I think the most dogeared chapter in my copy of The Book is the one titled Boots Were Made For Walking in which Tom Tango et al. examine intentional walk situations. I probably reference that chapter at least once a week while watching a game in which a manager seems a little bit too eager to put the opposing team’s hottest hitter on base.
What I usually end up looking at is a large table that Tango created in which he lays out what the difference in wOBA must be between the player being walked and what he refers to as Teammate wOBA (a calculation of the next hitter(s) to come up based on how many outs there are). In this table, he lays out for the reader a selection of the 24 base out states (zero on, zero out; man on first, zero out; men on first and second, zero out; etc.) according to inning and the difference in score (ahead by one, tied, down by one, etc.).
I wrote a selection of the 24 base out states because Tango deems it unnecessary to list situations in which walking the batter would end up advancing the lead runner already on base. That’s because this situation always results in a positive impact for the team that’s batting. It shouldn’t even be a consideration for a manager in that situation.
And yet, yesterday afternoon Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy found his team protecting a two run lead with Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Adam Kennedy on first base and two out in the top of the ninth. With closer Rafael Betancourt on the mound, Tracy called for the right handed reliever to avoid Matt Kemp, and walk the right handed hitter to bring up Dee Gordon instead.
Gordon proceeded to hit a double to right field that cashed in both Kennedy and Kemp, allowing the Dodgers to tie the game and send it into extra innings. However, as always, the results alone aren’t enough to suggest this was a mistake.
Mitchel Lichtman does some of the number lifting over on The Book Blog to find out that while it might seem like a horribly bad decision to walk Kemp and advance the lead runner in this situation, it’s actually a little bit closer than we may have thought. Lichtman figures that in order to justify walking Kemp in this situation, Tracy would have had to have thought of the Dodgers center fielder as a true talent .440 wOBA batter. That’s basically Jose Bautista last year.
Is that Matt Kemp’s true talent?
According to FanGraphs the highest projected wOBA for Kemp in 2012 was .404, which was given by Dodgers fans. However, ZiPS does project that he will finish the season with a .411 wOBA. So, while it might be fun to suggest that Tracy thinks more highly of Kemp than actual Los Angeles supporters, the truth once again, given how well Kemp is playing, isn’t that easy. Walking him to face Gordon, while not exactly playing the percentages, is closer to the area in which a manager can justifiably trust his hunch than we might believe at first glance.