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Sunday Morning Sabermetrics: My Thoughts on Baseball

By:Kyle Brown
Run expectancy scenarios based on the runners on base and the number of outs. Image Credit: The Hardball Times

We wrap up the 2016 Bethesda Big Train season today with the Big Train currently leading the LCS 1-0 but trailing the Baltimore Redbirds 6-5 in the 7th inning of Game 2 in the best of three series.

I wanted to write a few things to close out the summer as the organization concludes its nineteenth season and the players go back home for a few weeks of downtime before jumping back into it on their college diamonds.

 

Bunting – The bunt is the only play in baseball both sides applaud. If you bunt a man over to third base with one out, the defending team applauds because they got an out, and the hitting team applauds because they got a base. What’s the point? A base for an out is not a good trade. Based on thousands of games of data we have available (graphic above), it is conclusive that the amount of runs a team can expect to score in an inning goes down when you transition from man at first, nobody out, to man at second, one out, or from man at second, nobody out, to man at third, one out, or from men on first and second, nobody out, to men on second and third, one out. Going from one out to two outs – same result, lower run expectancy. Let the stars star. Let the batter swing away.

As a pitcher, I’d be relieved to see a hitter give himself up and put down a sac bunt. If I’m struggling and the other team is staging a rally, I’m happy they’re opting to give up an out rather than make me earn one.

Time and time again baseball games are decided by one big inning. When that inning knocks, go for it. I was never a fan of playing for the one run. The Big Train won Game 1 Friday night with that five-run first inning. That was the difference in the game.

 

Bringing the infield in – is not the optimal tactic in the long run. It will lead to more big innings for the opposing team and cause your team to surrender far more runs over the course of the season. Think of it this way: fielders can get to more ground balls at normal depth than playing in, since they have more time to react at normal depth.

Bringing the infield in is to lower the chances of that one run scoring, at the expense of increasing the chances of a big inning for the other team. In my mind, that is not a good trade. Don’t bring the infield in.

 

Stealing Bases – Stealing differs from bunting in that it is a way to advance a base without having to give up an out, if completed successfully. However, the reward is slim compared to the penalty of failure. Stealing second base with one out does not increase the run expectancy nearly as much as getting caught trying to steal second for the second out decreases the run expectancy. A player must be successful a high enough percentage of the time in order for those steals to add value in the long run; a 70 percent success rate will do it. Among the most successful base stealers in the majors over the past few seasons are Billy Hamilton (CIN, 81.3% career success), Mike Trout (LAA, 85.5% career success), and Jackie Bradley Jr. (BOS, 95.2% career success).

 

Hit and Run – if successful, the hit and run can spark a big inning. However, they are rarely completed and often times leave teams wondering what could have been. Managers elect to hit and run if the batter is in a slump. You force him to swing the bat, you take the decision of whether to swing or not out of his hands. The batter will be swinging. If he misses or pops it up, the result will likely be in effect a double play. The runner, unless he is a good base stealer, will be thrown out at second base if the batter swings and misses, and the batter most likely will not end up getting on base in the at bat (unless his OBP is Clayton Daniel’s (Jacksonville State), Vinny Esposito’s (Sacramento State), or Cody Brown’s (Mississippi State), etc., and therefore is almost .500). I generally oppose the hit and run as an offensive strategy.

 

Pitches per Plate Appearance – there are two main schools of thought as to how each individual hitter should approach his at bat. Some coaches and scouts lobby for aggression, go up there swinging early in the count, not waiting around to pick out one he likes, as the early pitches may be the best the hitter sees before the pitcher starts nibbling. That is the Redbirds way. The other way is patience, the ability to lay off pitches to make the pitcher work harder, leading to more bases on balls, and mistake pitches, good ones to hit. That is the Big Train way. The Redbirds may have led the CRCBL in batting average with a .293; it did not translate to the most runs scored. That category belonged to the Big Train, despite having only a .277 average. However, the Big Train led in bases on balls, and on base percentage (the latter a much better predictor of offensive success than is batting average).

The Big Train and Redbirds are currently amidst their sixth matchup of the season, the suspended Game 2 of the LCS. Thus far, Big Train hitters have combined for 84 plate appearances against Redbirds pitching featuring five or more pitches. The Redbirds hitters have done so just 62 times against Big Train pitching. The result? The Big Train sits at 3-2 against the Redbirds and outscored Baltimore 22-16 in those five games.

It’s not hard to like Bethesda’s odds. Two of the Big Train’s four aces, Johnny York (St. Mary’s Calif.) and Drew Strotman (St. Mary’s Calif.), are on five days and four days rest, respectively. Four of the Redbirds’ best pitchers (Parsons, Blohm, Miller, Curtis) have thrown 66, 31, 28, and 71 pitches, respectively, in the last two days. The Bethesda bullpen is in better shape as well; Big Train relief pitchers have needed to throw just 11.2 innings thus far in the playoffs. Redbirds relievers, due to early exits from their starting pitchers this postseason, have needed to contribute 24.2 innings.

 

Allen Smoot (San Francisco) is up to bat in the top of the seventh with one out and the tying run on first base. MVP-candidate Esposito is on deck, to be followed by Brown and Justin Morris (Maryland). The game will resume at 1PM ET, under partly sunny skies and warm summer heat in the Baltimore suburbs. Who’s excited?

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