As I’m sure you know, Major League Baseball is toying with the idea of putting a runner on second base sometime around the 12th inning. While I’m not doing this to argue its validity or lack thereof, I’m going to discuss and evaluate some scenarios that could happen under those conditions. It won’t be anything groundbreaking; I’ll be demonstrating the metrics involved with a team under the various circumstances I induce.
The following scenarios are played out to score at least one run in a given inning. Top or bottom of the inning, I envisage the same sort of conditions will play out for both teams. And because there is never any telling what part of the order will start with this setup, I speak in generalizations.
I’ve thought about what would be the likeliest of moves under this arrangement and I’m going to guess it would come down to the most boring events in baseball; the offense bunts the runner to third or the pitcher intentionally walks the first batter attempting to set up the double play. Of course, there will be times when the managers decide to simply attack the situation as-is. That’s more of a volatile situation and therefore much harder to work with.
First, the basics. From 2010-2015, having a runner on second base with no one out produces the following:
- The predicted number of runs scored is 1.100
- The percent chance of scoring a run under those conditions is 61.4%
So from the get-go, the offense is expected to score a run in three out of every five chances.
Play the bunt or a standard defense?
Let’s start off with the first of two scenarios; the bunt to move the runner over to third. I feel like this is the most likely action but also the most difficult to work with because of varying defensive strategy. Will the defense make an anticipatory shift for a bunt or will they be in ‘straight up’ formation? In 2011, Bill James found out that bunting in sacrifice situations produced a .102 batting average. Not like we needed that because we could have guessed that you’re going to be out roughly 90% of the time.
To bunt or to swing away?
So assume the hitter lays down a bunt that moves the runner while making an out at first. Run expectancy is now 0.95 with a 66% chance of scoring a run. Your run expectancy went down 0.15 runs BUT you increase your chances of scoring by a little less than 5%. Would bunting make sense to you as a manager? Taking out any sacrifice-type contact, if your hitter produces an out and the runner has to stay at second, your run expectancy drops to 0.664 and the chance of scoring a run plummets to roughly 40%. Still feel the same way (regardless of the hitters bunting ability)?
Walk or pitch to the next hitter?
Keeping with the initial decision, we have a runner on third and one out. Pitch to the next hitter or put him on to set up the double play? Our strategy could be further altered because at this point the defense might be inclined to bring out a ground-ball pitcher or create a split situation (lefty vs lefty and vice versa). But again, let’s go with the assumption that the team will do the safest thing by having the next hitter walked. That puts runners on first and third with one out. That decision causes run expectancy to jump back up 0.18 to 1.13 and but the probability you’ll score at least one run drops to 63.4%. Would you make that same call (remember, we are in a vacuum)?
Runners on first and third with one out produce the following expectancy:
- Average number of runs scored is 1.130
- The chance of scoring a run under those conditions is 63%
One of a couple of outcomes will follow should you elect not to intentionally walk the hitter. He will drive in the run by putting the ball in play various ways (sacrifice fly, fielder’s choice, hit, etc) and accomplish what the offense set out to do; score at least once to put the pressure on the home team. Or, the hitter could strike out, ground out (which could turn into a double play, an out at home, etc) or fly out. If contact is made, this could alter our base-out states: two outs and runners at various bases (first and third, second and third, second or first should the runner somehow get thrown out at home). Due to the randomness of contact in this event, we’ll stay with the intentional walk.
To bunt or to swing away, pt II?
So what about the offensive strategy for first and third, one out? The options are much more vast. You could sacrifice bunt to move a runner over to second (assuming the runner on third is held up), thereby dropping run expectancy to 0.580 and dropping your scoring chances to 26%. The risk here is having the batter somehow bunt into a double play; runner at third is tagged/thrown out and the batter is thrown out at first. Do you, as a manager, take the initial risk that set up this problem? It is challenging to turn a double play on a bunt but if the defense is ready, it makes it easier to do so.
This time, let’s assume the hitter botches the bunt to the first base side and the overeager runner is thrown out at home (or caught in a rundown), runner safe at first. Now, with two outs, there’s a runner on first and second, we sit at a very poor run expectancy of 0.429 and have just over a one in five chance of driving in that run.
Walk or pitch to the next hitter, pt. II?
At this point, again with neutral context, you can walk the batter to load the bases, (if the hitter is too good and the next isn’t great, etc.) or you can just pitch to the batter (maybe bringing in a bullpen specialist). Walking the batter gives the offense a 10%better chance of scoring and a .33 increase for run expectancy.
If you elect to pitch to the batter either the final out is made or runs score. Walking the batter loads the bases and forces the defense to hope for the best. The latter situation would actually produce the most excitement; a crucial decision would need to be made. Either way, my tangent baseball universe will end; three outs, inning over or the needed run(s) score.
While I don’t necessarily agree with or enjoy the thought of the game being altered in this way, it could produce some interesting strategical decisions and test the maneuvering skills of team managers.
This post and others like it can be found over at The Junkball Daily.
Pitching strategist. Driveline Baseball pitch design-certified. Systems Administrator for a high school by day, I also provide ESPN with pitching visuals and am the site manager for SB Nation's Bucs Dugout.