For those unfamiliar with the term hidden vigorish, it was coined by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ late great broadcaster Bob “The Gunner” Prince. Prince surmised that with each out a batter makes he is closer to his next hit. Essentially it is the belief that over time things will even out. If a .300 hitter goes into an 0 for 20 slump a tremendous amount of hidden vigorish has built up. To the Gunner it was an almost mystical force that he’d call upon in the biggest moments. Hidden vigorish was just a quirky way for Bob Prince to point out that a player was due. To statisticians the concept is a fallacy. The probability for each individual occurrence is not altered by the outcomes of the previous occurrences. A coin toss is always a 50/50 outcome regardless of how many times it landed heads on the previous 20 coin flips. But don’t tell that to baseball fans or baseball managers. The belief that a player is due is a very real thing.
Often managers make very difficult decisions simply on the belief that a player is due. We saw that from Clint Hurdle in the National League Divisional Series. Hurdle continued to pen the names of Starling Marte and Neil Walker at the top of the Pirates’ lineup despite both players struggling badly. Hurdle defended the decision to keep them at the top of the lineup in the decisive game 5 by saying he felt they were simply due to come through. Hurdle was banking that he could collect on some postseason hidden vigorish. It never came. The Pirates lost and Marte and Walker combined to go 1 for 38 in the series. In the American League Championship Series Jim Leyland has faced a similar dilemma. Austin Jackson took a 3 for 33 slump into Game 4 of the ALCS matchup between the Tigers and the Red Sox. Leyland decided he could no longer wait for leadoff hitter Austin Jackson’s buildup of hidden vigorish to pay off. He shuffled the Tigers’ batting order by dropping Jackson to the 8th spot in the order and moving the rest of the lineup up one spot. Coincidentally this put the Tigers’ best hitter Miguel Cabrera in the 2 hole. Sabermetricians have long argued that if managers were to optimize their lineups they would bat their best hitter second. Optimizing the lineup really wasn’t what Leyland was trying to do. He just thought Austin Jackson was pressing and felt that dropping him lower in the lineup would take the pressure off. Jackson broke out of his slump with 2 hits and 2 walks. Of course it would be a stretch to argue that the breakout was due to the lower pressure at the bottom of the order. When Jackson stepped to the plate for his first AB of the game he did so with the bases loaded and 1 out. That is a much higher pressure situation than leading off an inning. Regardless, the lineup change worked. Austin Jackson drew a 4 pitch walk to drive in the first run of the game for the Tigers. Then again, maybe it was just time for Leyland and Jackson to collect on some hidden vigorish.