Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A bit more on small ball and hindsight, which I have heard is 20-20

I'm happy to let our Brattainologist-in-residence, Razzer, lead the way here, but I wanted to add my two cents to the debate.

First of all, thanks John for your kind words about our blog and for the opportunity to engage with you. As you know, we love this sort of shit.

Stripped of all nuance, I think it's fair to say that the essence of John's argument goes something like this: the Jays have a particular offensive philosophy; the Jays have sucked offensively in 2007; the Jays should occasionally have deviated from their rigid philosophy in the hopes of reducing their suckitude. (If that's not a fair summary, I hope and expect that JB will defend himself in the comments)

Part of our problem with John's articles, both on MSN and in the Hardball Times, is that one gets the sense that the data have been selectively plucked to prove a point. As Razzer points out, for every time the Jays failed to advance a runner and failed to squeeze a run from an inning, there may well be a counter-point waiting to be brought to light in which their willingness to eschew the bunt led to a big inning.

The Jays, who are obviously well aware of the Brattain-MOE argument and who apparently like us better than they like John, were nice enough to weigh in on the debate by doing the following in the top of the second tonight:

F Thomas singled to center. 00
A Hill singled to right, F Thomas to second. 00
G Zaun doubled to left, F Thomas scored, A Hill to third. 10
C Thigpen singled to left center, A Hill scored, G Zaun to third. 20
A Lind grounded into double play, first to catcher to third to first, G Zaun out at home, C Thigpen to second. 20
J McDonald doubled to deep right center, C Thigpen scored. 30
R Johnson lined out to right. 30

Now, if Gibby - properly chastened by the season's offensive failings and a recent convert to Brattainology - had decided to go all Ozzie Guillen on our asses (sorry John, I know that throwing you and Ozzie in the same camp is the unkindest cut of all, but if it looks like a crazed Venezuelan and sounds like a crazed Venezuelan...), the inning may well have looked like this:

Thomas single to centre.
Hill single to right (I don't think even JB would suggest they should bunt with Hurt at first).
Zaun bunts, runners advance to second and third.
(focusing on doing the "little things" to bring in the runner) flies out, Thomas scores.
Lind grounds out to first, inning over.

Two hits, one run, small-ball advocates explode with delight.

In the big scheme of things, we'd obviously have won tonight's game anyway. But I'd argue that playing small ball in that situation would have cost us two runs and, under different circumstances, the game. And of course, you'd never know it, because the doubles you don't hit when you decide to bunt never show up in the boxscore. In fact, I dare say that the Guillenites would call my hypothetical second inning a success ("the shitty bottom part of the order did the little things and brought the runner home - great success!") without ever knowing of the counterfactual 3-run inning that their philosophy rendered an impossibility.

Our point, I think, is that the Jays' offensive philosophy is the right one, even though in hindsight using a different approach in a number of games may have led them to score a few more runs in those particular games (and again, you don't know which games those are until after the fact, nor do you ever know when that different approach might have kept the team from putting together a big inning that would have been the difference between a win and a loss).

Stick with the philosophy, hopefully avoid the crippling injuries, remember that the season starts in April, not in July, and just get on base more often, and the glory wil be ours. Blue Jays and Gore in 2008.


Anonymous said...

please do a season ending re-cap..

Dan O'toole

John Brattain said...

Razzer/Dr. K:

Actually, it wasn’t hindsight. I first mentioned the Jays problems and the potential need to move runners along in May.

On to more current matters: I know J.P. Ricciardi is loath to give up outs for runs or to sacrifice. I hope John Gibbons realizes he has to be pragmatic. Right now, due to injuries, the Jays may have as many as three major out-producers at the bottom of lineup. If Troy Glaus’ legs are being rested it’s entirely possible that your 7-8-9 hitters could be some combination of Jason Phillips (78 OPS+), Sal Fasano (27 OPS+), Royce Clayton (78 OPS+), Jason Smith (44 OPS+) and John McDonald (67 OPS+).

Thus far this season (as of this writing), this quintet has drawn just 19 BB in 322 AB and struck out almost as often as they get a hit (77 K/ 78 hits). Occasionally there will be runners at first and second with none out and one of these five players coming to the plate. Suffice it to say, the odds of a popup, strikeout or double play ball are much more likely than that of a hit or walk.

What Gibbons should do in this scenario is try to bunt the runners over. Every day, Gibbons should be giving these guys bunting practice. When the odds of an out (and possibly two) are so strong, a double play more probability than possibility, the Jays would be better served in making sure that the almost inevitable out (the aforementioned five players have an aggregate OBP of .292) at least moves runner along. That way a groundball or ball hit to the outfield at least gets you a run.

The Jays' offense has been struggling for a while now and they should look at doing whatever it takes to gets runs across even if it means making an intentional out.

My comments/suggestions on MSN (and later on the Hardball Times) about biting the bullet and utilizing the dreaded “productive out” began in May. This wasn’t seeing something in hindsight. As I mentioned in my other columns, it wasn’t about going all-out on a small-ball approach but rather realizing what the lineup could and could not do and making the best of a bad situation.

Part of the problem folks have (and I’m to blame for this too) is that they take columns like those (on MSN) in isolation rather than seeing how the points have developed over months. It’s my fault too for assuming that folks reading MSN have also been reading my Blue Jays’ musings on THT. Of course, having a word limit (about 1000 although there is a bit of room for flexibility if the situation arises--but not much) on MSN doesn’t help.

When I wrote the first two columns on Gibbons (that inspired our first discussion) at MSN where I discussed the situation, I really couldn’t go back chapter and verse into my THT columns to bring readers of it up to speed on what had been discussed all year. So when they read column in August on MSN or September at THT discussing the Jays' offense, without knowing the background, it’s easy to say “Yeah, it’s real easy to say that in hindsight.”

In my own defense, it wasn’t hindsight at all but part of a season long evolution regarding the 2007 Blue Jays’ offense and what could or could not be done with it.

Obviously, you disagree what I wrote and did a good explanation on why you felt that way however it’s not entirely accurate that I wrote those MSN/Sept. THT columns with the benefit of hindsight. It was something that I had observed when the Jays hadn’t even played 50 games.

At any rate, if we didn’t disagree we would’ve had to come with something else to write about and I have enough trouble coming up with stuff as it is.

BTW: As I wrote back on October 5:

A Note of Gratitude

With the Toronto Blue Jays season in the books, I reflected on those folks who were a big part of my writing experience covering the Jays and would like to pass along some thanks. In no particular order: … Thanks to Mike Green and the folks at Batter's Box, who gave me a steady stream of excellent e-mails containing tremendous feedback. I got terrific information from the lineup of Jonathan Hale, Todd Devlin, Dave Rouleau and David Moro at The Jays Nest.

I’d like to pass along props to my worthy foes at Mockingbird and Maldonado Over Everything. I salute Razzer, Dr. K., Mr. Hale and mulliniks. We have differing views on what transpired during 2007, but they made their points well and gave me a cornucopia of useful data. I thoroughly enjoyed our exchanges. I have to add Tao of Stieb for their hilarious take on our debates (and I want my talcum powder back!) and of course their links were always appreciated. Same time next year, guys? … Thanks to all of you who made an 83-79 season so enjoyable!”


Hopefully, we’ll find something in ‘08 we can bat around.

Best Regards


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