Go Partway!

Scenario: You are the runner on 2nd base and there is 1 out.  The score is 3 to 3 and it is the 4th inning.  A fly ball is hit to right center field and the right fielder will attempt to catch the ball.  As a runner you have average Major League speed.  If you choose to tag, you will be safe at 3rd base, but you will have to slide.

The next batter up hits in 7th in your lineup and he is a career .250 hitter with 10 HR’s and 60 RBI’s.

What Do the Readers Think?

In my unofficial tally, it looks like 40% of the readers think they should go “Partway” and 60% believe that they would tag up.

The Answer:

The runner on 2nd base should go “partway.”

Why?  Let’s ask “Disco!”

Tom Tango doesn’t know this, but my name for him is Tom “Disco” Tango!  He is someone who really has helped me put numbers to strong beliefs that I have about the game.  Disco has an amazing explanation to this situation and we would benefit by reading it.  So here it is from Tango aka Disco, Lichtman, and Dolphin’s site called The Book: Playing the Percentages

By Tangotiger (aka Discotiger)

Here are the possible outcomes:
a. RF catches ball, you tag up, you make it to 3B, 100% of the time
b. RF catches ball, you are somewhere between 2B and 3B, you need to get back to 2B, and will be thrown out there proportionate to how close you were to 3B
c. RF just misses getting the ball, you tag up, you make it to 3B, 100% of the time
d. RF just misses getting the ball, you round 3B, the RF throws it in, and you attempt to score proportionately to how close you were to 3B when the ball dropped in, and you will be thrown out a fixed percentage of your attempt rate (say 10%)

Now, give me about 10 minutes to look into my WE charts, and I’ll give you my answer.

UPDATE:
Presuming bottom of the 4th, the chance of winning to start that plate appearance is .5832.  Let’s do it:

a. Tag up: Runner on 3B, 2 outs makes it .5466 win probability

b. Take a lead:
(i) Runner on 2B, 2 outs makes it .5412 win probability
(ii) DP makes it .5000

c. Base hit: Runners on corners, 1 out makes it .6384 win probability

d. Base hit:
(i). You stick at 3B, so same as c. above
(ii). You try to score, the batter-runner holds at 1B, and you are:
1. Safe at home: Up by 1, runner on 1B, 1 out: .6824
2. Out at home: Runner on 1B, 2 outs: .5291
(iii). You try to score, the batter-runner goes to 2B on the throw, and you are:
1. Safe at home: Up by 1, runner on 2B, 1 out: .6983
2. Out at home: Runner on 2B, 2 outs: same as b(i) above

Ok, you need to have all those numbers in your head when you have to make your decision!

The difference between a. and b. above is so small that on a play that you think is a sure out, that it doesn’t really matter if you tag up or not.  That is, being on 2B with 2 outs and being on 3B with 2 outs is almost the same thing.  (That’s because the SF is now out.) So, tagging up is not really an option, not unless you are 100% sure that the RF will make the out.

Now, the tougher part: you are not sure if the RF will make the out.  If you take a big enough lead, you will score easy, and your win probability is around 68% to 70%.  If you take a good lead, but not big lead, you might get thrown out at home, in which case the win probability is 53% to 54%.  If you play “station-to-station” ball, the win probability is 64%.

So, let’s try to work it out, presuming it’s a 50/50 play (you are not sure if the RF will make the out or not).  You take a good lead (say halfway), but not big lead.

Batter is out, you make it back 45% of the time, and are doubled up 5% of the time.
Base hit, you score 40% of the time, and are thrown out 10% of the time.

That’s a .595 win probability.

If you simply played station-to-station (half the time a., and half the time c.), it would have been .593.

As you can see, you have to take a lead such that you have at most a 10% chance of being doubled up on a catch, and at most a 20% chance of being thrown out at home.  Sounds therefore that you should be about one-third to half-way to 3B.

That’s on a 50/50 play.

Conclusion

Many of the best base runners I have seen in the game will go partway in this situation no matter what.  It was amazing watching Jeff Bagwell do this almost every time.  I never remember him making a mistake on the base paths and that was because he followed this rule.

Instincts are born out of an understanding to preserve outs.  In other words, by sticking to this rule, a player positions himself (or herself Lisa, Gayle, or Karen…I hear you guys!) to take advantage of a defenses misplay while still giving the offense another chance to score.

I Can’t Tell You How Proud I Am of You Guys!

What amazed me the most about your comments was that you formulated a plan. To be honest with you, I have zero problem with those of you who chose to tag because you acted on your plan and stuck to it!  The vast majority of big league players have no plan when they are on the base paths.  That is why base running is so bad in the Big Leagues.  I myself have messed up so many times that it reminds me just how important it is to obey this rule.  Great job to everyone!

I’m proud of you guys!  I’m smiling right now!!!!


17 Comments on “Go Partway!”

  1. Rick says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but if you grant the “you should lead off sentiment”, Tom seems to ignore the possibility of still winding up on 3B in his weighted win probability math. This results in him over-stating the possibility of scoring or being thrown out at home.

    “Batter is out, you make it back 45% of the time, and are doubled up 5% of the time. Base hit, you score 40% of the time, and are thrown out 10% of the time.”

    Shouldn’t it be something like “base hit, you are held at 3B 25% of the time, score 20% of the time, and are thrown out 5% of the time?”

    • Rick I can tell you that if a outfielder drops the ball there is a very small chance that he throws the ball home. He will be so rattled that he will try and get it to the 2nd baseman who will be concerned with the batter who just popped the ball in the air.

      I will have to think about the other points you make.

      Morgan

  2. lisa gray says:

    an actual baseball player reading tango’s (brillliant) stuff and not sneering at him because “he never played the game” is the most absolute kewlest thing i have EVER heard any baseball player say!!!!!

    baggy was indeed an outstanding baserunner – i learned from him (just like i really learned about pitching by watching roger clemens) and the only other baserunner i think was just as good was larry walker. just like baggy, larry did everything well. both very VERY underrated ballplayers

  3. brian says:

    alright, perfect excercise!..thanks. i like your encouragement! i hate the concept of “win probability”! anything can happen, anytime! have energy! play ball! going to san quentin tomorrow…..with BILL LEE!!!!!…my mind is blown, i feel so lucky! total random occurence!…you’re next!

  4. Ashitaka says:

    I feel like I still might tag up even after reading this, but maybe that’s because the Astros’ offense has been…so woeful this year.

  5. Brade says:

    I ROCKED THIS QUESTION!😉

  6. Matt says:

    Great stuff. I tend to lean toward the conservative (my lack of innate daring-do is 50% a gift, 50% a curse), but I would have to weigh how routine a routine fly this is (is he settled under it or gliding toward it?), plus the ballpark and who is in the outfield/what my chances of scoring from 2B are if I stay there.
    If he is settled under it, I tag and fake, seeing if a wacky throw occurs. If he is gliding toward the ball, I am half way. I don’t want anything remotely close on a tag-up here, but may think differently if playing at Fenway or some smaller park or on artificial turf where a single does not mean I necessarily score on a single.

  7. David says:

    Morgan,

    When I read about base running and I am always reminded of the single smartest base running feat I have ever seen. A late ’90s Astros team was playing a tie game in the ninth inning at the Astrodome. Runners on 2nd (Bagwell) and 3rd. As the pitcher went from the stretch to being his motion forward I was amazed to see Jeff walking slowly back towards second base. Pitch after pitch he kept doing it. Take a modest lead and then walk back to the base as the pitch is delivered. I had never seen it done before but I finally realized why he did it. I could not think of a single reason why he mattered at all in that situation. Other than potentially distracting a fielder on a gourd ball, which is risky at best, he might as well have been sitting in the dugout. All he could do was potential cause an out, thus ending the rally.

    Have you ever seen such a move? Do you consider Jeff to be one of the best base runners of his time? I am a life-long Astros fan so perhaps I am biased, but I was constantly amazed at his below the radar base running decisions.

    Thoughts?

  8. Tom says:

    Morgan,

    The analysis is great. I was just wondering whether or not the win probabilities take into account the batting average of the hitters?

    You say that the player at bat is a .250 lifetime hitter and is batting 7th, but what if he was a .290 hitter batting 3rd and a .340 hitter was bating 4th instead of another .250 hitter batting 8th?

    Is there a large difference in win probabilities between being on 3rd with two outs and a .340 hitter or being on 3rd with two outs and a .250 hitter? And how does this all compare with a man on second with those two different hitters?

    • Tom I would have to ask Tom Tango on that. But to a certain degree you can take that into consideration. The most obvious case I think of is not stealing when a man is on 1st with a left hander up. That keeps the hole open which gives the left handed batter a better chance of getting a hit.

      Morgan

    • Tom- I really like this question. What is more important is for the runner to give themselves the best chance of scoring. By going part way, the runner is able to put pressure on the outfielder to make the play. If he doesn’t do this, he is putting his run at risk.

      Morgan

  9. Fred says:

    Loved the article, very insightful. The one thing I didn’t see in the percentages was if the runner makes it to third with two outs what are chances of scoring via wild pitch, passed ball, balk etc. Can’t be high but that percent should be accounted for since that won’t happen being on second

    • Fred I don’t know those percentages, but I will email Tom Tango and see what they are. I like your thinking here. One other advantage may be the type of pitches a batter sees in this situation.

      Morgan

      • Fred says:

        Thanks Morgan I didn’t take the pitcher into account. I guess catching Brad Lidge’s hard slider and who is catching, say Ruiz or Schneider must be taken into account. Also a high ball pitcher may change the scenerio. Thanks for the reply

        • You know it Fred. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that I try and answer everyone. Maybe one day it will be too hard, but for now I want to build a “team.”

          Morgan

  10. Dan Duran says:

    Haha. Read this after the All-Star game where David Ortiz was forced out at 2nd base from a rocket thrown by Right-Fielder Marlon Byrd. I’m sure you watched it. In that case, Ortiz was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. He said it best when he was quoted as saying, “I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and I was the wrong guy.” Well, he’s partially right about that, but he was definitely in the right place at the time of that shallow fly ball. If Byrd somehow makes that catch, he doubles Ortiz up at 1B. As it played out however, Byrd’s intention was to fire a seed to Furcal at 2B for the force out to get the slow moving Big Papi the whole time. Excellent play. Wrong baserunner. That’s just smart defense. But I can’t say I feel sorry for the AL this time around. 13 years is plenty enough. That was a well-played game and a lot of fun to watch.

    Hey, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I was referred to your blog by Aaron Gordinear. We played HS ball together in Roseville, CA. Now, he plays fantasy ball in my league and we chat when he can find time. Life and all. Pleasure to make your acquaintance and thanks for sharing these great perspectives. Keep up the good work!

    • Dan I disagree. The 1st problem is that Ortiz moved too far off of 1st base. We know that because he jabbed back to 1st base. He has more than enough speed to get to 1st or 2nd on that ball. And Gordo rules!

      Morgan


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