Why are baseball managers so stupid? Or is it just me?

Okay, I’m currently reading The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball because I hate to see intentional walks. Case in point: last night’s 7th inning walk of Chase Utley with one out and pitcher Roy Oswalt on second. You’d expect him to score on a double, but he’s not a huge immediate threat. In any case, they walked Utley, and Placido Polanco singles. Oswalt actually runs hard and scores, and you have two men on with one out, except now you are down a run, with Ryan Howard at bat. “Our situation has not improved.” During Howard’s at bat, the Phillies pull a double-steal. Howard strikes out, but now we have first base open, with Jayson Werth batting. Argh! Because of the double steal, they intentionally walk Werth to load the bases. Yes, Werth has been a hot hand in the playoffs, and Rollins was underachieving. But all those statistics are meaningless: it’s not like Rollins was really as bad as his recent slump would indicate. He’s a .272 career hitter (same as Werth), and if you give him plate appearances, he’ll show you it. He doubles, three runs scores, and it’s a sad day for the Giants.

Intentional walks really annoy me. Perhaps wrongly though. I was rereading some analysis of a game I remember from 2005.

Back in 2005, I blogged a tiny bit about the following game, which courtesy of baseball-reference.com, now has a very interesting analysis. In this game, the Astros were leading 4-2, and with the Cardinals batting in the bottom of the 9th, they got two quick outs, but Eckstein singles, and then steals second due to fielder indifference. “The theory” says at that point that the Cardinals only have a 4% chance of winning if the Cardinals played as an “average” team. Brad Lidge walks (on five pitches, not intentionally) Jim Edmonds, and St. Louis rises to a 7% win expectancy, again, assuming an “average team”. But the next batter isn’t an average batter: it’s Pujols. He cracks a home run, St. Louis scores three, and St. Louis wins (the Astros would win the series though).

October 17, 2005 National League Championship Series (NLCS) Game 5, Cardinals at Astros – Baseball-Reference.com.

So, here’s the question: on average teams, walking Edmonds only cost an additional 3% chance of handing the win to the opponents, but given that Pujols was the next batter, what’s a reasonable estimate for how costly that walk is? And if we did a similar analysis on the IBB’s in last night’s game, what would we find?

Well, you can go here and find out. The Giants only have a 1:4 chance of overcoming their deficit, and the intentional walk only changes that by a single percentage point. Polanco’s single increases that to 1:9, and the double steal increases that by 3%. Again, the intentional walk to Werth costs them about 1%, which frankly, I can’t argue with too much. The game is practically over, and these plays (as dramatic as they seem to me) hardly do much to harm SF’s small chance of making a comeback.

I hate it when I find out that my indignation is probably not righteous.