Given the increased use of analytics in baseball and the ever shortening knowledge gap between organizations, it’s sometimes surprising to see that the thinking at the front office level of Major League Baseball teams isn’t more often put into practice on the field of play. Sacrifice bunts, intentional walks and stolen base attempts are still called for by managers in situations for which such strategic options should absolutely not even be considered remotely valid.

While this scene from Moneyball is likely an exaggerated portrayal of a manager’s relationship to a general manager, there is something of a disconnection between the two sides of a baseball club:

We saw the real life version of this relationship to a degree in St. Louis today where Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum held court with an assortment of beat reporters questioning his use of Starlin Castro in Monday night’s win.

Here was the sitch (that’s short for situation BTW):

With runners on first and second, and no one out, Sveum demanded Castro bunt over the two men on base even though it meant that Bryan LaHair, the fourth best batter in baseball so far this season, who was due up next, would most certainly be intentionally walked by Mitchell Boggs. If everything worked out, the end result would take the bat out of the slugger’s hand and set up the double play that Sveum wanted to avoid with the sacrifice bunt in the first place.

Instead, Castro bunted into a double play, and if not for some timely hitting from Alfonso Soriano (yes, you read that right), who came to the plate after LaHair was intentionally walked, the Cubs would have spoiled their opportunity to take the lead and eventually win the game.

According to Sveum:

You can go on and on about the goods and the bads of all of these things. The bottom line is I’ m the one that make the decisions. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.

Calling for a sacrifice bunt in such a situation is probably under more scrutiny in Chicago because of the reputation of the team’s front office and its commitment to analytics, which was confirmed by the organization’s public partnership with Bloomberg in developing a team specific system to evaluate players.

However, as previously mentioned, such a disconnect between front office and dugout is nothing new.

On the other hand, “cybermetrics” is entirely new:

Don’t worry, Cubs fans. Sveum is just joking around. Right? Right? I mean he has a good grasp of what SABERmetrics are, right? How could he not, being with the Chicago Cubs and all?

From the manager:

You wanna talk about (sabermetrics), then OK. Then you talk about the team that has more people on base during the course of the game is going to win way more games than the other teams. You want to keep inten tionally walking guys and all that? Then the odds gradually come (the opposing team’s) favor to win the game. If (the opposing team’s) third, fourth and fifth hitters get up five times in a game, you’ve got a chance of losing that game at an alarming rate.

Huh?

Well, as Ryan Oakley pointed out a couple of weeks ago, at least Cubs fans have this commercial:

It’s better than nothing.

Comments (3)

  1. Isn’t an intentional walk ALWAYS a bad idea, statistically? More baserunners is good for the offense.

    I guess then the argument would become whether 1st and 2nd and no outs is better than bases loaded and 1 out, and I don’t have “The Book” on me to see the numbers on that. Or the walk thing, I guess.

    • It’s not necessarily always wrong to issue an IBB, you have to consider not only the wOBA of the batter behind the IBB, but also the teammate wOBA, so depending on number of outs, the other batters who will likely get to the plate.

      • Riiiiiiight, knew I was missing something obvious. Forgot that this isn’t in a vacuum. Adding baserunners for an inferior hitter doesn’t always make for a net loss, I suppose.

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