The RAB Radio Show: May 12, 2011

Last night was not a game we want to relive, but hey, we’ve got a show about the Yankees. It’s tough to avoid topics like this. Somehow, we find a way to end on a high note.

Also, tune in tomorrow, as we’ll be talking Sox with Marc Normandin of Baseball Prospectus and Red Sox Beacon.

Podcast run time 19:13

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

The Defense Question

Just to make sure this is perfectly clear right up front: defensive statistics for the 2011 season are a long, long, looong way from being reliable. The sample size, 30-something games for all teams, is just way to small for the data to mean anything right now. That unreliability is part of the reason why none of the advanced metrics agree on the Yankees’ defensive performance.

The table above, screen cap’d from FanGraphs, shows the advanced defensive numbers for each American League team. I recommend clicking for a larger view, one that you can actually read. The Yankees are third in the league with a +8.6 UZR, meaning they’ve saved more than eight-and-a-half runs better than expected through 34 games. Aside from the outfielder’s arms (ARM), they’ve been better than average on double plays (DPR), at ranging for the ball (RngR), and when it comes to making errors (ErrR). With positive production in three of the four components, it’s no surprise their UZR ranks so high. Then why is their +3.9 UZR/150 just seventh in the league, right in the middle of the pack? It’s just a sample size issue, these numbers are very volatile right now.

John Dewan’s famed +/- system (DRS in the chart) says the Yankees are a dozen runs below average right now, fourth worst in the AL. Revised Zone Rating (RZR), which measures how many balls hit to a player’s zone were converted into outs, says the Yankees are the second best defensive club in the AL at .858. RZR is used in conjunction with Out of Zone Players (OOZ), which is the number of balls hit outside of a player’s zone that he turned into outs, but the Yankees are just sixth in the league in OOZ. DER is defensive efficiency ratio, and although it’s not in the chart, it’s easily calculated. It’s just 1-BABIP, telling you how many balls in play are converted into outs overall, regardless of where they’re hit. The Yankees are middle of the pack (ranking eighth in the AL, to be exact) at 0.716 DER.

Six different stats (though it’s really four since UZR and UZR/150 go together, as do RZR and OOZ) giving us five different approximations about the team’s overall defense. Some say it’s great, others say it’s terrible, others say it’s middle of pack. But like I said before, it’s just way too early in the season for these numbers to have any meaning. So the question to you is this: what is your take on the Yankees’ overall defense this year? Is it good, bad, average, or something else? I think it’s been slightly better than average mostly thanks to Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Russell Martin (who’s reminded everyone what defense behind the plate actually looks like), but that’s just me. What about you?

Bunting is for Opening Day, the World Series, and interior decorators

Hat tipping both Tim Armstrong and Sean McNally for the title inspiration.

(LM Otero/AP)

Last night’s game was infuriating for many reasons. We could spend hours griping about every individual failure, but how productive is that? Instead, I want to examine one aspect of the game, one that has recurred many times this season. In a situation that did not call for it, the Yankees chose to sacrifice bunt. It’s not the reason they lost the game; it actually ended up working. But in that specific situation, and in all situations from a general standpoint, sacrifice bunting does not represent sound strategy.

After blowing a one-run lead late in the game, the Yankees found themselves in extra innings. The Royals wasted little time in taking a 1-0 lead, which put the Yanks on the hot seat in the bottom of the 10th. It was hotter, still, because Joakim Soria was on the mound for Kansas City. In the past few years he has established himself as a premier closer, perhaps the best in the league after Mariano Rivera. But this year he has been hittable. It was clear from the first batter last night that he did not have his best stuff, as he walked Russell Martin on four pitches.

We all knew the sacrifice was coming. The Yankees have faced a number of situations this year where one run is of great benefit, and it seems as though Joe Girardi has deemed the sacrifice the correct move in every instance. Brett Gardner showed bunt on the first two pitches, but Soria missed with both. That was six straight balls. Even great pitchers have off nights, and the Yankees appeared lucky enough to catch Soria on one. So what did they do? They kept the bunt on, both on the 2-0 and 3-1 pitches. Gardner did get it down successfully, but to use the term success here is specious at best.

The problem with bunting in that situation starts with simple run expectancy. With a runner on first and no outs, a team has a 44.1 percent chance of scoring a run at some point in the inning. That’s not win expectancy, or multiple run expectancy. It is single-run expectancy. With a runner on second and one out, the chance they’ll score a run is 41.8 percent. The difference isn’t huge, but it does exist. Here is the entire table, for reference, courtesy of Tangotiger (with a hat tip to Capitol Avenue Club, the best Braves blog on the planet):

This is based on historical data, so we do have the true odds of something happening. Of course, when you take the average you have data points both above and below the average. In other words, there are individual instances where having a runner on second with one out is better for a team than a runner on first and none out. It’s up to the manager to pick and choose those situations and beat those odds. In this way I still see two issues with bunting here.

1) The Yankees had just three outs until death. This wasn’t a tie game, where yeah, it still matters, but failing to score in the inning won’t end the game. Either the Yankees scored or went home losers. Why, then, would you give away one of your chances when the odds say you have a worse shot in the new situation? Is Derek Jeter coming up with a runner on second and one out really better at this point than Brett Gardner batting with a runner on first and none out? I don’t think that specific situation mitigates the diminished odds. Gardner is going better than most guys on the team right now. Let him hit.

2) It was predictable. Picking your spots means doing it sometimes and not others. Everyone at the Stadium and everyone at home knew the bunt was coming. That makes it seem as though Girardi thinks that bunting is generally a good strategy in that situation. History says this is not the case. Again, you can beat the odds if you choose your spots wisely. But if your strategy is to consistently bet against the odds, you’re going to lose more often than not.

Of course, the bunt did work, in that Ganderson singled home Martin. Bad process can lead to good results, and even here the Yanks got incredibly lucky that Martin advanced to third on a Jeter grounder to short. There was no way Martin was scoring from second on Granderson’s single. Not with how hard he hit it, and not on Francoeur’s arm.

There is no reason to blindly hate bunts. There are situations when they can work out better than the alternative. But as a general strategy, history shows that they’re not sound. When a bunt means giving away one of your three remaining outs, it’s an even worse strategy. If Girardi is going to use it as an occasional ploy to gain an advantage, that’s one thing. But if he’s going to bunt in every one of these situations, it’s quite another. The evidence is not on his side.

Yankees RISPFAIL their way to crappy loss

Geno was probably ready to retire mid-game tonight. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

I don’t want to recap this game any more than you want to read a recap of it. In hindsight, it was probably a bad idea to strand a zillion baserunners. Who knew? Seriously though, they went 2-for-16 (!!!) with runners in scoring position, leaving 15 men on base in 11 innings. The Yankees left two men on base in the third, sixth, seventh, and ninth innings, which is unfathomably bad. Too make matters worse, their pitchers walked (get this) eleven runners. The Yankees beat themselves, there’s really no other way to put it. They squandered so many chances and made so many dumb mistakes (bunting when Joakim Soria had thrown one strike out of eight pitches? where’s the common sense?) that they deserved to lose. Period, end of story.

So blame whoever you want, blame David Robertson, blame Joe Girardi, blame Buddy Carlyle. I blame the offense, but that’s just me. Doesn’t really matter though, just move on and forget about this mess. These two teams will play the rubber game tomorrow night, when Ivan Nova takes on Sean O’Sullivan. Here’s the box score and WPA Graph if you’re so inclined.

Cano’s CT scan comes back negative

Update (12:13 a.m.): After getting in the head with a Nathan Adcock pitch with two outs in the fifth, Robinson Cano left tonight’s game, and the Yanks sent him for a CT scan. The results came back negative, and the Yanks’ second baseman is listed as day-to-day right now. MLB has implemented a mandatory seven-day disabled list for any player who suffers a concussion, but Cano will avoid that week-long stint. With the Red Sox on deck, that’s good news for the offensively-challenged Bombers.

After getting hit, Cano was on the ground for a few minutes but walked off the field on his own power as Eduardo Nuñez replaced him as the runner at first. While Cano was seen smiling in the dugout afterwards, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got the day off tomorrow just to be safe. Concussion or not, head injuries are nothing to mess around with.

MLB to investigate Colon procedure

Earlier tonight, Mike reported on the stem cell procedure Bartolo Colon underwent to restore his throwing arm. Now it seems that MLB is questioning the surgery and the doctor who conducted it. Joseph R. Purita, Colon’s surgeon, has used HGH in the past, and MLB wants to make sure he didn’t employ the banned substance in Colon’s surgery.

Serge Kovaleski of The Times reported:

Purita said he flew to the Dominican Republic and performed the procedures for free, doing it at the behest of a medical technology company based in Massachusetts that he has done business with for several years. Purita, who has used human growth hormone in such treatments, said in an interview that that he had not done so in Colon’s case. The use of human growth hormone is banned by baseball. “This is not hocus-pocus,” Purita said in an interview here. “This is the future of sports medicine, in particular. Here it is that I got a guy back playing baseball and throwing pitches at 95 miles an hour.”

Purita said that he has treated at least two dozen professional athletes over the years, mostly baseball and football players, and that he has never given any of them H.G.H. “I just won’t give it to these guys,” Purita said. “I don’t need the stigma and that kind of reputation.”

For the last few years, baseball and other sports, while fighting to limit the use of performance-enhancing drugs, have been faced with a new and murky challenge: players getting sophisticated blood treatments, often from doctors whose practices involve the regular use of H.G.H.

Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager, said Wednesday that he had not known of Colon’s medical treatment when the club signed him. Cashman said Colon’s agent, aware that The New York Times was working on an article about the procedure and Purita’s role, had notified him recently of the procedure. Cashman said he had, in response, informed Major League Baseball. “The Yankees did notify us and we are looking into it,” said Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball has said it has no reason to suspect Colon or his surgeon of any wrong-doing, but they are investigating as a matter of due diligence. I would expect nothing to come of this, and I’m not sure they can do much anyway. Colon was out of organized baseball when he underwent the procedure last year. As long as he complies with the MLB drug policy now, there is no foul here.