Power and Patience: Part I of a Study

This post now appears at the Fangraphs Community Blog, here.


Grand Slam on a 3-0 Count

Since 1993, twelve players have come to bat with the bases loaded and worked the count to three balls and no strikes before proceeding to hit a home run on the next pitch. Eleven of them occurred in the regular season. Below are recaps in order of increasing WPA.

If you want to see the inspiration for this post as well as an excellent analysis of bases loaded, 3-0 situations in general, see: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/jake-peavy-and-having-to-throw-a-strike/

August 29, 2006: Jason Lane of Houston vs. Danny Kolb of Milwaukee. The bottom of the eighth began in a 3-3 tie, but by the time Lane came to bat, Houston had taken a 6-3 lead. Lane’s grand slam was worth just 0.01 WPA.

October 4, 2005: Reggie Sanders of St. Louis vs. Jake Peavy of San Diego. The only postseason grand slam on 3-0 came in Game 1 of the 2005 NLDS but was only worth 0.04 WPA. Already trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth, Peavy had just walked Larry Walker on five pitches, loading the bases for Sanders, who took three more balls before launching the fourth pitch of his AB over the fence. The Cardinals’ win expectancy went from 95% to 99%. Peavy was immediately removed from the game and the Cardinals held on to their 8-0 lead, winning 9-5.

Also, this post was inspired by an article inspired by Jake Peavy pitching with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count in the playoffs, and Jake Peavy is the only player to ever allow a home run pitching with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count in the playoffs.

May 22, 2013: Evan Gattis of Atlanta vs. Vance Worley of Minnesota. This play was only worth 0.06 WPA. The Braves already led the Twins 4-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning when Gattis did this:

May 10, 1997: Juan Gonzalez of Texas vs. Heathcliff Slocumb of Boston. A one-run lead in the ninth inning is already valuable, so this home run, one of three of its kind to occur on the road, was worth 0.06 WPA as it increased the Texas lead to 10-5.

If you’re ever having a bad day, consider this: Slocumb’s appearance here began at the start of the inning in a tie game, and went double-wild pitch-walk-walk-E1 before the grand slam, after which he was removed from the game.

Also, if you ever needed more validation that Juan Gonzalez was a free swinger, look no further. I’d love to see footage of this one, because I kind of hope the pitch wasn’t even in the strike zone.

April 10, 1998: Mike Piazza of Los Angeles vs. Mike Magnante of Houston. The Dodgers led 3-2 to begin the bottom of the eighth. Magnante allowed a leadoff single, and after a sacrifice bunt, got the next batter out as well. But then he walked Eric Young and allowed an infield single to Todd Hollandsworth, which brought Piazza to the plate. The ensuing grand slam on 3-0 clinched the game and was worth 0.11 WPA.

April 2, 2002: Damian Miller of Arizona vs. Brian Tollberg of San Diego. Tollberg’s first start of the 2002 season went poorly. He escaped a 1st-and-3rd with one out situation in the first inning, but Steve Finley homered to lead off the second. The next three hitters all singled, the last of whom was Curt Schilling on a bunt (presumably a failed sacrifice, but I couldn’t tell you how that happened without an error), so it was still just 1-0. But Tony Womack then hit a sacrifice fly, and Danny Bautista walked on four pitches. Luis Gonzalez hit an RBI groundout in an 0-1 count before Mark Grace walked on five pitches, which brought Miller to the plate. When the 3-0 pitch left Tollberg’s hand, Arizona already had an 82% chance of winning the game. When the ball left Miller’s bat and finally landed, their odds were 96%, and they coasted to a 9-0 win.

Tollberg’s final line: 2.2 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, 0 SO, 2 HR. Meanwhile, the San Diego bullpen’s final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 SO. (Maybe Bruce Bochy should have gone to them sooner.)

It was Tollberg’s penultimate season. In 72 innings between 2002 and 2003, he allowed 97 hits, 12 home runs and 23 walks with just 35 strikeouts.

September 1, 2000: Jermaine Dye of Kansas City vs. Ryan Rupe of Tampa Bay. South Park fans might be interested to know that apparently there was once an MLB umpire named Randy Marsh. He had third base for this game, which was scoreless through three innings. Johnny Damon, Rey Sanchez, and Mike Sweeney all singled to start the fourth, but no one had yet scored. Ball one to Dye was just actually Rupe’s fifth pitch of the inning, as Damon singled in a 1-1 count, and Sanchez and Sweeney on the first pitch. Three pitches later, however, the score was 4-0, and Dye had himself 0.18 WPA. Rupe escaped the rest of the inning unscathed. Score one for the homers-kill-rallies club! (You might even say this rally Dyed.)

May 22, 1999: John Valentin of Boston vs. the Chris Carpenter, then of Toronto. Here we have our first go-ahead slam of the series. It was the bottom of the third in a 1-0 game and worth 0.19 WPA, but still.

This was a swing-happy inning. In the span of just three pitches, Darren Lewis reached on a Homer Bush E-6, Trot Nixon singled, and the immortal Jose Offerman reached on a bunt single. Apparently tired of throwing strikes if the Red Sox were just going to put the ball in play every time, Carpenter allowed the count to Valentin to reach 3-0. But not one to take a strike himself, Valentin instead took the next pitch to deep left-center.

Boston scored one more run in the inning and hung on to win 6-4.

June 26, 2010: Hideki Matsui of the LA Angels vs. Aaron Cook of Colorado. Cook’s day ended with 7.2 scoreless innings, but he lost this game in the first 5 batters. Howie Kendrick grounded out on a 1-1 pitch, Keith Frandsen singled on 1-1, Bobby Abreu got to 2-1 before reaching when 3B Ian Stewart threw away a double play ball, and Torii Hunter’s bloop single on 1-2 loaded the bases for Matsui, who was sitting on 149 career home runs. When the count reached 3-0, Cook grooved an 88 mph pitch that Matsui sent back to center field, where it cleared the fence by inches. (At about the 23 second mark here.) This homer was worth 0.22 WPA. Despite scoring no more runs the rest of the game and having Joe Saunders on the mound, the Angels would win, 4-2.

July 2, 2013: Alex Gordon of Kansas City vs. Corey Kluber of Cleveland. The 2013 season was the first ever, it seems, with two grand slams in a 3-0 count. Gordon’s was a big one, tying the game 4-4 in the fifth inning.

Here’s some footage:

And here’s some background: Kluber dispatched the Royals mostly with ease through four innings and was staked to a 4-0 lead. Mike Moustakas led off the fifth with a bloop single on 0-1 and David Lough hit a line drive single on 1-2 before Johnny Giavotella walked (on five pitches) to load the bases. The BABIP gods made up for the Moustakas bloop when Jarrod Dyson’s liner to left on a 1-0 pitch was tracked down. Then Gordon came up and worked it to 3-0. Kluber threw him a 93 mph fastball down the middle and Gordon sent it out to tie the game.

The play was worth 0.32 WPA, which made it the highest-WPA offensive play of the day, but a 2-run seventh for Cleveland got them the lead back, and they hung on to win 6-5. Thus Alex Gordon became the first player ever to hit a grand slam on a 3-0 count and still have his team lose the game. These are the Royals, after all.

August 20, 1993: Mike Aldrete of Oakland vs. John Doherty of Detroit. A two-run double by Cecil Fielder in the bottom of the third had given Doherty and Detroit a 2-0 lead to enter the fourth inning. Jerry Browne led off with a double on a 1-1 count and Ruben Sierra grounded out in a 1-2 count.

Then Doherty lost his control. Troy Neele walked on five pitches. Brent Gates singled on a 2-0 pitch, but Brown did not score. Then Aldrete worked the count to 3-0.

Nine of Doherty’s last 11 pitches had missed the strike zone. Aldrete had a career 12.6 BB% mark but just 41 career home runs (17 of them prior to the 1993 season). Yet he swung at the next pitch and knocked it out of the park to give Oakland a 4-0 lead, producing 0.32 WPA.

Oakland scored another run in the fourth and eventually built the lead to 7-2 before hanging on to win 7-6 after a four-run ninth for Detroit. (It was not the finest of Dennis Eckersley’s 390 career saves as he allowed 3/3 inherited runners plus one of his own to score.)

And now for the most important grand slam on a 3-0 pitch ever. You might have heard of the player who hit it.

May 17, 1996: Manny Ramirez of Cleveland vs. Gil Heredia of Texas.

Cleveland’s lineup this day included a plethora of great hitters, but none were Manny Ramirez. Instead they started Lofton, Franco, Baerga, Belle, Murray, Thome, Burnitz, S. Alomar and Vizquel. (Not one of them had a bad career!) The lineup performed as expected, scoring 5 runs in the first 6 innings. Unfortunately, pitcher Orel Hershiser had not performed as expected, allowing 7 runs in 3 innings. Through 6-½ innings, the score was Texas 10, Cleveland 5.

Ramirez actually entered the game in the sixth inning, pinch hitting for Burnitz after a Murray home run and Thome backwards-K. Ramirez popped out, the inning ended a batter later, and Texas took the run back in the top of the seventh on a Kevin Elster homer. Elster was batting ninth, and he was a shortstop and career .228/.300/.377 hitter. But in this game, he was now 4-for-4 with two doubles and two home runs. He surely would have been the hero of the game had the next half-inning not occurred.

In the bottom of the seventh, the combination of Dennis Cook, Jeff Russell, and Ed Vosberg allowed four singles, a walk, and two runs to seven hitters. Vosberg was a lefty whose only objective for the day was to retire the left-handed Thome. It was Vosberg who had issued the walk, which loaded the bases.

Now Ramirez, not yet 24 years of age, came to the plate for his second at-bat, and Texas manager Johnny Oates sent in the 27-year-old Heredia to protect the 10-7 lead with two outs in the seventh and the go-ahead run at the plate. When the inning had begun, Texas had a 95% win expectancy. Now they were at 81%–still heavy favorites.

Entering the 1996 season, Heredia had only allowed walks to 5.4% of the batters he had faced in his career, while Ramirez had walked in 12.4% of his plate appearances. So when the count reached 3-0, something had to give. Presumably, Heredia was looking to throw a strike. Presumably, he did.

But Ramirez lined it into deep left center field. It cleared the fence. In rapid succession, Texas saw its lead shrink to 10-8, then 10-9, then disappear altogether. When Ramirez crossed home plate, Cleveland now led 11-10 and had a 74% win expectancy. Ramirez had contributed 0.55 WPA on one swing.

Cleveland added another run in the eight inning and Jose Mesa came on in the ninth to protect a 12-10 lead. Dean Palmer struck out. Warren Newson doubled. And Mark McLemore walked.

The tying run came to the plate. It was Kevin Elster. He could still be the hero after all.

Elster took the first three pitches and only one of them was a strike. He then fouled off the 2-1 pitch. On 2-2, he went with a pitch to line it into right field. Deep right field. Where it was caught. By Manny Ramirez.

Newson advanced to third on the play, but Mesa got Darryl Hamilton to fly out to left to end the game with Ivan Rodriguez on deck.

FOTF: Ryan Zimmerman and Tom Verducci

The Nationals have signed Ryan Zimmerman to two contracts since his rookie deal in 2005. Before the 2009 season, Zimmerman signed a 5-year, $45-million contract. Only three years later, in 2012, Zimmerman signed a 6-year, $100-million extension that runs through 2019.

In 2009, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated took on the deal after it was signed, and in 2012 he wrote about it just before an actual deal came together. In both cases, he criticized the Nationals and, by extension, Zimmerman. In both cases, he was wrong in a myriad of ways, but mostly in a narrative he just couldn’t let go.

In the first case, Verducci compared Zimmerman to Edwin Encarnacion, whose new deal at the time was $7.6 million for two years. Encarnacion has hit 78 home runs with a .923 OPS for the Blue Jays in the last two seasons, but in 2009, he was coming off a career year in 2008 in which his OPS was .807. Additionally, his defense at third base was bad enough to earn him the moniker “E-5.”

Verducci’s analysis began poorly:

  • “They were born a year apart.” True, in that Encarnacion was born in 1983 and Zimmerman in 1984. But the former was born on January 7 and the latter on September 28, so you’re really talking nearly two years. And note that Verducci’s language leaves the identity of the younger player, which is Zimmerman, ambiguous.
  • “Both are third basemen.” True, but how well did they play their position? Zimmerman’s defensive reputation (at the time) was already sterling, and the numbers backed it up. Meanwhile, Encarnacion had the aforementioned nickname and a career 74 errors and negative-37 DRS. Even now, Zimmerman at least still plays at third base, while Encarnacion doesn’t even see the field most days now, mostly playing as the designated hitter.
Verducci then pointed to their similar stat lines on offense, as if his age and position points held water, which they didn’t.
Verducci’s theory at the time was that the Nationals were “trying to gain some traction” who needed a “face of the franchise.” It’s a sort of pet theory of his, as he came back to it three years later.
Verducci’s conclusion here ended up hilarious in hindsight, as he noted that Zimmerman’s “OPS+ [had] declined three straight years since his 20-game cameo in 2005.” In 2009, Zimmerman would hit .292/.364/.525, make the All Star Game, and post 7.3 WAR, while Encarnacion was traded to Toronto at the deadline having played 43 games and hitting .209/.333/.374 with a negative WAR. It took two more years before comparisons between the two players stopped being laughable. I don’t think we can give Verducci too much credit.
Forward to 2012, and Verducci would still be on about Zimmerman’s “perceived value as a ‘franchise player'” while arguing against an extension, pointing to Zimmerman’s durability (actually a good point!) and comparing him unfavorably to David Wright and Eric Chavez before returning once again to the idea of the “face of the franchise.”
Where Verducci went really wrong this time, however, was in his estimate of what Zimmerman’s extension would look like. Using contracts of Jose Reyes and Alex Rodriguez as a baseline, he came up with seven years, $123 million, and then suggested the Nationals would have to offer even more because of the new contract Jayson Werth had signed for $126 million. He warned that “putting a value on the ‘face of the franchise’ isn’t just an emotional, impulse buy.” (He was writing two days before the deadline.)
Well, he was only off by a year and $23 million. It’s almost as if the Nationals didn’t put a value on this face of the franchise business. 
And that’s the real fault I find in Verducci’s opinion of Ryan Zimmerman and the Nationals over the years. He emphasizes perception rather than actual value on the field, as if a Major League Baseball front office is going to do the same. We all make mistakes in analysis or forecasting, but we don’t have to make mistakes like this. Hopefully, when Verducci is writing in 2018 or 2019 about Zimmerman’s next contract, he will eliminate the face of the franchise “argument” from his narrative.

Besides, the face of the franchise will be Bryce Harper well before then.