Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Robinson's Pitching Changes Redux

Capitol Punishment takes issue with our posts regarding Frank Robinson's pitching changes in Saturday's and Sunday's games. We agree with a lot of what Chris says, but we disagree with the conclusion.

Our bottom line is that it's the pitchers' job to get hitters out, and the Nationals' pitchers didn't do that at the critical moment on both Saturday and Sunday. Frank Robinson didn't put those runners on base and didn't give up key hits and didn't throw fat pitches for hitters to blast into the stands. The pitchers did that, and no matter how many changes Robinson made on Saturday we wouldn't be talking about this if the pitchers had just got one more hitter out in the bottom of the ninth.

In other words, it's one thing to say that Robinson made too many pitching changes, but it's a huge leap in logic to say that those pitching changes caused those runs to score. We can't reach that conclusion, no matter what we think about Robinson.

We agree with Chris that Robinson should be blamed for not making a pitching change when it's clear the pitcher doesn't have his best stuff. In fact, we think not making a pitching change in that situation is much worse than making a change that doesn't work out. And we've said that Robinson has lost games this season by not taking out a pitcher who can't get anyone out.

But all of the analysis and research shows that a manager's in-game moves aren't nearly as important as we think they are. I can't remember the statistic, but a manager makes the difference in something like five wins a year, meaning that for the most part it's the players on the field who win and lose games. A manager's most important job is to put the best team on the field and create an environment in which his players can flourish.

We're not enamored with Robinson, either, but we think that blaming him for runs given up by pitchers who can't get hitters out mixes up cause and effect.

12 comments:

Chris Needham said...

On the 5-game stat. That's not really a stat per se, that's always been the Sabre WAG as to the effect of a manager. That seems pretty reasonable, I suppose.

As far as the Frank criticism. Obviously, the relievers need to share in the blame. My problem is that he didn't put the players in the position to win -- one of the manager's chief responsibilities.

By yanking the pitchers so frequently, despite the big lead, he gave the impression of tension, and that a five-run lead was only a two-run lead.

Say he did leave him in to pitch to Giles, and Giles hit a 600-foot homer. You're still up by three.

But by constantly going to the well, you're creating an impression of tension, as well as increasing the odds that you're going to find an ineffective reliever.

By the time he got to Cordero, Chad probably wasn't in the right mindset. And I'm almost positive that he wasn't fully warm -- he wouldn't have had enough time to warm up fully, most likely.

The manager set a tone of panic. And while he didn't lob the pitches up there, he did make the situation ten times more stressful than it needed to be.

If someone watched the game without the score, you'd have guessed that we were up one, or even trailing.

DM said...

Also, I had thought we were trying to SAVE the bullpen that game, hence the reason for the gamble with letting Carrasco go 6 instead of 5 (which was a good move by Robinson, it turned out). Let's say Cordero gives up a 3-run double to Greene, then walks a guy, then gets the third out. We win, but have hurt the bullpen again.

Frank managed the game like it was a close one, and that's what he got.

Leiv & Erik said...

I don't disagree with anything Chris or DM have written (or, at least, I don't think I disagree). Would I have done exactly what Robinson did? No. I probably would have stayed with Majewski for at least a bit in the 9th and would have gone to Cordero earlier. So, I too wouldn't have done what Frank did, but I still hold the pitchers accountable for not doing their job.

Basil said...

but I still hold the pitchers accountable for not doing their job.

Doesn't this go without saying, though? I'm not sure how it really informs the discussion beyond stating the obvious.

Leiv & Erik said...

I'm not sure. Our point has always been that the "fancy pitching moves" claim is a bit of a sideshow--the salient point is that the pitchers were unable to get anybody out. Can we blame Frank for that? Perhaps Robinson didn't use his pitchers in an optimum way, but that doesn't strike me as a significant reason for explaining the outcome.

Basil said...

Our point has always been that the "fancy pitching moves" claim is a bit of a sideshow--the salient point is that the pitchers were unable to get anybody out

That point undergirds any strategic discussion, though. That's true in absurd examples (like "Jose Lima, starting pitcher") and contentious examples (like the other night). It's a point that's already established; proving it again doesn't really demonstrate much.

Perhaps Robinson didn't use his pitchers in an optimum way, but that doesn't strike me as a significant reason for explaining the outcome.

This sounds inconsistent, though. A manager's allocation of resources will always play some part in affecting the outcome. This is the complement to the point about "the players being the ones who play."

Who's liable for KC losing the other day: Jose Lima, for pitching badly; or Buddy Bell, for running out a bad pitcher? (Or, more broadly, Allard Baird, for giving Bell bad pitchers?)

The answer is that both Bell and Lima are jointly liable: Bell for using his resources badly (6.95 ERA starting?) and Lima for being Jose Lima. Both contributed.

The other night is little different as a story. Robinson made poor decisions, and the players executed those decisions poorly. That's Svrluga's story, at least; Robinson's decisions started a chain of causation that the pitchers (in)effectively concluded. One needn't agree, of course, but a manager's decisions will always play some part (positive or negative; large or slight) in affecting (and explaining) the outcome of a game, as will the performance of the players.

One can argue over the weight to be assigned on this "scale of suck" the other night, but if it is conceded that the manager didn't use his players properly, then the players playing can only mitigate the amount of blame to be assigned to the player---not wipe it.

I don't know if any of that makes sense, but . . . :-)

Leiv & Erik said...

Interesting points.

"Robinson's decisions started a chain of causation that the pitchers (in)effectively concluded."

Does this really say anything out of the ordinary? Isn't this the case every time a team loses? Put another way, if this is the standard for measuring a manager won't we blame the manager for every loss?

Yes, it's true that by taking out Pitcher A Robinson caused Pitcher B to be in the game. But Svrluga was making a different point, at least to the extent I'm able to understand the point. Svrluga was saying that by making those moves Robinson lost the game for the Nationals. Remember, the headline was "Fancy Pitching Changes Devastate Nats' Lead." (Even if you absolve Svrluga of any responsibility for the headline, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the story make the same point.)

That's the causal link I can't buy. It isn't like Robinson was leaving in a pitcher who was clearly spent. Nor was Robinson creating an obviously flawed matchup.

Robinson was bringing in Pitcher A for Pitcher B and there was no reason why Pitcher B couldn't get the hitters out. Maybe Robinson should have stayed with Pitcher A, but we can't be sure that the outcome would have been any different had Pitcher A been in the game because there was nothing obviously wrong with either matchup.

I want to be clear: I'm not defending Robinson. As we said today in another post, we think Robinson should be fired. My objection is to blaming Robinson for the loss, which I think a lot of people are doing. Was it a series of smart moves? Probably not, but that's very different from concluding that Robinson lost the game for the Nats.

Basil said...

Does this really say anything out of the ordinary?

No more out of the ordinary than "the players have to make the plays." It's the complement.

Isn't this the case every time a team loses? Put another way, if this is the standard for measuring a manager won't we blame the manager for every loss?

In a sense, yes. A manager can be blamed anywhere from 0.01% - 99.44% (you get the point) for a loss. The question goes to weight.

Yes, it's true that by taking out Pitcher A Robinson caused Pitcher B to be in the game. But Svrluga was making a different point, at least to the extent I'm able to understand the point. Svrluga was saying that by making those moves Robinson lost the game for the Nationals.

I would offer that the reasons for this were that:

a) it was questionable use of the bullpen in the first place; and,
b) it was obvious.

The majority of the time, the player succeeds or fails and that's most of the story. The player gets the blame for failing, and that failure is plain to the observer. (I mean, how the blame is perceived, at least.)

Sometimes, though, the manager does something readily apparent that deflects the blame. Grady Little keeping Pedro in there, for instance. The other night, Frank did something readily apparent and it backfired. He gets blamed for it; that's reasonable. (The players---or player---got blamed for it in Svrluga's article, too.)

I guess at this point it's important to note that I think there's something along the lines of "perceived blame" and "actual blame." A manager deals with "perceived blame"; it's unfair, sure, but it's hard to judge him by decisions he doesn't make. You can't prove "actual blame," because you can't actually play a parallel game under the same circumstances using the decision he did not adopt. There's no absolute answer.

But Frank made a decision, the decision was readily apparent, it did not work, and it was part of the link of causation that directly and actually caused the team's defeat.

Pointing out that decision's role in the causation is reasonable. Disagreeing on its weight is another matter.

I want to be clear: I'm not defending Robinson. As we said today in another post, we think Robinson should be fired.

Oh, I know. I read your blog regularly. You guys do a really good job.

My objection is to blaming Robinson for the loss, which I think a lot of people are doing. Was it a series of smart moves? Probably not, but that's very different from concluding that Robinson lost the game for the Nats.

That's another thing, though: no one---not even Svrluga---is saying "Robinson lost the game for the Nats." (Maybe the headline writer . . . )The decision to "get fancy" gets top billing precisely because it's a managerial move that was readily obvious and backfired. But Cordero's recent struggles also play a prominent role.

Anyway, my response is getting overwrought here, and I don't want to bog down your blog at all. I just think it would be natural that Robinson would be blamed for contributing to the loss the other night, because chances are he did (and it's not unreasonable to perceive he did).

Leiv & Erik said...

Fair points all. I like to revert back to Shakespearean English at every opportunity.

Basil said...

I like to revert back to Shakespearean English at every opportunity.

I've been very long-winded and tangential today. (Well, even more than regular!) My apologies.

Leiv & Erik said...

Don't be ridiculous. The give and take was really interesting. This blog thing is great!

Basil said...

Okay. I guess I misinterpreted "ShakespereanEnglish" (as an opposite of "law-speak," which is infectious today) as an invitation to, you know, shut up. :-)

Glad I didn't bore you out of your minds! ;-)