau. Sadly, they also ended up walking Punto, after they pulled Morneau for a pinch runner. Span then hits a grounder and Punto is out at second, but Span beats the throw, and we have runners at the corners with two out. Tolbert (batting about .167) pokes a shot out to center field, and the Twins score.

I can’t understand the utility of walking Morneau. Yes, he’s batting .375 or whatever, which means that over 60% of the time, he doesn’t reach base, and you then have two outs, facing Punto, Span, and Tolbert. If he singles, you are in exactly the same place you were if you intentionally walked him. So you are betting that 63% of the time making an out is less desirable than 34/191 (34 extra base hits in 191 at-bats) chance of getting an extra base hit. Sure, I haven’t quite factored in chance that you accidently walk Morneau, but I can’t help but think that the intentional walk is the wrong play.

What do others think?

3 thoughts on “A question from the ballgame…”

  1. I think we probably need more information than just the batting average — what kinds of hits does Morneau get, when he gets a hit? Because if they’re homers, then the decision maybe makes sense but if he generally singles then what’s the point of giving him a base for free?

  2. I agree with D. Eppstein – more statistics are needed. What if his past three hits against this pitcher have been two doubles and a home run?

  3. In 54 games this year, Morneau has 191 AB, of which 20 were doubles, 1 was a triple, and 13 were home runs. He also has 43 walks, with 5 intentional. Let’s total those those up to get 232 plate appearances (there are a couple of low occurrence events which also cause other plate appearances, but let’s ignore these. Morneau has also struck out 40 times.

    Let’s say those are representative of Morneau’s performance, and that we can use them as an indication of Morneau’s performance. Let’s also deduct the intentional walks off of Morneau’s stats, because we are trying to compare his performance when he wasn’t intentionally walked.

    Thus, we have the following:
    In 13 out of 227 appearances, he homers.
    In 1 out of 227 appearances, he triples.
    In 20 out of 227 appearances, he doubles
    In 71-13-1-20 occasions, he just singles.
    All the rest of the time, he makes an out.

    If we total up the number of bases he achieves, with the intentional walk, we give up one base. If we use the the statistics above, we find out that on average we give up 0.58 bases. It seems on the face of it, that walking him grants him another 0.42 base, statistically.

    I think it was a bad call.

    Oakland coach Bob Geren admits the call was unorthodox. His claim was that he didn’t want Morneau to beat him right there, and that he didn’t like the matchup against Ziegler. That’s an intangible that I don’t have any data to give us insight, but it would have to be pretty serious to overcome the 0.42 base differential.

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