Crimes on the diamond: a Budding problem

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been writing very much over the past few months.

After spending years lobbying for a better product on the field – technically, honesty and effort from ownership and the front office more than anything – I wanted to simply enjoy that better product. So for all of April, save the occasional podcast or tweet, I kept silent.

That’s not to say I wasn’t paying attention. In actuality, I’ve paid more attention to the Padres in 2015 than I have any year since I left for college in 2005. To-date, I’ve missed maybe five pitches all season – radio,, television, or in-person. I’ve watched every condensed game the day after. I’ve already attended ten games and I’ve bought more Padres-branded merchandise than ever before: a few new hats, an Upton shersey, a Norris shersey, two Padres polos, and so on.

So yeah, I might not be as vocal as before, but that’s not for lack of knowledge or awareness. I know what’s going on better than ever before.

That relative silence is also the past, as I refuse to sit here idly and watch Bud Black “manage” this collection of talent down the tube. Consider ‘Change the Padres’ to be re-purposed.

The Budding Problem

What happened in Arizona on Sunday afternoon was really the last straw.

Bases loaded with two outs, down one run in the top of the sixth inning, “manager” Bud Black decided to let Andrew Cashner take his at-bat, despite the presence of both Derek Norris and Matt Kemp on the Padres bench. (The fact that Sundays have become Bud Black’s de facto “throw the towel” / “wave the white flag” day by habitually benching critical offensive pieces is another managerial issue, but I’ve leave that for another day.)

Statistically speaking, letting Andrew Cashner hit certainly makes no sense from a “win today” perspective.

In fact, Fangraphs’ Win Probability charts show that the Cashner plate appearance had the highest leverage index of any plate appearance in the entire game. When Andrew Cashner got out, the Padres’ odds of winning reduced 12% (!), from 37.8 to 25.8. A single in that situation, scoring two runs, would have increased the Padres’ odds to 63.9%. A bases clearing double (76.3%), triple (77.5%), or homerun (84.6%) would have further solidified a Padres victory. (For completeness, a walk or other play which results in the bases remaining loaded would have resulted in a 52.8% winning percentage.)

With this knowledge, it’s an exercise in basic algebra to determine the difference in win probability between an Andrew Cashner plate appearance and a Matt Kemp/Derek Norris plate appearance.

Using just their career rates as a rough estimate, the expected win percentage of letting Andrew Cashner hit is 34.4%. A Matt Kemp plate appearance raises the expectancy to 40.0%. For Derek Norris, it’s 38.6%.

For some perspective, here’s where this managerial decision ranked (in terms of win percentage +/-) in comparison to actual results from that same game:

  • This decision: -5.6%
  • Yangervis Solarte’s 9th inning, 1-out strikeout: -5.3%
  • Austin Hedges’ 6th inning single to load the bases: +5.0%
  • Justin Upton’s 4th inning, 1-out single advancing Wil Myers to second: +4.5%

Again, I want to emphasize that just the mere decision to let Andrew Cashner hit had an expected value that was more influential than several significant events. If I had my wits about me two minutes ago, I would have rephrased ‘This decision: -5.6%’ to read ‘Bud Black uses brain: -5.6%’.

Some will make the argument that the difference between Andrew Cashner and [insert Padres reliever here] is more than the difference between Cashner and a legitimate hitter in that plate appearance. But this argument is not correct.

For one, the difference between Andrew Cashner and Dale Thayer, who entered the game next for the Padres, is roughly one-tenth of a run in ERA according to an average of Fangraphs’ projection systems. Over nine innings.

And this also ignores the fact that there’s a general reduction of pitcher performance the third time they face a batter in a given game. Baseball Prospectus has repeatedly studied this effect using various normalized methods, concluding:

[T]he “times through the order” penalty is a significant effect that should be incorporated into a manager’s decision about when to remove a starting pitcher.

Local media has scrambled to explain Bud Black’s reasoning. On the broadcast, Jesse Agler toed the company line, stating that there is no right or wrong answer. On Twitter, Bob Scanlan vehemently believed it was the right decision. And like many others, NBC’s Derek Togerson offered this reasoning:

The thinking was; Cashner was throwing well and San Diego’s bullpen was on fumes after a string of outings so making them go at least four innings would be difficult.

Which, of course, is an absolutely absurd reason, seeing as the Padres did not even have a game the following day, as many pointed out:

The worst part of it all, though, is that this wasn’t even the first time Bud Black passed on pinch hitting for his starting pitcher in a high leverage situation this year. In fact, he made the same error earlier this season WITH ANDREW CASHNER AGAINST THE ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS!

On Monday, April 13th, Bud Black let Andrew Cashner bat with two runners on base and no outs, trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth. Cashner struck out, reducing the Padres’ win probability by 8.5%. Like on Sunday, the Cashner plate appearance proved to be the most important plate appearance of the game, according to Fangraphs’ Leverage Index.

More than anything, Sunday’s mistake proved Bud Black does not learn from his mistakes. Even the most recent ones involving the same players and same opponent. Bud Black is who he is: a poor in-game manager who will continue to reduce the Padres’ odds of winning on a regular basis.

I’m not even going to conclude my return to writing by stating that Bud Black should be fired, even though I believe that has long been the case. I only have one simple request:

Just as we ask for judgement of a person based upon the “content of their character”, we should ask for the judgement of a manager based upon the content of their managerial decisions. Judging Bud Black as a baseball manager based on his character traits – as so many in San Diego are wont to do – is as nonsensical as judging Bud Black as a human being based on the fact that he’s a baseball manager. So if we’re going to continue doing the former, I’m going to have to ask that Buddy be incarcerated for his crimes on the baseball diamond. Sunday was a prime example.


5 responses to “Crimes on the diamond: a Budding problem

  1. Pingback: Bud Black: Leader of Men? | Gwynntelligence·

  2. The math here is great, but many of us know this to be completely true, ” Bud Black is who he is: a poor in-game manager who will continue to reduce the Padres’ odds of winning on a regular basis.”
    The use of Kelly out of the bullpen at the begiining of the season in close games or something as simple as going out and talking to Kimbrell during his meltdown over the weekend (even though the Padres won in extras) Black has needed to go for some time.


  3. Pingback: Buddy’s buds are no ombudsmen | Gwynntelligence·

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