Having recently railed on the frequent overuse of the IBB, on Thursday we saw Bob Melvin use it in different, and I thought shrewd, strategic ways. Two of the IBBs especially come to mind.
In the 13th inning, with Robinson Cano at 2B following his leadoff double, Melvin ordered the IBB to Mark Teixeira with nobody out. It is unusual to see an IBB with 0 outs. Had the A's been on the road it would have been a no-brainer in that Teixeira's run would literally have been meaningless. Here, that 2nd run was potentially important but in the context of an extra inning in which Mariano Rivera was waiting to pitch with a lead, you could argue that the difference between giving up 1 run or 2 runs was pretty insignificant -- compared to giving yourself the best chance to escape the inning unscored upon.
Teixeira is not only a good hitter but he had many opportunities, from a long fly ball to a grounder to the right side, to advance Cano. IBBing Teixeira brought up Travis Hafner, who is not skilled at bunting, is a DP candidate, and who was 0 for the series. Suddenly, the Yankees were unlikely to move Cano up unless Hafner reached base or hit a long fly ball. Anything else, from a strikeout to a pop up to a ground ball, gave the A's an avenue to choke off the rally. Following Hafner were Youkilis and Wells, who would face a RHP (Jesse Chavez). The A's wound up with much more avenues out of the inning by not only passing on Teixeira but also setting up the force play and DP -- for example, with a sharp bouncer to 2B, Teixeira was going to help the Yankees win, but with a sharp bouncer to 2B Hafner was going to help the A's out of the inning. Great call.
More interesting yet was the IBB to Cano in the 14th.368, with runners at 1B and 2B and 2 out, once the count reached 3-1. Teixeira was on deck. If you recall my point about "don't IBB the bases loaded unless the on deck hitter's OBP is actually lower than the current hitter's batting average," here's a great example as to why the IBB is generally a mistake. Cano is a lifetime .307 hitter while Teixeira's career OBP is much higher than that (.368). As much as you don't relish pitching to Cano in a key RBI spot, statistically it's still a better move than to try to get Teixeira out in a spot where a BB is as good as a run.
But hold the presses...Melvin allowed Chavez to pitch to Cano, probably for that very reason, until the count reached 3-1. Look up the stats and you'll see that players hit not just a little better, but a lot better, once the count reaches 3-1. Faced with choosing between letting Chavez pitch to "Cano with a base open" and "Teixeira with the bases loaded," Melvin calculated that Cano was the better choice. However, when the choice became "Cano with a 3-1 count" vs. "Teixeira with a fresh count," Melvin calculated that perhaps the odds would actually swing in Chavez' favor to go after Teixeira -- who is not yet back to "vintage Teixeira since coming back from his wrist injury -- rather than Cano.
It was still a risky move, and this became even more evident when the count reached 2-1 to Teixeira. It was also a gutsy move, just like the IBB to Cano when he represented the winning run with 2 outs in the 9th against Grant Balfour in New York.
I think the IBBs to Cano, in New York and in Oakland, are great examples of the confluence of "stat based thinking" and "gut". These were not moves robotically made "by the numbers" nor were they moves made "in the face of logic because Cano just seems really scary". Both moves were calculated, yet heart-felt -- they kind of went against conventional wisdom, and they kind of went by the odds depending on which odds you perused.
Bob Melvin is a really smart manager.