The Cousins decision and the Vazquez start

I had a few additional thoughts on a couple of happenings in the series between the Florida Marlins and the New York Mets, and I figured they deserved an additional article. These could have both gone into the Fish Cap for the series, but at least one of them deserved a piece of its own given the analysis involved.

Scott Cousins‘s decision

In the tenth inning of the Saturday night game between the Marlins and Mets, Scott Cousins made an interesting decision that apparently got the Marlins’ brass talking. In a situation with no one out and Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan at second and first respectively, David Wright popped a foul ball into right field that Cousins intentionally dropped. That sounds like a strange move, but listen to the reasoning Cousins provides:

Cousins didn’t make the catch, he said, because both runners would have tagged into scoring position with one out.

Ignore the fact that Wright later singled and plated Reyes anyway. Was this the right decision? To figure this out, we have to look at a lot of very interesting factors. Let’s start with a simple win expectancy examination using this table provided by Tom Tango.

The two game states boxed in red are the ones with which we need to be most concerned. Essentially, Cousins’s reasoning came down to a decision between a situation with runners on first and second and no one out or runners on second and third and one out (any inning past the ninth works the same as the ninth inning, so you can use ninth inning data / simulations as proxy). As you can see, the change in win expectancy isn’t very large; the former situation has a Marlins win expectancy of 0.297 while the latter is at 0.281. Still, the Marlins would have been hurt by taking the out and letting the runners advance (assuming both runners were able to advance). In addition, manager Edwin Rodriguez already claimed that he would have walked Carlos Beltran, the following hitter, to load the bases for Chin-lung Hu anyway. You can see by the chart that the bases loaded situation actually yields a lower win expectancy for the Fish, at 0.278. Essentially, by passing on catching that ball, Cousins potentially saved about 0.02 wins.

Let’s make the assumption that Pagan would have taken second base only half the time on a caught foul ball, yielding an expected WPA of .292. That wrinkle would make the move essentially an even trade, netting the Marlins about half an extra percentage point chance of winning. That means that Cousins decision is defensible on this basis alone (either move would have yielded similar results), but there are three additional factors to be considered:

1) The hitter at the plate was David Wright, while the next hitter was either Carlos Beltran or Chin-lung Hu.

2) The pitcher was Ryan Webb, who has a higher than average propensity for inducing ground balls.

3) The count at the time was not 0-0.

ZiPS projects Wright as a .363 wOBA hitter, or about 0.03 runs better than an average hitter per plate appearance. That is projected to be 0.014 runs better than Beltran and about 0.07 runs better than Hu per plate appearance. On average we’d expect Wright to be 0.042 runs better than the average hitter following him using these projections. Given the importance of the situation, those runs would be worth about 0.15 wins, meaning they would sway the argument towards catching the ball and getting David Wright out.

However, based on Baseball-Reference’s box score, the count at the time was 1-2, and hitters aren’t nearly as good on 1-2 counts as they are normally. In 2010, major league hitters hit .257/.325/.403 as a whole, but only .179/.228/.239 on 1-2 counts. Even Wright has a .291 wOBA (.226/..286/.377) after 1-2 counts. So in that respect, the Marlins’ odds were better with Wright at the plate because he would have been a signficantly worse hitter down 1-2 than at least Beltran on a starting count.

What’s the ultimate decision? The math initially leaned towards’ Cousins’s decision to drop the fly ball. What do you Maniacs think?

Vazquez and just one start

A lot can be said and has indeed been said about Javier Vazquez‘s debut start for the Florida Marlins. Much of it was ugly, but one cannot overreact too much to what ultimately amounts to one bad start. Is it a bad portent given Vazquez’s recent history and how he looked on the mound? Yes, I would agree with that certainly. But I would shy away from overreacting and labeling Vazquez as finished just because he had one bad start.

Vazquez’s start had a Game Score of 19. Just last season, the Marlins had seven starts with a Game Score equal to or worse than that one, including two by Ricky Nolasco, one by Josh Johnson, and one by Anibal Sanchez. Sometimes bad starts happen, and you cannot claim a pitcher is a bust after one of these ugly monstrosities. However, just watching Vazquez does give me pause and certainly some alarm because of how ineffective he seemed at the plate. He absolutely has to be given more starts to find out if he has anything left, but there should be concern, just not outright dismissal.

Next Marlins Game View full schedule »

Tags: Carlos Beltra Chin-lung Hu David Wright Edwin Rodriguez Javier Vazquez Miami Marlins Scott Cousins

  • tedhill

    I’ve gone back and forth. When it first happened, I thought Cousins’ decision was a good one. Unusual, but I don’t think it hurt the team. Mainly because the count was 1-2. The odds of getting a strikeout or double play are increased.

    Of course after the fact, it looks like a bad move. I then thought, yuo know what? You need to take every out you can get, unless it’s certain that a runner will score on that play.

    I like the math presented here. Basically it’s a wash and everyone will side with the result and say he should have caught it.

    • Michael Jong

      Dave and Ted,

      It does really depend on whether or not the runners move forward. If the second base runner moves forward half the time, the move is a wash, and people will side on the “safe” side of taking the out. At the same time, the count is 1-2, and the odds of getting the out anyway are much higher. It’s a very interesting question, and that’s why I figured it could use a whole article.

      I think Cousins made an acceptable move that ultimately would not have made a big difference. In those situations though, people prefer to “play it safe,” so I can see why Edwin was against it.

      • tedhill

        Yes, my main beef would be if people pointed to this as a major reason we lost. The main reason we lost is because Leo Nunez walked the leadoff man on four pitches in the 9th. Or because Infante couldn’t come through in the bottom half of the 9th.

        • Michael Jong


          Excellent point. The move appeared to be neutral, so you can’t blame Cousins for what happened after the play. Nunez, Infante, and others were more in control of the game state.

  • dave6834

    I prefer to err on the side of making an out.

  • Pingback: The Cousins decision and the Vazquez start (Michael Jong/Marlin Maniac) | The Halos Dugout

  • Ehsan

    I am not going to question Cousins because I was screaming at my tv for him to drop the ball honestly.

    • Michael Jong


      Seems like that wasn’t a bad call at all.

  • Dave Gershman

    Great great post. Another reason why Jong is one of the best out there. Go Marlins!

    • Michael Jong

      Thanks Dave!

  • The Old Perfessor

    As a Mets fan, I can tell you that the talk in the SNY [i.e., Mets'] broadcast booth was that if Cousins had caught the ball he could easily have whirled and thrown to second to keep Pagan from advancing. Reyes would obviously have made it to third. So first and third with one out and Beltran, presumably, getting walked. While the stats are interesting, it’s doubtful to me that Cousins was aware of them when he made his decision. That he made it at all is what I find notable … as a baseball fan I’m not accustomed to seeing players take a pass on an out. Has anyone ever seen another player do the same in a comparable situation? I’m not sure I have.

    • Michael Jong

      The Old Perfessor,

      I doubt that Cousins was thinking of the numbers exactly, but he knew the exact situation he was facing. He was deciding between two or three outcomes and thought the decision he made was the best one, and I tend to agree. I think the key again is the count, which is something he was certainly aware of; is David Wright a good enough hitter with two strikes to negate what was otherwise an even play (even with 1st and 3rd w/ 1 out, the situation for the Marlins improves only slightly, enough to call it mostly a draw)? I think it may have been, but it’s a tough call to make.

      Whose job is it to number crunch? The players have something intuitive in mind, as Cousins showed, but the coaches or someone from the front office should crunch numbers ahead of time and give players a rule of thumb.

  • Pingback: Zeldas | Plexiglass Principles