No, no, no, wait, wait, waiiittttt,
This is not just a 'Be mad at Robin Ventura' post. The instantaneous outrage and condemnation is what Twitter is for, and we knocked it out of the park. But in identifying a decision-making process as bad, coming across it again, calling it bad again, and repeating ad infinitum, we start to accumulate a lot of words about poor choices without coming particularly close to understanding why they exist.
For review: In the top of the ninth Wednesday night, Robin Ventura had his de-facto closer Ronald Belisario trying to protect a 2-1 lead with two out in the ninth and Michael Brantley standing on second base. At that time, he ordered Belisario to intentionally walk Jason Giambi — acting as the go-ahead run — in favor of facing Yan Gomes.
Given the heightened run expectancy of putting a second runner on base, and that there's no benefit in setting up a double play, the onus is really on Robin to build a case on why Giambi was significantly more threatening than Gomes. It's a toughie.
Anecdotally, Giambi had homered earlier in the night, hit two walk-off home runs against the Sox last season, and was a great hitter for more than a decade who was once a teammate of Ventura's. In additional to anecdotal evidence, Ventura probably has actual anecdotes about Giambi.
Statistically, it's more of a landslide. Giambi's been milling about as a platoon-bat, coach-on-the-roster sort for a while now, and he must be very good at the former because he hasn't posted so much as a .700 OPS against right-handed pitching since 2011. And that's with last night's home run included. Yan Gomes, Cleveland's promising young catcher, has a .751 OPS against right-handed pitching for his career, even without the benefit of the platoon advantage, and that's including his forgettable debut 2012 season in Toronto.
He's a better hitter than Giambi. Perhaps Giambi has more raw power, but you can't manage against home runs, especially with the tying run on second. Belisario's career numbers have shown very large platoon splits, but has been highly effective versus left-handed hitting over the past two months. This is the one shade of gray in all this, but if we're really concerned about protecting Belisario, there should have been measures taken against Michael Brantley, not Giambi.
If we crunch numbers we can build good cases against nearly every intentional walk, but this is simpler. This is walking a bad hitter to face a good hitter in a more dangerous situation. Right after Gomes singled home the tying run, the Sox had to get a make-or-break out, because the go-ahead run was in scoring position.
There's a lot in this story I don't understand.
For one, there's Giambi's presence on a major league roster. He was basically Paul Konerko last year: a feel-good, instructional presence who was clearly past his last legs as a player, but was brought back anyway. Cleveland's been a stat-friendly organization for a very long time, and surely has the data available to them that Giambi is a bad hitter who can't play defense.
The White Sox have been acting much more like the analytical franchise they purport to be recently, and surely can run the same basic analysis of Ventura's decision, and his other dubious calls.
Yet both franchises find reason to keep these folks around, bankrolling their various low efficiency activities. This blog is all about criticizing people with vastly more professional training than us, but when it's this blatant and repeated I can't help but think we're harping on things that have long since been accounted for. Ventura and Giambi both bring a lot of experienced, baseball know-how to the table, and perhaps it's long been determined that accessing that is worth suffering when Ventura's intuition is overwhelmed by math.
Or perhaps there's even less to go on. Robin's job is to lead, and with authority, and perhaps cannot do that without the perception that his command is total. I don't know how that precludes him from being consulted on ridiculous strategies, but this is hardly an issue unique to 35th St. Teams generally only have so much to say about archaic approaches of their managers other than to slowly phase them out for the new generation, and even then, they're in no hurry. After over two full seasons, I'm no longer intrigued by Ventura's activities, but their continued tolerance.
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