Criticizing manager strategy is always dangerous territory. There's a huge cutoff in access to in-game scouting in play, and theindividual strategic moves that we all hem-and-haw about is but a small fraction of their job.
But when managers turn to the intentional walk, they wade into a territory with a lot of research behind it, and that research typically concludes that they would be better off without the extra baserunner.
Of course, most of that can be waved away when intentional walks aren't a regular part of strategy, but intensely unique situations where gut feelings and scouting information override the statistics. For example, when a manager only uses intentional walks 15 times in 117 games...like Robin Ventura.
But the White Sox have played 120 games, and used five intentional walks in their last three contests. Actually, those five were concentrated in two games. As you might imagine, there weren't five do-or-die moments contained within two games, but a sudden outbreak of intentional passes in Ventura's regular strategy.
Let' walk through them all, and even give Robin the credit for the platoon split throughout.
4th inning Friday - Chris Sale walks Jeff Francouer to get to Brayan Pena; runner on 2nd with two out. Tie game
Jeff Francouer is a terrible right-handed hitter who becomes only slightly below-average vs. lefties (.315 wOBA - I know everyone's not down with wOBA, but we need to use it for the calculations here. It's an expression of total hitting production expressed as on-base percentage). Brayan Pena is a switch-hitting catcher who is only in the league because he's a catcher (.276 wOBA).
Francouer is 1.14 times better than Pena. Unfortunately, for it to be worth it in this situation, according the The Book, the cut-off is 1.3.
Not to mention the fact that this is the ace of the staff against one of the weaker hitters in the Kansas City lineup, whose only hit against Sale in ten at-bats is the prototypical Jeff Francouer 'throw your bat and hit a home run'.
6th inning Friday - Chris Sale walks Jeff Francouer to get to Brayan Pena, runner on 2nd with two out. Tie game.
The exact same situation, just two innings later.
The cut-off for the walk to be worth it lowers to 1.24 in the later frame, but is still too high. At least here Ventura can claim it worked the first time, but since Sale wound up drifting into the top of the order the next inning and getting killed, the cost of skipping a bad hitter in the order was present too.
7th inning Friday - Chris Sale walks Billy Butler to get to Salvador Perez, runners on 2nd and 3rd with two out. Tie game.
Billy Butler already has made a habit of destroying lefties in 2012 (.474 wOBA), and was hyper-dominant through the series, but Salvador Perez has been doing even better against them in limited time (.494 wOBA). At no point in time does The Book justify walking a guy to get to a hitter who seeing the type of pitcher you have on the mound even better.
As the inning gets later, other ways to play the match-ups present themselves, and the real question here is why Ventura was flipping a coin between two trainwrecks with his gassed starter, and not going to a warm Jesse Crain.
6th inning Sunday - Jose Quintana walks Billy Butler to get to Salvador Perez, runners on 2nd and 3rd with two out. Tie game.
Once again, an incredibly similar situation was repeated. It's hard to argue to any experienced AL Central viewed that Salvador Perez deserves the same amount of reverence as Billy Butler, and pulling Quintana in the 6th may not have been particularly palatable after Peavy's short outing the night before.
But it's interesting that Ventura went right back to the play that burned him Friday night, and got the exact same result--a two-run double. This one comes awfully close to being reasonable, but is also impressively stubborn.
6th inning Sunday - Jose Quintana walks Jeff Francouer to get to Eric Hosmer, runners on 2nd and 3rd with two out. Sox down 4-2.
Eric Hosmer has been a different level of terrible against lefties this season (.252 wOBA), and with the the Sox down two runs with multiple runners in scoring position, the hitter in front of Hosmer has to be more than 1.23 times better than him to justify the walk. Francouer is a gleaming 1.25 times better.
And here you thought there was no way to justify walking Jeff Francouer. Hosmer struck out helplessly, just to offer that extra bit of satisfaction.
But what caused this sudden interest in intentional passes? That's more worrisome than the individual wisdom of each call.
For a manager typically praised for how much he stays the same day-to-day, it's pretty remarkable for Ventura to order 25% of the team's intentional walks in a weekend. There hasn't been much talk on the thinking behind this series besides lamenting how awful it was, so the walks could be construed as a response to how bad things were going, except that most of it came when the ace of the staff was pitching in a tie game.
Hopefully crummy defense, hitting, and relief pitching isn't the only thing they leave in Kansas City.