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Today, we're launching a new feature here at Batter's Box: the Pinch-Hit Game Report. We recognized that we have some of the smartest baseball fans on the Net frequenting our site, so we decided to invite some of those readers to show off their analytical and writing abilities by occasionally producing a post-Game Report.

Today's account comes to you courtesy of Box regular Elijah, who explores John Gibbons' ninth-inning managerial decisions in the context of a poker game. If you'd like to try your hand at a Pinch-Hit Game Report, write us and we'll add your name to the list of potential contributors. If you haven't posted to Da Box regularly, we may ask you for a writing sample.

Thanks, and take it away, Elijah!


Now I know why sportswriters sometimes hate writing game recaps. After eight innings, I was prepared to not really say much about the game. Roger Clemens was great – on the mound, with the leather and with the lumber. Gustavo Chacin struggled, but battled his way through. The Blue Jays still are scuffling offensively and the team has dropped to .500.

Earlier on Saturday, I wrote a lengthy analysis about whether the Astros should trade Clemens and exploring trade possibilities for a number of potential dancing partners. I was about 80% done and was all set to use it. Then the ninth inning happened.

For those who missed the game: the Jays trailed 3-1 going into the ninth inning. As soon as Astros closer Brad Lidge came in, Pat Tabler mentioned on RSN that it will be interesting to see how he fares on his fourth straight day of work. Shea Hillenbrand (NFH OBP-O'Meter: .367) and Eric Hinske both went after first pitches, resulting in two balls hit to the wall and a run. After an ugly Ken Huckaby bunt that moved Hinske to second and a passed ball on a cross-up pushed Hinske to third, Alex Rios singled in the tying run. The Jays notched four base hits off Lidge in the ninth after mustering only three altogether in the first eight innings.

Then came the bottom of the ninth. I looked at my scorebook and noted the Astros had the following batters due up: Willy Taveras, Chris Burke, Craig Biggio. Three righties. So I thought Gibbons might bring in Justin Speier or even Miguel Batista. I was wrong. And for one of the few times this year, I openly questioned what Gibbons was doing.

Many managerial decisions can be argued either way. But I just can't see it in this case. The Astros had burned their only two lefties on the bench in Orlando Palmeiro and Mike Lamb. Yet in comes Scott Schoeneweis. I know that when the Blue Jays signed him, J.P. Ricciardi said that he was not going to be used strictly as a lefty specialist. A heckuva time for John Gibbons to prove Ricciardi right.

After Schoeneweis retired Taveras on a grounder, Burke lined a sharp hit to right and stole second with the count 2-0 to Biggio. Then some confusion. According to Jamie Campbell and Tabler, Gibbons gestured out towards the outfield making an apparent pitching change. That doesn't make sense. Why do it with a 2-0 count, especially if you're going to put Biggio aboard anyway?

So Schoeneweis walks Biggio and Gibbons summons Batista. Berkman flies out to center, but Batista falls behind Ensberg 3-0. I can't imagine any semi-knowledgeable baseball fan in the stadium, watching on TV or listening on the radio, thinking that Ensberg would not have a green light. He promptly hammered a center-cut fastball into Landry's Landing in left for a walkoff three-run homer. Houston 6, Toronto 3.

Reading over game threads and chats, not just for the Blue Jays but for fans of other teams, many are quick to direct their blame to a manager for costing his team the ballgame. I’m always hesitant to do that, for a couple of reasons. First, the players still have to make the plays. But a manager must put his team in the best situation to win that particular game, within the context of the season or a playoff series.

Second, managerial decisions do not exist in a vacuum. For example, suppose that with one out and a runner on first, there’s a single to right. The baserunner tries to take third, but is thrown out. The next batter then singles as well. One of my pet peeves is that an announcer might then say, “If he didn’t get thrown out, the run would’ve scored.” Right. And if my aunt were a guy, she'd be my uncle.

Fans and announcers tend to assume that intervening events don’t affect subsequent events. Maybe a pitcher would have worked the batter differently – more aggressively, more carefully, whatever. Maybe the hitter would have tensed up, knowing that he needed to drive in a run. One just doesn’t know with any degree of certainty.

I know there are a number of lawyers in the Box, so I'll use a term that they're familiar with: is there a superseding cause that absolves the manager of a poor decision?

In this case, I would argue that Gibbons’ decision to bring in Schoeneweis had very little, if any, justification. Speier wasn't tired – he hasn't pitched since throwing a shutout inning in Oakland last Sunday. As far as I know, he isn’t hurt. He’s been effective lately: since the start of May, Speier’s numbers are 10 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K. And he’s a right-hander who’d be facing an all-righty lineup except for the switch-hitting Berkman.

Looking at his 2005 splits (sample size, shmample size), Schoeneweis has thrown 7 2/3 innings against righties and has allowed 11 hits and six walks for a WHIP of 2.22 and a batting-average-against of .333. But Gibbons made an atrocious (and that is a strong word, I know) decision ab initio. The fact that Schoeneweis didn’t do his job is not a superseding cause, because Gibbons failed to use him in optimal circumstances when he had perfectly viable alternatives. Batista could have come in to start the ninth. Don't want to use your closer in a tie game on the road? No worries: bring in Speier.

While I quit playing poker (because I stunk at it), I see managing a baseball game to be similar in this respect. When players are busted out in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, if they go all-in with the odds in their favour, they may suffer a bad beat. But it’s one they can live with, because they know that most of the time, they’ll come out ahead. Over the long term, that's exactly what happens, and it's the reason those professional poker players all live in large houses in Las Vegas.

Gibbons basically called the Astros with a poor hand. Instead of “folding” (i.e., bringing in Speier or Batista) right away, he called before the flop. Sure, he may get lucky once in awhile, but he wasn't maximizing the play of his hand. The Astros called. Once Gibbons had money in the pot, it became very hard to get away from the hand. So even though he eventually “folded” by bringing in Batista, it was too late because he already lost money after making a poor call.

Like poker, managers may make decisions based on their gut. But if you ask the best poker players in the world, they make decisions based on gut feelings very infrequently. What appear to be gut decisions are based on years of experience of knowing the odds, as well as reading opponents and their tells. All these things factor into a poker player’s decision on whether to call, raise or fold.

Perhaps Gibbons made a decision based on his gut. (I’m writing this before reading any interviews with Gibbons, in which he will undoubtedly be asked about his decision to call on Schoeneweis.) I can't think of any other logical reason why he brought in Schoeneweis instead of Speier or Batista.

Personally, I believe in-game decisions should be evaluated before the result, rather than afterwards. This is my opinion, and I may be in the minority here. Just because a manager pinch-hits Deivi Cruz for Barry Bonds with the bases loaded in a tie game in the ninth and Cruz singles doesn't mean it was the right decision when made. Just because Montgomery Burns pinch-hits Homer Simpson for Darryl Strawberry and the winning run scores when Homer is conked in the head doesn't mean it was the right decision when it was made.

And so while I normally hesitate to solely blame the manager for any loss, I will do it here. Sure, Schoeneweis could have retired the side in order. But he shouldn’t even have been brought into the game at that point. I think most Batter's Box readers agree this was a bad decision, especially because the end result was a loss.

I guess the nearly-completed Roger Clemens treatise now goes into the eternal wasteland of cyberspace, since the Jays will not face Clemens again this year. But I will leave readers and posters with this open-ended question: should in-game managerial decisions be evaluated based on the information at the beginning or based on the end result, and why?

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The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
BallGuy - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 08:56 AM EDT (#119426) #
Just to make the bullpen situation a little more interesting...

According to the Jays' official website, Vinnie Chulk will start Wednesday's game vs St. Louis. Maybe I don't visit this site enough but I haven't heard his name mentioned before as a possible starter. Does this mean he would be replacing Lilly? Anyone have any idea who will pitch Tuesday? I know Doc goes Monday.
VBF - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 09:49 AM EDT (#119427) #
I'm not going to criticize this move anymore than everyone already has. I'm just dumbfounded as to why. I just can't see any professional manager ever making this move. What was Gibbons' train of thought?

Like Chuck mentioned in the replay thread, it was a lesson learned. A difficult lesson albeit, but in the long term, we won't see this again. One poor call won't change my opinion of John Gibbons.
CeeBee - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 11:08 AM EDT (#119428) #
While I'm dumbfounded by the move as well I'll also give the "rookie" manager the benefit of the doubt. And maybe, just maybe he had a reason that none of us know about? I'll be interested to hear his comments on using SS if he chooses to make a comment that is.
Brett - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 11:21 AM EDT (#119429) #
What a joy it was to watch Chacin pitch after the Lilly debacle on Friday. Gustavo struggled, but took advantage of a pathetic Houston lineup and pitched a good game. Clemens, of course, was fantastic. This was a fun game until the bullpens got involved.

Gibbons definitely had a voodoo game. The Zaun ejection was a bad break, but they really need to have an alternative to Ken Huckaby batting in the 9th, especially when Lidge is throwing batting practice. Surely Shea Hillenbrand can catch in an emergency; he looks like a catcher. The bottom of the 9th was a misadventure for everyone involved, to say the least.

I wonder if Menechino and Schoeneweis are being given a chance to save their jobs, which have perhaps been jeopardized by the arrivals of Hill and Downs. I won't be surprised if there's a shakeup soon.
Thomas - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 11:29 AM EDT (#119430) #
Gaudin gets the call Tuesday against Carpenter.

Very interesting move if they are going to have Chulk start instead of Walker, Downs or Bush. Assuming they are moving Lilly to the pen, Downs could be demoted for Bush as they would still have two lefties there.
Stellers Jay - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 11:40 AM EDT (#119431) #
Why on earth would they start Chulk on Wednesday? That move makes zero sense as he couldn't reasonably be expected to pitch more than 3 or 4 innings and they would be taking him out of a role that he has had success in. I can name 5 players that are all eligable to start on Wednesday that would give them a better chance of winning the game. Walker or Downs would be the immediate choices and either would make a lot of sense. Walker has probably earned the right to start a few games. If they removed Downs from the roster either Bush or Rosario would make suitable choices as well. Hell Ted Lilly starting again would give the Jays a better chance of winning than Chulk starting on Wednesday.
Mike Green - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 12:16 PM EDT (#119433) #
It's funny. I had vague thoughts that the Jays might at some point try Chulk, who was a starter in the minors, in the rotation. It's a gutty move.
Coach - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 12:42 PM EDT (#119434) #

Great report, Elijah. Please, share your thoughts on Mr. Clemens with us.

One poor call won't change my opinion of John Gibbons.

Gibby did have a rare brain cramp, walking out to make a change in the middle of an at-bat. Not the finest inning for the skip, who usually pushes the right buttons. We shouldn't forget, no matter how much we may want it to be scientific, that bullpen management is an imprecise art. Unlike playing cards, where you should never defy the percentages, human egos and aches affect decision-making. Speier may also not be 100% -- in my ideal world, Justin would have finished up for Lilly on Friday night so Pete Walker could have entered the tie game yesterday and shut them down until the good guys scratched out a run.

Speaking of Gibbons, Bob Elliott had a relaxed conversation with the Texan who would have been the Rocket's batterymate in college had he not turned pro:

"In the off-season, I'd come home and go see my buddies at their frat house in Austin. I'd think: 'I gave up all this fun to to ride a bus?'"

Now he's travelling first class, but Gibby will be the first to admit this long road trip hasn't been much fun. My expectations aren't too high today as his tired, frustrated ballclub takes on another great pitcher. I'm already looking forward to Doc making a "welcome home" statement tomorrow night. He may not win every battle with Pujols and Walker, but all of them will be exciting.

Why not try Chulk in the rotation? He had good stamina in the minors and his stuff has improved since then, so it's worth seeing if his big-league experience will help him stretch back out at this level. If it doesn't work out, Vinny will be more accepting than ever of his setup role. Really, if the decision has been made to send a message to Lilly and pitch "Charlie Wholestaff" on Wednesday, it hardly matters who gets the ball first.

Magpie - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 01:23 PM EDT (#119436) #
Good work, Elijah. Ya know they're really, really overworking me here...

Many managerial decisions can be argued either way.

Absolutely - as a rule, even when I don't agree with a manager's decision, I can usually figure out what he's thinking. But I have a hard time with this one, unless a:) Speier was throwing up (not baseballs!) in the bullpen, or b:) slave to the save; c) completely disrespecting the Houston lineup. Which is sort of reasonable, it's a pathetic lineup. The worst hitting club in the major leagues.

But still, it was the top of the order. If you want to take a chance with Schoeneweis against RH hitters, how about the 7-8-9 hitters? Not 1-2-3.

James W - Sunday, June 12 2005 @ 03:31 PM EDT (#119440) #
To clear up the "confusion" about Gibbons pointing to the outfield. Arnsberg visited the mound after Burke's hit, and then when Burke stole second, Gibbons attempted to visit the mound. However, Schoeneweis is required to face a batter after a mound visit, so Gibbons was not allowed to remove the lefty.
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