An advanced metric to help managers when making defensive positional decisions.
Last week the New York Yankees handed the Oakland A’s a 22-8 beatdown. In the 9th inning, Yankee manager Joe Girardi took the opportunity to insert longtime catcher and current DH Jorge Posada into the lineup. Yet he didn’t have him catch. He didn’t have him DH. No, he had him play second base, a position he had not played since he was in single-A ball in 1991.
In a 22-8 game it is really inconsequential where Posada plays. After all, what are the odds that Posada would be involved in a play in the 9th inning anyway? Not good right? Wrong.
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Posada was hit a ground ball and make the third and final out of the inning. As you can see above, Posada made things interesting by firing an errant throw only to be saved by first baseman Nick Swisher.
Of course it was interesting. Why? Because the Baseball Gods see it fit to always make things interesting when a manager plays a player out of position.
Who are the Baseball Gods you ask?
From former Blue Jay Dirk Hayhurst’s book The Bullpen Gospels:
Supposedly mystical beings who watch over the games and act as the ultimate judges of on-field karma. The Baseball Gods will humble players who get too confident, exalt players who struggle, and embarrass players who think they’re cooler than they are. Essentially, all the unexplainable, ironic, and coincidental stuff that happens in a game can be blamed on the Baseball Gods.
In addition, they will also mess with a manager who is too clever for his own good.
Another good example took place in Boston late in the 2009 season. Journeyman player Kevin Millar was playing his baseball-career swan song and the Jays travelled to Fenway for the final road trip of the season. Fenway was where Millar had the best moments of his career and where he had his most rabid fan base. This would be an opportunity for his most loyal fans to give Millar the send-off that he may or may not have deserved.
Enter Cito Gaston.
In Cito’s quest to ensure all of his veteran players had maximized their own personal market value heading into free-agency, Gaston elected to start Kevin Millar at third base. Millar had not played third base since 2002 with the Marlins. No matter. Although he was able to field plays cleanly enough in the early going, Kevin Millar’s greatest test was about to come.
With a runner on first with David Ortiz at bat, the Blue Jays employed the popular defensive alignment known as the shift to combat Ortiz’ pull-hitting tendencies. In this particular defensive alignment, the third baseman moves to the shortstop position. Yes, that’s right. Kevin Millar was playing shortstop. Of course, the Baseball Gods couldn’t stay away from this particular moment. Check out the 2nd double play:
Ortiz hit a grounder to 2nd base, the ball was flipped to Millar…. and Kevin was forced to turn two. Millar skied over a sliding Kevin Youkilis and made the throw to first to get the runner.
The Baseball Gods can bring you down and they can surely bring you up. Kevin Millar had no business making that play.
Then there’s the instance of the Waxahachie Swap. The Swap is a move where the manager will send his relief pitcher to right field (or wherever) for one batter, then brings him back to the mound to face another hitter.
Brad Mills did this for the Houston Astros a few weeks ago:
In this case, the left-hander Wesley Wright was summoned to start the bottom of the eighth inning against lefty-hitting Carlos Gonzalez. After retiring CarGo, Wright went to right field, Mills called upon right-hander David Carpenter, who retired righty-hitting Troy Tulowitzki … after which Wright returned to the mound to face lefty-hitting Todd Helton. He got him, too. So Mills’ highly unorthodox tactics worked perfectly.
The Waxahachie Swap has been employed 21 times between 1950 and 2011. How come it isn’t used more often? Rob Neyer believes it’s because most of the time, a manager’s fear of doing something unorthodox and looking foolish overpowers momentary tactical considerations. My guess? It’s because as soon as you place a pitcher in the outfield, the Baseball Gods will ensure that the next hit will be to that pitcher. That’s why we’ve come up with a stat to help managers in their decision making. It’s called The Baseball God Factor (BGF).
When a manager plays a player out of position, the probability that the player playing out of position will be involved in a play within the next 3 outs.
It is calculated as follows:
1/9 (the probability the ball will be hit to one of the 9 defensive positions) * 3 (the number of outs in an inning) * a league-specific factor to round out the number into a more palatable and accurate percentage for managers to interpret. For our purposes, the factor will be 2.95 for the AL and 2.91 for the NL.
For the AL:
(1/9) * 3 * 2.95 = 98.3%
For the NL:
(1/9) * 3 * 2.91 = 97%
In conclusion, if a manager is to play a player out of position, it is 98.3% likely that that player will be forced to make a play within the first 3 outs of that inning, and 97% for the NL. So, if you are going to stick a pitcher in the outfield, you’d better make sure it’s Roy Oswalt.
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