Wednesday, August 13, 2008

We All Make Sacrifices


Sac Bunt












































Since baseball has no time measurement the sport relies on the increment of outs, particularly 27 outs per side (or 24 if you are the home team with the lead after the top of the 9th), to act as the clock. Researchers from George Lindsay to Pete Palmer have discovered long ago the value of not giving away outs, condemning the practice of sacrificing, the act of exchanging an out for 90 feet. Data has shown that foregoing the sacrifice will help produce more offense over the course of a season. Bill Felber in his analysis of the game of baseball wrote in his book "The Book on the Book" that there are just a few times in which a sacrifice is useful. In short specifically when a) a your pitcher not named Micah Owings is batting or b) you have shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt (.259/.273/.358) batting and you are playing for one run. This is because on the whole trading one of your outs for a base decreases the likelihood that a run will score. Probability wise, when there are no outs and a runner on first, the team batting will score an average of .907 runs. Giving up an out for second base decreases the amount of runs scored by -.187.
Armed with this knowledge, why do managers - especially American League managers that do not have to suffer from the dreaded offensive void from a pitcher batting - choose to surrender one of the precious 27 outs? Ron Gardenhire has implemented the sacrifice bunt 39 times thus far in the 2008 season leading the league in the category. The practice allow infuriorates some statheads. Gardenhire has readily accepted 39 outs. Why? More importantly, if sacrificing bunting impedes the ability to amass runs, how are the Twins discarding this commonly accepted theory and are still fifth in the league in runs scored per game?
Gardenhire's main perpretrator for the bunt has been whomever is batting in the two spot (15 sacrifice bunts). The two-hitter has been used without discrimination, it does matter whether it Alexi Casilla (8 sac bunts), who was batting a productive .315/.352/.414 while hitting second, or Brendan Harris (4 sac bunts), who was batting an inferior .250/.327/.354 following the lead-off batter. The decision to ask a batter who has been hitting .250 to lay down a bunt certainly lends credence over requesting someone batting .315 to, but it becomes slightly more logical to bunt when you consider that with a runner on first, both Harris and Casilla have grounded in doubleplays 7% of the time. The choice of sacrificing one out instead of the cost of two is more reasonable: With two outs and no one on base, the chances of scoring a run in that inning decrease from .907 with a runner on first and no outs to .114 with no runners on and two outs.
Casilla is not the only hitter batting over .300 that Gardenhire would rather bunt then swing. Denard Span has recorded 6 sacrifice bunts as well while batting .309 on the season. In addition to the 18 sacrifice bunts by Casilla, Harris and Span, Gardenhire has had the light-hitting Adam Everett to square up on five pitches. Recent power surge notwithstanding, Everett has been as close to dreadful at the plate as possible. His .214/.273/.347 batting line does not inspire much confidence that he will successfully reach base and advance the runner simultaneously. This, of course, was not news. The Twins invested a significant amount of time in the spring getting Everett to hone his bunting skills. Situationally, however, three of Everett's sacrifices have come while he was batting eight with a statistically similar Carlos Gomez (.254/.291/.344) hitting behind him. Technically Gomez has only recorded 2 sacrifice bunts, though he has attempted 56 bunts, reaching base successfully 48% of the time. Not only does Gomez advance a runner, but he also increases the opportunity of converting what would be a sacrifice to a hit with his speed. Under the circumstances with runners on first and second and no outs, the offensive team typically score an average of 1.515 runs.
As described previously, moving a runner up to second at the expense of an out costs the team -.187 runs. When considering how to deploy a hitter like Adam Everett or Carlos Gomez with a runner on first and no outs one must determine what is the chances he will either a) reach first successfully through a hit in turn advancing the lead run, b) record an out but put the ball in play in a manner that would advance the runner on first (a rarity considering the events that have to transpire in order to have a fielder's choice happen while avoiding a doubleplay), c) strike out or d) ground into a doubleplay. Though Everett rarely strikes out (11%) he is prone to hitting plenty of infield flyballs (11%) and his batting average on balls in play (.229) suggest that he will be converted to an out without advancing the runner (or worse recording two outs). Similarly Gomez is a strikeout machine (23.5%) and matches Everett's infield fly propensity (14%) suggesting that the possibility of Gomez propelling the leading runner forward to be minimal. To waste an out with a low level of advancement success can me more detrimental to a ball club than the -.187 at the expense of a sacrifice. If Everett or Gomez fail to move the runner to second at the same time recording an out, the run possibility decreases from .907 to .544 (-.363 net loss). That said a successful sacrifice bunt would gain a potential +.176 runs over a failed plate appearance that resulted in an out with a runner on first.
So why hasn't the excessive bunting cost the Twins runs? Without reviewing a season's worth of play-by-play data, it is hard to determine how many runners that were advanced on those 39 sacrifices ultimately scored but it would be easy to assume that a good percentage did cross the plate. A possible explanation for this has been the Twins' gaudy batting average with runners in scoring position. 31.3% of at-bats the Twins have managed to hit safely, driving in 465 of their 592 runs under those circumstances. Having Casilla or Harris move Gomez to second or third with one out in front of Mauer (.351 with risp) or Morneau (.376 with risp) ensuring that one run will score. Certainly this disregard for 39 outs could have a negative effect on the runs that COULD HAVE scored if Casilla or Span were allowed to swing away as the season progresses but Gardenhire appears to be playing the numbers and it is working for the team.
Up too late.
A security guard falls down after Minnesota Twins third baseman Brian Buscher, right, collided with her while chasing a foul ball by New York Yankees' Wilson Betemit which went into the stands in the fifth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008, in Minneapolis.
* I hate being up at 12:19 am writing. Especially after a brutal extra innings Twins loss to the Yankees...
* After complaints about his playing time, the Tigers have opted to place Gary Sheffield on waivers. As I suggested back in January, the Gary Sheffield trade is proving to be ill-advised for the Detroit Tigers. After trading Anthony Claggett, Humberto Sanchez, and Kevin Whelan to the Yankees for Sheffield, they signed him to a two-year, $28-million dollar extension for 2008 and 2009. Now 38 years old, Sheffield has seen his numbers decline and his injuries increase as the months pass in a season. His best month, June, consisted of just 29 plate appearances as he hit .286/.310/.536. "I can be in the outfield and play every day. I don't want to DH," Sheffield told the Boston Globe. "I don't feel like a baseball player when I DH. I don't know how to be the leader that I am from the bench. I can't be a vocal leader. I can't talk to guys from the bench because I don't feel right about it." Interestingly enough, Sheffield has not played a relevant position since 2005 when he logged 1,099 innings at right field for the Yankees. Commented general manager Dave Dombrowski, the orchestrator of the Sheffield acquisition, "If he's found out he doesn't like it, well, that's the only role we have for him at this time. He has not shown from a health perspective that he's been able to play every day in the outfield. He just has to perform the task that's asked of him."
* Like the Tigers, the Yankees might be falling into a similar trap of relying too much on their veteran talent. Hank Steinbrenner noted that the injuries to key players such as Chien-Ming Wang, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy in 2008 while provide the Yankees the opportunity to return to the World Series in 2009 when they are fully healed. "We're going to win it next year," Steinbrenner said. "If we need to add a top veteran pitcher, we'll do that. We'll do whatever we need to do. Next year we'll be extremely dangerous." Certainly the Yankees have the cash to sign either Ben Sheets or C.C. Sabathia, both of whom the Brewers have said they do not have the money to resign and either (or both) will look good with Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy in the 2009 rotation. However, the Yankees are plenty deficient in several areas that will need addressing. Defensively they are atrocious and not getting younger. Derek Jeter, currently 33 years old, is due $20 million in 2009 and $21 million in 2010. Obviously the money means nothing to the likes of a Steinbrenner, as indicitive of the 10-year, $275 million contract given to Alex Rodriguez, but Jeter is almost certain to decline further as a shortstop in those years. According to, his most comparable player at 33 is Roberto Alomar. Alomar never had another season offensively where his statistics were above league average after turning 33 and was traded twice and shamefully retired a Tampa Bay Devil Ray in 2005 without playing an inning that season. With $41 million committed to Jeter in the next two seasons, he seems as immovable for New York as the Statue of Liberty - there are few organizations that a) need an aging shortstop and b) have the resources to pay for it. Aside from requesting he relocate to second base, the only likelihood of gaining value out of Jeter is to trade him to an organization that loves to obtain aging talent. But Jeter isn't the only problem, the list goes on. Jorge Posada is due $39.1 million through 2011. Posada is 36 years old and is brittle as a catcher, most likely destined to be a first baseman or designated hitter as he approaches 40. His bat can still swing and hope is that he winds up being similar to his most comparable player, Carlton Fisk, who had relevant years in to his 44th year. But Fisk proves to be the exception in terms of longevity for a catcher. A great target to plunder would be the Tampa Bay organization. Not just because the Yankees operate out of Tampa and are likely hobnobbing with the front office of Tampa, but Tampa has a meaty minor league system, a taste of a pennant race but empty seats. Like Kansas City in the 1950s and 1960s, Tampa Bay could become a suitable trading partner for the Yankees when attempting to dump enormous contracts of aging players albeit headlining talent able to bring fans to the ballpark on to a region that could use drawing power. Yes, it is far-fetched considering that Tampa's first competitive season was conceived because they were no longer investing in washed-up talent but rather homegrown prospects. Certainly the Rays could fall into the same trap that the Yankees did when they exchanged Sheffield for three of the Tigers prospects after they fell short of October glory in 2006. If you are Brian Cashman, trading the players that still have some luster left should be a priority.
* Sports Illustrated's John Donovan does not foresee Francisco Liriano as the savior, but he certainly could be the difference maker in the American League Central race as the White Sox's Jose Contreras will be out for the season. Would you rather have Liriano or D.J. Carrasco/Lance Broadway as your 5th starter?
* The Star Tribune highlighted the background of the three Pohland boys, Jim (55), Bob (54) and Bill (52). Though I'm sure the trio will do a very good job of fronting the organization, I still am confounded by the story Jay Weiner relayed in his book Stadium Deal: Fifty Years of Greed and Bush League Boondoggles in which a meeting with the Twins executives and scouts resulting in Bill, the brother that helped finance movies such as 'Brokeback Mountain', asking the group why baseball players didn't have uniformed swings like golfers only to get disbelieving stares in return.
* On Monday, the Twins inked Bobby Kielty to a minor league deal, having him report to Rochester. There are a lot of positives in the career of Bobby Kielty. For starters, Kielty displayed great patience, sporting a career walk rate of 11.8%, and was a tough strike out (just 17.8% of his plate appearances) for a player with the power that Kielty had (.408 career slugging). As for the biggest highlight of his career Kielty smacked a pinch-hit solo home run in the deciding Game Four against the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series. This past off season the 31-year-old Kielty was one of the affordable free agents who mashes left-handed pitching. In his seven season, Kielty has hit .296/.379/.503 against southpaws as a right-handed batter but has seen his production decrease when turning around to the left side of the plate to face right-handed pitchers, hitting .228/.329/.348. His low price tag made him a target among stats worshippers, identifying him as the ideal platoon partner in the outfield or as a designated hitter. The Red Sox, a team that employs Bill James, decided to retain Kielty and let him battle for the 4th outfield position. Kielty was beset with a bone growth in his right hand that had been bothering him for several seasons that finally became a problem in the form of a fracture in the height of spring training. "It had been something that had hung around for a few years," said Kielty. "Then I suffered a fracture on it, and I decided that I needed to have surgery done for myself and my career. If I didn't do it, it would be something that would be nagging me for a long time." Kielty opted for surgery in May that would significantly impede his ability to compete for a roster spot in 2008 given his accelerated age. During his rehabilitation stint with the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, Kielty suffered yet another setback this time in the form of a oblique pull that would cost Kielty another month of recovery. In 2008, Kielty has had a grand total of 108 at-bats hitting .241/.366/.417 split between the California League, the New York-Penn and the International League. Still Kielty has proven that he can still wallop the lefties batting .333/.485/.625 in hist 24 at-bats this year. The additional injury to Michael Cuddyer tarnished any thoughts of him returning to be a contributing bat in the Twins lineup against lefties during the stretch run. If the Twins utilize Kielty right, which is to say using him against the left, the Twins might find value in his signing. Even if he never fully recovers this season, Kielty give Rochester a replacement bat for Randy Ruiz.