The Case for the Intentional Walk

March 20, 2021

In the "Comments" section of the Elden Auker tracer, reader DJ_Man mentions that Auker also faced Joe DiMaggio in the middle of his 1941 hitting streak, and gave up a hit to the previously hitless DiMaggio in his final at-bat, preserving the streak. My "Comment" on his "Comment" questions if the intentional walk in that situation would have been the right call, and I’d like to elaborate on that question a bit longer here rather than in a further "Comment" in the "Aukward Memories" article.

The case has been made, by Bill James most prominently, that most IBBs backfire—they prolong innings, the batter walked often comes around to score, and the IBB results in more runs, not fewer, being scored overall. Designed to prevent runs, IBBs mostly help runs being scored, and have historically been overused by over-clever managers.

While I agree with this blanket statement, I also think there are obvious exceptions to adopting it as a strict rule, and the DiMaggio-Auker encounter on June 26, 1941 is one of those.  ( https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA194106260.shtml is the box score and play -by-play.) A general observation is that if you’re facing Ruth or DiMaggio and the next batter is a weak-hitting pitcher with no pinch-hitters left on the opposing bench, the IBB is the smart play, but we’re not talking about no-brainers here, just the other 99% of potential IBB situations.

Leaving aside the whole question of DiMaggio’s hitting streak for a moment, let’s just look at the game situation here: the Yankees lead 3-1, there’s a man on second and two out in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Yankees’ pitcher is Marius Russo, their most effective starter that season, and Russo is especially effective on this day: through the first eight innings he has held the Browns to one hit (a home run) and he has low walk and strikeout numbers, so he almost certainly has a low pitch-count for the day (not that anyone was tracking pitch counts in 1941, but Russo looks from the box score to be far from exhausted. In the whole nine innings, Russo faced only 28 batters.) So the Browns are facing an uphill battle: if they can hold the Yankees to a scoreless bottom of the eighth, they must score two runs off Russo in the top of the ninth just to tie the game.

The one thing they DON’T want to do is to make their uphill battle even steeper. The odds of tying the game at the point that Joe D. steps up to the plate are pretty long, to begin with: Baseball-reference.com puts the probability of a Yankee win at 93%. When DiMaggio hit a double off Auker, that increased the odds by an additional 4%. In other words, the RBI on DiMaggio’s hit more than doubled the improbability that the Browns could win the game.

Every succeeding Yankee run would have added to that improbability, of course, but strategically, I think the Browns’ best chance was to do ANYTHING they could, as Joe D. stepped up to the plate, to stop that fourth run (the man on second base) from scoring and thus cutting their slim chances in half.

And of course it does matter that it’s Joe DiMaggio stepping up to the plate. If you’re ever going to walk anyone intentionally, I’d imagine "a power hitter with a hit streak on the line and an open base" would be the man. But even with a weaker hitter at the plate, the intentional walk seems like a decent option in this spot.

Why? Because I don’t think the batter scoring is what you need to be thinking about. If that happens, the man on second base will have already scored and your odds of winning the game have already been cut in half. Better, I think, to walk the batter, almost any batter, and create a force-play situation at any base. It’s not very likely but if the batter following DiMaggio (Charlie Keller, in this case) were to hit a slow roller to second or third base, your only play might be to get the runner out by stepping on the bag. But with DiMaggio at the plate, an intentional walk seems even smarter than with any old batter at the plate.

Aside from the strategic considerations of the game-situation, though, there is the reality that it is Joe DiMaggio at the plate. We now know that he did hit a double, did knock in a run, did increase the Yankees’ chances of a victory by 4%--but I believe that the odds were overwhelmingly in Elden Auker’s favor in that spot. Why?

Because Auker knew, absolutely knew with certainty, that DiMaggio would be swinging at any pitch he would throw in the general direction of home plate. In that spot, with his hit streak on the line, the one metaphysical certitude that Auker could have was that DiMaggio was NOT looking for a streak-killing walk. DiMaggio would swing at anything Auker threw up there.

It’s not even a bad strategy for DiMaggio to swing at anything—the Yankees were, after all, already 93% certain they would win the game no matter what he did at that point, and everyone was rooting for him to extend his streak. No teammate would resent DiMaggio for putting his own personal goals above those of the team, because the team had pretty much accomplished its goal, winning the game, already.

But it is a bad strategy, just in terms of getting Auker to throw the ball over the plate. Normally, any batter’s strength is the knowledge that the pitcher does not want to walk him. In this spot, however, everyone in the ballpark, including DiMaggio and Auker, knows that DiMaggio will not be happy with a walk, and that Auker is not threatened in the least by the possibility of walking DiMaggio.

Auker’s best move is to figure out where DiMaggio least wants the ball to be pitched—high and away? low and inside?—and to put it at least four inches off the plate in whatever spot that is.

Now, maybe DiMaggio gets a hit anyway. Maybe he swings at a pitch way off the plate and sends it into left field. Maybe that’s exactly what happened. I don’t know.

But I think not. I think Auker, out of a sense of "sportsmanship," did throw a pitch where DiMaggio could get it. According to Richard Ben Cramer’s biography of DiMaggio, he hit Auker’s first pitch, a low inside fastball, on a hop over the third-base bag for a double down the line. (DiMaggio said it was the "hardest-hit" ball of the entire streak, but Cramer thinks he may have meant it was the hardest hit to get, and I agree with that interpretation.)  So it’s possible that Auker did exactly what I’m suggesting he should have done, to put the ball in an impossible place to hit it, and DiMaggio hit it anyway.

What’s more likely, though, is that Auker was working needlessly close to home plate in an attempt, as I said, to give DiMaggio a sporting chance to extend his streak.

If so, Auker was putting DiMaggio’s streak above his own team’s chances at tying up and winning the game, however long those odds were at that point. Be it far from me to go all Herm Edwards on your ass (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W42iiCcFbxE ) but you play to win the game, not to give the other guy a shot at extending his hitting streak.

Who, after all, endangered DiMaggio’s hitting streak? The answer is: DiMaggio did. By failing to get a hit earlier in that game, DiMaggio created the game situation where Auker knew, in the purest epistemological sense, that he was forced to swing at anything Auker threw him, up to and including the kitchen sink.

Say that Auker had done the unthinkable, and simply walked DiMaggio intentionally, thrown four pitches six feet off home plate. Would that have been poor sportsmanship? You might think so, but I think it’s just good gamesmanship, taking advantage of a strategic ploy designed to increase his team’s chances of winning the game. In fact, I’d go so far to say that throwing a pitch over the plate, if that’s what Auker did, cheapens DiMaggio’s accomplishment.  The whole idea behind a hitting streak is that DIMaggio’s opponents are trying, above all, to beat his team at all times, and not that they’re willing accomplices in extending his hit streak.

Suppose that Auker had gotten DiMaggio out, and the Yankees led by two runs in the top of the ninth, with DiMaggio’s hitting streak over. Well, technically, it’s not quite over, because the Browns could score exactly two runs in the top of the ninth, and the game could go into extra innings, giving DiMaggio any additional number of at-bats. Would you want the Yankees to allow the Browns to score exactly two runs, (risking, of course, losing the game) and then to make three deliberate outs in the bottom half of the ninth, just to create opportunities for DiMaggio to extend his streak?

Of course you wouldn’t. But that’s where logic leads you, if you think Auker’s decision to pitch to DIMaggio in the eighth inning was the right one. He had DiMaggio exactly where a pitcher wants a batter, needing to expand his strike zone to infinity, and he chose not to take maximum advantage of this rarity.

It is a rarity, applying only to hit streaks, and other personal achievements. The only other comparable situation I can recall took place in the game that ended Pete Rose’s hitting streak, against Gene Garber. As you will remember, Garber took some heat from Rose for trying so hard to get him out. "He pitched me like it was the seventh game of the World Series," Rose complained (or words to that effect). https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-aug-01-sp-61675-story.html He was furious that Garber, an off-speed specialist, refused to throw him fastballs over the plate that would challenge him to get a hit, but instead threw him a changeup on the corner to strike him out. Again, who put Rose in the situation of needing to swing at anything, and avoid a walk at all costs? Hint: his initials were not GG.

Imagine a ninth-inning situation where the score was tied, bases loaded, and the pitcher goes 3-0 on a batter. Normally, it is incumbent on the pitcher to throw a strike, right?  To do otherwise is to walk in the winning run, so here the advantage is the batter’s. He knows the next pitch is going to be hittable, and if it isn’t right where he wants it, he can lay off, because a 3-1 pitch doesn’t put the pitcher in a much more favorable situation. He is also going to be delighted in that spot if the ball is outside of the strike zone, because that would mean his team wins the game, he gets the winning RBI, and everyone gets to go home deliriously happy with the results.

But what if that batter is DiMag or Rose or Willie Keeler with his hitting streak on the line? Who has the advantage in that spot?

If you're the pitcher, are you going to throw your best fastball down the center of the plate challenging Joe or Pete or Willie to do his worst? Or are you going to try to hit a corner knowing that he might be tempted to swing because he needs a hit to extend the streak? Or do you throw off the plate, thinking that the batter may swing at a bad pitch?  If DiMaggio or Keeler is at the plate, I'm pretty sure, as is Herm Edwards, that he lets a wide pitch go by and takes the walk and takes the win and ends his streak gladly.  If it's Rose, I’d bet he swings at ball four. Depending on the odds my bookie gives me, of course.

 
 

COMMENTS (36 Comments, most recent shown first)

DJ_Man
"Gehrig not only led off in a road game, but was listed as the starting SS."

They could just as easily had listed Gehrig as the firstbaseman with today's sub as shortstop, then re-positioned the players in the bottom of the first. Yet, Gehrig gave us this peculiar historical marker, making it easy to find this game.

More recently, Mark McGwire had a few games where he batted in the top of the first while listed at 2b or ss, but never took the field. As the scoring rules had changed, he shows up in the records with zero games played at these positions.

I'd read that Stan Musial extended his then-NL-record playing streak a couple of times by being listed on the lineup card but being replaced before the game began. Under the scoring rules of the time, he got credit for playing.
1:06 AM Mar 26th
 
Marc Schneider
Steven,

Oh, right, Auker was a submariner, right? :) Ok, point taken, but I'm thinking about how people pitched in my slow pitch softball league. I don't think he was throwing like that.
2:33 PM Mar 25th
 
hortonwho
The Rose quote -- which I do remember -- is just one of the many many reasons I despise that man.
8:31 PM Mar 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Also, you often hear managers say, "I wasn't going to let [Star Player X] beat us," which implies that when X came up to bat in a spot like Dimaggio's, the opposing manager had already made the decision, "Nope, gonna put Dimag on and pitch to Keller, I can live with it." Not saying that's what happened but I bet that accounts for some IBBs being issued.
6:18 PM Mar 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
You realize, Marc, don't you, that Auker WAS tossing the ball underhand to DiMaggio?
6:14 PM Mar 24th
 
Marc Schneider
bhalbleib,

Thank you. I couldn't remember what the problem was. It's interesting that he actually got a hit in that at bat. I guess he was a pretty good player.

Re the more general point of unwritten rules and not trying to win that people remarked on below. I think that, even with a great hitter, the odds favor the pitcher. DiMaggio was hitting .349, not .559. I acknowledge that it was early in the season and, yes, the Indians were probably pissed that they pitched to DiMaggio, but, again, it's not like Auker was tossing the ball underhand; he was trying to get him out. I'm not Bill James, but it seems to me that one reason that IBBs are generally counterproductive is that hitters make outs more often than they don't. Obviously, it's different if the next hitter is the pitcher or Dal Maxville or something, but that wasn't the case here.


4:13 PM Mar 24th
 
bhalbleib
Marc S., on the Gehrig story I think it was Lumbago that Gehrig was suffering from and I believe the date was 7/14/1934. https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/DET/DET193407140.shtml

Couple of interesting things, 1) Gehrig not only led off in a road game, but was listed as the starting SS. 2) His back might have been hurting (and the way I recall the story, he almost couldn't get out of bed), but he singled in his only appearance, at which point Red Rolfe pinch ran for him and scored on an Earle Combs single 3 batters later. 3) The Yankees ending up losing the game 12-11 to the Tigers by giving up four runs in the bottom of the 9th. It ended up not really mattering because the Tigers won 101 games and the Yankees only 94, but at the time, the game flipped the standings moving the Tigers from a half game down to a half game up, so I am sure it seemed important at the time. (and actually, I just looked, 7/13/34 was the last date the Yankees were in 1st place that year by themselves, so I guess it was a kind of important game); 4) Gehrig must have gotten over the lumbago quickly, the next day he was back in his cleanup spot and went 4 for 4, raising his BA to .375.​
12:02 PM Mar 24th
 
benhurwitz
On the unwritten rules -- the NY Times write-up on June 27, 1941 of the Auker game vs. Yanks/DiMaggio has "bullet" style, point-of-interest items after the main story like, "DiMaggio's hit yesterday marked the sixth time in his string that he kept it going on his last trip to the plate". But the very next bullet item said, "Russo violated all the rules of the pitchers' union by catching a pop fly in the third. Hurlers are permitted to field grounders, but never fly balls." By the way, the sportswriter who wrote the story was Arthur Daley.
10:33 AM Mar 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
"Yeah, sonny, it's true, I did throw a no-hitter when I was 41--that's what the record books say, anyway. But tell ya the truth, the other team kinda gave it to me. A lot of 'em were my friends, or my ex-teammates, and they thought I was a nice-enough guy, I suppose, so the last few innings when I was mostly out of breath--by that point in my career, I weighed at least 50 pounds above my best playing weight, and couldn't outrun a dead possum--they swang at everything I threw but none of 'em, not even the fastest guys on the other team, tried laying down a bunt on me, and I tell ya, they all knew that if they bunted even half-decent on me, I'd have a heart attack trying to throw 'em out. But God bless 'em, they wanted to do something nice for an old man, so none of 'em tried bunting, and I got this no-hitter right here in Baseball-ref.com, jus' the same as Koufax or Ryan. Don't really deserve it, of course, but they was a swell bunch of guys on that other team, doncha think?"
3:39 PM Mar 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
"Yeah, sonny, it's true, I did throw a no-hitter when I was 41--that's what the record books say, anyway. But tell ya the truth, the other team kinda gave it to me. A lot of 'em were my friends, or my ex-teammates, and they thought I was a nice-enough guy, I suppose, so the last few innings when I was mostly out of breath--by that point in my career, I weighed at least 50 pounds above my best playing weight, and couldn't outrun a dead possum--they swang at everything I threw but none of 'em, not even the fastest guys on the other team, tried laying down a bunt on me, and I tell ya, they all knew that if they bunted even half-decent on me, I'd have a heart attack trying to throw 'em out. But God bless 'em, they wanted to do something nice for an old man, so none of 'em tried bunting, and I got this no-hitter right here in Baseball-ref.com, jus' the same as Koufax or Ryan. Don't really deserve it, of course, but they was a swell bunch of guys on that other team, doncha think?"
3:39 PM Mar 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Don't get me started on unwritten rules, robinsong. They change from team to team, player to player, era to era, conveniently enough, to justify almost any behavior and almost any responses to any behavior. I believe in (this is going to sound like Susan Sarandon's monologue) the written rules, plus some general axioms like "Don't deliberately hurt an opponent" and "It's probably better to do the decent thing when there's no advantage in doing an indecent thing" and "Lying might give you a temporary advantage, but in the long run, it hurts your reputation to be known as an habitual liar." I dont see how this applies to strategies, though. I love bunting on a fat pitcher throwing a no-hitter--fielding counts as a useful skill, no?, and so does the ability to lay one down. If you're going to throw a no-hitter against my team, you're going to earn it.
3:29 PM Mar 23rd
 
Robinsong
There is also the manhood factor. I remember a tracer once on Ty Cobb driving a player out of the majors. He rounded third with mayhem in his eyes fully intending to spike the catcher who had offended him in some way. The catcher apparently quailed and did not block the plate and was released shortly afterward. Walks was considered somewhat unmanly for both pitcher and batter in 1941, which is why intentional walks are always ordered by the manager. The long term interest of Sewell might have been served by sending the message to his team that he was not afraid of anyone - even DiMaggio on a hot streak.
2:36 PM Mar 23rd
 
Robinsong
Steve -
How do you feel about no-hitters? Almost every time, the win probability might be increased by bringing in a reliever, particularly if the pitch count is high. Yet managers very rarely pull the pitcher until he gives up a hit. The reason is to protect a personal accomplishment for the pitcher. Similarly, if a batter bunted for a base hit in the ninth inning of a no-hitter, it would be condemned as violating unwritten rules and might subject the offender to a beaning. Sometimes the best interests of the team and of baseball are served in not trying for micro advantages that destroy the excitement of the fans and have debatable value. That is not nearly the same thing as not trying to win a game or letting the batter know which pitch is coming.
2:30 PM Mar 23rd
 
MichaelPat
"If this had been the World Series or a pennant race game, I would probably agree on walking DiMaggio..."
The Yankees did not have the pennant wrapped up when this game was played. They were not even in first place when the series with the Browns started; they were a game behind Cleveland.
How do you suppose Cleveland players felt about the Browns pitching to DiMaggio in a situation where the best chance of beating the Yankees was to walk him?
Yes, maybe the best strategy is to pitch to him. (I wouldn't. Give me the .261 hitter any day, even if I am giving up the platoon edge.) But given the place and time - see jrickert's details Sewell's use of the IBB below - this was clearly an IBB situation...
1:22 PM Mar 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
"Hey, Joe, sorry I had to pitch you so tough there in the 8th inning. Now, earlier in the game, when the Yankees' lead wasn't so big, and when it still early enough that anything could happen, I had to pitch you more generously, my job at that point was to throw pitches over the plate in an attempt to get you out. THAT was when you really had your big chance to get to me, the first three times you faced me. But by the eighth, man, what can I say? I had you in a bad spot--you had to swing at any old crap I'd toss up there, anything remotely near the plate. I knew it, and you knew it. So I threw four balls to you, and you swung at three of them, which ordinarily you'd have let all four go by and taken the base on balls. It really ain't my fault you popped out--you put yourself in the tight spot. Let me buy you a beer, okay? I feel bad for what I did, but hey! It was my job, man. What are you drinking, Joe?"
11:42 AM Mar 23rd
 
Marc Schneider
While I think Steven is probably correct from a strict baseball standpoint, I think you have to look at context. The game was not played strictly during the Depression (the US was coming out of it largely because of increased defense spending) but I think the entertainment value of the game was important. People had to spend what still precious dollars they had. The Browns were a terrible team going nowhere. The Yankees pretty much had the pennant wrapped up even relatively early in the season. Walking DiMaggio might have given the Browns a marginally better chance of winning the game, but I don't think too many players in those days would want to be considered chicken, especially playing on a crummy team. And, even with a great hitter like DiMaggio, it's not like Auker had no chance to get him out. Pete Rose bitched about Garber, but it's not like Garber threw a spitball. If this had been the World Series or a pennant race game, I would probably agree on walking DiMaggio (I agree that the fourth run was much more important than any additional runs-once you get that fourth run, the chances of the Browns coming back is pretty de minimis). If you look at baseball today, the entertainment value of the sport has been greatly diminished by the use of sabermetric analysis to the point where there is very little action. No doubt that sabermetrics makes sense in terms of winning, but we are talking about entertainment, not social policy. In that context, I think the Browns did the right thing. It was a different world. And, as I said, it's not like it was inevitable that DiMaggio would get a hit.

Interestingly, McCarthy did something I think much worse to prolong Gehrig's streak or at least so I have read. (Maybe this is another tracer.) Apparently, Gehrig woke up with the flu or something and really wasn't in shape to play. The Yankees were on the road so McCarthy put Gehrig in the lineup at lead off. He hit the first inning and was then taken out of the game, thereby preserving the streak. I think this was a very chintzy thing to do. I don't think Cal Ripken would have abided that.
10:44 AM Mar 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
One thing that lends a whiff of bullshit to the Muncrief story, as Michael Pat points out, is that if Sewell threatened to take Muncrief out of the game unless he walked Dimaggio deliberately, why was Munchrief still pitching after letting the count go to 1-1? Did Sewell suddenly get paralyzed and struck mute at that point in the game? Or did he maybe never make such a stupid threat at all?
7:23 AM Mar 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
"When you consider all the other implications of walking DiMaggio - disappointing every fan in the park, opening up to vilification in the press, being perceived as cowardly and unsportsmanlike - it is not a close call at all"

You keep returning to this theme, Robinsong, and I have to say I couldn't disagree more. Auker's job was to avoid disappointing Yankees fans? That's 180 degrees off--his job was to frustrate and infuriate Yankee fans, by taking every legal advantage of their ballclub's weakness he could find, including exploiting DiMaggio's unusual need to swing at bad pitches in that situation. His job was to get booed. it was a dereliction of his duty to throw DiMaggio strikes if he thought (as I do) that DiMaggio would swing at balls. If DiMaggio got a hit off a ball out of the strike zone (which he might have done), more power to him, and more power to Auker for trying, but if he gave Dimaggio a single pitch closer to the center of the plate than absolutely necessary on purpose, in order to give him a better chance to extend his streak, then he wasn't performing his duty properly, and is tainting not only his own reputation as a competitor but also cheapening DiMaggio's streak with the implication that he was getting help from friendly pitchers. I pay money to watch ballplayers trying thei level best to beat the other team, not to lay down and allow themelves to get beaten.
7:16 AM Mar 23rd
 
MichaelPat
I wonder about this business of Sewell ordering Bob Muncrief to walk DiMaggio in his last at bat in the June 24 game, eighth inning, Yankees up 6-0, nobody on, none out. Why would you walk him, except out of spite?
The source for this is apparently Muncrief himself, almost thirty years later. And we know old ballplayers never get their stories mixed up. I can't find anything on what Sewell might have had to say about it.
Certainly Sewell's historical use of the IBB suggest the June 26 situation is one where he would normally use the IBB.
I know Yankee fans would not have been happy about it, but it seems to me there would be far more integrity to walk him if you believe that's your best chance to win the game.
Weren't the Browns sort of a Yankee farm team?

12:00 AM Mar 23rd
 
jrickert
Steven: A valid point on the 3-1 versus 14-12 (I'd even thought some about that myself but didn't add it to the list of caveats). The larger left-right advantage for Auker would be a reason for suggesting that the expectation doesn't drop off when walking DiMaggio. In 1941 lefties slugged .499 off Auker, righties .418, similar to his career numbers. The batting average difference was .328/.286.
I can see that with the information at the time, Sewell might have felt that it was a good strategy to walk DiMaggio under non-streak circumstances. Looking at other games during Sewell's first month as manager I see that in his 2nd game(June 7) he had Joe Gordon intentionally walking in the top of the 5th with 2 out and a runner in 2nd trailing 6-3. In his 4th game (June 9) he had Charlie Keller walked in the top of the 2nd with 2 out and a runner on 2nd trailing 5-2.On June 15 at Phil. he had Frankie Hayes walked in the bottom of the 8th trailing 5-3 with 1 out and a runner on 2nd.(That one blew up one him). On June 20 he had Auker walk Jimmie Foxx in the bottom of the 6th with 1 out a runner on second and the game tied 1-1 [Tabor singled in a run then Doerr hit into a DP]. On June 22(game 1) he walked Foxx in the bottom of the 1st trailing 2-0 with 1 out a runner on 2nd[4 more runs scored that inning]. And two days afterwards(June 28) in the bottom bottom of the 8th trailing 1-0 with 2 outs and a runner on second he walked Bruce Campbell.[it worked]. All those suggest to me that regardless of the post-hoc analysis of the value of the strategy, under normal circumstances Sewell would have walked DiMaggio to set up the force play.
9:11 PM Mar 22nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Does it not matter if the score is 3-1 in the Yankees' favor, with Russo pithing a one-hitter, or 14-12 in the Yankees' favor, with their entire pitching staff giving up runs like they were jujubes? I'd say it does.

What I'd say is that the Browns manager in the 3-1 game is saying "How am I going to score three runs off Russo just to tie it up? Scoring two runs is hard enough, I ain't giving up one more run unless I got to, and I don't got to."

If it's 14-12, though, I'd say he'd think differently. He'd think "We've been scoring runs easily all day. I'll risk giving that next run up in the hope of getting Dimaggio out."

Two different situations, but both fall into the category of "two-run lead, man on 2nd, two outs in the bottom of the eighth."
8:09 PM Mar 22nd
 
jrickert
To Michael Pat: Yes, bottom of the 8th with two outs trailing by 2.
Seven: The further analysis looked partly at adjusting the statistics for DiMaggio and Keller's productivity but did not do a pitch-level analysis. The prevention (or not) of the fourth run is factored into the win probability. If the risks are a decreased probability of winning is it still more important to focus on preventing the fourth run?

I'll note that although DiMaggio was batting .349 his on base was .429, only a little higher than Keller's .380 and Dickey's .408. His slugging at that point was .626, quite a bit higher than Keller's .509 or Dickey's .484. B ut Keller had a .411 on base the year before and was young enough that it was not unreasonable to expect improvement. Also, DiMaggio's career BA/OBP/SLG vs. right-handed pitchers were 28,60, and 73 points less than against left-handed batters( 9, 18, and 26 points less than his overall). Keller's career BA/PBP/SLG vs. right-handed pitchers was 20,13,56 points higher than against left-handed batters (8,5,19 points higher than his overall averages). So Keller batting against a right-handed pitcher had about as good a chance of bringing in the fourth run as DiMaggio did against a right-handed pitcher. Also, many side-arm pitchers have had extreme splits. Auker's career splits vs. right-handed batters for BA/OB/SLG were 54, 56, and 64 points less than against left-handed batters further decreasing DiMaggio's advantage over Keller.

5:39 PM Mar 22nd
 
bhalbleib
Interesting discussion of Sewell's logic. How about McCarthy's? I am assuming that even in the 40s sacrificing with your #3 hitter with one out and a runner on first was not a normal strategy, even if JoeD was your cleanup hitter. I think clearly McCarthy was managing to get JoeD another at bat, not to ensure the best scoring opportunity for the Yankees. Anything wrong with that? Would he have done it if the Yankees were down 2 runs? (God, I hope not)
5:19 PM Mar 22nd
 
Robinsong
But Steven and MichaelPat, jreckert's analysis did take into account the inning and situation and addressed the impact on win probability. Yes, the fact that DiMaggio would have a wide strike zone is relevant and should be considered in pitching to him (as with Vladimir Guerrero or Berra). But the base analysis shows it to be an extremely close call as to whether walking DiMaggio would increase the chance of winning. When you consider all the other implications of walking DiMaggio - disappointing every fan in the park, opening up to vilification in the press, being perceived as cowardly and unsportsmanlike - it is not a close call at all. If MichaelPat's story had hit the press and I were the owner of the Browns, I would have told Sewell not to try that again if he wanted to keep his job.​
4:52 PM Mar 22nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks for the research, jrickert. It applies only, I think, to the generic situation, not what to do if you've got a batter who might just swing at terrible pitches (unless I missed something).

Also doesn't really address the conundrum I posed, which is: do you want to prevent that fourth run from scoring, whatever the downside of allowing a fifth, sixth, seventh run to score. In the spot I describe (that actually happened, of course) I do not want to go into the ninth trailing any worse than I already do, no matter what the risks.
2:06 PM Mar 22nd
 
MichaelPat
Is the TangoTiger data for two outs in the bottom of the eighth, jrickert?

If I'm managing, my goal is to get out of the inning without the man on second scoring. I think I have a better chance of getting Keller (who was hitting .261) than DiMaggio (.349). This is one instance where I would not care if the inning blew up on me, and the IBB scored.

On your point, Robinsong, I think the fact that there may have been some blowback about ordering a walk two days earlier might have influenced Sewell. But for the life of me, I don't understand the strategy of ordering a walk down 6-0 with nobody out. That's not trying to win, that's being a jerk.
1:06 PM Mar 22nd
 
Robinsong
Great analysis, jrickert! My intuition was right - it was highly debatable whether walking DiMaggio increased the chance of winning the game. Obviously, Sewell would not have known whether walking DiMaggio would have increased his chance of winning. While I accept that had the streak ended at 37 games, we would not be talking about it (it would be different if it were more than 44), MichaelPat's anecdote about the resistance to Sewell's order two days earlier shows that pitchers and sportswriters would have viewed walking DiMaggio with the streak on the line as cowardly and unsportsmanlike, sort of the reverse of Williams playing the last day later that same season with .400 at risk.
11:52 AM Mar 22nd
 
jrickert
A few years ago tangotiger used Retrosheet data to determine how often teams won in various scenarios. The table I have now is a bit dated, but is a reasonable start. When down by 2 in the bottom of the 8th with a runner on second the probability of winning was 5.4%. With an intentional walk(IBB) the probability drops to 5.0%. But that's without accounting for Joe DiMaggio -- if I take DiMaggio's 1941 rates and get the probabilities for a win pitching to DiMaggio drops to 4.5%, with an IBB giving 5.0%. But DiMaggio was followed by Charlie Keller, not an average hitter. If I account for that pitching to DiMaggio gives a win probability of 4.4%, with the IBB 4.6%. But that does not account for the fact that Bill Dickey was batting after Keller. And this calculation did not account for the fact that Auker threw Right, DiMaggio batted Right, and both Keller and Dickey batted left. So the win probability for pitching to DiMaggio should be a bit higher and walking DiMaggio should have a slightly lower win probability.
8:55 AM Mar 22nd
 
MichaelPat
" If he had struck out DiMaggio, he would have been remembered in history. In this case the hitting streak was vastly more important than the game - both at the time and from the perspective of history."

I am sure the hitting streak was big news in mid-June 1941, but if it had ended at 37, I doubt anyone would be remembering the name of the pitcher who got him out....

2. Willie Keeler, Baltimore Orioles (NL): 45 games, 1896-97.
3. Pete Rose, Cincinnati Reds: 44 games, 1978.
4. Bill Dahlen, Chicago Cubs: 42 games, 1894.
5. George Sisler, St. Louis Browns: 41 games, 1922.
6. Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers: 40 games, 1911.
7. Paul Molitor, Milwaukee Brewers (AL): 39 games, 1987.
8. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phlilies: 38 games, 2005-06.
9. Tommy Holmes, Boston Braves: 37 games, 1945.

Who remembers the pitcher who ended any of these streaks? If DiMaggio had been stopped at 37, he would have been tied for fifth longest streak (at that time)... exciting, but I don't know how any Brown could consider the streak more important than the game.

Dave Whitehorn at NewsDay, in 'Twenty fun facts about...' says this about a game two days earlier between the Yankees and Browns...
"The streak almost ended at 35. On June 24 against St. Louis, DiMaggio was hitless when he batted in the seventh inning, and Browns manager Luke Sewell ordered Bob Muncrief to "walk him!" Muncrief refused, Sewell relented and DiMaggio singled."

Actually, it was in the eighth inning, with the Yankees up 6-0, none out and nobody on. There is no strategic reason to order a walk in that situation, if in fact Sewell did.

But down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth with a man on second and two outs? You absolutely have to walk him there, don't you?

9:58 PM Mar 21st
 
Steven Goldleaf
Depends on how important you view that fourth run, Robinsong. If you think (as I do) that the fourth run (i.e., the man on second as DiMag batted) is the fatal blow that you want to avoid at all costs, then you need to walk DiMaggio in that spot. I don't really understand the thinking that says "Oh, it's just another run. What difference if I have to score three times in the ninth inning or just twice, against a well-rested pitcher throwing a one-hitter." To me, preventing that run from scoring is the single most important task at hand, whatever the risk of a fifth, sixth or tenth run coming in as a result.
3:14 PM Mar 21st
 
Robinsong
I think that Auker should not have given DiMaggio a walk. It is at least debatable whether walking DiMaggio would have increased the chances of winning the game. The Browns had a 60%+ chance of getting DiMaggio out. If they walk DiMaggio, they increase their chances of getting out of the inning, but worsen the prospects in the ninth. Maybe they increase the expected win probability by 1 or 2 percent. Winning the game would have no impact on their odds of winning the pennant. But if Auker had walked DiMaggio, he would have been notorious for all time. Fans still talk about the 56 game streak. They would still be cursing Auker. This wasn't like 1911, where the opponents let Lajoie get easy hits to beat Cobb for the batting title; he was trying to get DiMaggio out. If he had struck out DiMaggio, he would have been remembered in history. In this case the hitting streak was vastly more important than the game - both at the time and from the perspective of history.
1:28 PM Mar 21st
 
MichaelPat
Seems pretty clear the 'correct' strategy in this situation is to walk DiMaggio. Like you say, a fourth run is far more damaging than a fifth or any other additional run. The focus has to be to keep the Yankees within two runs.
Luke Sewell had taken over as Browns' manager three weeks earlier (from Fred Haney), his first managerial job. The Browns were already 16.5 games out of first place, so were likely going nowhere. But it might have been a real opportunity to deliver a message to your team - I'm here to win.
Or a chance to become known as something of a jerk....

I always wonder about this idea that an MLB pitcher has good enough control to "not give the batter anything to hit". What does that mean, exactly? Isn't a pitcher always trying to avoid giving the batter - at least any decent hitter - something to hit? Doesn't a pitcher always strive to make the hitter miss, or to hit the pitcher's pitch?
12:13 PM Mar 21st
 
Steven Goldleaf
There may be something to looking at the IBB strictly strategically. That is, not strictly as an attempt to reduce scoring overall, but rather as a strategy that concedes that runs may well be increased overall. Nonetheless, it is a desperate attempt to prevent ONE run, that of the man currently on base, from scoring. The manager who orders the IBB may well be saying, in effect, that he doesn't care if he loses the game by two runs or three runs or four runs, just so long as the NEXT run doesn't score.

In such a situation, he may be conceding that the game is most likely already lost but his best chance of eking out a victory requires that he not allow any additional runs to score against his team. The Auker-DiMaggio situation described could be one such case, the hitting streak aside.

If a manager has predetermined that he doesn't want a particular batter to beat him, as could easily be the case with DiMaggio here, he might also want to order an IBB, even though it causes more runs than it prevents. I don't know if this makes sense or is an essentially irrational decision, but the strategical situation I describe above is essentially rational.
6:15 AM Mar 21st
 
Manushfan
I always think of how Gene Gerber went at Pete Rose in '78. He just attacked. And Rose thought it was a bush-league pitch, grousing about the 44 gamer being stopped. I can remember how Gerber was celebrating like he'd managed to get Mota out in Game 4, just belatedly. Rose didn't like that, either.
10:52 PM Mar 20th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I read the comments until the cows come home, or until the article drops off the page, whichever comes first. Seems futile sometimes, knowing that no one else is clinking on the link any more, but other times I get pleasantly surprised. I like reading the comments and like answering them if i can.
5:35 PM Mar 20th
 
MWeddell
Very entertaining follow-up article: thanks!

May I ask a general question, Steven? How long do you keep reading any comments left at the bottom of an article you write? I just left a comment on the Aukward article answering a question, so while I'm mentioning that specifically, I'm actually interested in generally how long you tend to follow the conversation.
3:23 PM Mar 20th
 
 
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