Defending Joe Torre

June 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

Whether people want to admit it or not, winning at baseball is always about playing the odds. Statistics and numbers have always had a huge place in baseball, and even people back in the day recognized that it was a game based highly on probability and chance.

The ignorant can whine all they want about nerdy sabermetricians, but those nerds are just doing the same things people did a century ago, except now we have more information to work with.

This leads me into some points about today’s game, and two of Joe Torre’s decisions in particular: Pinch hitting Rafael Furcal for Juan Castro and not bunting with Russell Martin.

With Juan Castro, you have a player who has been a terrible hitter in his career, but he also has a .831 OPS this year and he was 2-for-3 in the game already. On the flip side, Rafael Furcal has been scuffling all year long. He has an OPS of .600, and with a .534 OPS in the last seven days, it’s not like he has been showing any signs of life. If that’s the case, why do you throw in the struggling player in the bottom of the ninth inning to face Brad Lidge?

Torre’s move worked out great, but it made very little sense at the time. Remember, it’s not always about second guessing things that didn’t work, it’s also about questioning the logic behind events that did work.

Why? Because in the long run, constantly doing illogical things that use the wrong process will prove costly.

What would Castro have done in that situation? Nobody knows—probably grounded out or something, but the point is that he stood a better chance at the plate in that moment than Furcal did.

Now, in a shocking turn of events, I’m actually going to defend Torre’s decision making for once, as I believe that fans should not be asking questions about why Torre didn’t force Martin into bunting with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th inning with runners on first and second base.

When we look at the big picture (statistical probability), if there ever were a situation to bunt, this was it. Expected runs with nobody out and runners on first and second is about 1.548. Expected runs with one out and runners on second and third is about 1.542. If you’re just trying to get a singular run though, you’d take the latter scenario over the former, so it seems like bunting is the correct move here, right?

Well, the problem is that those numbers assume there is a 100 percent probability that Martin can actually lay down the bunt. This is something that is frequently lost on television announcers when they rant and rave about how awesome bunting is. Remember, Martin has only one sacrifice bunt in his major league career, and he didn’t look so great on that attempt he made.

Even given those considerations, let’s say Martin does get the bunt down. Now, the announcers calling the game mentioned that Loney’s fly ball would have brought home a run. Well, that would be true, except it wouldn’t have happened that way because the Phillies would have walked the bases loaded to bring the double play and force out into effect.

Then Matt Kemp would have gotten jobbed on bad calls again by that terrible umpire, and it would be all up to Mark Loretta to get a hit or walk to win the game. Sorry, but I’ll pass on bunting, because I’d rather take my chances with Martin, Loney, and Kemp getting a base hit with a speedy Hudson on second base. I’m sure Torre didn’t think about the situation in such a logical manner as I just described (since he hates numbers), but the decision itself was completely fine by me.

The two situations represented opposite real life outcomes for the Dodgers. One worked gloriously, and the other left fans wondering what could have been. However, in actuality, the decision that ended up working out positively used an incorrect process, and the decision that failed used a correct process.

So remember, decisions shouldn’t be made in simple black and white, because when you’re looking at the big picture, the process is far more important than the conclusion.

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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