Dave’s Free Play, Thursday 7/31/14

  • July 31, 2014

This will be redundant for long time readers of this blog. But there are now lots of newcomers, thanks to the blog being reprinted elsewhere. That means I get to rant to some new eyes on what is clearly my biggest pet peeve with baseball. Simply stated, I don’t think any of the other major sports are even remotely close to baseball when it comes it incompetent coaches/managers.

This is not a spontaneous combustion reaction to something I just saw. It’s a constant, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s because baseball managers, unlike their counterparts in the other sports, have a really tough time embracing change. It’s essentially the complete opposite of the NFL, as an example, a league where staffs are constantly trying to find something new and innovative that might work. In baseball, most of these skippers would like to play the game out just as it was generations ago. That’s not smart to begin with, but when adding in the complete ignorance so many of these guys display when it comes to factual data, there’s no other conclusion to reach.

Here’s the latest example, courtesy of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Situation is two on and none out, down 3-1 in the top of the seventh inning. Lefty hitting Sam Fuld is at the plate against hard throwing Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera. There is no doubt in my mind, and I mean absolutely none, that Gardenhire will do the wrong thing, which is order the sacrifice bunt. He did, the Twins gave away one of their three outs in the process, and predictably, got nothing out of it as Hererra blew away the next two hitters.

The sac bunt is, in most instances, very poor strategy. It’s beneficial in terms of increasing percentage of success, only when trying to score exactly one run. In virtually every other scenario, a successful sacrifice bunt reduces the chances of scoring, and also winning. This is not an opinion, it’s documented fact based on research going back decades.

In this instance, it was even worse than usual. In fact, it was downright awful strategy. Fuld has hit better than .300 with men on base this season, and oh by the way, he has hit into ZERO double plays in more than 200 plate appearances. So he’s actually an ideal guy to have up in this situation. Instead, Gardenhire basically takes the bat out of his hands and hands the Royals a free out. Also note that the next two hitters are righties, and Herrera is considerably tougher on righties. Plus, the Twins are down two runs, so even getting the game even is no guarantee of winning, particularly with Wade Davis and Greg Holland set to pitch the eighth and ninth for the Royals.

It’s just stunning to me that this same scenario unfolds nearly every night in baseball. I don’t know how else to describe this other than to say that there are an alarming number of managers who actually reduce their team’s chances of winning on a regular basis. If I were the GM of a team and out to hire a skipper, the first question I’d ask him is what his feelings are on advanced sabremetrics and their usage on a regular basis. If the candidate is reluctant to embrace these findings, he’s the wrong man for the job.

There’s also no doubt in my mind that say, 20 years from now, the sac bunt will have become a rarity, to be used only in specific situations where it might actually be beneficial. But for now, we remain stuck with a bevy of these old school diehards who in reality, are pretty clueless in terms of proper strategy.

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2-1, +1.35 on Wednesday, so the good results continue. The last two months have been rock solid, and no reason to think that changes moving forward.

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Loser with the Twins as the Wednesday free play, which was my only bad result on the day. The preceding rant notwithstanding, the Twins absolutely deserved to lose this game. In addition to the moronic strategy, they also had three runners eliminated on the bases, so they played a bad game, which means it was a bad play. Let’s try to to better tonight.

07/31 04:05 PM  MLB  (905) PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES  at  (906) WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Take: (906) WASHINGTON NATIONALS -150

I think this might be the biggest chalk piece I’ve used all season as a free play. I’m not a fan of heavy favorites as a rule. But I’m having a tough time ignoring this one.

This is primarily anti-Phillies and I think maybe sadly, anti-Cliff Lee. As for the Phillies, they’re flat out horrible. The team is old and decrepit and I’m not sure how much they care right now. Of course, if the right Cliff Lee shows up tonight, that goes straight out the window. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee many appearances by the right Cliff Lee moving forward this season.

I think Lee is still hurt. He went on the DL with what was called an elbow strain. I am not an expert on injuries. But those who are all say the same thing. An elbow strain is an elbow tear. What I do know is that the Lee we’re seeing right now is not the guy we’re used to seeing. He’s had two starts since coming off the DL, and neither was good. He also struggled in two rehab appearances before rejoining the parent club. His velocity is down, his command has been spotty with too many pitches cutting dead center, and he really looks like a shell of the outstanding pitcher we’ve enjoyed for many years. There is reportedly zero interest from contenders in trading for Lee, and that speaks volumes about where he’s perceived to be right now.

I think Lee is damaged goods right now, and apparently so do the guys who make the lines. Sure, there’s no doubt the Nationals re better than the Phillies. But a healthy Cliff Lee getting priced like this? I’d be all over it as a rule. Instead, I’m thinking the price isn’t high enough.

Gio Gonzalez should need no more than a quality start to be positioned to win tonight. Maybe Lee can uses his savvy and guile to gut out a showing that gives the Phillies a shot at the upset, but I just don’t see it.  The Nats can be very tough on lefties as it is, and the Phillies attack isn’t really daunting against anyone at this point. Big price to be sure, but the Nationals look to be likely winners.

Update: As this number has risen considerably this morning, I would recommend splitting half unit money line and the other half runs line. Thus, creating a -1 line.