The big inning – that almost wasn’t

by billfer on September 25, 2006 · 27 comments

in 2006 Season,Managing & Strategy

Yesterday the Tigers put the game out of reach early with a monstrous 9 run 2nd inning. But that inning almost didn’t happen. In fact, Jim Leyland tried to keep that inning from happening. Here is what transpired:

1. Craig Monroe led off the inning with a double down the line.

2. Brandon Inge was called on to sacrifice bunt. Essentially giving away an out to advance Monroe to 3rd, or playing for 1 run rather than for runs. Fortunately for the Tigers Brandon took the first pitch, and was drilled by the 2nd. Now there are runners on 1st and 2nd.

3. Omar Infante is now called on to sacrifice bunt, giving up an out to move runners into scoring position in the 2nd inning. Infante got the bunt down, but the Royals couldn’t field it cleanly and everyone was safe.

Now with the bases loaded the bunt was taken out of the equation. For the rest of the inning the Royals would be forced to earn their outs. In doing so the Tigers managed to push 9 runs across.

Keep in mind that the Royals were lucky to escape the first inning without any damage. The Tigers loaded the bases, and Runelvys Hernandez was forced to throw 29 pitches. Yet the Tigers were willing to only make him throw 4 pitches to the first 3 hitters of the 2nd inning while actively trying to make an easy out.

There are several reasons I bring this up, and none are to rain on the awesome-ness that was the sealing of the Tigers first playoff date in 19 years.

First, I’m a stat guy and it is my duty to point out foolish use of the sacrifice bunt. If you need one run late in the game, it doesn’t bother me. If you have a very tough pitcher against a very weak hitter in a pitcher’s duel it doesn’t bother me. But in the 2nd inning, in a scoreless game, against a pitcher with an ERA over 6, when that pitcher struggled in the 1st inning, I say make the other team earn their outs.

Second, while I think this was clearly a tactical mistake by Leyland, the team did go on to score 9 runs. Maybe if Inge and Infante are hitting away they hit into outs. We’ll never know. What it does is highlight how difficult it is to assign wins or blame losses on managers. Here was an instance of what I consider to be poor managing and yet the team won in a blow out.

I do think that Leyland gives away too many outs with sacrifices and hit and runs. But at the same time pinning losses on him is nearly impossible to do.

 
 

{ 27 comments }

Jeff September 25, 2006 at 8:12 pm

Thank you for pointing that out. Too many people hear Rod Allen talking incessantly about “moving runners along” and start buying into it.

A team gets 27 outs per game. Don’t waste them.

Steve September 25, 2006 at 8:17 pm

Billfer great observation. I am not a stat guy but this year when Leyland has had pudge or some one else bunt to move over the runner, I always think why. Just let the guy swing away or hit a deep out. It seems like the prevent defense.

Second, I never liked Runelvys Hernandez, last year he plunked one of our guys and set off a large brawl and talked trash before during and after he set the thing off. I wish Farnsworth would have slamed him instead of the other pitcher. We have come a long way in a year and K/C looks like they have gotten worse. I think it will be a life time before they are 500.

Steve

Jeff M September 25, 2006 at 8:38 pm

Second, while I think this was clearly a tactical mistake by Leyland, the team did go on to score 9 runs. Maybe if Inge and Infante are hitting away they hit into outs. We’ll never know. What it does is highlight how difficult it is to assign wins or blame losses on managers. Here was an instance of what I consider to be poor managing and yet the team won in a blow out.

Well said.

However, my personal opinion is to agree with Rod Allen. I think it was he that mentioned that several Tigers have been bunting a lot lately. He suggested that it was a sort of “in-game practice”. Given that we had virtually clinched already and KC sucks anyways, he probably figured it was more valuable in to get some extra bunting practice, regardless of whether the situation actually called for it.

I expect him to “get better” tactically once the postseason begins. I could be wrong, so feel free to call me on it if he continues to “practice” once everything is on the line.

Nate September 25, 2006 at 8:54 pm

Interesting observations, Billfer. You made me check out some stats. I didn’t think the Tigers bunted all that often, but it turns out that they are tied for 2nd in the AL in sacrifices (44). That’s exceedingly high, when you consider that noted small ball afficianados like the Angels have only sacrified 30 times (9th in AL).

Kyle J September 25, 2006 at 10:40 pm

In general, I’ve been surprised how little Leyland has played small ball this year (bunts, hit and run, etc.). So I’ll cut him a little slack here (as does Bilfer).

I do have to say I tend to like the bunt with runners on first and second with nobody out. A double play can kill what looks like the beginning of a big inning and be deflating to the team. Plus, you’re playing for two runs in that situation, not just one.

hawk September 25, 2006 at 10:47 pm

Could it be (sac bunt) that due to the teams’ penchant for swinging early in the count and grounding into dp’s, that Leyland would rather give up one out – leaving runner in scoring position – than having 2 outs, noone on???? I don’t know where we sit in terms of dp’s, but gotta think we’ve grounded into a bunch. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t advocate the sac bunt – I was just thinking aloud, on paper . . . er . . .um. . . electronically . . ……….. digitally? . . … ^%$# brain freezing up, must lay down!!

hawk September 25, 2006 at 10:50 pm

Kyle must have posted as I was trying to think, or whatever it was I was doing. Didn’t mean to repeat what he said. BTW Bilfer, you continue to do great work, Thanks!

Adam September 26, 2006 at 2:22 am

I freakin hate the Twins. I have a feeling the Blue Jays are going to take 2 of 3 from us while the Twins sweep KC.

Nice thing is they need to actually BEAT (not just tie) us to win the division, since we won the season series.

Nick September 26, 2006 at 8:17 am

Kyle, I think you are still playing for one run in that situation. Bunting with a man on first and no outs is essentially playing for no runs, but with runners on first and second with no outs a bunt puts a runner at 3rd with one out, giving you a fairly high percentage shot at getting at least one run. Assuming you are going to get a base hit once a runner gets in scoring position is a bad idea. Staying out of the double play is nice, but if we assume our guys are just going to hit into double plays, how do we then get to the point where we think they can actually get hits if the runner is somewhere other than 1B?

Kyle J September 26, 2006 at 8:44 am

There are obviously pros and cons to bunting, and I suspect a pure statistical analysis would come down against bunting in this situation. But you can’t just argue that you shouldn’t bunt because then you’re counting on someone to get a base hit. If you don’t bunt, aren’t you counting on someone getting a base hit?

With the bunt, you get (1) a pretty good shot at one run with a sac fly or groundball (depending on the game situation) and (2) two shots at a hit to score a second run with (3) very little chance of a double play to kill the inning.

Without the bunt, you get (1) a better shot at a really big inning (3+ runs) and (2) three shots at a base hit to score at least one run but with (3) a substantial chance one of the next two hitters will ground into a double play.

All I’m saying is that I like the bunt with runners on first and second more than I like it with only a runner on first.

Ryan S September 26, 2006 at 9:30 am

Great analysis by Bilfer. It’s good to see people making situational distinctions for the sac bunt. Too often you see a blinders-on argument with stat-head/sabre-folk arguing against the bunt no matter what and old school small-ballers wanting to bunt their heads off. The situation we had in KC (early in the game, weak opposing pitching/team) called for swinging away to keep the big inning alive. Now move forward a week to the playoffs. Imagine a one run game with a tough pitcher on the mound. If the lead runner gets on in the late innings, the sac bunt makes a lot of sense. It’s all about the situation and it’s great to see people making that distinction here.

Lee Panas September 26, 2006 at 11:03 am

Good analysis Billfer. There was no reason to play small ball at that point. They were hitting the Royals hard all throughout the series. Playing small ball in the second inning was not a good idea. I get tired of analysts like Rod Allen thinking it’s always good to bunt or otherwise move runners along by making outs.

EZ September 26, 2006 at 11:09 am

Bilfer, very nice job, I really like your approach. It seems there is enlightened and healthy debate on this rather interesting topic. One thing not mentioned is the Tiger’s nauseating penchant for striking out. Inge has 121 K’s on the year, giving him a strikeout average of .233. During the run of the playoffs it is likely Inge hits 9th and you will see Polanco batting second. Given a runner on first and Inge at the plate, I will usually prefer the sac bunt to “set the table” for Polanco and the playoff dependable Pudge. The vexing part is that Granderson has a walloping 168 k’s and a strikeout average of .294 and hits before these tow. It will require 2 out hitting by Placido and Ivan to bring runners around. The point I am making is that Inge is about as likely to get ahit (.253 ave) as to strike out (.233). In the particular case on Sunday, I agree with you, let Hernandez wear himself out and swing away. But that is playing against a AAAA team. In the playoffs, with the Tigers striking out WAYYYYYYY too much, and not walking nearly enough we will have to rely on our superior pitching and try to squeeze out any run possible. Yes, there is a chance for a gap hit, but it is much more statistically likely for a whiff. Given my choice of runner on second with the now hot heart of the order coming up, or runner on first one out after ANOTHER K, I will chose a runner in scoring position. Just my opinion.

Nate September 26, 2006 at 12:15 pm

Hawk asked how often the Tigers ground into double plays: to my surprise, the Tigers are tied with the Mariners for the second fewest GDP in the American league, having grounded into 114 of them. In the majors, they are in a three-way tie for fifth (Philly is the third team). To put that number in perspective, Tampa Bay is the only team to ground into less than 100 DP so far this year. They have 98.

J September 26, 2006 at 1:51 pm

The Tigers low number of double plays directly reflects their inability to make contact-k’s, high number of sac bunts and hit -and-runs. The sacrifices and moving runners are necessary for this team to create runs. Otherwise we are a slow pitch softball team who moves one base at a time and waits for the homerun. This never works-see the 06 White Sox. Surely, it would have been the big inning that wasnt had Infante hit a ground ball to short for a double play. I still think the Tigers would have scored 9 even if they had successfully sacrificed. The Royals are that bad.

Lee Panas September 26, 2006 at 1:51 pm

You might think they Tigers would hit into a lot of doubleplays because they are so slow. However, I think the Tigers do not ground into doubleplays for 2 reasons:

1. They don’t get on base much.
2. They strike out a lot.

Nick September 26, 2006 at 2:30 pm

Kyle said: “There are obviously pros and cons to bunting, and I suspect a pure statistical analysis would come down against bunting in this situation. But you can’t just argue that you shouldn’t bunt because then you’re counting on someone to get a base hit. If you don’t bunt, aren’t you counting on someone getting a base hit?”

That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying if you are bunting simply [b]to avoid the double play[/b], then it is a waste of time because apparently you expect your hitters to hit ground balls right at defenders.

I agree that bunting with runners on 1st and 2nd is better than bunting with just a runner on first. Though I think you are overestimating the chance of a double play. That really depends on the pitcher and hitter. A flyball pitcher facing Inge, Infante and Granderson doesn’t strike me as a likely DP situation (though I don’t think Hernandez is an extreme FB or GB pitcher).

J said: “This never works-see the 06 White Sox”

Didn’t the ’06 Sox score a higher percentage of their runs off home runs than anyone else?

EZ September 26, 2006 at 2:53 pm

Nick, any pitcher facing Inge, Infante, and Granderson has a 25% chance of getting a strike out (total AB’s for the 3 [1304] divided by total strikeouts for all three [331]= .253). And that is using every pitcher they have faced this season. In the playoffs they will face the best pitching by the best teams every game. This will make the likelyhood of strikeouts increase. Given this situation, a runner on second with one out is by far better than a runner on first with one out. The object here is not avoiding double plays but to put runners in scoring position as often as possible and then rely on timely hitting and good pitching to see us through. A double with a runner on first may or may not score a run. A double with a runner on second scores a run. Most often it will take two hits, or a HR, to score from first. This is not a likely scenerio against Zito, Johnson, Mussina, Zito, Rivera, Nathan, Santana, or any of the other pitchers from playoff teams. We can hope for a home run and watch a lot of K’s, or we can play for every run possible. Again, this is just my opinion, not a personal attack…. Go Tigers. — oh and lastly, the home run happy ’06 White Sox aren’t in the playoffs. The smallball White Sox of ’05 won the title with pitching and timely hitting.

Kurt September 26, 2006 at 3:16 pm

Ozzie ball was half marketing. They did move some runners and have some low scoring games, but the White Sox still scored their runs off homer last season and his overmanagement was sometimes costly.

I wouldn’t quite call the Tigers a team that moves one base at a time. They actually are in the middle of the AL in doubles and second in triples. They don’t steal much but they’re still right in the middle of the AL there, too. They’re near worst in strikeouts but they’re only half a K worse than the Yankees and White Sox per game. I’d say they are what they are: a typical American League baseball team… but with an undeniable OBP problem.

Anyway, down to bunting. I agree with bilfer in this particular case. When you are hitting a pitcher pretty good, I think you swing away unless you REALLY need one run. I think you manufacture a tying or leading run late. That’s about all. In the AL, it’s just too easy to make up one run on one swing. I’d rather go for my own big inning unless you’re in a real tight game or against Santana or someone. But against the Royals, I don’t think you worry about manufacturing. With Inge, 80 RBI and 26HR, I don’t bunt.

Generally, I don’t really like bunting that much unless you’ve got a bad batter followed by a good one (like that top-of-the-lineup example above). I don’t really worry about doing anything in order to avoid the negative (double play). If you’re that afraid of grounding into one, maybe put on a hit and run and see.

billfer September 26, 2006 at 3:17 pm

EZ – the reason the 06 White Sox are at home isn’t because of their home run happy ways. It’s because they’ve already allowed 130 more runs than they did last year. And as for the small ball White Sox, they finished 4th in the AL in homers.

As for maximizing chances, yes there is a good chance given the team makeup that they could strike out. But by bunting there’s a 90% chance you make an out, and you typically do it on the first or second pitch. You take out almost any possibility of a hit, a walk, a wild pitch, etc.

If you want to rely on timely hitting, would you just assume have more chances at that timely hit? An out takes away one of those chances.

EZ September 26, 2006 at 3:30 pm

Bilfer, a single with a runner on first requires an addtional timely hit to score him. A single with a runner on second gives us a run (unless its Sean Casey, in which case you would need two triples, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice to score him from second). I prefer runners in scoring position since the Tigers we are discussing (Inge, Infante, Granderson) already have a 25% chance of striking out with that runner on first. Of course the time of game matters as well. A tied game in the 7th, 8th, or 9th means a greater chance of a sacrifice. Earlier in the game I will agree to let the inning play out by letting the hitters hit. But, if we run into… say…A Red Hot Randy Johnson, it may be asking too much to hope for an extra base hit to score a runner from first, or for us to string together consecutive base hits to score that run. Better to move the runner along and hope Polanco (.375 hitter with RISP, or the playoff Stud Pudge will deliver). In any event, thanks for the enlightened debate and fantastic site… Here is hoping we are both right for the duration of the season concluding in long ball and small ball victories at Shea….

Kurt September 26, 2006 at 3:34 pm

Just to follow up on the White Sox point, here’s two quotes from a Baseball Prospectus article from June by Joe Sheehan.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=5240

“See, it was just about a year ago that the White Sox were cruising along with the best record in the game. Riding along with that mark was a flood of stories about how they were winning, stories that rarely mentioned that historic defensive performance and their reliance on the home run, but rather emphasized their use of the stolen base and sacrifice bunt. The Sox did attempt a lot of steals and lay down a lot of bunts in 2005, but those things had much less impact on their record than did the amazing defense and the 199 home runs.”

“The White Sox, who were among the teams most reliant on the longball to score last year, are even more power-oriented in 2006.”

Nick September 26, 2006 at 3:35 pm

Yeah, that should have said 05 Sox in my last response, not 06. In 06 their offense improved, their pitching got worse, and they got a bit less lucky.

EZ, do we really want to rely on “timely hitting” from Inge, Granderson, and Infante, considering they are hitting .254, .284 and .260 between them. We don’t have the type of team that can really rely on timely hitting, because 1) the strength of most of our hitters is hitting for power, not average and 2) we don’t have enough guys on base to make it work consistently (partly because of 1) and partly because we don’t draw enough walks). Relying on timely hitting is basically saying lets pitch good and hope we get lucky.

Nick September 26, 2006 at 3:42 pm

How do we know we are facing a red hot randy johnson early in the game?

If you are going to sac bunt, you want to do so late in the game when it is close. I think that is the main point of billfers post honestly.

Why does it matter that there is a 25% chance that one of Granderson, Inge or Infante will strikeout with that runner on first? You arne’t likely to get a sac fly with a runner on first, and a groundball is more likely to be a DP than to advance the runner. A strikeout is actually a good out (relatively speaking) in that situation. By putting the runner on 2B, the strikeout hurts you more and you only have two chances to get a hit, compared to three. A single may score the guy from second, but it also might not, just like a double might score the guy from first and it might not.

If we can’t get extra base hits and/or string together multiple hits in the playoffs, we aren’t going to score very many runs.

Kurt September 26, 2006 at 3:42 pm

I think everyone agrees with you, EZ, that whether to bunt depends on the situation, no one is saying there should be no bunting. But in that particular case, there wasn’t much need for it.

Your point that the three guys due up strike out a lot can probably go either way. Monroe doubled. He’s likely scoring on a hard-hit single. That’s why you bunt a guy to second anyway. But you never know. So you take away one out and still have two strike-out hitters left to drive him in. I’d rather take my chances with three outs than two outs in that situation. If say, Infante doubled and Granderson was up, you might want to bunt him for the productive out because of the guys behind him.

In any case, good discussion.

EZ September 26, 2006 at 3:53 pm

Nick, in no way have I advocated the reliance of timely hitting from Inge, Infante, Granderson. On the contrary, I am saying have these three sacrifice in order to bring the likes of Polanco and Pudge up with RISP. Furthermore, we can effectively remove Infante from this equation as (HOPEFULLY for all of us) Polanco takes his place. Taking out Infante greatly increases the likelyhood of strikeout because both Inge and Granderson have much higher strike out rates than Omar. In fact Granderson strikes out at a .295 clip! This is all the more argument to move a runner along and let Polanco hit. He who has a .375 average with RISP. Ok… I was not going to post anymore, we have made our points, I just felt that Nick missed my point with his last post… Peace all.

Nick September 26, 2006 at 4:16 pm

I got your point, I just don’t agree with it. I don’t think strikeouts are as bad as you are making them out to be (relative to the other outs that are likely to occur). We can really only have one of those three sacrafice to give Polanco and Pudge chances at driving runners home, whichever one is batting leadoff. And I do think a sacrafice bunt makes laot more sense with Pudge or Polanco coming up, so a Granderson sac bunt makes alot more sense than a sac bunt attempt from Inge, followed by one from Infante, considering the overall situation.

Remember the year Fick was great with runners in scoring position? You are kidding yourself if you think Polanco actually has a 37.5% chance at a hit with a runner in scoring position. From 02-05 he was a .320 hitter w RISP (.306 hitter overall) and a .244 hitter w RISP and two outs.

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