WHERE’S DAVID PRICE? WAS A PULL-BACK BUNT ATTEMPT THE KEY PLAY IN THE WORLD SERIES? AND OTHER WORLD SERIES THOUGHTS

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 WHERE’S DAVID PRICE?

Readers of this column know that I’m a big Joe Maddon fan (see Kallas Remarks, 4/9/08) but, in the first suspended game in World Series history, a rare occurrence needed a different analysis if you were the Tampa Bay Rays.  Both teams made huge pitching mistakes, but the Phillies were up three games to one.  Unfortunately for Joe Maddon, you have to manage differently when you’re down three games to one.

    

Everybody is jumping down Maddon’s throat for his failure to “start” David Price and they’re right.  Most of the critics have forgotten that one of the reasons for Maddon not starting Price was that his spot was coming up fourth in the next inning.  In hindsight, most people ignore this.  But for Joe Maddon, this wasn’t a Wednesday night in May.  This was a World Series elimination game.

    

I don’t think any reliever should have “started” the game. The experts always talk about the closer’s “mentality.”  But they rarely talk about how different it is for a starter.  You rarely have a reliever who is prepared to start.  That’s exactly what we saw in the final game of the 2008 World Series.

    

So reliever Grant Balfour got smacked around (Jeff Jenkins crushed a double almost out of the park) and gave up the go-ahead run.  Up a run, the Phillies brought in their unhittable reliever, Ryan Madson.  He got smacked around (game-tying home run by Rocco Baldelli (Madson’s first home run given up at home since April); single to left by Jason Bartlett).  Inexplicably, Maddon then brought in J.P. Howell and he got smacked around (Pat Burrell with a moonshot double, inches from a home run).  Even J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge weren’t great.  But they were good enough to win the World Series.

    

So what about David Price?  He’s been lights out in the playoffs, was stunning against the Red Sox in the pennant-clinching win and has been a STARTER all of his life until these limited relief appearances.  He was not only the perfect selection to “start” this game, he had the mentality to prepare for it and win it.  No other pitcher who appeared on either side had that experience and it showed by the long hits and hard hit balls that the real relievers gave up.

    

But what about the fact that Price would have been due up fourth the next inning?  Well, that was a red herring that hurt Joe Maddon and the Rays.  When your back is to the wall and you’re in a tie game (down three games to one), giving up ZERO runs is your number one goal.  Everything else (including scoring) is a secondary goal.  So maybe Joe Maddon could have made a double-switch.  If impossible, then Maddon should have been willing to eat the Price at-bat to leave him in the game.  As it turned out, the pitcher wound up bunting in that spot so it wouldn’t have mattered even if Price had started.  But you couldn’t expect or rely on that.  Clearly though, this unusual situation dictated a different thought process that was rejected by Joe Maddon (similar to the unbelievably unusual situation where Joe Torre did nothing in “the bug game,” see Kallas Remarks, 3/29/08).

 

WAS A PULL-BACK BUNT ATTEMPT THE KEY PLAY IN THE WORLD SERIES?

 

You bet it was.  World Series tied at one game, game three tied at four, bottom of the ninth, Shane Victorino at bat with Eric Bruntlett on first after being hit by a pitch.  Victorino squares to bunt and Grant Balfour tries to do what he’s taught to do: throw a fastball up for a strike, a difficult pitch to bunt.  But the ball gets by Dioner Navarro as Bruntlett goes to second.  The ball takes a straight hop off the backstop back to Navarro, who makes the mistake of throwing to second for an error (into the outfield) that allows Bruntlett to get to third.

    

After two intentional walks and a 45-foot infield hit by Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies win the pivotal Game 3 (always called the most important game by Joe Torre) and, frankly, the Rays never recover (blown out in Game 4 and mismanaged in Game 5).

    

I’ve written about the bunt numerous times before, including in these playoffs (see Kallas Remarks, 10/14/08).  If you watched these playoffs and don’t understand its value, I certainly can’t explain it to you.  Yes, the “stats” over 50 bunts or 5,000 bunts or every bunt in baseball history show that, generally speaking, more runs will be scored if you don’t bunt first and second, nobody out.  But that ignores so much:  for example, when Joe Torre bunts against the Phillies and hits the sacrifice bunt “jackpot” (Ryan Howard picks it up, throws it away and you’ve got a run plus runners on second and third, nobody out) and people actually think that it wasn’t the bunt but Howard’s error that caused the run, you simply can’t explain it to them.  Do you think that Joe Torre cares, “statistically,” whether that play isn’t as successful the next five times he uses it next April or May?  Neither do I.  When you strip it bare, there are so many factors (batter (is Rod Carew or Phil Rizzuto up?), pitcher (lefty or righty?), first baseman (do you want to bunt more if Jason Giambi is there? Answer, yes), baserunners, situation, who is up next, and fifty other variables) present that there simply can’t be a hard and fast no vote to bunting.

    

Jimmy Rollins, in Game 5, sacrifice bunts Jenkins to third which CAUSES THE INFIELD TO COME IN which allows Jayson Werth to get that bloop hit that scores the go-ahead run in the World Series-deciding game.  It never happens if Werth isn’t on third base.

    

J.P. Howell sacrifices Jason Bartlett to second and Aki Iwamura hits that infield single that Utley stops, pump fakes to first and throws out Bartlett at home.  Unfortunately for the Rays, Bartlett didn’t bust it from second.  He should have either stayed at third or busted it from the get-go.  If he goes hard, it’s irrelevant what Chase Utley does with the ball.  Apparently, today, that’s baseball.

    

Since most people still don’t understand the value of the bunt (nor will they, even after this), I’ll say the pull-back bunt attempt by Shane Victorino in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 was just one of the three most important plays in the 2008 World Series.  But you can certainly make a case, with lots of baseball knowledge, that it was the most important play.

   

BASEBALL RULES THROWN OUT THE WINDOW TO SUSPEND GAME 5?

 

You bet they were.  Unfortunately for announcer Joe Buck, Bud Selig didn’t bother to tell him when Buck wouldn’t stop telling us that this was an official game when it started pouring and the Rays had batted five times.  Although you certainly had a feeling, watching the game, that they wouldn’t end the World Series prematurely, they did throw out the rules of baseball.  The problem now for baseball (they should absolutely put that new rule in writing, the Commissioner’s “best interests” power isn’t really enough) is that, any time someone sees something that is obviously wrong, they can now make a case that the Commissioner should change it immediately.  Good luck with that. 

    

It’s funny how, when it’s “obvious” to all, the rules just didn’t matter.  While virtually all of us agree that it was the correct decision, someone will raise it in the future (i.e., you blew it off for the World Series, Bud, you can blow it off here, as well).  We’ll see.

 

WHY DIDN’T THE RAYS RUN HARD?

 

It’s become an epidemic in 21st Century baseball.  In no other sport has an actual in-game activity been compromised more than running hard on the bases.  And, with old-school Manager-of-the-Year-to-be Joe Maddon, who received national acclaim for benching B.J. Upton for not running hard earlier in the year, the Rays would be the last team you’d expect to have issues.

    

In Game 5, top of the fifth, Rocco Baldelli, a five-tool player who is fighting a neuro-muscular disease that weakens him, hit a high pop to short on a rainy, wind-blown night.  When none other than Jimmy Rollins could not catch it, Baldelli should have been on second.  However, he was still on first and, when Bartlett hits a ground ball to Chase Utley at second, it was a tag and throw to first for a key double play.  You don’t know if Bartlett would have grounded to second if Baldelli had been on second.  But you DO know that Baldelli couldn’t have been part of a ground ball double play had he been on second.

    

In Game 5, top of the seventh, Jason Bartlett on second, two out, Aki Iwamura hits a grounder up the middle for an infield hit.  Chase Utley backhands it, fakes a throw to first and then easily throws out Bartlett at home.  The replay clearly showed that Bartlett didn’t go as hard as he could.  Maybe he thought Utley had a play at first and he just kept running like many players do in that situation.  But he should have either stayed at third or really busted it from second where he would have had a much better chance to score.

    

Two gigantic, arguably game-changing (series-changing?), plays.  Very disappointing from a play-the-game-the-right-way perspective.

    

The Phillies had the same disease as well.  Watch Pat Burrell out of the box on that moonshot double in the seventh of Game 5.  He didn’t run hard at all the first 90 feet.  But, hey, the Phillies won and that’s modern day baseball.  Right?  Wrong, it says here.

    

One of the big problems that Joe Maddon and all major league managers have is to get these guys to run hard.  Good luck with that.         

  

CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT THE PATHETIC STATE OF BASEBALL IN LATE OCTOBER?

 

As a big-time baseball fan, it was sad to see the players slosh around the field in a pivotal World Series game.  So, what can be done?  It would be nice to return to a 154-game schedule.  But the owners won’t give up a nickel, so that won’t happen.  It would be nice if the games could at least start at a reasonable hour.  But the owners won’t give up a nickel of that prime-time TV money (eastern time zone fans be damned!  — move to the West Coast if you’re an East Coast team fan and actually want to see the end of your games (your kids might be able to watch them, too!)), so that won’t happen.

    

But here’s a partial solution.  Let major league baseball schedule every team to five or six day/night doubleheaders (the owners won’t give up a nickel, so you won’t get the doubleheaders – two games for the price of one — that you routinely got once upon a time).  This will give baseball an extra five or six days at the end of the season.  It’s not a lot, but it’s better than nothing.  If baseball would go to 154 games and day/night doubleheaders, you could finish the season almost two weeks earlier.  What a concept.

    

The day/night doubleheaders make a lot of sense (I don’t like them, but they make a lot of sense).  But that’s how you know they will never happen in baseball (too logical).  We’ll see.

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “WHERE’S DAVID PRICE? WAS A PULL-BACK BUNT ATTEMPT THE KEY PLAY IN THE WORLD SERIES? AND OTHER WORLD SERIES THOUGHTS

  1. On the bunting thing, no one is saying details are not important. Of course it matters if fielders at first base are bad. If there is no one on the left side of the infield (like when David Ortiz hits) then trying to bunt for a hit certainly makes sense.

    The argument “Do you think that Joe Torre cares, ‘statistically,’ whether that play isn’t as successful the next five times he uses it next April or May?” is nonsense. If you are flipping a coin that is weighted so it lands on tails 60% of the time and you have to guess what side it will land on, you should always guess tails. Even when bunting works it is not the correct decision.

    Saying a shane victorino pulled back bunt attempt was “one of the three most important plays in the 2008 World Series,” is absolute crazytalk. The luck of that play was MUCH more of a factor than what Victorino did. DO you really think Victorino caused the pitch to go to the backstop? Really? You truly believe this?

    Lastly, all your arguments for bunting seem to follow the age old, “contradict facts with random anecdotes” argument formula. This is dumb. There will always be a few instances where bunts work better than hitting away. But for a manager seemingly to guess that a team will commit an error, or something crazy like that, is not good strategy. It is bad strategy because more often than not it hurts the team. Surely you understand this.

    And yes I do watch baseball. Like real games. Really.

    But hey you got me to read your blog so I guess you win after all.

  2. Your weighted coin example is a poor one. A much better example is a card-counter playing blackjack. If you know what you’re doing, you can turn the house advantage to your advantage. THAT’S the analysis you need for bunting (with its 50 variables). The manager is not guessing that the team will make an error, there is a good chance that the pitcher will field the ball and will throw it away (I’ve seen that one about 327 times) or a position player to come in at a weird angle and throw it away. Obviously you need to realize that the bunt allows for these weird circumstances to happen frequently (hence the Victorino play), and if you don’t realize how important that play was you really show a lack of understanding. “Random anecdotes”? You have to be kidding.

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  4. I like the blackjack example. But the thing is, we KNOW when it is in your best interest to bunt. We KNOW when the odds shift to favor bunting. This is when it is the bottom of the ninth or eighth and the game is tied or very close and there is a guy on second and none out. Even then it depends who is at the plate. Other than that bunting should only be attempted if a guy with an extremely low batting average is at the plate (many pitchers fit this category), and a few other relatively rare circumstances.

    “Random anecdotes” is absolutely correct. You’ve seen it “327 times”? Yeah, I probably have too. I watch a lot of baseball. But do you remember all the singles and doubles and walks and productive outs that happened when a manager chose not to bunt? Are there any people who write down all this stuff and calculate which is more effective/what works more often? Yes there is! And we know that bunting isn’t that great.

    Again, didn’t really want to pick a fight here. But I couldn’t help it. This argument is so dumb. It’s like if I said, “Hey, remember that time Darren Lewis hit that home run in that playoff game? He’s the best outfielder ever! Only people who are dumb and don’t remember this specific single circumstance would argue that he is not an awesome baseball player.”

    Bottom line: sometimes bunts work. More often they don’t. Almost always they are worse. Almost always they cost your team runs. We KNOW this. That’s all I’m sayin. Have a nice day.

  5. Haha, I know you did not watch many Yankee games this year or in previous years, where I must have seen Cano ground into a 4-6-3 with runners on 1st and 2nd and nobody out 20 times. Runner on 2nd and nobody out? That’s your opinion on the best bunting situation? You have to be kidding, how much baseball did you say you watched again? Here’s the point, I’m not even huge on bunting with a runner on 2nd and nobody out because the worst that could happen (without some stupid baserunning mistake) is the batter grounds out to 3rd and there is a runner on second with 1 out. My bunting situations involves a situation where if the hitter swings away, he can ultimately ruin the inning (1st and 2nd nobody out, runner on 1st, nobody out). Your a stat freak, and that’s fine. Here’s the problem with stats:

    1) A double play with 0 outs goes into the book as 0-1, the same as any other out. So stats are great, but the DP might be a game changing play, yet when you look at the stats 483 days later, it looks like a normal 0-1.

    2) The bunt is likely the safest play (if your response is the guy might pop up or something, then my future response would be that guys have to learn how to bunt) and even if it does not work you should still have a good chance at scoring a run. And in the postseason, the safest play is likely the best choice.

    3) Your stats don’t show those weird situations that are caused by the bunt, while you might call these things “lucky” they are far from it. A bunt can cause a throw past the 1st baseman, a throw into CF, a plain out error by the pitcher. To you, these may be considered lucky, but it’s just not true. They are brought on by the bunt.

    Bottom Line: Butning is usually the right call, maybe you just don’t know the situation where to use it, runner on 2nd and nobody out is a possible situation, but there are better ones.

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