Monday night, Astros manager Bo Porter did something that only a few managers have done in the last century.
After he played right field for one batter, Astros' Tony Sipp (right) gets his pitching glove back from manager Bo Porter.
Ross D. Franklin / AP Photo
By Rob Neyer
Monday night, basically my favorite thing happened.
My favorite thing in baseball, anyway. These are a few of my favorite things: a coffee shop in March with the right indie music playing; the perfect postcard, mailed with the perfect stamp; a decades-old ghost sign, ideally advertising a product or business that no longer exists; a beautifully wrought sentence; the way Adam Gopnik’s mind works; a friendly dog of any size and shape; old movie theaters; and John Coltrane.
Again, those are just a few. Of course my list of favorite things in baseball would run quite a lot longer. But my favorite favorite thing is called the Waxahachie Swap, and it happened Monday night in Phoenix when Astros manager Bo Porter sent left-handed relief pitcher Tony Sipp from the mound to right field, then brought him back to the mound after one batter.
I first became interested in this movie about five years ago, when Lou Piniella, then managing the Cubs, pulled the Swap in a game against the Cardinals. That led me to a fair amount of research, at the end of which I determined that a) while the Swap had been done back in the 19th century, there weren’t any extant examples between 1909 and 1950. In 1951, though, rookie White Sox manager Paul Richards did it. And Richards would do it three more times; it was one of the things that made Richards famous.
I don’t believe the next Swap happened until 2011, when Houston manager Brad Mills pulled one. At the time, I wrote, “Now we just have to hope Brad Mills doesn’t get fired before the next time.”
The next summer, Brad Mills got fired, and replaced by ... Bo Porter. Is this coincidental? That the last two Waxahachie Swaps would be pulled by Houston managers? Probably not. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow seems to appreciate unorthodox moves, and might even encourage them.
I appreciate them, too. But should we encourage them, analytically? Or rather, this particular one? In The Book, our esteemed co-authors work through the math of the Swap, and essentially conclude – while acknowledging the great number of variables and unknowables, for example the outfielding skills of our outfielding pitcher – that the Swap does make sense ... generally speaking, although you have to look really closely to find the actual advantage.
They were writing seven or eight years ago, though. Teams carry even more relief pitchers now, which means they’re less often out of lefty specialists. Which means even fewer obvious chances to make the Swap. It actually made a great deal of sense in the old days, when a manager might have just one lefty in the bullpen. But with two or three? Not to mention all the righties who rely on mid-90s heat and don’t have big platoon differentials? I think it makes less sense than ever, and survives only because managers have become so obsessed with the platoon differential.
Not that I’m complaining. As I might have mentioned, I love the Waxahachie Swap.
Alas, I can’t take credit for anything except maybe recognizing a great idea when I see one. When I wrote about Piniella’s move in 2009, one of my readers suggested the term (and I’m sorry that I don’t have his name). It’s historical, it’s lyrical, it’s appropriate, and it deserves to live a long and happy life in the august halls and granges of baseball slang.
I just hope Bo Porter doesn’t get fired before the next time.