Thursday, July 22, 2004

Bucky Jacobsen -- The Mountain Man of The Power Valley

All hail Bucky Jacobsen, the Mountain Man of The Power Valley.  Although heading into Wednesday's game Bucky was one for his last nine (a single in the 8th against Boston on Monday) and would stretch that to 1-for-his-last-12 before his 10th inning blast to win the game, he comes out of this game looking like God's Gift to the Mariners, winning games and hitting .333/.500/.762.  Yes, pitchers are pitching him (and Justin Leone) much smarter, and he's going to struggle some, but he's giving the Mariners something they've lacked all year -- a personality fans can relate to, and a Big Bat threat.  That he is doing so while showing patience at the plate is very refreshing.

I went to this game with my seven-year-old son, who is spending all day every day this week playing baseball.  Both Travis Blackley (51 strikes, 42 balls, 43 Game Score) and Barry Zito (62 strikes, 44 balls, 30 Game Score) were far from having their best stuff, and this game took forever to play, so we had to leave before the 8th (10:00 PM, roughly) so my boy could get some sleep, but I managed to catch the 10th on TV at home.  This was an entertaining game, on a beautiful night.

A couple of random thoughts:

* What the heck was Jolbert Cabrera arguing about during his AB in the 3rd?  I didn't see all of it, but he appeared to be talking (animatedly) to somebody in the Mariner dugout rather than the umpire . . . I just couldn't figure it out.

* Why is Ichiro attempting to steal third in the 4th inning when he is already in scoring position on second and his team is up 5-3 with nobody out, on a 0-0 count with the team's second-hottest hitter for the month up to bat?  Granted, from my perspective, it looked like Ichiro beat the tag (and I booed lustily), but that's not smart baseball. 

If you look at this year's Expected Run Matrix and Situational Run Probabilities reports from Baseball Prospectus (these are premium reports, but there really is no excuse for not subscribing to BP if you are a serious baseball fan), you'll find that the difference between average runs scored from the 2nd/no outs situation (1.1647) and the 3rd/no outs situation (1.4897) is not that great; if successful, you do decrease the probability of going scoreless (from .375 in the 2nd/no outs situation to .832 from 3rd/no outs), but your probabilities of scoring more than a single run (which increase from .329 to .534) are left basically unchanged.  And, of course, this play is not without substantial risk of failure.  Even though Ichiro is a pretty good base stealer (stealing at a 77% success rate career -- though probably less than that when stealing third), you're going to fail almost 25% of the time even with a good base stealer trying.  If he fails, you've gone from the expectation of scoring 1.1647 runs on average, with a fairly low probability (.375) of not scoring and a decent chance of scoring one run (.329), two runs (.157) or more (.078 for 3 runs, .035 for 4), to an expectation of 0.5330 runs on average, with a very good chance you won't score at all (.832) and severely reduced probabilities of scoring any number of runs in comparison (.099 for 1 run, .040 for 2, .018 for 3, .007 for 4).

This is not a situation where one run was desperately needed.  This was a situation where a team that has struggled to score runs all year long, facing a former Cy Young winner, had a chance to break open a big lead and traded it away on a risky play for a chance to play for one.  Not smart . . . exactly the kind of bad baseball that helps you become a .400 team.

Of course, Ichiro was called out, and Randy Winn (who, as Peter White of Mariner Musings pointed out, had the courtesy to fake a bunt on strike one down the middle and then duck out of Damian Miller's way for the throw to third -- gee, thanks Randy) promptly doubled.  A very concrete example of "How to Kill a Big Inning & Other Theoretical Ramblings about the Idiocy of Sacrificing and Stealing with Men Already in Scoring Position."  Of course, had Ichiro been (correctly) called safe, we would have heard endless babble about what a fine, aggressive play it was . . . but it wasn't.  Whether he succeeded or failed, this is just bad, dumb baseball.



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