Dusty Baker does a variety of somewhat baffling things. Some of them are defensible, others require inside information to fully understand, still others very clearly undermine his team's ability to win. Most of the things he does, like most of the things any of us do, lie somewhere in between the poles.
Of course we know the overwhelming reason the Reds lost yesterday is that they hid a no-hitter in an extra-inning game. Mustering just 3 hits over 13 innings will not net you very many wins out of a thousand.
What's frustrating about managing gaffes in close games is that they involve free will. We assume, anyway. Jay Bruce doesn't "choose" to go 0-4 with 3 Ks - it just happens despite his best efforts. That's why managers tend to get disproportionate scrutiny.
The main crux of the Reds' off-season was improving the top-of-the-order. The idea was to get on base more and set more tables for Joey Votto.
In the eight inning of yesterday's game, Dusty appeared to sabotage the mission. In the home half, Branon Phillips came to the plate with runners on first and second and no outs. In that situation, based on the 2012 run environment, teams should expect 1.44 runs in an inning after that point (on average).
Dusty elected to bunt BP, giving away an out and setting up a situation that, on average, yielded 1.2898 runs in 2012.
I can actually sorta understand playing for one run here. Historically, depending on the era, your odds of scoring at least one run are slightly higher with runners on second and third, one out, than first and second with no out. On a cold day, with a weird strike zone and paltry offense, maybe you just try to get something with two innings to go. Dusty made a judgment call that this was not a game of Big Innings.
So it's not really that crazy. But context also matters.
And the context was that Brandon Phillips is around a league-average hitter, maybe a cut above, facing a middling relief pitcher in Garret Richards. Meanwhile, quite possibly the league's best hitter waits on deck. And a very obvious consequence of opening up first base is that Joey Votto does not get to hit.
With the bases loaded, meanwhile, your chance of scoring at least one run actually stays about the same - maybe ticks down a little - while your over run expectancy increases. You've actually traded up from first-and-second, none out.
Bases loaded, one out, then is a higher run expectancy than you started out with. The price paid, though, is in passing on Joey Votto. We're at the point in Votto's career where we can actually say he's probably better with runners on. He might be a 1.000 OPS hitter, depending on the split you use. I don't think you neuter him so that Chris Heisey can come up.
Dusty also made the argument that he needed to avoid BP hitting into a double play. It's true that BP hits grounders over 25% more often than Heisey and Bruce. A rough look at his spray chart from the last two years and his splits says he grounds into a double play in 2.5% of plate appearances and might serve up a double-play ball about 12-13% of the time in that situation over his career (first and second, one out). He's better enough than Chris Heisey that I don't think his increased DP risk matters much - if at all.
So again, Dusty isn't off his rocker here. He actually played the whole sequence more or less right by "the book" and by The Book. But I think you can throw both of them out when Joey Votto is involved.
The point of this team is to get him into situations with runners on. There's not much difference between two on, no outs and bases loaded, one out. It's a gap thats smaller than Votto's advantage over Chris Heisey, based on runs created last season.
In the final analysis, I was surprised I didn't hate this move. I actually almost didn't mind it. It seemed horrible at the time, but a lot of that was wrapped up in Heisey and Bruce's failure to deliver.
Still, I'd rather Dusty left well enough alone and just played regular-sized ball.