Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Changing Strategies

In any sport or game, you have a normal game plan – one that you use throughout the regular season, in the early part of an event or match, in the first set of a tennis match. That’s like the default mode. In baseball, a team’s default might be letting your starter pitch until he gets to 100 or so pitches, always giving him 4 or 5 days of rest, giving your position players some regular days off, and saving your top reliever (closer) for the 9th inning of games you are tied or slightly ahead in. In bridge, that might mean playing middle of the road bridge – taking some risks but not huge ones. In tennis, that could equate to following your natural game – for me, that would be hitting big serves, power ground strokes, and some serve and volleying. As the game or match progresses or the bridge game nears the end, strategy should change. You play a little bit differently depending on when you’re way ahead, way behind, or in a close battle. In postseason baseball, teams do not rest their regulars, they bring back their ace starter on three days’ rest, they bring out their closer earlier in ball games to preserve leads because these games are more crucial than a regular season game. In tennis, if you lose the first set 6-1, you change your approach – in my case, I take a bit off of my ground strokes and try to just run down everything or go to the other extreme and adopt a chip-and-charge approach, rushing the net at every opportunity. In bridge, when you’re at the halfway point ahead by 40 imps, you adopt a more conservative approach. On deals where you might have made a marginal overcall, you pass, sort of willing to concede 3 or 4 imps to protect against a potential big loss. When you trail by 40 at the halfway point or estimate a 41% game, you become more aggressive – you’re unlikely to make a big enough comeback by playing down the middle so you take more risks in hopes of big pick-ups. Last weekend, there were multiple times where we had gotten a really bad board or two so I turned more aggressive to try to win the boards back. It almost always worked. Holding something like AKx, Jxx, Qxxx, xxx, I raised partner’s 3H preempt to 4, something I might not ordinarily do but after a few relatively flat boards, our opponents made a beatable vulnerable game and we aren’t going to win this 8-board match with more pushes. In a pair game, I upgraded a decent 14 count to a strong notrump after the opponents got a good result for pushing us to 3H and a top for 930. The risk paid off again as we reached a marginal 3NT that on its own has a fair chance but the defense made it easy. These aren’t risks I would always take – the event and the competition have an effect on that. Anything less than a blitz or a 65% game in this field would be a disappointment so I went all out to get that and thought that there was a good chance for the risk to payoff. Against a good team, I might continue to play down the middle and minimize losses, particularly in a Swiss where losing a match doesn’t mean you are out of the event. Against a much better team in a KO, you probably come out taking risks from the start because with everyone playing “down the middle”, you’ll lose so you need some fortunate things to come out victorious. You may wind up losing by 60 instead of 30, but hey, a loss is a loss no matter by how much. The Atlanta Braves are terrible at this whole change your approach based on the situation thing. It has been this way for years. Fredi Gonzalez frequently makes defensive substitutions late in games and has done so all season, but the way he managed the pitching staff in the Division series against the Dodgers was no different than the (acceptable) way he managed them during the regular season. Yes, in many if not most of the 96 wins in the regular season, the starter pitched 6 innings, left with a lead, some combination of Avilan, Carpenter, and Walden pitched the 7th and 8th, and Kimbrel finished off the 9th. No one doubts that Kimbrel is the best of the bunch, but in the regular season you generally limit him to 1 inning so he doesn’t tire out and might be available the next night, too. In the post season, there may not be a next night and in fact, even if the Braves won, the next day would be a day off. In an elimination game, Kimbrel should be in the game earlier than the 9th when you have a 3-2 lead heading into the Dodger half of the 7th. I would have brought him in to face the pinch-hitter and then the top of the lineup in the 7th and let him pitch through the heart of the Dodger lineup in the 8th. Then Avilan or Carpenter could pitch the 9th and technically get the save (assuming Kimbrel pitches to 7 batters in 2 innings, they would have 7-8-9 up in the 9th, an inning that should definitely be easier). Take a hint from the Dodgers and Tigers, who both used their ace in game 4. Admittedly, those teams are different because after their top 3 starters, there is a big drop off and neither team has middle relievers who have been as good as the Brave relievers, while the Braves lack a real ace – except in the bullpen with Kimbrel. Baseball fans and managers are save-obsessed, and it frustrated me. Can we get rid of that statistic, or create some other statistic to help evaluate the effectiveness of 7th and 8th inning reliever? That might convince people that closers should go into games in the pressure situations like 2 on, none out in the 7th or 8th rather than a clean 9th with the bottom third of the order due up. In bridge, there isn’t a good thing to compare this to because even with 6 person teams where you have substitutions, stamina isn’t really an issue. It is, however, standard, to put your best lineup in for the last half or matches because that is more likely to be a high-pressure situation.


  1. Andre - fangraphs has a metric for this, shutdowns and meltdowns:

  2. "Take a hint from the Dodgers and Tigers, who both used their ace in game 4."

    Actually, Detroit started Doug Fister in game four. They did, however, jerk him after six innings and bring in Max Scherzer, their stud starting pitcher. They were playing for that day, something teams should do in post-season play, as you pointed out.