Wednesday, October 12, 2022


Robbie Ray gave up three in a game to the A's, for Crissakes...
Here's the straight scoop, kiddies: you don't pitch to Yordan Alvarez when he can beat you a ballgame. 

You cannot finesse this. You can't try bringing in your ostensible left-handed ace (whether he actually is one, like Clayton Kershaw, or just plays one on TV, like the Mariners' Robbie Ray), grab a MyPillow and assume the fetal position. It won't work.

The card-carrying quant quacks, from Bill James on down, will put their overheated, overrated and overdetermined hackles up in attack display when we continue this sentence with the phrase "intentional walk," but there are times when there is literally no other recourse. If Joe the Poser is right in assuming that Alvarez' three-run turnaround/walkoff homer yesterday was "inevitable," then M's manager Scott Servais should have righftully said "bullsh*t."

He could have walked him and let some lesser being take a shot at beating his team. That decision was entirely within his power, and yet he appears to have been bullied by the quant culture into backing away from his best-case scenario--one still utilized by managers when faced with various incarnations of desperate situations.

It's probably no coincidence that Alvarez wears the same
uniform number as McCovey...
And let's reinvoke that situation. M's leading in the game 7-5, with two outs in the top of the ninth, two men on base (one due to the M's closer, Paul Sewald, hitting a batter) and Alvarez at the plate. 

Old-style baseball would "tut-tut" at an intentional walk here: the unwritten rule being broken is "don't put the winning run on base." But the winning run is at home plate, and even with HR/G down, this is Yordan freakin' Alvarez at the plate--arguably today's analogue to Willie McCovey

So let's say you walk him. Bases are now loaded. The next hitter, Alex Bregman, had hit a homer his last time up. He's a solid hitter (he's batting cleanup, for Crissakes). But he is NOT Alvarez. You can pitch to him in a situation like this. And the most likely thing that will happen with Bregman is that you'll get him out (in which case you've won the game) or you will walk him (87 walks this season: Alex is a good candidate to be a guy who hits .225, with 25 HRs and 120 walks in one of the next two seasons). 

Let's say you walk him. Golly jeepers, the Astros have scored a run! But you're still up 7-6 and now the batter is Kyle Tucker--a guy who can hit HRs, for sure, but a lesser hitter than either Alvarez or Bregman. Sewald, with his 4.5 H/9 average, has a very solid shot at retiring him if it should come to that.

The problem with Robbie Ray, as Joe the P. pointed out, is that he's just too homer-prone to be put into a situation like this. (Joe, of course, didn't follow up to point out that many of the M's pitchers have trouble with the long ball--Sewald, for all his hit prevention, gave up 10 HRs in 64 IP, so there's risk there. There's always some risk.)

Or, if you don't think that Sewald's got what it takes on this day--and he'd struggled in Game Two of the Wild Card series--why not give the ball to Erik Swanson, whose record in '22 strongly suggests that he could handle lefty hitters? Swanson was the only man NOT used in that wild Game Two in Toronto, when Servais threw everything but the kitchen sink--and Swanson--at the Jays. 

To repeat: there is no "right" answer here. No course of action that is bulletproof. But you simply cannot let yourself be beat by the best hitter on the other team. It's just dumb. Looking at the historical distribution of intentional walks since the DH was put into the American League in 1973, we see than 39% of the IBBs issued in that time frame have been given to #3 and #4 hitters. There's a reason for that: these are the guys that you don't want to let beat you!

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
But it made for great TV, great headlines, great faux-sabermetrics telling us that it's the first time it's ever happened in the post-season yadda yadda yadda. (Folks in the "embedded" media don't seem to grasp that post-season stats make up about four seasons' worth of data, so there are a lot of things that haven't happened yet in the post-season.) So perhaps all that dumbness was a Good Thing after all. 

Don't you believe it. The only action that makes sense is to put the behemothic Alvarez on first base and take one's chances with a mere human being. We invoke the wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo after she shows James Stewart the picture of herself as Carlotta Valdes...

[UPDATE: In tonights Padres-Dodgers game in Los Angeles, when faced with a similar moment of peril--though in the seventh inning--Padres' manager Bob Melvin ordered an intentional walk to bypass the Dodgers' #3 hitter Freddie Freeman and load the bases for cleanup hitter Will Smith with San Diego clinging to a 4-3 lead. 31-year old rookie reliever Robert Suarez, signed by the Padres this past winter after he'd spent six years honing his craft in Japan, with a H/9 profile similar to that of Paul Sewald, managed to retire Smith to end the Dodgers' threat...and the Padres, snake-bit all year against the Dodgers (5-14 overall, 2-8 in Dodger Stadium) held on for a 5-3 win.]

We now return you to your regular programming.