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More on the Gabe Kapler Re-Signing

In the last thread, GomesSweetGomes raised a good point about Gabe Kapler's plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers. How many of those 64 plate appearances came in garbage time and how many cost the Rays during a close game? Using Baseball-Reference's Play Index tool, I found each of the right-handed pitchers Kapler batted against in 2009 and decided to look only at relievers. There are only three possible explanations for Kapler starting against a righty:

1. Scheduled off day for one of the outfielders with Gabe Gross and Ben Zobrist already in the lineup.

2. Information to suggest he can succeed against said pitcher.

3. Maddon losing his mind.

Appearances against a reliever are more random. It could be a blowout or the opposing team could have a lefty up in the pen, Gross could have been removed from the game earlier, or it could be too early to risk running into a Gross/lefty match-up later on. First order of business was checking to see whether the Rays were ahead or behind when most of the 46 plate appearances occurred.

By lead state

Tied: 3

Ahead: 25

Behind: 18

Of course the next question is: well how far ahead or behind were the Rays? If Kapler is facing a righty in the top of the ninth up or down by 10 then who cares, but if he's facing a righty with two on and down two runs the level of understanding changes completely.

By deficit

Within one run: 8

Within two runs: 18

Within three runs: 24

Within four runs: 27

Five runs or greater: 19

I think we can all agree that Kapler's plate appearances in games with a five run margin of lead should be excused. That takes 19 of the 46 away, giving Gross 27 plate appearances against relievers and 45 total. Next up is the inning.

By inning

Fourth: 4

Fifth: 5

Sixth: 11

Seventh: 13

Eighth: 7

Ninth: 6

The seventh through ninth is inexcusable unless Maddon feels Kapler versus that righty is a better match-up than Gross against a warming lefty. Unfortunately there's no way of knowing how many of those latter frame plate appearances came with a lefty warming, so for now we have to assume none of them did. Ah, but wait, the margin of lead must also be taken into account. Of those 26 plate appearances 15 came with a lead or deficit of 5 or more runs.

That leaves 11 plate appearances where you have to notch it up to poor management or being outmaneuvered by the opponent. Now I know some will question why I'm seemingly excusing the fourth-through-sixth inning plate appearances and well, I'm not, but I can live with those because it comes down to game theory and a payoff matrix that looks something like this:


Let me explain if that isn't wholly intuitive. If the opposition has a lefty on the mound, the Rays would ideally have Gross bat. However, if the opposition has a lefty on the mound then the Rays would want Kapler to bat. Obvious, right? Okay, now imagine you're in the fifth inning in a tied game. You can bring in Gross to face the righty, but that leaves you open for a lefty assault later on, or you could sit tight with Kapler and maintain the flexibility in a later state.  With a lefty (or righty) warming, the Rays are essentially sticking their foot in the bear trap either way. No matter which Gabe goes to bat, the opponent will have the final say. That's only with a pitcher warming with the opposite hand of the current pitcher.

Without digressing further, it seems the number of consequential plate appearances Kapler received against righties is about half the total number. A bit more if you aren't forgiving of the pre-seventh inning at-bats.  If Kapler maintains a .900 OPS against lefties (and that's extremely conservative) in 150 plate appearances next year, he'd need less than a .400 OPS through 65 plate appearances to wipe that offensive effort out. With the exception of this year (aided by a .205 BABIP) he hasn't been that poor dating back through 2004. That' without considering defensive contributions either.

It's a good deal.