Ron Washington, Strategy Anti-Manager Pt. 2

A saber-oriented writer for one of the Rangers fan sites I frequent recently took manager Ron Washington to task recently for some of the moves he made in Games 6 & 7 of the World Series. While his article made sure to point out its author actually likes Wash and thinks he’s a good fit for this team, he advances the same arguments about Wash doing things too much by feel and not enough by “The Book” (the publication that uses advance mathematics to show what the best percentage play is in certain situations).

My last post addressed the way I looked at the specific decisions Wash made that were brought up in the article. Today I want to look at the Game 7 “shortcomings”. There were two in Game 7:

1) The decision to have Elvis Andrus sacrifice Ian Kinsler to second with no outs and a 2-1 count in a 3-2 game in the top of the 5th; and

2) The decision to intentionally walk David Freese in the bottom of the fifth, loading the bases with two outs. Another walk and a hit by pitch later and the Cardinals were up 5-2, en route to a 6-2 win and the World Series Championship.

Again, I don’t fault Wash on either of these decisions.

I know “The Book” is not a fan of the sacrifice bunt. Under almost any circumstances. Apparently giving up an out to advance a runner is not the mathematically correct play. This decision, though, is one in which I think saberists and “The Book” can miss a point- While the sacrifice bunt isn’t the best move in the wide scheme of things, sometimes one has to look at specifically the game that is being played to guide your reasoning. I’ve seen Wash use this same reasoning before. I understand it and I agree with it.

Trailing 3-2, Ian Kinsler led off the top of the fifth with a ground ball single to left field. This was only the Rangers second hit since the first inning. Both of those hits were ground ball singles. In other words, they weren’t hit very hard, they were just placed very well. Other than that, Texas had one fly out, five groundouts and three strikeouts against Chris Carpenter (who also had a walk and a HBP in this time). In other words, the Rangers weren’t hitting the ball very well off Carpenter and Kinsler’s hit didn’t do anything to alter the manager’s thinking that Carpenter had any less stuff. Andrus came to bat with almost as many strikeouts as he had hits in the World Series (8 hits, 7 K’s) and only one extra base hit in the Series. When his team isn’t hitting well, Wash uses things like the sacrifice bunt to try to make something happen. He’ll also use the Rangers speed. In this case, speed wasn’t an option. Yadier Molina pretty much clamped down on the Rangers running game the entire Series, so Wash went with the sacrifice bunt. In this case, it didn’t work. Josh Hamilton proceeded to foul out and Michael Young struck out to end the “threat”.

The intentional walk came in the bottom of the fifth. Scott Feldman had relieved Matt Harrison. Following a groundout to open the frame, Feldman walked Allen Craig and hit Albert Pujols with a pitch. After a groundout put runners on second and third with two out, Wash had Feldman intentionally walk David Freese to load the bases. The rest is history. Yadier Molina walked on a pitch that looked like it was well within the lower part of the strike zone to be strike 3. Instead, a run came home. CJ Wilson relieved Feldman and hit Rafael Furcal, bringing home the 5th run of the game and the Series was essentially over at that point.

Again, here’s what I don’t understand. Countless times in countless ballgames, you will see a similar situation come up. Sometimes they pitch to the guy with runners on second and third and sometimes they walk the guy, intentionally or unintentionally-intentionally, in order to set up a force at any base. Most of the time in the latter cases, it’s because the batter is a particularly dangerous one, capable of doing severe damage with one swing of the bat. David Freese would seem to qualify on that count, seeing as he was named the World Series MVP. Admittedly, I’ve never read “The Book”, so I don’t know why this is such a bad percentage play, but I think I’d much rather face Molina with the bases loaded than Freese with two on. Just as Wash did.

I’m under no illusions. I know Wash makes some real head-scratching decisions at times. It just seems to me some folks get way too nit-picky in pointing out flaws in a manager’s logic. It’s possible to disagree without going to extra lengths to “prove” someone wrong. All it does is make guys like me write lengthy posts to “prove” he was right!