Go Partway!Posted: June 21, 2010
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 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.
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.
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!!!!