Postseason Greatness and the IBB

Tom Tango recently questioned the wisdom of the Angels intentional walk of Alex Rodriguez in the 9th inning of Game 5. He pointed out that the statistical break even point to justify that managerial move is if A-Rod averaged 1 home run in every 8 plate appearances. Underlying this argument, of course, is a question about sample size. Only with a sufficiently large sample can we conclude that a hitter will consistently hit a home run on 12.5% of his plate appearances. Nevertheless this got me thinking about justified intentional walks in the postseason. Using the breakeven point Tango identified (a point he carefully limited to the situation at hand), when should a batter be intentionally walked?

For starters, let us look at Alex Rodriguez. The question is how big a sample is big enough. Since Tango identified 1 in 8 as the important cut off, what does A-Rod done in the postseason? He has hit 5 home runs in 37 plate appearances, or 1 every 7.4 plate appearances. Scioscia, it is safe to assume, considered that the relevant sample. While he may be wrong about the appropriate reference group to use as a basis for his decision, we should at least be clear about what he used and why he did what he did.

Second, let us look at the real comparison. In World Series play from 1923 to 1932, 5 different series, Babe Ruth hit 14 home runs in 113 plate appearances, or a home run in 12% of his plate appearances. Ruth, then, neared the cutoff for automatic intentional walk in late and close situations in more than 100 plate appearances. I suspect that in the modern world, the Cubs would have walked Ruth to face Gehrig regularly in the 1932 World Series. Happily, we got the Called Shot instead.

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