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Defending Ron Washington

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Over at Hardball Talk, Matthew Pouliot has a blog post on Derek Jeter's performance yesterday.  It includes in the headline the phrase, "Ron Washington is not a genius," and while that is a sentiment I think most Ranger fans would agree with, the specific decision that gives rise to that conclusion is surprising:

 

Derek Jeter hit his first homer in 63 games dating back to last August when he took Dave Bush deep in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game against the Rangers.

Of course, it came against a pitcher he never should have been facing for a third time on the day.

Bush, who had pitched just four times in the Rangers’ first 34 games, was called on today to make a spot start because of Alexi Ogando‘s blister.  He did his job, limiting the Yankees to two runs over the first four innings, but he allowed Jeter to go 2-for-2 in the process.

With those two hits, Jeter improved to 6-for-12 lifetime against Bush, begging the question of what Bush was still doing out there when Jeter came up to lead off the fifth. 

 

Okay.  First of all, we have the issue of whether the blame from the decision to leave Bush in to start the fifth properly should be laid at the feet of Ron Washington or Mike Maddux.  Maddux, after all, is considered to have a lot more stroke than most pitching coaches, and I tend to think that he deserves the bulk of the credit (or blame) for most pitching moves that the Rangers make.

That's a pretty minor issue, though.

Secondly, let's consider the state of the Ranger bullpen.  Yes, the Rangers have an eight man bullpen right now, but one of those eight is Dave Bush, who was getting the start.  Brett Tomko and Darren Oliver both logged multiple innings on Saturday, and thus weren't available.

That leaves you with Ryan Tucker, Cody Eppley, Arthur Rhodes, Mark Lowe, and Neftali Feliz.  Lowe isn't someone you want to use in a close game.  Neither is Tucker, really.  And the other three guys are all pretty much one inning guys.  

So you've got five innings to go, five guys in the bullpen, and the three guys you've got any level of confidence in are the three guys who aren't going to give you more than one inning (particularly Rhodes and Feliz, who pitched yesterday).

And Dave Bush should be yanked at 66 pitches?  Really?

That being said...there are arguments for lifting Bush at that point.  He's running out of gas, he's not pitching well, whatever.

But "Derek Jeter is 6 for 12 lifetime against him" isn't a valid argument for pulling Bush at that point.

Prior to today, Jeter had faced Bush a total of 12 times -- three times in 2004 and nine times in 2005.  He had registered four hits, all of them singles, one of the infield variety.  

Does what Jeter did against Bush six years ago really have any relevance to whether or not Bush should be left in to face Jeter in 2011?

And aside from the temporal separation...does 12 at bats even tell you anything meaningful?  This is the sort of sample size that shows up in papers and managers reference for making decisions which statheads like me usually lampoon.  

Rob Neyer, while he was at the Worldwide Leader in Borts, addressed this in a chat session this past offseason:

 

John (New York, NY)


Rob, the sample size of batter/pitcher matchups is of particular interest to me. Obviously a sample size of 5-10 PAs against a single pitcher does not yield any useful data. However, when you consider that in those 5-10 PAs, a single batter is only facing the repertoire of a single pitcher, my question is how many PAs are required before the data becomes significant? 20? 50? More? What do you think?

Rob Neyer
  (12:17 PM)


More than 20. I'm not sure if 50's enough. I'm not sure if any batter has ever faced a pitcher enough times to show us anything truly meaningful. I think what makes more sense is looking at how a hitter has fared against *types* of pitchers.

 

When you consider the minute sample size, and the fact that Jeter had last faced Bush six years ago, the fact that Jeter was 6 for 12 against Bush prior to the home run is essentially irrelevant.

And when you consider the game situation and the options the Rangers had available in the bullpen, even if you think Jeter is more inclined than most to hit Bush well, it still wouldn't warrant lifting Bush from the game.

I'm not a big fan of Ron Washington, strategic in-game manager.  I don't think he's a particularly good in-game manager...his strengths as a manager lie elsewhere.

But killing Washington over this, and acting like lifting Bush in that situation was such an obvious move (because Jeter was 6 for 12 against him lifetime) that Wash seemingly had no choice but to go to his pen, is just wrong.