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Friday, April 16, 2004

Royals Ramblings

Ron alerted me to a game situation that happened with the Royals on Thursday afternoon in Chicago (I was across town watching the Cubs and Pirates hit 7 homeruns in a 10-5 Cubs win). Tie game, top of the 9th and Ken Harvey leads off with a single. Pena pinch runs Rich Thompson with Benito Santiago at the plate. Rather than having Thompson steal Pena elects to sacrifice. Unfortunately, Santiago bunts it right back to the pitcher who turns the double play. The question asked by Ron and by Rob and Rany is whether this was a smart play by Pena?

I think Rany hits the nail on the head when he says that pinch running and sacrificing are both one-run strategies and so doing both is at best inefficient by potentially wasting a player you may need in extra innings. Using the Win Expectancy table I blogged about the other day you can see that the home team (the White Sox is this case) had a WE of .413 with no outs and a runner on first. Had the sacrifice been successful it would have changed the WE to .434. Not a very significant difference (2%) but this does highlight that at the very least the strategy of bunting doesn't really buy you anything in this case. However, this becomes more significant since by all accounts Thompson is a good base stealer and would have had at least a 70% chance of success. However, I think it likely that with the lefty Marte on the mound Pena got a little gun-shy of the stolen base with the rookie Thompson. Pena did employ the same strategy last week at home against Cleveland where Thompson easily stole the base but that was against a righthander. Also in Pena's defense Matt Stairs was still available to come in and play first base.

In other Royals notes there has been some discussion about Jeremy Affeldt and his pitching approach. A story in the KC Star quotes Affeldt and Pena saying:

Affeldt: "One of the main things they told me in spring, was they didn't want me to go out there and try to strike out guys. If you do that, your pitch count goes up. That's why I throw my changeup a lot more. I'm trying to get early outs."

Pena: "I don't care about strikeouts. I want to get people out. We have a good defense. So, I want to minimize pitches. Forget about the strikeouts. But Jeremy will strike some people out. His stuff is filthy."

Well, at this point Affeldt has pitched 9 innings, striking out 2, and walking 6 while giving up 15 hits while striking out only 7 in 25 innings of spring training work. Not a recipe for success. This discussion relates directly to the idea of Defense Independant Pitching (DIPS) I blogged about awhile back. To summarize, major league pitchers can be very successful pursuing one of a variety of different strategies. However, pursuing the strategy of allowing more batters to put the ball in play only works for pitchers who rely on deception and is not significantly impacted by defense as Pena seems to think. Therefore, if Affeldt's changeup is not really very good, then he's not decreasing the number of hard hit balls put into play which automatically leads to more hits allowed. His velocity is also down which contributes to the problem but that may be because he's trying to finely locate the ball rather than letting it go and using his natural movement. I think Affeldt and the Royals need to find out what his natural strength is as a pitcher and exploit that rather than trying to make him into Brian Anderson.

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