Sunday, August 19, 2007

Who reads MSN sports anyway?

For those of you who do not read John Brattain, consider yourself lucky. Here is the best bio of the man who has some how managed to make a career in writing on baseball.

{Bloggers Correction-08/21/07: John seems like a stand-up guy. He just happened to write an article that I took issue with.}

In Fire Joe Morgan style, I am going to give my best shot at deconstructing a silly fucking article that Brattain wrote for MSN sports.

(My comments are in bold.)

How John Gibbons is hurting the Blue Jays
Poor lineup management is costing the team wins.

By John Brattain

They could’ve been a contender.

An On the Waterfront/Raging Bull reference, this has potential!

Instead they’ve been royally plucked.

Oh, I get it, a pun.

Plucked, rolled in (very) light batter, deep-fried, and served with enough to feed 13 American League teams. It’s a recipe called “Rolled Smoked Jay”, prepared to keep contending teams feeling high… in the standings. As we shall soon see, the master chef of this dish of ornithological delight even prevents runs.

You’re losing me on this one but I think you are trying to say the other 13 AL teams feast on the Jays this year (despite the Jays being over .500 against the AL this season).


Tell me about it

Since the All Star break the Jays are 18-13. The fact that the Jays have had the best pitching in the AL post-break this really shouldn’t be surprising.

They have the best pitching post break! That’s awesome! That John Gibbons sure know how to run a pitching staff.

Of course, they could be much better than that; the Jays are last in the AL East in runs, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging average: Toronto is averaging about 4.5 runs per game—barely over three (runs on the road) since the All Star Game.

Clearly they have dropped offensively in the second half. Their team OPS is at .750 in the second half, all the way down from .752 in the first half.

The bottom line is this: The Jays offence had held Toronto back from contending in 2007.

Significant injuries to the teams closer, set-up man, #1 starter, #2 starter, 5th Starter, Catcher, 1st Basement, 3rd Baseman, and Left Fielder has nothing to do with why their record isn’t better.

However, it should be noted, it’s not just poor situational hitting, it has been a lack of a coherent plan by skipper John Gibbons.

Hmm, so their .219 AVG with two out and RISP is not the reason they’re struggling. Just like the Red Sox’s .817 OPS with 2 out and RISP is not the reason the Sox lead the division.

The Jays limp lumber became obvious to most sentient people save Gibbons. Yes, the line-up has suffered notable injuries this year with Reed Johnson, Lyle Overbay, Gregg Zaun enjoying some quality shelf time with a slow start by Frank Thomas and a non-start by Vernon Wells adding to a bad case of offensive constipation. It’s only very recently that Troy Glaus came out of a horrific slump.


Sadly, it has been the Jays philosophy that has hurt them as much as the poor hitting in clutch situations.

How exactly? Are you going to tell us?

GM J.P. Ricciardi once famously stated: “Give up outs to score runs? We don’t do that here.”

He did say that. I wonder if it’s because a runner at first with no outs scores .783% of the time. Where as a runner at second with one out scores .699% of the time. And a runner at third with two out scores .382% of the time.

This mindset has cost the Blue Jays a good many wins this year.

Now that’s a statement! Please explain.

Often in the National League, runners on first and second—nobody out, or man on second (nobody out) requires a bunt to move base runner(s) over. This is the oft maligned “productive out.”

You are right! In the National league where the #9 hitter (usually the pitcher) has a batting average of .186 this year, they often get him to bunt.

The Jays eschew the productive out for the unproductive out. The Jays had 47 unique opportunities with men in scoring position and nobody out. They break down thusly:

Only 47 "unique" opportunities, that seems low to me.

• Leadoff double: 19 times
• First and second-nobody out: 20 times
• Man on 2B, 3B or 2B and 3B with nobody out: 8 times

In all of these 47 instances Gibbons let the batter swing away. 47 times the Jays came away empty.

That is unique. It's almost unbelievable.

On another 56 different occasions the Jays had runners in scoring position with nobody out and came away with a single run.

What! I thought it was 47, where did these extra 56 opportunities come from? Are there any more you aren’t telling us about?

That’s 103 chances with men on base with at least one in scoring position and nobody out and the Jays scored a grand total of 56 runs—all because ‘They don’t do that (give away outs to score runs) here.’

Wait a second, they do give away outs to score runs. The Jays are second in the AL in sac flies. What they don’t do is give away outs to move someone up a base.

On a club where it is blindingly obvious that they’re struggling to put runs on the board—the Jays have scored three runs or less 51 times, four or fewer 66 times in 116 games—you have to treat every run as precious. Of the Jays 57 losses, 28 of them were by two runs or less.

And out of their 62 wins, 29 of them were by two runs or less.

This is John Gibbons fault.

It actually seems pretty consistent.

His job is to manage the personnel for maximum advantage. Yes, the Jays have been miserable in clutch situations (a batting, on base, slugging average of .226/.325/.356 in runners in scoring position and two out) but Gibbons has refused to face facts and try to manufacture runs.

Manage the personal to “maximum advantage” you say. Well Lyle Overbay, Frank Thomas, Troy Glaus, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells and Matt Stairs’ “maximum advantage” does not lie with bunting, it’s hitting for extra bases.

The Jays bat .215/.283/.299 with men on first and second (regardless of number of outs) and he still insists of letting hitters hack away rather than moving runners up 90 feet.

Are you suggesting that every single Jay should bunt a runner up regardless of the inning or score.

In the 20 aforementioned at bats where the Jays were first and second nobody out, the Jays grounded into 10 double plays.

Those 20 at bats you mentioned earlier are taken from a pool of 329 PA were the Jays have had runners on first and second. In other news in 760 at bats in Barry Bond’s career he has hit 760 home runs.

So instead of giving up a productive out and having runners and second and third with one out (and a team that hits .267/.337/.414 in that situation), instead Gibbons gives the opposition two unproductive outs at no cost. The Jays end up with a man on third/two out—a situation where the Jays bat a “Royce-tastic” .226/.325/.356.

If John Gibbons had Alex Rios bunt with runners on first and second when the Jays are down by 4 runs he should be fired.

This is on Gibbons.

Should Vernon Wells bunt in the first while facing Kei Igawa?

His managing the line up has cost the Jays runs, and in turn, games.

What about big Frank laying down a bunt in the third when they are leading 8-0?

This information is freely available to Gibbons (heck, I found it and I’m just a sportswriter) and he either ignores it, or simply hasn’t bothered to check it.

Troy Glaus bunts with one down, runner at second, and Jays trailing 4-2 in the sixth.

His lack of understanding what is going on with his team’s offence and refusing to rectify it has turned a potential playoff team into (barring a miracle) an also-ran.

It’s hard to see if he doesn’t understand because you haven’t given any specific situations where it would have been wise to bunt

Had the Jays managed to manufacture a couple of extra runs in five of the 28 games where they were beaten by two or fewer runs they’d be tied with Cleveland…1.5 games back of the wild card lead.

And if the Jays had missed out on home runs because they were bunting in just 5 of the 29 games they won by 2 or less runs this year, they could be tied with Baltimore, 12.5 games behind the Yankees for the wild card.

That’s how costly the Gibbons-Ricciardi approach has been in 2007.

Or the Earl Weaver approach, or the Joe Torre approach, or the Terry Francona approach, or the any manager in the AL not named Ozzie Guillen and Buddy Bell approach.

If the manager won’t change a losing approach, then it’s time to change the manager. If the general manager refuses to tell his manager that his in-game tactics are losing games, then it’s time to lose the general manager.

Can you clarify how many games over .500 a team needs to be for you to consider them a loser. Because if the Jays are a losing team at 3 games over .500, last years Cardinals had to be a losing team at 5 games over .500. Oh wait, they won the World Series.

The talent and personnel are clearly there.

But they have suffered serious injuries, right? That’s what is missing?

What is missing is someone who can utilize the talent on hand for maximum production.

“Talent on hand”- good choice of words to prove your point. Run Frank run! Drag that bunt Troy! Lyle, make sure you get it past the pitcher! Vernon, we’re not paying you 18 million to hit home runs! Alex, one of the 5 tools is speed, use it god damn it!

That’s the job description of any manager in any industry – including major league baseball.

Punchy ending. You almost won me over with that one.


Portnoy said...

The idea that the Jays will score more runs by employing the sacrifice bunt is outrageous. How many successful sacrifices have Thomas, Glaus, Wells, Stairs and Overbay laid down in their careers? I'd be shocked if it was more than a handful in total.

As you point out Razzer, even if the talent on hand could sacrifice, it would be a terrible idea to do it more often. Not only is the risk of failure high with slow baserunners, but if the bunts worked, we'd probably score even less. It's almost never a good idea to trade the out for a base.

John Brattain said...

First off: Love the name of your blog. I’ve often wondered what would’ve happened had his throw been on line. He had a lot of mustard on that ball.

Ah well. It all worked out in the end.

There's more to the sac bunt/productive out than moving runners up/getting a guy on third w/less than 2 out.

Remember Gaylord Perry? His greatest weapon wasn't the spitball as much as opposing hitters worrying that he might throw the spitball. It kept opposing batters off balance.

The sac bunt also helps the offense in that it puts the defense on, well … the defensive. When a team routinely swings away with a man on second/1st & 2nd the opposing club can play back and await the ground ball/potential double play. If the sac bunt is used from time to time, when you get the ‘man on second/1st & 2nd’ situation it keeps the other team guessing defensively. Now they have to decide whether to play back or come in. When the pitcher deals, the defense has to move which create holes that a ball can get through should the batter swing away.

It’s like football. Suppose your team’s strength is running the football. If a team does nothing but run, the defense can set for that. Burn them with a couple of huge passing gains downfield and you loosen up the defense and you can the ball/control the clock much better since they don’t know what to expect.

Teams know what to expect with the Jays: ‘man on second/1st & 2nd’ --you play back and wait. Throw in a sac bunt every so often and they cannot do that. It’s more than just staying out of a double play and getting a runner on third w/less than 2 out, it’s also about creating holes and getting infielders in motion so ground balls can get through rather than becoming twin-killings.

Re-wind in your mind to any number of Devil Rays/Blue Jays series. See how they create scoring opportunities by keeping the Jays defense off-balance and in motion. A team that has to entertain the possibility of a sac bunt increases the possibility of an error plus it gives the pitcher an additional concern since he has to remember his job (which base to cover/which base to throw to/making sure his follow-through leaves him in a physical position to execute) should a bunt be utilized. Getting into the pitcher’s head never hurts as Rickey Henderson demonstrated in the ‘89 ALCS.

The Jays “we don‘t give up outs to score runs” philosophy makes it much easier and simple for the opposing team to defend the Jays. They know what is, and what is not coming.

You don’t have to sac bunt all the time, or even most of the time, but enough times to keep the other team off balance. I wasn’t advocating the sac bunt as an *automatic* decision. If you do that, the defense again doesn’t have guess what might happen.

The status quo isn’t working. To continue employing such a strategy makes no sense.

Go Jays go!

Best Regards


Portnoy said...

Dammit, I posted a long reply to John's comment, but it got lost somewhere before it showed up here. If that comment does appear at some point, apologies for the repetition.

I'll try again, more briefly.

John, it was good of you to respond to Razzer's critical post. And I think you gave the best justification for increased bunting, but I still don't see it. We're not the D-Rays, and we don't have Rickey Henderson on the bases. We don't have the personnel to execute the strategy (even if it were a good one).

Thomas, Glaus, Stairs, Overbay, Wells and Rios have 9 sacrifices total in their careers, none in the past three seasons; the first two guys on the list have never sacrificed. All but Wells and Rios have played most of their careers for other teams, so it's not as if Gibbons is being some kind of maverick by not having them ever bunt. There's a reason no major league manager would do so: these guys have the potential to hit and hit for power; it would be madness to give up the outs for the chance at an extra base. John McDonald has laid down three times as many sacrifices in his career (32) as the next-biggest bunter on the team. There's a reason for that too: he can't hit. When you've got a guy at the plate who's the closest thing in the A.L. to a pitcher, it makes more sense to consider giving up his out for a base.

As for the element of surprise: yes, the defense probably will be surprised if Wells lays down a bunt with Rios on second and nobody out. And maybe that element of surprise will make it more likely that the bunt is more successful. And if you have Glaus bunt with Thomas on first you'd probably get a double play. What you can't argue is that the Jays are going to score more runs with Rios on third and one out than they would with him at second and none out, because the statistics, with thousands of data points in the bank, show the opposite.

While I share John's frustration with the Toronto offense this season, I don't think the solution is turning to a strategy that, historically, has reduced the number of runs a team scores. I'm all for experimentation, but experience shows that this particular experiment doesn't work.

Finally, you can accuse Gibbons of many things, but not a lack of creativity. In tonight's game he used McGowan as a pinch-hitter; this season he inaugurated Stairs as a leadoff hitter, batted Wells first, used Hill in every spot in the lineup, and has made double-switches to optimize high-leverage ABs. Who could forget Glaus at SS last year in the interleague games? So I don't think it's fair to accuse Gibbons of sticking with a status quo that doesn't work. But a disappointing status quo is not a reason to act irrationally. If my stocks dipped this year, it's not a reason to invest in lottery tickets next year instead.

Well, I wasn't more brief.


Portnoy said...

I meant McGowan was a pinch-runner tonight (for Thomas), not a pinch-hitter of course. The point stands: Gibby is being creative in an attempt to get the best use out of the talent on the roster.

John Brattain said...

I know what you’re saying about the Jays lack of bunting skills. I discussed that very thing on the Hardball Times early in the summer (I‘ve only been with MSN a couple of months, I‘ve been with the Hardball Times since January 2005)

I also agree that for them to start now absent practice is a fool’s errand.

The problem with the Jays isn’t getting opportunities, it’s cashing them in. In a season where a small number of wins mean the difference between being in it and being out and you’re losing a bunch of 1-2 runs games, you see how cashing in an extra run here or there is so huge.

When plan A isn’t getting them home, then sticking with plan A doesn’t make a lot of sense. There comes a point in every season where you have to decide if your key offensive cogs are in a slump, or having an off year. Then you have to assess your run scoring philosophy.

Gibbons should’ve done that when everybody was hurt. You’ve got guys on base, nobody out, and 3-4 batters with little to no pop, OBP of three or less and bat .250. The odds are definitely in your favour that you’re going to see outs happen. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When you line up gives you outs, then it might not be a bad idea to see if you can get something useful from them.

By the same token, when your team is among the worst teams with RISP/two out, then you best make something happen with RISP/1 out or RISP 0/out. The Jays have given Gibbons too many outs (sometimes two) with runners on base (sometimes two). Squeeze an extra run here or there and the Jays may well be two games out of the wild card.

The thing is: The Jays had an offensive philosophy in place in the spring. Injuries changed the line up but not the philosophy even though the personnel the philosophy was designed for were no longer there. The Jays line up got healthy again but it became obvious that the personnel for whom the philosophy was originally made for couldn’t execute the plan, but again the approach didn’t change.

As I mentioned in the column, the Jays had a bunch of scoring chances and nobody out with guys either struggling or just not good hitters and Gibbons kept waiting for what had transpired all year *not* to happen.

You build your line up and offensive philosophy based on the talent on hand. At the end of March the Jays felt they knew what they had. Throughout the season the Jays’ hitters demonstrated conclusively that what the front office/manager had wasn’t really so, but refused to alter their approach according to what the personnel could do. Right now the Jays have scored three runs or fewer 58 times, and four runs or fewer 75 times with a league ERA of 4.44. How much more evidence is needed that a change of mindset is necessary? Jays’ pitchers take bunting practice before inter league games, why isn’t Gibby giving some of the Jays similar practice.

The current approach has gotten the Jays as many runs as Kansas City has scored. You’re O.K. with sticking with a plan that has given the Jays as good an offense as the Royals? Unless I’m mistaken, are you arguing in favour of the status quo? You prefer to have one of the best pitching staffs the Jays have had in years go to waste because the occasional sac bunt offends your sensibilities? You’d rather lose swinging away than giving up outs and winning?

I’m pretty sure that’s not your intent, but to wish to stick with an approach that has failed so miserably where you’re giving up outs (and often times two) at no cost to the opposition in favour of giving up one out and gaining one or two bases makes no sense to me. Especially when it adds an opportunity to score even if another out is made. The Jays hit .211/.275/.292 with men on first and second; .310/.442/.592 with men on second and third yet you’re telling me you’d rather have the Jays try to hit with a man on first and second, rather than give up an out, have two guys in scoring position in a situation where they’re batting .310/.442/.592.

What am I missing?

P.S. I'm having trouble accessing/posting on this page. Whether Razzer is trying to block me (a possibility since his posting was personal as much as an attack on my column) or it's a simple software glitch I cannot be sure. If you want to continue this conversation send a copy of your next posting to and we can continue it via e-mail.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Best Regards


Razzer said...

Hey John,
I appreciate your responses in regards to my commentary. I assure you I am not trying to block you nor would I ever do that. This is an open forum and your rebuttals are very much appreciated by everyone here. I actually think your arguments in the comments are more succinct and thought out then the ones in the article itself. I guess my main objection is that I take issue with your blame of Gibbons for not bunting more. We tried to state it many times over that the Jays (especially when Stairs is playing for Johnson) is not constructed to bunt. Now if it is a tie game in the ninth inning, and you need a run to win, then of course a bunt would be and should be considered. However, you were just throwing out numbers regardless of the situation. Yes, in the National League players (normally pitchers) bunt through out the game. But how often do you see any AL team bunt runners up prior to the 7th inning? (I only see it when teams are facing a Halladay or Santana and only because the Jays and Twins offense is weak enough that one run might win you the game. You don’t see that against the Ace’s of the Yankees or Red Sox).

If your 20 “unique” situations you alluded to in the article were “Jays trailing by two or less, 7th inning or later” then you would have a very valid point. However, I was under the impression these stats were taken at random from any game and any situation, in which case it is misleading.

As much as my goal was to attack the article, there were personal attacks in the introduction, which I apologize for. However, I still feel your article was below par and I am sure someone with your writing abilities can do better. Who knows, maybe the MSN sports audience is not as baseball inclined as THT so you can mask an opinion piece using loose statistic.

I also want to note that because of the personal vendetta some local scribes have against the current Jays brass, for years Jays fans have been reading one sided, not thought out, negative articles. We are almost programmed to refute and dismiss anything negative directed towards the Jays.

Portnoy said...


I don't have too much more to say on this. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree.

I'm not happy with the status quo either, but one solution should be for the Jays' hitters to work with their hitting coach to make adjustments during the season (which has obviously failed), not try to pretend that Frank Thomas is Scott Posednik. Another solution would be to try to juggle the lineup (which Gibbons has done), or run a little more with the couple of guys who can run (and Rios is on track for a minor career high in steals). But really, when a team isn't hitting well, they're going to struggle to score. It's as simple as that.

It seems that your argument for increased bunting comes down to the fact that the Jays' hitters have performed far better with men on 2nd and 3rd than with guys on 1st and 2nd. To me, that screams fluke. I'd guess that all teams will over time hit slightly better with 1st base open, because then there's no force at second, and because a flyout doesn't count as an AB if it scores a run from third, but otherwise the huge gulf between the Jays' performance in the two situations doesn't signify much to me. I'm no sabermetrician, but I fairly certain I've read more than one deconstruction of the "myth of the situational hitter" at Baseball Prospectus over the years. And to suggest that not just one Blue Jay, but the entire team, is infected with this "inability to hit with guys at 1st and 2nd" virus, is an even greater stretch.

That's all from me -- feel free to post the last word if you'd like. I'm sure you weren't blocked -- I lost a comment last night too.

John Brattain said...

Nah. Agreeing to disagree is a perfect acceptable way to end a debate. I wish my wife embraced the Zen of that philosophy.

Ah well, hopefully by this time next year we’ll be debating about what the playoff rotation should be.

Thanks for the feedback and take care--always appreciated. Here’s to hoping there’s another Maldonado moment for the Jays in the near future.

Go Jays go.

Best Regards