Tuesday, April 6, 2010

News flash: Manny Acta more attentive than blogger

I remember Bill Simmons writing something recently to the effect that chats frustrated him because the format encourages him to rattle off a quick response to a question that deserves more thought. I can sympathize with that: I'm better given a few minutes to craft a response, which is part of the reason that I don't do chats. (The other part is that no one has ever asked me to do a chat.)

Anyway, I sort of participated in a quasi-chatlike phenomenon with ESPN's "BBTN Live" thing, in which my Twitter feeds were displayed more or less realtime during the Indians-ChiSox opener, and almost immediately, I wrote something without sufficient thought that I now look back on and realize, "Dude ... that was a dumb thing to say."

Let's go to the videotape: http://twitter.com/stevebuffum/status/11653309228
Stacking three lefties 2-3-4 against Buehrle seems ... misguided.

Well, it is true that Mark Buehrle is left-handed. And it is true that Cleveland's 2-3-4 hitters on Monday were Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, and Travis Hafner.

Now, some people reading this blog aren't familiar with my other work, but I have been lamenting Grady's inability to hit lefties for ... ever.

2006: .214/.290/.427
2007: .284/.384/.428
2008: .224/.347/.388
2009: .216/.309/.403

One of these things is not like the others. Generally speaking, if you were to bet on a reasonable result in 2010, you would go with "feeble."

On the other hand, Shin-Soo Choo somehow got the dreaded "platoon player" stuck on him at some point in the Seattle system and it stuck here until someone decided to actually see if he could hit lefties. In fact, he can: his .275/.369/.456 line isn't as good as his .312/.406/.504 line against right-handers, but ... Albert Pujols has a platoon split, fer crine out loud. (Not as large, but hey.)

Hafner's platoon split is negligible, mostly tied up in forty points of slugging.

Still, going with three straight lefties against a lefty hurler ... well, I mean, maybe it's a knee-jerk reaction, but ...

... as it turns out, it is a knee-jerk reaction.

See, the other side of this equation is Buehrle himself:

year    against left      against right
2007: .314/.355/.503 vs. .258/.297/.395
2008: .293/.331/.456 vs. .277/.321/.410
2009: .298/.342/.493 vs. .267/.300/.421

For three years running, Buehrle not only posts a reverse platoon split, he posts a LARGE reverse platoon split. This gets to the nature of platoon splits: WHY do left-handed hitters generally have a harder time hitting left-handed pitchers that right-handed pitchers? Intuitively, it seems like a matter of trajectory, arm angle, and natural "breaking away" movement of curves and sliders. Well, empirically, Buehrle does not appear to present the typical challenges to left-handed hitters. I'm not enough of a mechanics expert or scout to tell you exactly WHY this is true, but it sure LOOKS true from three straight years of evidence.

Now, did Manny Acta look at these data in determining that it wasn't just "okay" to stack lefties at the top of the order, but might actually be an ADVANTAGE to do so? I don't actually know. The confound, of course, is that our three best non-leadoff hitters are left-handed. I mean, forget the platoon split for a moment: these three guys are arguably the most productive hitters in the lineup (besides Asdrubal Cabrera, who was leading off). Matt LaPorta isn't fully developed. Jhonny Peralta is Just Some Guy at this point. Mark Grudzielanek remembers when Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine. The only other hitter was Mike Brantley, who is also left-handed and was slotted ninth to try to "take pressure off the young guy."

In a sense, it might have been interesting to see the switch-hitting Cabrera hit lefty against Buehrle, or lead Brantley off, but these things would have taken either an enormous leap of faith (Brantley) or asked a player to change his entire career hitting approach (Cabrera), and would have gone against the sort of "comfortable role-setting" (Cabrera was designated leadoff, he deserves at least a month to make sure everyone locks in) that managerial duties seem to require.

But at the end of the day, stacking Sizemore-Choo-Hafner against the left-handed Buehrle wasn't at all "misguided." If you want to give Acta no credit, you say he locked in his three best hitters in the 2-3-4 slots and didn't give a Rolling O what handedness they had. If you want to maximize Acta's credit, you nod sagely at his studying of the platoon splits for Buehrle and taking advantage of them.

Either way, the manager showed more preparation and cleverness than I did.

That's a nice thing to be able to write.

(It's also a change from the past four years.)


  1. Yeah. I think Acta is a pretty smart guy so I'd be surprised if he wasn't aware of all of those numbers.

    I think the most likely explanation for the 3 lefties is this: He decided that the top of his order is Cabrera, Sizemore, Choo, and Hafner. That's what he's going with and he's not going to run out 141 different lineups this year.

    And it just happened that the first dude we faced was a lefty.

  2. After seeing the lineup in the second game, yer prolly right.