Saturday, July 04, 2009

Mr. Pujols: Walk Him. Just Walk Him.

I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan. And so, my favorite player in all of baseball is Mr. Pujols.

But I have a question, a serious question, though it will sound crazy.

Here's the situation, last night in Cincy, playing the Reds. Cards down 3-0, looking dispirited. Men on first and second, two outs. Idiot Reds reliever walks Hoffpauir, bringing up the only real threat in the Cards lineup....Mr. Pujols.

The Reds bring in a righty reliever, to do the righty v. righty thing. This reliever is a wily veteran, David Weathers, with 18 years of major league experience. But (and I like big buts, you know I cannot lie), Mr. Pujols is 9 for 18 lifetime against David Weathers. Just wears him out like an old sock.

To complete the setting, remember that following Mr. Pujols in the lineup is Ryan Ludwick and then Rick Ankiel. Both very good defensive outfielders. But neither of them bats over the "Munger line" (my current weight is 240 lbs; Ludwick is batting .235 and Ankiel is batting .230).

Summary: 8th inning, two outs, you are ahead 3-0, the next two guys in the line-up are in deep slumps. Your bullpen is the best in the major leagues (Cincy has an amazing bullpen).

Do you pitch to Mr. Pujols? It is radical to suggest, but I say: No, you do not. Walk him. Yes, I know the bases are loaded. But. Walk. Him. It's still just 3-1 and neither of the next two batters are likely to do anything except fly out.

They pitch to Mr. Pujols.

Mr. Pujol hits a long homer, a grand slam, the big salami with extra cheese and pickles. Even Mike Shannon, who has been drunk since 1973, notes in this video that "maybe you think about walking him."

Next inning, in the 9th, he* hits an RBI double, winning the game for the Cards. Look, the rest of the Cards, not counting pitchers even, have a team batting average of .240. Albert is batting .340, with 82 RBI, 31 homers, and a slugging average of nearly .750.

Why don't they walk him? Even with the bases loaded? Baseball has this silly macho thing, instead of just trying to win.

Anyway, I do want to thank Cincinnati, and manager Dusty Baker, for giving me such a fine thrill this morning when I watched the video of Mr. Pujols single-handedly beating them. But I don't understand WHY they did that.

Every team says, "Don't let Pujols beat us." And then Pujols beats them. Because they pitch to him.

Reminds me of the old Groucho Marx joke. Guy comes running in to Groucho's office (Groucho is pretending to be a doctor). "Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this." Groucho: "Don't do that." Well, it hurts when they pitch to Mr. Pujols. Don't do that.

*Pujols, not Shannon


Angus said...

Mungo: you beat me to the punch (again). I told Mrs. A last night I was gonna post on A-Poo!!

I believe he is on pace for possibly winning the triple crown at this point.

Go Cards!

Publius said...

Yikes. As someone who ended up studying economics after initially falling in with the (poorly named) sabermetric movement of the 90s, this post is a bit hard to bare.

First, why even mention the 9-for-18 lifetime against David Weathers? What new information do we gain from this pathetically small sample? Is there any discernible difference between 9-for-18 or 3-for-18?

We would never attach importance to such a small sample in the "real" world, but in the bizarro world of sports f-analysis it is common place, even among the educated.

Then there is talk of "slumps" (a cousin of the hot-hand fallacy described here (pardon the self-promotion):

As per your specific situation, I would recommend checking out the work being done at There are a lot of very smart people that have modeled situations just like the one you mention to see if it makes sense to walk a batter, to lay down a sacrifice bunt, attempt a stolen base, etc.

Generally speaking though, pitching to batters is not simply a "macho" thing, it is also *almost* always the smart thing to do. You shrug that the next two hitters are likely to fly out, but so is Pujols! It's not like Pujols was hitting .540 and Ankiel .240. The Reds had a 66% chance of getting Pujols out by pitching to him, compared to 77% for the next batters.

Here's a simplified model of your situation (ignoring details like getting on base via walk rather than hit):

If Ludwick gets a hit: Score is likely 3-3 (23.5% chance).

If Ankiel then gets a hit: Score is likely 4-3 (5%).

Instead, they pitched at Pujols:

11% chance of HR: score 4-3
7% chance of double: likely 3-3
16% chance of single: likely 2-3
66% chance of out: 0-3

So 66% chance they are out of the inning. 16% chance they are one-run worse off than walking him. 18% chance of blowing the save.

Now, a thorough analysis would look at the probability of scoring more runs both in the 8th and 9th, but at least here we can see that the chance of blowing the lead was relatively low (18%) by pitching to Pujols, where as there would be a 28.5% chance of blowing the save by giving away the run (and that's ignoring the chance that Ludwick/Ankiel get an extra-base hit).

Enjoy Pujols and the Cards win, but not forget the basic principles of statistics and probabilities.

Angus said...

OUCH!! Mungo, that's gotta hurt!

Only thing I can say in your defense is that it should be "hard to bear" instead of "hard to bare".

good use of "yikes" though

Mungowitz said...

Yeah, Angus, I think that is going to leave a mark. Owie.

Angus said...

Rub some dirt on it!

Anonymous said...

Publis is right on the numbers, but Munger is actually right about the macho thing. The reason we know this is simple: Dutsy Baker.

Dusty Baker is a admitted hater of sabermetrics, statistics, OBS+, probability scenarios, and all that nerdy crap. He didn't have his guy pitch to Pujols because the numbers said it was the right thing to do. He did it because that's the only way he knows how to coach baseball and would never even consider walking Pujols, even if he was batting .640 and the guy behind him was hitting .140.

Also, whether or not "slumps" really exist or not, if the choice is pitching to Pujols or a guy hitting below the Munger line, I know which one I'll pick.

Rolo Tomasi said...

You'd think that after years watching people walk Barry Bonds and pitching to Durham/Feliz/whomever to beat the Giants would have given Baker the idea. I distinctly remember the Astros walking Bonds with bases loaded and still winning. This was the thing that gave me (sadly a Giants fan) nightmares and he has no recollection?

Max Sawicky said...

There is the ancient principle of never (deliberately) putting the winning run on base. But I haven't watched baseball since 1983.