Welcome to Second Guessing Scioscia, our look back at some of the questionable decisions that Mike Scioscia made in the last week. And, boy, there are some questionable decisions to be reviewed. In the history of this column, we have never once struggled for content. However, we aren’t anti-Scioscia, but we aren’t exactly pro-Scioscia either. In particular, we believe his in-game tactics need some help and we are here to provide that help by nitpicking them incessantly and grading them with our patented SciosciaFace grading system.
In this week’s edition of Second Guessing Scioscia we take a look at the FIVE intentional walks Scioscia called for from the bullpen this week—four of which came in the final two games at Houston—and decide how many of those freest of free passes, if any, were defensible decisions. I don’t expect this to end well for Mr. Manager.
Following the Ball Four Trail
There is a general ire that revolves around intentional walks that can be tough to pinpoint. It doesn’t matter if your team is the one doing the walking or the one being walked, the act will undoubtedly draw boos from the crowd. For me, I think this widespread distaste stems from its direct conflict with the competitive nature of the sport. Managers can claim strategy from time to time when holding up four fingers, but many if not most of them are a tacit admission by the team that they don’t think they can get the batter out, and so they’re not even going to try.
Considering the hyper-masculine atmosphere that often permeates the sport, especially the batter-pitcher showdown, I find it rather shocking that such a capitulatory practice is so commonplace. (It still boggles the mind that Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times in a single season.) As far as I can tell, no other sport offers the option of simply avoiding the opposing team’s best player(s). The closest facsimile is probably the Hack-a-Shaq approach in basketball, but even that has the bonus and personal foul limits to keep it in check.
Some intentional walks are worse than others, of course, so if we want to grade the hair-pullingness of Scioscia’s IBB decisions over the last week we need to put them on a scale.
Enter Joe Posnanski’s Intentional Walk Rage System.
Devised at the height of the #Yosted era—i.e. before the Royals were good enough to mask their manager’s questionable tactical decisions—the IWRS is a points system designed to determine just how nonsensical, and therefore rage-worthy, a certain intentional walk was. The total points are calculated—from 0 to 25, where higher is worse—by answering six simple questions:
- What inning was the walk in?
- Did the walk bring up a particularly weak hitter? (e.g. the pitcher)
- Did the walk allow for the platoon advantage?
- Does the extra baserunner matter?
- Does the walk set up a double play?
- Is the walk SOLELY to avoid a great hitter?
For the first question, points go down incrementally by inning. If you intentionally walk a guy in the first inning, congratulations you just earned nine points. If you IBB a guy in the ninth, that’s just one point. For questions 2, 3, and 5, answers in the negative net three points for each, while positives add nothing. For question 4, a positive gets you three more points, while a negative is worth -1. Finally, answering “Yes” to question 6 will cost you FOUR points, while a “No” costs nothing.
It’s not a perfect way of determining the level of facepalm wrought by each IBB—I’d probably put far more weight on the whole “does the baserunner matter” part—but it’s at least a solid estimate. Anything at, like, six or below is probably a perfectly acceptable intentional walk, and anything at 12 or above is definitely worth howling at the moon over. Everything in between is, well, somewhere in between.
Now that we’ve got the logistics out of the way, let’s rank Scioscia’s walks from this week. Fair warning: This isn’t so much a best-to-worst ranking as it is a least-awful-to-I-want-to-die ranking:
5) Luis Valbuena – Sept. 22 – 8 points
Valbuena was intentionally walked by Huston Street in the eighth inning (2 pts) to bring up a fairly weak (0 pts) right-handed hitter (0 pts) in Jake Marisnick. However, Valbuena did represent the go-ahead run (3 pts) and his free pass did not set up a double play (3 pts) because there were two outs. He was not walked SOLELY to avoid a great hitter (0 pts).
The go-ahead runner thing is a massive red flag, and will be a running theme, but I can at least see the logic here. Marisnick is a .239/.278/.388 hitter this year and Street is especially effective against righties.
4) Jed Lowrie – Sept. 22 – 13 points
…and we’re already in the red. More or less a repeat of the Valbuena walk, only in the ninth (1 pt) to bring up a decidedly not-weak hitter in Evan Gattis (3 pts). The free pass did again allow for the platoon advantage (3 pts), but also put the go-ahead run on first again (3 pts) and did not set up a double play (3 pts). The switch-hitting Lowrie did best Street the week before, but that doesn’t mean Jed was walked SOLELY to be avoided (0 pts).
This one made close to no sense, and the Angels almost paid for it dearly. Gattis missed a game-winning double by inches, which probably means that ball landed fair in about 90% of the alternate universes. Yes, Lowrie took Street deep in their previous match-up, but he’s still a much a weaker hitter from the left side for his career. His career OPS vs RHP (.718) is 42 points worse than Gattis’ (.760).
3) Miguel Sano – Sept. 19 – 14 points
Sano’s walk might actually be the most justifiable of the bunch, despite the high score. It happened in the eighth inning (2 pts) of a tie game in which the go-ahead run was already on second (-1 pts). It didn’t set up the platoon advantage (3 pts) or a double play (3 pts), and Trevor Plouffe isn’t a particularly weak hitter (3 pts), but he is demonstrably worse than Sano. This is a case where walking a guy SOLELY to avoid him (4 pts) was probably a good thing, so the scale sorta breaks down here.
2) Carlos Correa – Sept. 23 – 15 points
The scale rights itself with Correa, though. The young shortstop is as precocious a talent as Sano, but walking him in the seventh inning (3 pts) with a one-run deficit (-1 pt) after another IBB just backfired tremendously is absurd. The walk actually gave the platoon advantage (3pts) to the batter, Lowrie, who isn’t particularly weak (3 pts), and did not set up a double play (3 pts). This one was SOLELY to avoid Correa breaking the game open (4 pts).
1) Jose Altuve – Sept. 23 – 19 points
The one we’ve all been waiting for. Walking the go-ahead run on (3 pts) with two outs (3 pts) in the seventh (3 pts) to get to a tremendous fastball hitter in George Springer (3 pts) is an unconscionable decision. Trevor Gott had the platoon advantage vs. both Altuve and Springer (3 pts), so the only reason Scioscia called for the free pass here was SOLELY to avoid last year’s batting champion (4 pts).
Yes, Springer makes contact far less often than Altuve, but the odds of him whiffing against Gott, who has one of the lowest K rates (12.2%) in baseball when he’s not dealing with fatigue from overuse, were slim to none. This was a bad decision, and the Angels almost lost the season for it.
Even if Springer had struck out, I probably would have written this article. The process (or lack thereof) involved here is far more important than the results. Scioscia was saved from himself in this instance, but he might not be so lucky if he does it again. Let’s hope he’s learned the lesson.