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MJH on accountability
It’s a sight all of us found all too familiar last year. Tight game, late innings, you’re playing for one run. Kinsler gets on first, as any good leadoff hitter should. As Elvis strides to the plate, you beam with pride until you remember that Wash is going to have him bunt, leaving an open first base for an opposing manager with even a hint of intelligence to stash one of the two best hitters on your team via the intentional walk.
For awhile I wanted to find a way to quantify whether or not bunting Elvis was better than having Elvis swing away, so I used the walk rate and hits/AB ratio of the first six hitters to calculate the probability of scoring the one run that Wash wanted in each scenario. For example, if Elvis bunts, then Kinsler can score via a Hamilton hit, or a Hamilton walk and a Beltre hit, or a Hamilton out and a Beltre hit, etc. (there are actually 9 different ways Kinsler can score in this scenario). For example, the probability of Kinsler scoring via a Hamilton out then a Beltre hit is found by multiplying .667 (one minus Hamilton’s OBP) by .313 (Beltre’s 152 hits divided by 485 AB vs. righties) for a probability of 20.9%. Summing the probabilities of all possible ways Kinsler can score if Elvis bunts gives the probability of success if Wash pulls his favorite move. I wasn’t sure how to account for productive outs and would welcome suggestions on how to do so. I used the season numbers against same-handed pitchers since in most high-leverage situations Hamilton was facing a left-hander and all batters immediately following (Beltre, Cruz, and Young) were righties.
So what is the conclusion? Well, if Elvis bunts there is a 51.84% chance that Kinsler scores. If Elvis swings away, there is a 47.88% chance that Kinsler scores (this is the sum of probabilities for 19 different possible ways for Kinsler to score). Slam dunk, right? Wash is right and all of us doubters are wrong!
Not so fast. Two other possible scenarios are Elvis bunts and the opposing manager gives an IBB to either Hamilton or Beltre. If the bat is taken out of Hamilton hands, the probability of scoring one run drops to 51.53%. If the bat is taken out of Beltre’s hands, the probability of scoring one run drops to 46.35%, rendering the bunt strategy inferior to that of having Elvis hit. (The huge drop is mostly due to removing Beltre’s high hit rate against righties). This strategy of pitching to Hamilton and putting on Beltre is the exact course Scioscia took in the first game of the final doubleheader of the year on the Sunday before the disastrous last 3 games at Oakland. One run game, Elvis bunted, Hamilton strikes out, Beltre put on, Cruz out. Without an insurance run, Nathan blows the save, loss in extra innings, and we’re all left to wonder if that game (and the division) could have been won if Wash had let Elvis hit.
Here are some things I was left to ponder after looking at all this:
-Wash’s strategy is fine unless you factor in the countermoves the other manager could make. I'm not sure I want him trying to outsmart/think 3 steps ahead of other managers because I'm not sure he's there yet. Hopefully he dials up the right moves more often than not as smallball is going to be much more crucial with less power in the lineup this year.
-In order for the bunt followed by the Beltre walk to have the same probability of success as Elvis hitting away, Elvis’ OBP would have to be about 90 points lower than it was. This seems possible if Elvis was a pitcher like all of the other leading sacrifice bunters last year, but not when he is a blossoming offensive force in the #2 spot in the lineup.
-When playing for one run, you’ve either scored your one run or reached 3 outs by the time the 6th place hitter has concluded their AB, which means that in some of the more unlikely scenarios Young played a part. Wouldn’t it have made much more sense for Murphy to be in this position considering his OBP was roughly 100 points higher than Young’s?
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