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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Sabermetric Wisdom

An interesting situation occurred in the Braves/Cubs game the other day that illustrates the use or actually nonuse of sabermetrics in baseball. In the top of the 15th inning with the game tied the Cubs had runners on 1st and 3rd with one out. On a 2-1 count Tom Goodwin hit a lazy fly ball down the right field line. J.D. Drew, the Braves rightfielder seemed to size up the ball, get in position, and then proceed to catch it in foul territory by about 3 feet. The runner on third tagged and scored and Drew nearly caught the runner on first before he got back. In any case, the Cubs went on to win 2-1 on the strength of the sacrifice fly.

The question is, should Drew have caught the flyball or let it drop in foul territory moving the count 2-2 and keeping the game tied? I think the appropriate way to answer this questions is to calculate the odds of the Braves winning given the two possible outcomes and seeing what the difference is. In sabermetrics such "Win expectancy" or WE tables have been calculated like the one you can find here. The authors of Curveball, which I blogged about previously, also include one. Taking a look at the table you can see that in the top of the 9th inning (which would apply to the top of an extra inning as well) with the score tied, runners on 1st and 3rd with 1 out the odds of the home team (Braves) winning are .306. However, once Drew takes the sacrifice fly the odds drop to .177. That is, the odds of the Braves winning actually drop by around 13%. That's pretty significant and you would think that at least there would be some question from the announcers and postgame discussion of what would have been the proper play. However, it probably shows a bias towards thinking that your team "only" has to score one run to tie and since that happens everyday, it can't be that hard. Unfortunately for the Braves the numbers simply don't support that intuition. And so this is clearly a case where some sabermetric wisdom could have overridden the conventional wisdom.

As far as I know the announcers on WGN did not comment on the possibility of allowing the ball to drop and I didn't see any comments from the Braves. However, I'll grant that as an outfielder it is difficult to know exactly where the ball would have dropped although in this case it appeared Drew did know. Also, I'll credit Drew with trying to catch the runner going back to first and so he certainly had a plan.

This situation has caused a bit of discussion on the SABR list as well.

1 comment:

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