Game-Changer: Jose Lobaton Walks | The Process Report

Game-Changer: Jose Lobaton Walks

Earlier this week, R.J. Anderson dedicated a few words to Jose Lobaton’s walk rate. Although the casual fan may dismiss walk rates and on-base percentage in favor of batting average and RBI, Anderson concluded “having a player on the roster whose value isn’t readily apparent to the public is not a tantalizing proposition. But if there is a position where that becomes acceptable, it’s behind the plate.” On Saturday, Jose Lobaton’s value was not only readily apparent to the public…it was a game-changer.

With runners on second and third, and one out in the seventh inning, Red Sox reliever Matt Albers was called upon to protect a 3-2 Boston lead. Albers, a right-handed pitcher, was due to face Jose Molina, a right-handed hitter.

Rays’ skipper Joe Maddon quickly changed the matchup, opting for the left-handed bat of Hideki Matsui to greet Albers instead of Molina. In a counter to Maddon’s counter, Sox manager Bobby Valentine intentionally walked Matsui with first base open, and once again, set up a righty-on-righty matchup. This time it was schedule to be Albers versus Sean Rodriguez with the bases loaded and one out.

Rodriguez has historically struggled against right-handed pitching. With three left-handed options remaining on the bench, it was no surprise to see Maddon pull the triple-counter, pinch-hitting for Rodriguez. The only question was which left-handed bat to select?

Had there only been no outs in the inning, switch-hitter Brooks Conrad might have been Maddon’s choice. Though short in stature, Conrad was the most powerful of the options, and a deep fly ball would likely score a run. Meanwhile, he is prone to the strikeout (42% versus right-handers this season). A punch-out with one out in the inning would have been devastating.

The most logical choice looked to be Will Rhymes. The lefty infielder is hitting a healthy .283 with a .337 on-base percentage versus right-handers in 2012. Sure, his walk rate and power are both below average, but he does not strike out much, and his 88% contact rate is second to Jeff Keppinger on the team. That said, with a gimpy Hideki Matsui on first base, almost any ball hit to an infielder likely results in an inning-ending double play.

On the surface, Maddon’s third option – Jose Lobaton – did not look like much of an option. A switch-hitter, Lobaton, has been a much better hitter from the right side than the left. As a right-handed batter, he is hitting .323 this season. His average from the left side is just .160. This is where Lobaton’s hidden value shines.

Though his batting average is more than doubled from left to right, Lobaton’s walk rate is much greater as a left-hander, narrowing the OBP gap between sides (.333 as LHB, .364 as RHB). When batting from the left side this season, Lobaton has a 21 percent walk rate. That number drops to six percent from the right. He strikes out more as a lefty, but still much less than Conrad.

After watching Albers throw four pitches intentionally out of the zone, leaving no place to put another baserunner, Maddon opted for Lobaton and his excellent pitch selection from the left side. After fouling off the first pitch of the plate appearance, the 26-year-old sat on two pitches outside of the zone to jump ahead 2-1. He fouled off another fastball on the fourth pitch to even the count. Showing great pitch-recognition, he took the fifth pitch – a 96-mph fastball – just inside to push the count full. The sixth – and final – pitch of the PA came low and outside for ball four to tie the game.

Despite not putting a ball in play, Lobaton’s game-tying “RBI” positively impacted the Rays’ chances of winning by nearly 20 percent according to fangraphs.com’s win expectancy chart. And although he looked like the second choice at first glance, his hidden value – walk rate – made his selection a very sound process.

After the game, Maddon said he believed Lobaton was becoming a “stage three” player, meaning he is no longer just happy to be in the major leagues, but feels like he belongs. If there was a position where the Rays could use a player who is ready to take that next step, it’s behind the plate.



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