It's not every day that a Texas Rangers game makes you think of Austin Powers, but that's exactly what was on the mind as Ron Washington told Neftali Feliz to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera with a runner on second and two outs in a 2-0 game on Monday.
You might recall the blackjack scene from the first movie when Austin decides to stand with five because he likes to live dangerously. Anyone who has ever played blackjack knows that it is a mindless play and it plays out that way when the dealer gets 20 out of the gate.
Now, there's a chance that if you pulled this move in real life that you would wind up winning the hand. That doesn't make it a smart play, however, and that brings us back to our appointed task of discussing actual baseball instead of fictional shagadelic international men of mystery.
Washington's move paid off when Victor Martinez grounded out to Miguel Cabrera to end the game, but was it really the right move to allow the winning run to come to the plate?
The math says that it is absolutely not the right play. Data compiled at TangoTiger shows that putting Cabrera on base resulted in a rise of average runs scored in an inning from 0.348 to 0.471. The chances of any run scoring went up by a smaller amount, but they still went up and managers are generally trying to avoid giving their team a worse chance of winning a game.
Slavish devotion to numbers isn't the end of the discussion, though. You obviously have to take into account who is up, who is on deck and other factors before rendering final judgment. Washington does better here, since Cabrera is a better hitter than Martinez and has hit a home run off of Feliz during his career. What's more, lefty hitters -- Martinez is a switch-hitter -- have hit worse against Feliz in his brief career.
All of these things would seem to cancel each other out and make this a classic gut decision by a manager without any clear sign to guide him toward a favorable outcome. Except that they really don't.
Washington chose to give the Tigers a chance to win the game over letting Feliz try to retire Cabrera who could, at worst, tie the game. Being scared of Cabrera's bat is both understandable and sensible, but ignoring that simple difference is neither. Only one of those choices gives the Rangers a chance to ultimately win the game and it is impossible to fully get behind the other choice.
It worked out this time, but don't mistake that for being a piece of strategic brilliance.
Disagree, read this take from our Red Fever blogger Adam Boedeker.