Behind the Scoreboard October 12, 2009
Should Francona Have Intentionally Walked Hunter to Get to Guerrero?

The easy answer to this is no. With two outs and runners on second and third in the top of the ninth inning, the Red Sox led by one run. Torii Hunter stepped to the plate against Papelbon and Terry Francona promptly chose to give Hunter a free pass to load the bases. As you know, Guerrero came through with a single to centerfield to drive home the tying and go-ahead run, sealing the Red Sox fate.

While obviously the walk didn’t pay off for Francona and the Red Sox, was it a good move strategically? With runners on second and third, a single most likely scores the go-ahead run. A walk, however, does not immediately hurt you.

However, with the bases loaded, a hit OR a walk blows the lead. While a walk didn't hurt before, it makes a huge difference now.

Taking their 2009 stats as "true" probabilities, let’s look at the probabilities of the Red Sox getting out of the jam with both Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero at the plate (in fact Hunter somewhat overperformed his usual year, while Guerrero somewhat underperformed, but let's ignore this for now).

Francona chose to load the bases for Guerrero, so let's examine that first. With the bases loaded and two outs, the probability of the Sox getting out of the jam was simply 1 minus Guerrero's OBP, meaning the Sox had a 66.6% chance of getting him out and escaping with the lead.

How about if they don't walk him? In that case, there is a 63.4% chance of retiring Hunter (1 minus Hunter's OBP). There is also an additional 9.3% chance of walking Hunter and getting to Guerrero anyway. If that happens, there will still be a 66.6% chance of retiring the side without a run. Therefore, the probability of escaping by pitching normally to Hunter is 63.4% + 9.3%*.666 = 69.6%. As we can see, the intentional walk decreased the Red Sox chances of getting out of the jam by about 3%.

The end result is that Francona' walk was an ill-advised move. While Hunter may be a better hitter than Guerrero (though that is debatable), Francona failed, as many managers do, to take into account the fact that a walk hurts much more with the bases loaded than with runners on second and third. While Papelbon blew the game, Francona deserves some of the blame as well.

Tito got worked all over the ballpark by Scioscia in both Games 2 and 3.

I believe walking Hunter in that situaton to pitch to Guerrero was a very defensible move on the part of Francona.

Importantly, there are some unaccounted issues here. Loading the bases to face Guerrero allows the Red Sox the ability to get a force out at any base, which would not be the case if they pitched to Hunter. That is worth something. Not sure if it amounts to 1% or 2% or perhaps more but it moves the needle in the direction of walking Hunter in that spot.

Secondly, one needs to factor in the pitcher/batter matchup. Hunter is 3-for-5 with a HR against Papelbon, whereas Guerrero had been 1-for-10 with no XBH and only one BB. Being the free swinger that Guerrero is, the likelihood of him walking in that situation was close to zero.

My brother and I were texting each other that inning and wondering (somewhat jokingly) whether Francona might intentionally walk Abreu and Hunter to get to Guerrero. As a result, I wasn't surprised in the least when Francona ordered the IBB to Hunter. I would have done the same thing had I been in his shoes.

Rich,
I see your points but disagree. Guerrero doesn't walk much, but he still walks 5% of the time and if it happens, the lead is blown. While Papelbon probably pitches differently to avoid a walk in that situation, his doing so presumably increases the chance of a hit (otherwise he would pitch like that all the time).

I don't put a lot of stock in 5 or 10 career PA's, or the fact that Guerrero had been cold in the postseason and Hunter had been hot - both were based on very small sample-sizes. I think Francona overthought this one and it backfired.

It makes me sick when baseball people overwrite trying to explain why the "great" Red Sox were beaten by a "lesser" team. You know, it's good to recognize the other team was simply better.

Maybe I am missing something but arent there more than two outcomes to facing Hunter?
2. Out - inning over
3. BASE HIT - angels take the lead. If there were only two options, then I would agree with the analysis and face hunter first. But, because there are three outcomes, sometimes you have the option of 2 chances (face hunter, then vlad)
As a Yankee fan, I believe Francona made the right choice based upon the options available at the time.

Thats fine if he wanted to walk Hunter, but he should not have done it intentionally. Just pitch him very carefully, and hopefully he will chase a pitch that was outside of the zone, or a pitch Hunter can't handle. And if you walk him, fine, you had the base open anyways. Let's say it was 3-1, throw a BP fastball or a change up and maybe u get lucky with a ground out or an infield fly. With Vlad up, you don't have the luxury to be quite as selective with your pitches and their location. Is keeping the force on a good enough reason to walk him?

I meant to say that sometimes you don't have the option of 2 chances and the bottom line is that it came down to who was more likely to get a base hit and that would be Hunter.

> However, with the bases loaded, a hit OR a walk gives the Angels the lead.

Did I miss the rule change where a walk results in two runs at once?

IronHorse,
You are right that for convenience, I only analyzed the probability of the Red Sox blowing the lead, with no distinction between the Angels tying or going ahead. However, if you were to extend the discussion, in fact Guerrero's Hits/PA is higher than Hunter's meaning that the chance of giving up the go ahead basehit would be higher with Guerrero up than Hunter. Still a bad move.

Less - good catch, I'll change that.

I just didn't see enough of a difference between Hunter and Guerrero to justify the decision to walk Hunter. He appears to be slightly better at this point in time, and he has had more success against Papelbon. But there are two outs and a base open, which means you can pitch him carefully and if he walks, you can try to get Guerrero out.

Pitching to Hunter would remove the ability to get a force play, but on a difficult grounder it's likely that the Angels would have tied the game, as opposed to taken the lead (a grounder that leads to two runs scoring would probably not have resulted in a force out, IMO). I think that you try to get Hunter out in that situation.

I could possibly understand walking Juan Rivera in order to face Izturis, or walking Napoli in order to face Aybar. Possibly. I don't think that walking Hunter to face Guerrero is a good idea at all.

I have issues with assuming that Hunter and Guerrero will get on base at the same chances against Papelbon as they did during the regular season. Also, I think it's highly likely that the odds that Papelbon will get Guerrero out compared to Hunter is greater than 3.2 times every 100 plate appearances.

That said, what is the break even point between walking Hunter and facing Guerrero?

Based on your math as above and stipulating that Hunter's abilities to get on base against Papelbon is the same as during the entire regular season, it's Hunter OBP minus 6.5%.

So if Vlad gets on base at a .301 clip, it doesn't matter who Pabelbon faces. At worse than .301, then it's the right move.

Based on the small sample sizes of Vlad's 1 for 10 and the scouting reports that Vlad can't hit a good fastball anymore, Francona's move was probably the right one. It just failed to work out - which we can write off due to small sample size.

I think they should have pitched to Hunter for a variety of reasons that revolve, in part, around the risk of errors, wild pitches and passed balls with three men on base rather than two men on base giving the Angels a better chance to take the lead.

Having said that, isn't the probability of escaping by pitching normally to Hunter simply 63.4%? The 9.3% is already factored into his OBP.

Ed, It's not simply 63.4% because if you walk Hunter, you can still get out of it. That's why you have to add (part of) that back in.

Chene- Yeah, I ran the numbers without factoring Papelbon, but if you assume that he is equally effective against both hitters, then nothing much changes. Your break-even numbers seem right, but I don't think that Guerrero has less than a .301 true OBP, making the IBB a bad move.

Sorry, I still don't follow the math. Once Hunter is on base, there no longer is "an additional 9.3% chance of walking Hunter." At that point the probability of getting out of the inning without allowing any score is (more or less) 1 minus Vlad's OBP -- more or less because OBP does not account for errors, wild pitches, passed balls, dropped/uncaught third strikes, fielder's obstruction or catcher's interference.

Thanks for your questions Ed. Let me break it down this way. According to Hunter's stats we have the following probabilities:

OUT: 63.4%
WALK: 9.3%
HIT: 27.3%

Obviously, if you get him out you get out of the jam, so the probability is at least 63.4%. But if you walk him, you might still get out of it by getting Guerrero, so the probability is going to be higher than that. The probability of getting Guerrero is 66.6%. Therefore the overall probability is P(getting out Hunter) + P(walking Hunter AND getting out Guerrero). Therefore it's 63.4%+9.3%*.666= 69.6%.

You could get at it the other way by saying there's a 27.3% chance he'll get a hit and you'll blow it right away, plus another 9.3%*.333 chance that you walk Hunter and get beat by Guerrero. That equals 30.4%.

Got it. Thanks for the patient explanation.

Someone probably needs to help me on this but, if you use pitch types and pitch type values, couldn't you essentially determine a nice estimate for how batters compare versus a certain pitcher?

So, Papelbon's pitches are fastball, slider, split. His pitch mix is 81.5%/9.2%/9.3% FB/SL/SF.
His pitch values are 1.43/.35/-1.21 per 100

Hunter's pitch values per 100 are
1.49/0.37/1.87
-0.74/3.81/-4.09

If you assume to calculate pitch values for a pitcher vs batter is to subtract the pitcher's value from the hitter's value, then
Paps vs Hunter 0.06/0.02/3.08

So, assuming Paps' pitches are at the same % during the AB as during the regular season, this means that the weighted average value of Paps vs Hunter is 0.34 and Paps vs Vlad is -1.72.

I'm not sure how you can translate this to chances of hits, but over a 2,000 pitch regular season, this means that Torii Hunter is worth about 41 runs more than Vlad is against Papelbon.

41 runs roughly translates to the difference between a replacement player and Vlad's 2005 season which was .317/.394/.565.

If my math is correct, I think you pitch to Vlad today, tomorrow, and Sunday.

Chene, I really like your approach on this. I think the fly in the oinment so to speak is that the pitch values change a lot from year to year, which leads me to not totally trust the numbers. A way around this is to look at the career numbers. Vlad's values: 1.11/1.87/2.93. Hunter's values: .29/.52/-1.68. If you use these (or weight them so that they sum to their 2009 performance), you're going to get a lot different results - results that are a lot more favorable to Guerrero. That said, great analysis.

2009 definitely seems like potential outliers for pitch values for the Hunter and Guerrero as they don't match up well with their career lines, but are they?

I don't think you can take career as representative of the current abilities but you can probably use it as a judge of where the player is trending.

Hunter's career on FB is 0.29. His prior years are
2007 0.19
2008 0.21
2009 1.49

2007 1.11
2008 0.78
2009 -0.74

They're roughly the same age but they look like they're trending in different directions. Hunter had maybe his best year at the plate and during the short bit of the playoffs I've watched, he crushed a homer off of a fastball. Vlad is reported to have had a lot of trouble with the fastball and his stats show it.

Vlad's definitely dropped off from his career numbers, which maybe be a sign of aging, slowing bat, the fact that he chases almost everything (although Hunter's not the most selective hitter), or all three.

In order to get truer estimate of pitch values, you probably need to do regression analysis based on age. There are probably other variables, such as type of hitter (a more patient batter probably drops off slower) and maybe recent trend.

Just off the cuff, let's take 50% weighting for this year, 25% for career and 25% for 2008. Based on this, Hunter's at 0.87, Vlad at 0.10. At 2000 pitches, Hunter is 15 runs better (this is FB only).

If you take 50%/50% career and 2009, the difference is 14 runs towards Hunter. If you weight 75%/25% career and 2009, then you're essentially neutral between the two.

I'd tend to weight towards 2009. And at 50%/50% (which I think is generous towards Guerrero), Hunter's 14 runs better, which is roughly equal to Konerko vs a replacement hitter.

Granted that this is on FB only and Papelbon would pitch Hunter and Guerrero differently, but I still think that you pitch to Guerrero.