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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Games 3 Notes

A couple of notes on last night's game 3 victory by the Red Sox:

Killer Play
Contrary to Tim McCarver and Joe Buck's comments, the play by Jeff Suppan in the bottom of the third inning was the killer for the Cardinals. With runners on first and third and nobody out Suppan hesitated on the ground ball hit to the second baseman, then went back to third, then started for home again and finally headed back to third only to be thrown out by David Ortiz. Had he scored it would have made the score 2-1 with 1 out and a runner on third with Albert Pujols at the plate. The odds of scoring in that situation are well over 70% (66.2% with an average hitter) which would have tied the game.

Further, it would have stretched Pedro Martinez a bit more and possibly helped him reach the magical 100 pitch mark (he was taken out after 98) an inning sooner, which the Cardinals really needed. No, that was clearly the key play of the game. Larry Walker’s attempted tag on the flyball to Manny Ramirez with one out in the first inning seemed to me gamble worth taking early in the game.

Percentage Play
Later, the Red Sox had runners on first and second and nobody out when a fly ball (a "popup" as Joe Buck says of everything not a homerun) was hit to Jim Edmonds in medium centerfield. The runner on second, Orlando Cabrera, got set to tag and then did not as Edmonds made a pretty strong throw to third baseman Scott Rolen. Tim McCarver quickly opined that having Cabrera tag in that situation would have been a good play since the Red Sox were already up 2-0 and it would have gotten the runner to third.

I don't think McCarver was right. In that situation the run expectancy is 1.573 runs and the probability of scoring any runs is 64.1%. Had the tag been successful and both runners moved up it would have changed the run expectancy to 1.467 and the probability of scoring to 69.5%. However, when you fail the run expectancy drops like a rock to .344 and the probability of scoring to 22.3%. Because the cost of failure in this situation so high and the relative gain so little, when you calculate the break-even percentages on these numbers you quickly find out that it is never the "percentage play" to try and tag if your goal is to maximize the number of runs you’ll score in the inning. It is advisable to tag if you’re trying to score a single run but only if you think your odds of making it are greater than 88.6%. With Edmonds making the throw I don’t think the odds on Cabrera making it were anything like 88%.

A far better strategy in that situation would have been to try and double steal. The break-even percentages on that play are only 52.2% to score a single run and 63.9% to maximize runs. Those break-evens only decrease with 1 outs and so with a fast runner on second it is probably one of the most underutilized plays in baseball.