Carleton: Beware of the intentional walk

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on April 7, 2014, with mention of SABR member Ben Lindbergh:

In the off-season, with no games to be played, there are no announcers filling the air with amusing anecdotes and half-baked theories about the game. Which means that Ben Lindbergh doesn’t send me e-mails saying, “I just heard an announcer say that [insert assertion about baseball with no evidence given]. Is that true? Can you do #GoryMath on that? Pretty please with rainbow sprinkles?” Ben knows I’m a sucker for rainbow sprinkles.

Ben’s latest rainbow sprinkle comes to us via the New York Yankees broadcast team of Michael Kay and Ken Singleton. In the eighth inning of Saturday’s Yankees-Blue Jays game, Brett Cecil was in a tough spot. With two outs and a 1-0 Jays lead, the Yankees had Jacoby Ellsbury on third and Derek Jeter (did you know he’s retiring at the end of the year?) on second. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons chose to walk out to the mound and call for Sergio Santos to face on-deck hitter Alfonso Soriano. Kay suggested to Singleton that perhaps Gibbons could have instead ordered the left-armed throwing Cecil to intentionally walk the right-handed hitting Soriano and stay in to face the left-handed hitting Kelly Johnson. Singleton replied that that wouldn’t have been a good idea, because issuing an intentional walk and then trying to pitch normally again is hard for pitchers to do. Throwing four half-hearted balls a foot and a half off the plate gets them out of their rhythm.


Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!
I found all situations from 2009–13 where a reliever was pitching, and where he had been the pitcher for the previous batter. Using the log-odds method, I calculated the expected rates of the usual outcomes (strikeout, walk, HBP, single, 2B/3B, homerun, or out in play) for the given plate appearance, based on the seasonal stats of the pitcher and the batter (min. 250 BF or PA for each).


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Originally published: April 7, 2014. Last Updated: April 7, 2014.