Evaluating Rob Thomson

Thanks for nothing, Randy. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Earlier this week the Yankees did the expected and brought their entire coaching staff – sans Dave Eiland – back for the 2010 season. Third base coach Robbie Thomson was obviously included in that mix. I don’t think there’s anything more disappointing or frustrating in baseball than a runner being thrown out at home, so I wanted to evaluate how the Yankees, and Thomson by association, fared in this department last season. With a hat tip to R.J. Anderson for some procedural assistance, I did just that.

There are really just two situations in which a third base coach sends a runner: when there’s a single with a man on second and when there’s a double with a man on first. Now that’s just a general statement because not all singles are created equally (a runner’s not going to score, or even necessarily advance from second on an infield single) and the same is true of doubles (umpires can allow a runner to score from first on a ground rule double at their discretion, but we rarely see it happen). All I did for this post was look at these situations to see how many times a runner was sent and how many times he scored.

Before we get into the data, there’s two important things to mention. First of all, I eliminated plays with errors. So if a runner scored because the outfielder made a bad throw or bobbling the ball, I just ignored the play and treated it as if it never happened. Secondly, remember that there can be other runners on base as well. If there’s a runner on second when there’s a single, there can also be a runner on first and/or third at the same time, but we don’t care about those guys. Our attention is paid just to that guy on second. Same deal when there’s a a double hit with a man on first, we don’t care what the other two potential runners ahead of him do. Now that that’s over with, here’s the stats…

Update: Typo in the tables, it says double with a man on third. That should be first, obviously. The data is correct however.

Okay great, now what? For this to tell us anything meaningful, we need context, so here’s the same data for the other 29 teams in the league…

At first glance we see that last year, the Yankees were below average at scoring from second on a single when the runner was sent, but above average when scoring from first on a double, again when the runner was sent. That “when the runner is sent” part is important, because we’re only looking at instances when the runner actually tries to score. Poor old Jorge Posada is barely able to go from first to third on most doubles, but we’re not going to hold that against the team here.

Even though the team was below average at scoring from second on a single, we have to remember that we’re dealing with a pretty small sample of data. If one of those seven runners is called safe instead of out, their success rate in those situations climbs to 94.5%, which for all intents and purposes is league average. When it comes to rounding third and scoring, the Yankees are basically average once again. The 0.6% difference overall (both situations) is nothing, it’s not worth getting upset over. League average isn’t sexy, but the Yankees aren’t a team that needs every last runner to score to be successful.  I have a feeling that if  I went back and looked at the data for former third base coach Bobby Meacham, it would be a lot more interesting. That’s another post for another time.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

One thing I have to mention is that the the title of this post really isn’t fair, because sending a runner home in these spots isn’t entirely up to him Thomson. Sure, he puts up the stop sign or waves guys in, but how often do we see a player run through the stop sign? It happens quite a bit, but it isn’t accounted for in this data. Another thing to remember is that the umpires have a say as well. They botch calls at the plate, and that will skew the numbers as well. I’m sure that stuff evens out over a 162 game season, so it’s not a huge concern.

Objectively, I think Thomson does a fine job. A runner getting thrown out at home doesn’t automatically equal a bad send, because a lot of times it takes a perfect relay throw and tag by the defense. I guess there’s two ways to look at it: you don’t want the Yanks to take unnecessary risks because their lineup is so strong, so being a little conservative at third isn’t the end of the world. The other side of the coin is that because the Yanks have such a good lineup, they can afford to take more chances since they’ll get more opportunities to score later. We really have to look at this stuff on a case-by case basis, but this data tells us that the Yankees are doing just fine here. I’d be more concerned if they were well below average that I would be excited if they were well above.

Aside: I also took a quick glance at sacrifice flies when there was a runner at third at well, and the Yankees were a perfect 44-for-44 in that department. The third base coach doesn’t have much, if any, say in those situations though because it happens so quickly, which is why I didn’t bother to include it in the data.

Late-night rumors: Rays, Yanks battling for 4th OFers

As the Yanks and their division rival Tampa Bay Rays look to fill out their rosters, both teams are in the market for a fourth outfielder/veteran bat for the bench. The Yanks, we know, are looking at Andruw Jones, and the team has been tied to Johnny Damon. Tonight, Jon Heyman tweets that the Rays and Yanks are at least both interested in those two players, and it’s possible that one could wind up in Tampa Bay while the other comes to the Bronx. For the Yanks, I’d take Jones over Damon. He’s a righty bat who can still play the field while Damon would give the Yanks another lefty but with suspect defense.

Meanwhile, Heyman also says the Yanks are still in on Rafael Soriano despite Brian Cashman‘s insistence that he won’t surrender a draft pick for a reliever. It behooves Soriano to have others believe the Yanks are interested, but there’s no reason to think their off-season strategy has changed lately.

Cashman: Pettitte won’t pitch in 2011

"Y'all waiting on me?" (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Update (9:27 p.m.): By now, this news can hardly come as a shock. We’ve heard for weeks that Andy Pettitte hadn’t yet ramped up his pre-season workout routines and that he wasn’t close to coming to a decision on his immediate baseball future. He told the Yanks not to count on him, today, Brian Cashman confirmed that the Yanks are not counting on him this season in the Bronx.

“I don’t think he’s determined if he’s officially finished or not, but he’s chosen at this stage at least not to start in 2011,” the Yanks’ GM said today at the owners’ meetings in Arizona. “If that ever changes he’ll call us. We’re not going to hound him or bother him.”

He later clarified his comments. As Tyler Kepner reported, Cashman said he meant to say that Pettitte has chosen “not to pitch” at all in 2011. It’s unclear if Andy is officially retired, but he is right now “not in play.”

As the Daily News reported, Pettitte made the decision to skip the season in order to be with his family. “Andy’s been very communicative on these issues and right now he’s not in play, and if he does decide to play he’ll play for us. He’s a Yankee from start to finish,” he said. “These are personal decisions and they’re based on him wanting to be home and every year it’s been something tugging at him, and it’s been tugging at him even more, and that’s understandable, and so right now he’s not someone we can focus on.”

So the Yankees will have to look elsewhere for pitching help. They’re kicking the tires on Justin Duchscherer, for one, and may take a low-risk flyer on Freddy Garcia. But if the team’s pitching sags in the early going, Cashman, who’s definitely challenging Pettitte a bit here, may just rethink his stance on hounding his long-time lefty.

Open Thread: Nova turns 24

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

A very happy birthday goes out to Mr. Ivan Nova, who turns the ripe old age of 24 today. Nova’s role with the 2011 Yankees became exponentially more important when Cliff Lee decided to sign with the Phillies, and it continues to increase in importance with each quiet offseason day that passes. He pitched to a 4.36 FIP in the big leagues last year, and I’m sure we’d all be ecstatic if he was able to reproduce that performance over say, 175 innings. Nova won’t make or break the Yankees’ season, but he’s going to get every chance in the world to prove himself, something I think every 24-year-old is looking for.

Anyways, here’s the open thread for the evening. Both the Nets and Knicks are playing, but not until a little later one because they’re on the other side of the country. Treat the thread as you see fit, enjoy.

ESPN’s early-season slate heavy on the Yanks

The Worldwide Leader announced its Sunday Night Baseball lineup for the first few months of the 2011 season, and, as expected, it’s heavy on the Yanks. In three of the season’s first seven weeks, the Yanks will play on Sunday night with first pitch shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern time. They’ll face the Red Sox in Boston on April 10 before hosting the Rangers the following Sunday night. With the Red Sox in town on May 15, ESPN will air that game as well. The Subway Series the following weekend thankfully won’t air on ESPN, but the Yanks’ 1 p.m. Opening Day match-up against the Tigers on March 31st will.

ESPN’s decision to air so many Yankee games is one driven simply by ratings. Fans come out to watch the Yanks in droves, and while I can’t stand the late starts, the late ends and the overly dramatic production, at least we won’t be stuck with Joe Morgan and Jon Miller this year. With Dan Shulman, Orel Hershisher and Bobby Valentine manning the booth, the games should be more tolerable. ESPN’s Sunday night slate so far can be found right here.

The RAB Radio Show: January 12, 2011

The Rays signed a reliever familiar to the Yankees. Kyle Farnsworth will now pitch out of their bullpen, which has caused varying reactions from the Yankees fanbase. Mike and I revisit the career of Farnsworth.

But we don’t stop there. Then it’s onto what this signing means for the rest of the relief market. Do the Rays know something about Grant Balfour that the rest of us don’t? He clearly has no leverage, since there aren’t many teams that are going to pony up a draft pick for him. So why did the Rays sign Farnsworth, rather than wait it out with Balfour?

Also: what’s the difference between Rafael Soriano now and Kyle Farnsworth in 2006? There is certainly a performance gap, but it might not be as large as you imagine.

Podcast run time 29:59

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Did intentional walks help the Yankees in 2010?

This IBB didn't work out at all. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

A lot of baseball’s little nuances annoy me, none more than sacrifice bunt. A close second is the intentional walk however, just because I’m generally opposed to giving the other team free baserunners since it increases their chances of winning. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely has a time and a place, but I do think it’s used a bit too liberally these days.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ coaching staff had their pitchers intentionally walk 36 batters during the 2010 regular season, some of which ended up working out okay and some of which completely blew up in their faces. This post is going to take a look at those free passes and the resulting win probability swing. To do this, I’m going to compare the win expectancy after the batter after the IBB to the win expectancy before the IBB. The logic is that the batter was put on base intentionally so the pitcher could (theoretically) face the inferior batter behind him, so what that second guy does is what’s important. Follow? Good. It’s like Mark Teixeira getting walked to face Alex Rodriguez; I’m comparing the win expectancy before Tex’s at-bat to the win expectancy after A-Rod‘s, since that will tell us if the intentional walk “worked,” so to speak. If it improved the team’s chances of winning great, if not, then damn.

Here are the four most significant intentional walk events of the 2010 season, split into good and bad…

Biggest Gain: Sept. 19th, Kerry Wood vs. Nick Markakis
You probably remember this game, it was the one when Luke Scott homered off Mariano Rivera leading off the ninth inning to tie the game, which the Yankees eventually lost in extras. In an inning before that, Boone Logan was summoned from the pen to face a pair of lefties, the punchless Corey Patterson and the slightly dangerous Matt Wieters. Patterson bunted up the first base line for a hit and then Wieters slapped one through the 3.5 hole for a single to put men on the corners with no outs and the Yanks up by two.

Logan gave way to Kerry Wood, who promptly allowed a run scoring single to Felix Pie. Brian Roberts sacrificed the two runners over for reasons unknown, then Wood got Robert Andino swinging for out number two. At this point the Yankees’ win expectancy was 66.5%. Joe Girardi waved the four fingers and had his setup man load the bases intentionally. After the IBB to Markakis, the Yanks win expectancy was 63.9%. Adam Jones bailed them out in no time, flying out to left on the first pitch to end the inning and the threat. The Yanks’ win expectancy after Jones’ at-bat was 83.7%, meaning the total win probability shift of the intentional walk event was 17.2% (83.7%-66.5%).

Honorable Mention: July 4th, David Robertson vs. Lyle Overbay
This was the Marcus Thames walk-off broken bat single game, which I’m sure is fresh in everyone’s memory. Oddly enough, this game featured a Mo blown save as well. In between the blown save and Thames’ heroics, David Robertson ran into a little trouble in the tenth inning. Jose Bautista hit a rare non-homer, leading off the frame with a bloop single. Adam Lind then walked after a seven pitch at-bat, but was erased at second when Edwin Encarnacion bunted into a 5-6-4 double play (Robbie Cano was covering first because Mark Teixeira charged the bunt). That left Bautista at third and two out in the inning.

At this point, the Yankees had a 52.7% chance of winning, but after intentionally walking Lyle Overbay to bring Jose Molina to the plate, they were down to just a 50.8% chance of winning. Robertson got Molina to flail at strike three, ending the inning with the Yankees at a 65.6% chance of being victorious. Five batters later, Thames did his thing. The total win probability shift of the intention walk encounter: 12.9%.

Biggest Loss: July 10th, Joba Chamberlain vs. Russell Branyan
This is an ugly game that no one wants to remember. The Yankees managed to scratch a run off Felix Hernandez and led one-zip into the eighth inning thanks to seven brilliant innings from Javy Vazquez. Go figure. Things got ugly fast after that.

Jack Wilson led off the eighth with a single, but he was erased at second on an Ichiro infield chopper. Chone Figgins singled to move Ichiro over to second, and the pair moved up another base on a wild pitch. At that point, the Yankees had a 48.2% chance of winning, but after Russell Branyan was intentionally walked to load the based with one out, it dropped a bit to 47.8%. Three pitches later, Jose Lopez hit a grand slam, and the Yankees’ win expectancy fell all the way down to just 2.1%. The total change in win probability from the start of Branyan’s at-bat to end of Lopez’s was a staggering 46.1%, all in the wrong direction.

Honorable Mention: May 1st, David Robertson vs. Carlos Quentin
I honestly don’t remember this game at all, but the Yankees were up by a run heading into the seventh inning. Andruw Jones made a quick out to start the inning, but then Paul Konerko doubled to put the tying run in scoring position. Robertson got a weak groundout from Mark Teahen, forcing the ChiSox captain to remain at second. He was then ordered to put Quentin on first base intentionally with the Yankees having a 72.1% chance of winning.

Once the free pass was issued, Damaso Marte was summoned to face the lefty hitting A.J. Pierzynski with the Yanks’ win expectancy at 69.3%. Pierzynski doubled into the left-centerfield gap, allowing both Konerko (tying run) and Teahen (go-ahead run) to score. The chances of a Yankee win dropped all the way to 34.7% after that, meaning the win probability swing was 37.4% in the negative.

* * *

Like I said, I’m generally opposed to the intentional walk but it has it’s moments. Putting Miguel Cabrera on base to face whoever is behind him with the tying run in scoring position is a no-brainer, you’ll take your chances with the next guy just because Miggy is that damn good. There’s also the case when you’re on the road and the winning run is at third and you’re creating the force at any base. The guys on first and second don’t matter, so who cares, put them on and make the play at home easier. Then you have pitchers in the National League, which is another animal all together. That said, I still think it’s a widely overused strategy in the game today. I just hate giving the other team free baserunners.

The full table of intentional walk data for the 2010 Yankees is after the jump for space reasons, but I’m going to throw some notes here…

  • The total WPA swing of Yankees’ intentional walks in 2010 was just -.034, meaning that they lost just less than four-hundredths of a win over the course of the season due to putting men on base intentionally. Peanuts.
  • Of the 36 intentional walks the Yankees issued in 2010, a whopping 25 improved the team’s chances of winning. However, the average WPA of those 25 was just +.053, or barely more than five percent of a win. The average WPA of the remaining 11 was -.125, which means they hurt the Yanks more than twice as much as the good IBB’s helped, on average.
  • Twenty-one of 36 IBB came with the Yankees trailing in the game, and I’m not sure I like that. If you’re trying to catch up and the tie the game, the last thing you want to do is give the opponent more baserunners. Nine of the remaining 15 IBB came with the game tied, and the same logic still applies.
  • Some of the awful hitters the Yanks intentionally walked in 2010: Jeff Francoeur, Scott Moore, Jason Kendall, Jason Donald, and Erick Aybar. Le sigh.

[Read more…]