On Running The Bases

July 20, 2008 – 5:13 pm

Third base coach Bobby Meacham has taken a lot of flack this season for his aggressive approach to base running, but for the most part I’ve agreed with what he’s been doing.  Now if the team is prone to big innings and scoring lots of runs, then I can see how you wouldn’t want to risk making outs on the base paths.  But as we all know, that’s not the case with this team.  Runs are scarce, very scarce, and big innings are all but extinct.  So why not be aggressive on the base paths?

Case in point is Sunday’s game, first inning, when Meacham sent A-Rod home on Cano’s single.  You’ve got two outs, and Wilson Betemit is next up.  Betemit is hitting .250 for the season, but more importantly below .150 of late.  So if you hold Rodriquez at third and leave it up to Betemit to drive him in, you’ve only got about a 20% chance of that happening.  You have to trade that off against the probability of the outfielder making the play at the plate.  If it’s less than 80% (i.e., more than 20% probability he won’t make the play), then you send the runner.  That’s just common sense.  Now the reality is that it’s a bit more complicated than that — but still, when you’ve got a weak hitter coming up you’re better off testing the outfielder than playing it safe.  Turns out on this particular occasion it didn’t work out for Meacham and the Yankees, but still the call seems to be the right one given the situation.  And sure enough, Betemit struck out to lead off the second so in all likelihood A-Rod wasn’t going to score anyway.

Now what you will hear from the people complaining about Meacham is that when you take chances like this you are “giving away outs”.  Well, that’s not true at all — what you are doing is risking giving away an out in order to score a run.  And that’s what the game is all about.  It’s no different than the old adage in business that “you have to spend money to make money”.  The game is not about conserving outs, it’s about scoring runs.  And to do that, you have to make judicious use of your outs.  You’ve got 27 outs to work with, and you take calculated risks with some of them in order to maximize the runs scored.  So when the probabilities dictate taking the chance, you should do it.

Another example of this is using the sacrifice bunt, which I think is quite often over-used for exactly the same reasons that I think aggressive base running makes sense.  Again, it’s all about the probabilities.  If you have a .250 hitter at the plate, you’ve got a 25% probability that he will advance a runner with a hit.  What are the probabilities if you have him bunt?  If you increase them significantly over 25% then it makes sense.  But the problem here is that just how many hitters these days can actually lay down a sac bunt with significantly better than a 25% probability of success?  The answer sadly is not too many.  So in this situation — unless you’ve got the rare batter up who actually has some bunting skills — then you are better off just having him hit away and hope for the best.

So ends today’s lesson in probabilities!

Post a Comment