Apr 11

Don’t fall prey to the RISP bogeyman

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Matt Kemp is feeling bad tonight after making an error on this play and striking out with the tying run on third in the ninth inning, but he still had a good first week.

No Dodger fan likes the team flunking with runners in scoring position. But just because it’s frustrating doesn’t mean the Dodgers should succeed all the time. It’s not as if your odds for winning the lottery increase the more you want to win.

Okay, not the greatest analogy, but it gets us headed in the right direction. Whenever a team wastes scoring opportunities, you start to see people toss around tidbits like batting average with runners in scoring position. This is a stat that gives stats a bad name.  Batting average is a stat of very limited value, and tacking it on to runners in scoring position doesn’t make it any more useful.

Batting average with RISP doesn’t take into account sacrifice flies, run-producing groundouts or walks. It doesn’t take into account the fact that often, an RISP at-bat comes against a pitcher brought in for a particular matchup to defuse that situation. It doesn’t reward you for getting a runner home from first base (or from home plate). Most of all, it give you any indication of how often a team has those situations.  Exaggerating to make a point, if the Dodgers had 30 at-bats in nine innings with RISP, succeeding in only six of them wouldn’t mean the offense was unproductive.

The idea of a clutch hitter is a dubious measurement to begin with, because clutch hitting tends to fluctuate from season to season. Looking for clutch hitting in a team is an even less useful activity. Batting average with RISP doesn’t come with enough context to have hardly any meaning.

In their first six games of the season, the Dodgers are batting .260 with RISP. That’s not going to light anyone’s pants afire, though it’s respectable. But then you see that the Dodgers have had 95 RISP plate appearances, an average of 15.8 per game – that’s more than one per inning. In those 95 plate appearances, the team has reached base 29 times while also delivering five sacrifice flies and four sacrifices – achieving the goal of an RISP at-bat at a .400 rate, even before you starting talking about productive outs.

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Even after today’s strikeout, Kemp has a .308 batting average plus a sacrifice fly with RISP and has seven RBI in six games.

Through Saturday’s games, the Dodgers were second in the National League in RISP plate appearances and second in RISP runs and RBI (before adding three more RISP runs today). Matt Kemp struck out with the tying run on third and one out in the ninth inning today in what was a bad-looking at-bat, but how much should we get on his case when, for the season, he is batting .308 with a sacrifice fly in RISP situations? How much better is he supposed to be? The Dodgers are  tied for third in the NL in runs scored – averaging 6.0 runs per game with at least five runs in every game but Wednesday’s – how much better are they supposed to be?

When you lose three one-run games on a six-game road trip, it’s natural to look at the what-might-have beens – and the Dodgers’ outs with RISP provide many. But to be fair, there is only one loss this season for which the offense can reasonably be blamed. The Dodgers might have some issues to upset their catnaps on their flight home from Florida, but RISP is just not one of them.

There are some people who decry the excess of esoteric stats that populate the game today, but my guess is that a lot of them think batting average with RISP as a good one. However, this is honestly a case where simplicity is for the best. You want to know how your offense is doing, you really are better off trashing batting average with RISP, and just looking at runs scored.

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  • More on the rarity of a knuckleballer striking out 12 batters in a game from ESPN’s TMI blog. This isn’t confirmed, but it appears Charlie Haeger came within one strikeout of tying Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough for the most by a knuckleballer in a game in at least the past 40 years.
  • The ever-awesome Vin Scully Is My Homeboy posted a great Sport Magazine cover shot of a young Maury Wills.
  • Hugh Bernreuter of the Saginaw News (via Baseball Think Factory) writes about Dodger prospect Brian Cavazos-Galvez’s lost relationship with his father, former Dodger minor leaguer Balvino Galvez. Cavazos-Galvez hasn’t let it derail him, and when he’s not playing baseball, he volunteers for Special Olympics and Challenger Little League. “My uncle (Timmy Cavazos) has Down’s Syndrome, so I have experience being around those kids,” Cavazos-Galvez said. “Other guys are kind of scared to be around those kids or don’t know how to act. I love it.”
  • Former Dodger pitcher Edwin Jackson hit his first career home run in Arizona’s team-record 13-run fourth inning. Jackson allowed four runs over seven innings and 98 pitches to get credit for a 15-6 victory.
  • Marvin Bernard admits to steroid use? Marvin Bernard? Something tells me this one won’t be analyzed to death by the pundits.
  • Top MLB prospects Steven Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman each impressed in their U.S. professional debuts, writes Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.
  • John Lindsey went 3 for 4 today, with his first homer of the year, to raise his 2010 Albuquerque on-base percentage to .632 and slugging percentage to .941.
Apr 11

Relief disbelief: Same old song with a few new lines


Keith Srakocic/AP
George Sherrill’s bad outing against Pittsburgh on Opening Day was mere prelude to Saturday’s Florida fright night.

George Sherrill should be able to get three outs before he gives up three runs. And inevitably, there was going to be a do-or-die situation this season when he would need to do that. Just as Vicente Padilla shouldn’t give up four runs on nine baserunners in 4 1/3 innings, Sherrill needs to do better if the Dodgers are going avoid trouble.

But Padilla and Sherrill’s failings are basically heat-of-the-battle failings, whereas Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton this week is the equivalent of filling the bubbles in your SAT exam with Crayola burnt orange. (Assuming they still use bubbles.)

We’ve said it before and we hate to say it again – so this is going to be brief. If you can’t afford to allow a run – as was the case when the Dodgers played extra innings in Pittsburgh on Wednesday – you use the pitcher least likely to allow a run. Only after that pitcher has been used do you turn to others. And certainly, you don’t worry about saving your best pitcher for a situation in which you can allow a run and still win.

On one level, it was coincidental that Torre’s use of Broxton this week led to us talking about his absence from Saturday’s game. It required a specific flow of events from Opening Day on. On the other hand, we do see this from Dodger managers, including Torre’s recent predecessors, all too often. If Sherrill had been used Saturday after a proper use of Broxton in previous days, people would have been talking about Sherrill overnight a lot more than Torre.

Do not save your best reliever for a save situation in an extra-inning game on the road.

  • One other oddity regarding Saturday and the bullpen: Torre told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that Ramon Troncoso, who was pitched a perfect eighth inning but was pulled after giving up a leadoff single in the ninth, “is basically a one-inning guy.” I realize that bullpen roles have changed with Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario out, but especially when he hadn’t pitched the day before and with Broxton out, since when is Troncoso a one-inning guy? The guy made his reputation with his ability to go multiple frames. Troncoso needed only seven pitches to get out of the eighth inning, then had thrown six pitches in the ninth when he came out of the game.
  • The botched squeeze in the second inning Saturday (that resulted in a bases-loaded, one-out situation imploding) was even crazier than it appeared. As many surmised, Vicente Padilla missed the suicide squeeze sign that resulted in Casey Blake getting tagged out between third and home. But from what Torre told reporters this morning, it appears that Torre himself wanted to take the squeeze off after having initially called for it – but that he gave the second sign too late for third-base coach Larry Bowa to see. So Bowa and Blake incorrectly, though understandably, thought the squeeze was still on – while Padilla, apparently, was oblivious to all of this. Torre indicated that he puts signs on and takes them off all the time.
  • Manny Ramirez had his 2,500th career hit Saturday, while Rafael Furcal had his 1,500th. Furcal has a .480 on-base percentage this season and is tied for the major-league lead in doubles.
  • Ian Kennedy is the scheduled starter for Arizona against Clayton Kershaw in Tuesday’s home opener, followed by Rodrigo Lopez against Chad Billingsley on Wednesday and Dan Haren against Hiroki Kuroda on Thursday.
  • LeeAnn Rimes will sing the national anthem Tuesday.
  • Josh Lindblom was hit hard in his first 2010 start for Albuquerque – needing 77 pitches to get through three innings that saw him give up eight hits, two walks and three runs while striking out one.
  • John Lindsey, the 33-year-old minor-league lifer still looking for his first major-league action, is 7 for 13 with three doubles in his first three games for the Isotopes. Lindsey would need a few injuries to right-handed hitting Dodgers before he’d have a shot at a cup of coffee.
  • James Adkins, a 2007 first-round pick, allowed five runs in three innings of relief in his first 2010 outing for AA Chattanooga.
  • Ethan Martin’s Inland Empire season debut was a different story: five innings, no runs, three singles, no walks, one hit batter, nine strikeouts.
  • Allen Webster allowed one run over five innings (six baserunners, four strikeouts) in his ’10 Great Lakes debut.
  • Dixie Walker, the Brooklyn Dodger long remembered for starting a petition against Jackie Robinson joining the team, is revisited today by Harvey Araton of the New York Times (via Inside the Dodgers). The article’s main point seems to be that Walker was remorseful and not the racist he’s been accused of being:

    … Though (Maury) Allen and Susan Walker suggest in the book that her father did not initiate the anti-Robinson petition, Roger Kahn, in his 2002 book, “The Era,” wrote that Walker told him in 1976 that he had.

    Kahn quoted Walker saying: “I organized that petition in 1947, not because I had anything against Robinson personally or against Negroes generally. I had a wholesale business in Birmingham and people told me I’d lose my business if I played ball with a black man.”

    In a telephone interview, Kahn said his conversation with Walker took place when Walker was the hitting coach for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

    “He invited me out for a glass of wine — somewhat shocking in that Budweiser world,” Kahn said. “We talked for a while, and then he got to the point: the petition and his letter to Rickey. He called it the stupidest thing he’d ever done and if I ever had a chance to please write that he was very sorry.”

    Calling the Walker he met “a lovely, courtly man,” Kahn said that the assumption should not be made that all early opposition to Robinson was based on core discrimination and not confusion or fear.

    “Ballplayers depended on off-season work back then,” he said. “When I was covering the Dodgers, Gil Hodges sold Buicks on Flatbush Avenue. Now, if you’re Derek Jeter and you have a wholesale hardware business, you can say, ‘So what?’ ”

    Rachel Robinson’s response in the same article: “If you’re asking about forgiveness based on the context of the time, I can’t say I worry about the view of them at this time. Maybe they learned better or changed, but at the time, they had a chance to move forward from segregation and chose the opposite. They had an impact.”