Saturday, June 20, 2009

Zen Dayley: Cito and the DH thingy, Part 2

Sports And The City pointed out something that works as a follow-up to Friday's post about Cito Gaston getting away with botching a double switch. Jeff Blair noted in his column today
"Despite managing in the NL, Alou loved the designated hitter because it made managing the offensive side of the game more interesting.

" 'Strategy,' he told me one time with a frown. 'What's the strategy in having a guy with a bat in his hand not knowing how to use it? What play can I put on besides a bunt?' "
That cuts right to the heart of the matter. There is little strategy involved when the decision is dictated by the player's limited skills. Pitchers are OPSing a sub-sub-McGlovin .358 (ironically, their AL counterparts are doing slightly better, .369). This is better than having a NPH (nondescript professional hitter) in the lineup why?

As Bob Elliott noted, it was not the first time the Jays won a game in Philly despite Gaston not making a move out of Baseball 101, to use Mike Wilner's term.

A lot of the in-game decisions managers make comes out in wash, regardless of how much Seamheaded analyzing-to-death occurs after the fact. The Jays got out of it after going into the bottom of the ninth with only two pitchers left and a slim lead against a team which was very capable of forcing extra inings (the Phillies are far and away the NL's best-hitting team). The rub is you cannot logically credit Gaston just because it did not blow up in his face. It's like ascribing genius to someone who forgets to lock the front door of his apartment, goes out for a few hours and returns later to find out his place did not get burgled.

Gaston, via Blair, admitted as much:
" 'I thought about it, and then after I went to the mound, you couldn't do it,' Gaston said Friday night before the first game of a three-game series against the Nationals. 'You have to approach the umpire first and I went to the mound first. I had intentions of it (a double switch) but I screwed it up.

" 'The way it turned out was okay. But it's something you think about."
One can only imagine the fallout if Boston's Terry Francona or the Yankees' Joe Girardi goofed by not going to the umpire to make the substitution. Incidentally, both of those managers, as did Gaston, played in the National League, so they should be familiar with how it's done. Baseball is not as widely obsessed over in Toronto and we just figure, hey, Cito knows what he's doing, even when he admits he did not know what he was doing.

(The other time in Philadelphia, as you likely know, was that famous 15-14 slugfest in Game 4 of the 1993 World Series. The Blue Jays, aided and abetted by a near-historic meltdown by Mitch Williams, won a game where they were down by five runs with only five outs remaining.

Gaston just knew his guys would pull off greatest late-inning comeback in a World Series since 1929 in the eighth inning, so that is why he let reliever Tony Castillo bat for himself one inning earlier. Of course, if you were 16 years old, a Jays fan, and had been watching Mitch Williams self-destruct throughout the 1993 playoffs, you probably figured the good guys still had a chance.)

It's a couple days old, but FanGraphs' Dave Cameron has a look at the Jays' first-round draft choice, righty pitcher Chad Jenkins:
"The Blue Jays love groundball pitchers almost as much as I do, but the ones they've had success with have developed good secondary stuff. That's going to be the key for Jenkins as he gets into Toronto’s system. If he can refine his change-up and make it a real weapon against lefties, he has a chance to be one of my favorite pitchers in a few years. If he can’t, I hope he likes hanging out in the bullpen."
Second-guess Cito Gaston at your peril. Even when he appears to be wrong, things tend to work out for him (Bob Elliott, Sun Media)
Of double switches and Expos nostalgia; Cito Gaston's mistake on Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia ended up working out for the Blue Jays (Jeff Blair,
Felipe Alou is wise (Sports And The City)


eyebleaf said...

Thx for the link, Neate.

Those OPS numbers are pathetic. Strategy my ass.

sager said...

Bill James once wrote a piece about how you can judge the competitive level of a baseball league.

One of his indicators is how well pitchers hit ... i.e., in Little League, the best pitcher on your team was usually the best hitter, same story in high school. In other words, as baseball has become more competitive (to the extent you'll never see another .400 hitter or 30-game winner), pitchers have become less effective as hitters. Meantime, the NL remains in denial.

Anonymous said...

So, why do they have to put a guy who can't field in the game? Why don't they bat 8 players? Taken further, why bat the catchers either? A good number of DH's do so reluctantly, they don't like "not being in the game", the DH is still a square peg in a round hole. I'm not sure why we argue about it, those who've grown up with the NL know it's what they prefer while AL fans are just as happy.

I still think that making the DH good for only 3 times around the order eliminates most pitcher AB's like AL fans want while bringing back the later inning roster shake-ups that NL fans like. It also puts your DH in the field, so there's no hiding a bad glove.

I'll watch either, though I'll never get used to the AL lineup in a losing game just going up to the plate like lemmings over the cliff. It's not the pitcher batting, it's the roster shake up that can seem to produce a rally, or at least the impression that something is happening.

If you watched Dodgers/Angels last night, you saw Brad Ausmus catching and batting 9th for the Dodgers (Russell Martin DH'd) lay down 2 SAC bunts out of that spot. The Dodgers were playing "NL" ball in an AL park whose team is known to play the NL style as well.

For pitchers to have gone from the best hitters on the team in Little League to the weakest (in most cases) despite playing every 5 days (more than bench players) is why the DH at levels below MLB is such a mistake. Some of these guys may not make it as a pitcher, and now they've lost a lot of the skill that made them the best players on the team at one point.

I don't believe it's denial, World Series games and interleague provide some of the most interesting discussion over managerial strategy and lineups, when the games are in the NL park...

sager said...

I'll never get used to the AL lineup in a losing game just going up to the plate like lemmings over the cliff. It's not the pitcher batting, it's the roster shake up that can seem to produce a rally, or at least the impression that something is happening.

What you're saying, correct me if I'm wrong, is there are more late-inning rallies in the NL and many of them involve pinch-hitters.

Perhaps there are more in the NL, but that would just be randomness, or crappy relief pitching. It wouldn't be because they used more pinch-hitters.

Pinch-hitters in the NL are batting .218/.307/.340 (batting avg./on-base percentage/slugging pct.) this season, which is very weak. It's hard to see how that would lend itself to more late-inning rallies.

Pinch-hitters are generally less effective (they're hitting .195/.303/.322 in the AL) than someone who started the game. You're just going to have to accept that instead of waiting for the game to be played the way you think it should. Sooner or later, present company very much included, we all to do that.

One reason that some pitchers were good hitters when they were in youth leagues is pretty obvious ... big fish, small point. The other kids who were weaker hitters give up baseball.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what Babe Ruth would have to say about the DH.

sager said...

Uh, nothing, since he's been dead for 60 years? Live in the now.

Anonymous said...

Different Anonymousous here, but remember that NL fans are perfectly happy with things, not sure why this has become such a debate. The DH has as much awkwardness in it's 10 players, 9 positions as weak hitting pitchers do. It's a fact that most players don't want to be the DH, and I have every confidence that if the decision had been to simply drop the pitcher from the order and bat 8 players, the real hitters could dust off the old glove and the game would be even more dynamic.

I can see where an AL fan sees pinch hitters and lineup change as quaint and even boring. But the NL fan, again understands the game as he has always thought about it and enjoys that. The AL enjoys some dominance right now in All-Star games and popularity, but NL fans remember the dominance of that league and strike-out-or-homer .220 hitting DH's like Rob Deer or Kingman playing in empty ballparks. Who cares really? But it'd be dumb to take all this debate away from the fans by standardizing the game. And it's still dumb to take the bat out of the hands of minor-leaguers who may make the show with their arm or their bat.

sager said...

Fair points. I have to take issue with, NL fans remember the dominance of that league and strike-out-or-homer .220 hitting DH's like Rob Deer or Kingman playing in empty ballparks.

Which league had a franchise that MLB had to relocate? The NL. How many AL frnachises have moved since the DH came into effect? None. (Not saying that's why, but a point is a point.)

Anonymous said...

Toronto's next ;-D (half-joking). Though in the era I'm talking about, for a time anyway, Montreal was an attendance leader, SI calling it the "happiest ballpark" in baseball and didn't it outdraw both NY teams. MLB goes about it all wrong, they should want a team in any town that size, and damn well make it work. That's how most businesses operate. (They should damn well want AAA in Ottawa, Edmonton etc. too, talk about "growing the game internationally" but pissing away a natural ALREADY FAMILIAR audience right here......) I'm waiting for oil to go back to $90 and the A's to move to Calgary, but then I gotta watch that damn DH.....