Sunday, June 28, 2009


There is some outrage that the Twins opted to pitch to the Cardinals star slugger. Ordinarily, I am not one to focus too much on statistics. I don't care about OBPS and I don't know what VORP means. Generally, if it sounds like the onamotapeoia from the old live-action Batman show with Adam West, I ignore it. On the other hand, simple statistics such as at-bats, hits, RBI's, and HR's distinguish perception and reality with a hitter like Pujols. While two-thirds of my readers are far more qualified to assess the risk than I am, I took a look at what the numbers say about the decision to pitch to Pujols.

First of all, he has 314 plate appearances in which he has not been intentionally walked. In those he has 74 RBI's (assuming he was not intentionally passed with bases loaded) and 28 HRs. If you assume 5 trips to the plate per game, an opposing manager could expect Pujols to drive in 1.16 runs if he pitches to Pujols each time. That is not going to beat you unless he gets some help. Right now, the skeptics are thinking that his overall numbers are skewed because managers pitch around him in tight spots. He's been intentionally walked 24 times. Let's (generously) assume that instead he hit a 3-run homer in every one those trips to the plate. Using that rate of run production, he'd still only be expected to drive in 2 runs per 5 plate appearances. That's an absolute upper bound on the damage we should expect, and it's still not enough to win a game.

Sometimes he might hit two home runs against you. In 4 trips to the plate, he has about a 5% at hitting at least two home runs. By contrast, he has a 15% chance of going 0-4. He is three times more likely to go hitless than he is to hit two home runs. The conventional wisdom to pitch around him is based largely on the weakness of the rest of the order. If Pujols goes ofer, the rest of the lineup has some work to do. Yesterday, the Twins were victims of a rare- but nonetheless possible- occurrence. I'm willing to excuse the pitcher for throwing meatballs because all of these probabilities implicitly incorporate the reality that pitchers can't always hit their spots. Even then, Pujols did not beat the Twins yesterday. The Twins lost because they made a fielding error, hit a batter, the guy hitting ahead of Pujols had two hits, and the Twins refused to generate any offense after the fourth inning.

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