Fredi Gonzalez is the much maligned manager of the Atlanta Braves. While it would be unsurprising to learn that managers in every city around Major League Baseball have multiple faux Twitter accounts set up for the sole purpose of mocking in-game decisions, few are given as much material to tweet about as the infamous @Frediot feed that’s dedicated to Gonzalez.

Never did this seem more apparent than during yesterday afternoon’s tilt between Fredi’s Braves (or #Barves if you prefer) and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In the bottom of the second inning of the matinee, the Diamondbacks found themselves down by a run with two outs and two men on for right handed hitting shortstop John McDonald. The eighth hitter in the lineup was set to face right handed starter Randall Delgado with Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy on deck.

Gonzalez made the call to intentionally walk McDonald to bring Kennedy to the plate, employing a not uncommon National League practice of walking the number eight hitter in the lineup to get to what is presumably an easier out with the pitcher. However, with two out, it’s not about creating a double play situation or increasing the likelihood of a force out because the only out necessary is the one at first base.

If we assume that the situation took place with average batters and pitcher, it would quite clearly be a ridiculously stupid move to walk the batter. Run expectancy for the situation would increase from 0.61 to 0.78, while marginally adding to Arizona’s win expectancy with it only being the second inning.

However, the batters we’re looking at are far from average. John McDonald is a terrible, terrible hitter. As good as he is with his glove, and he may be one of the best in the game, he is as bad, if not worse, with his bat. On the other hand, Kennedy is a pitcher.

Here are their career batting numbers vs. right handed pitchers:

John McDonald: .260 wOBA, .589 OPS.
Ian Kennedy: .167 wOBA, .471 OPS.

As we see, McDonald’s reputed horribleness at the plate doesn’t disappoint, or rather really disappoints depending on your perspective. He is absolutely terrible, but Kennedy is not only worse, but much worse. He’s so bad in fact that it could be argued that the scenario with the two back-to-back in the lineup is similar to having an unprotected elite hitter in the lineup.

In Chapter Ten of The Book, Tom Tango et alli discuss such a scenario, coming to the conclusion that “the only base/out situation in which a walk reduces run expectancy is when there are men on second and third, two outs, and an unprotected elite hitter at the plate.”

However, Tango also suggests that when considering an intentional walk with two out we should not just look at the wOBA of the batter in the on deck circle, but also weigh the probability of the batter in the hole hitting as well.

Following Tango’s method, we look at Kennedy’s .167 wOBA and give it a weight of 85%, and add 15% of Gerardo Parra’s career .323 wOBA vs. RHB to find a true walk-to-face wOBA of .191.

We can then look to a table in The Book that suggests that a player in McDonald’s situation needs to have a wOBA that is at least 1.27 times better, or at least .242. So, in this instance, we see that McDonald’s atrocious .260 wOBA is good enough to justify walking him.

There are probably some things in need of regression given that Kennedy only has 104 plate appearances, and we might benefit from only looking at McDonald’s more recent samples against right handed pitching, but the bottom line is that walking the offensively challenged player in this scenario wasn’t as bad of a call as it initially seemed to quick-to-react people like this:

While Gonzalez’s process, whether he can can properly justify it or not may have been right in this case, it didn’t get the desired results. After McDonald took first to load the bases, Kennedy walked on four pitches from Delgado, scoring a run and keeping the bases loaded. Parra then stepped up to the plate and delivered a grand slam to give the Diamondbacks a 5-1 lead from which the Braves could not come back.

Given the results of this one sample, it’s expected that Gonzalez will never play the percentages again.

Comments (14)

  1. I’m still going to call him Facepalm Fredi and you can’t stop me!

  2. “incompetent managers accidentally making sabermetrically-justifiable decisions” is a column i would read every single time.

  3. No matter what, I hope Johnny Mac one day tells his grandkids that he was such a feared hitter that teams used to intentionally walk him.

    • Honestly I was actually surprised it was his first career IBB. I mean it happens to everyone at some point right. Just because of a tough platoon split vs. opposite handed pitcher.

      For goodness sake, 2 Pitchers have been intentionally walked since 1973 even. Granted Brooks Kieschinck was an OF/P. Although Don Robinson’s wRC+ is 59 for career. Johnny Mac, 56

  4. Great write-up. Shows how much hindsight can skewer our judgement.

  5. walking mcdonald may have marginally decreased the run expectancy for that inning, but surely it increases the expectancy for the next inning? on the ~70% chance that mcdonald makes an out to end the inning, the dbacks start the third with the pitcher hitting. walking mcdonald, the best-case scenario is starting the third with the top of the order… surely much worse from the braves point of view? they’re trading an easy out now for a more difficult out later. i don’t have the wherewithall to calculate the numbers, but i’d expect it reverses the marginal positive value you’ve attributed to it. in conclusion, walking johnny mac is dumb!

    • Interesting point, and one I’d been thinking about while reading this too. Nevertheless, the leverage of two on with two out in the second is much higher than with nobody on, nobody out in the third. Getting out of that inning unscathed was a worthy objective. How the pitcher walks on four straight, though, is beyond comprehension.

    • Yeah … as Kevin says, it’s about the leverage of the situation, and that’s why we use the weights on the next batter as well.

  6. Congratulations to Johnny Mac, first career IBB! But will stay tuned to inept managers making sabermetrically-optimal decisions.

  7. The real problem was walking the pitcher. You can’t blame th manager for that.

    • Well … the manager put his player in a position that he apparently couldn’t handle, so while I wouldn’t point fingers at him for the walk, I wouldn’t say he was blameless either.

      • “the manager put his player in a position that he apparently couldn’t handle”

        If you can’t handle throwing strikes to the opposing pitcher, you shouldn’t be in the league.

        Walking Macdonald is a debatable call made by the manager. Walking Kennedy is a mistake that was solely the fault of the pitcher.

        • It’s not quite that simple. Baseball, as you might be aware, is rather difficult. Loading the bases puts additional pressure on the pitcher that an open base otherwise wouldn’t.

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