In yesterday afternoon’s Yankee-Rays game the managerial move that seemed to cause the most outcry amongst Yankee fans was the decision to intentionally walk the bases loaded in the first inning. Let’s set the stage. CC struggles with his command early by walking leadoff man Desmond Jennings on 3 straight pitches out of the zone after getting ahead 1-2. The next batter Ben Zobrist flies out to CF on the first pitch. Evan Longoria sees two straight pitches out of the zone from CC then lines a single to Left. Jeff Keppinger then comes up and hits into a fielder’s choice to SS where Jeter goes to 1B for the out. That’s when we come to Girardi’s decision, which some defended and many derided. First base is open, no score and 2 outs. If you’re convinced one way or the other on this call, you may want to look a little deeper into the facts at hand at the time of the decision.
There’s 2 outs, men on 2nd and 3B in the first inning of the first game of the year. CC is struggling to throw strikes early, and on the other side of the mound is the always-tough James Shields. In the general statistical sense, putting men on base increases the odds of the opposition scoring. Run expectancy goes from 0.626 with men on 2B and 3B with 2 outs to 0.814 with the bases loaded and 2 outs. However, in terms of platoon splits Sean Rodriguez mashes Lefties (career .346 wOBA) while Carlos Pena struggled mightily against them last year (.594 OPS) though his career numbers are more even (.884 RH/.737 LH) from both sides of the plate. Facing Sabathia, Pena was 4-40 in his career and had struck out 5 times in his last 6 PAs according to Girardi. Rodriguez is facing 7-26 facing Sabathia (.945 OPS) for his career. That weighed heavily in Joe’s decision.
(Here’s Joe explaining his thought process on YES Postgame Plus)
In terms of on the field execution, you’re putting your starter’s back against the wall. With the bases loaded and nowhere to put Pena, you’re forcing CC to throw fastballs to a dead red hitter if he gets behind in the count. But Pena has all sorts of trouble with breaking balls, especially from a lefty, and forcing a pitcher to throw breaking balls that is struggling with his command is a time honored way of getting a pitcher back on track. As a former Catcher, I’m sure Girardi considered that, as well as having faith in Sabathia to get a batter he has owned over the course of his career. What happened yesterday was probably the least likely of all outcomes. Pena hit just 4 HRs facing lefty starters last year in 199 PAs, which translates to a 1 in 30 probability. So if you thought what happened in that AB was all too predictable, the numbers don’t back you up.
So was Girardi right or wrong? As is often the case, there’s no clear easy answer. What we do know is that it didn’t work out in favor of the Yankees in yesterday’s game. We also know that if it did work the way it had in the other 9 out of 10 times that CC has faced Pena, there would have been no need for this article.
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