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December 21, 2011

Spinning Yarn

Hit-and-Run Success is No Accident

by Mike Fast

In this game you never know enough.”—Dale Mitchell

The hit-and-run play is not highly regarded by the analytical crowd. It is considered a one-run play and, like the sacrifice bunt attempt, it garners derision from people who hate small-ball tactics. No lesser authority than Earl Weaver preached against the use of the hit-and-run play in his book, Weaver on Strategy:

I don’t have a hit-and-run sign, and I believe it’s the worst play in baseball… you often give the opposition an out on the hit-and-run play. That’s because you can’t trust the pitcher to throw a strike, so the hitter is often waving weakly at a ball that’s off the plate. That usually results in a weak grounder that gets the runner to second, but the hitter is easily retired at first. Hell, you may as well bunt! Over the course of the season, only a few guys actually get hits on the hit-and-run play, because everything must go right for it to work. About the only thing you can say for the hit-and-run is that it prevents the double-play grounder. But when you add up the caught stealing, the weak grounders, and the line-drive double plays, that advantage vanishes. I’ll take my chances with a normal swing anytime.

As far as I can tell, no one has ever published a study on the value of the hit-and-run play. Thanks to data collected by MLB Advanced Media and provided by Retrosheet, it is now possible to research this question. The pitch sequence data from Retrosheet includes a notation of runners going with the pitch back to the 2003 season. The nine seasons of data from 2003-2011 should be enough to get a good idea of the value of the hit-and-run play.

The first problem to overcome is identifying the hit-and-run plays. Except on those rare occasions where the batter or the runner missed the sign, we know that the runner should be going and the batter should be swinging. However, not all such plays will be a hit-and-run.

First, how accurate are the stringers at identifying pitches on which the runners were going? The best benchmark I could find was that the runner was noted as going on about 90 percent of pitches resulting in a stolen base or caught stealing. So we are probably missing at least 10 percent of the hit-and-run plays. However, since I did not see a big difference in the quality of stringer data between parks, the data we have is hopefully still of good quality for addressing questions about the hit-and-run.

It is helpful to begin with a definition of the hit-and-run play so that we know what we are looking for. In the course of researching this topic, I read several good definitions, but by far the best exposition of the hit-and-run and the strategies involved appears in Keith Hernandez’s Pure Baseball, pp. 20-29.

The riskiest option, the hit-and-run, is one of the more strategically complex plays in the game. I don’t know any way to get into the subject other than at length because, as I mentioned, experience has taught me that some big leaguers don’t fully understand what the play is all about, when it’s a good idea, when it’s a terrible idea. So here goes. Be patient—the in’s and out’s of the hit-and-run go to the heart of the baseball strategy, and you have to understand them to understand the game.

Hernandez identifies the following characteristics of a hit-and-run play:

(1) a runner on first base, who by running forces a middle infielder to cover second in anticipation of a throw from the catcher, thereby opening a hole in the infield defense for the batter

(2) in a ball-strike count where the pitcher needs to throw a strike or something close

(3) not a two-strike count, because you cannot force the batter to strike out while attempting to protect the runner

(4) not a three-ball count, because the batter walks on a bad pitch and should take power swings at a good pitch

(5) usually with no outs, occasionally with one out, but never with two outs, because a defensive swing yielding a ground ball is likely the third out

(6) not with a power hitter at the plate.

He discussed additional nuances and strategies around the hit-and-run play that are well worth reading, but this summary hits the main points. I ended up with a definition very similar to the one outlined by Hernandez.

Let’s look at the situations where there was a runner at first base who ran with the pitch. The runner should be more likely to get caught stealing on a hit-and-run play where the batter swung and missed than if it were a straight steal and the batter took the pitch. Of course, it also may have been a straight steal if the batter swung and missed of his own volition.

I do not know any way of identifying or quantifying exactly which plays were hit-and-runs. However, the situations where the stolen base success rate was much lower when the batter swung than if the batter took are more likely to be hit-and-run situations. These likely situations, in combination with the fact that the batter swung and the runner ran with the pitch, should help us to identify a high proportion of the hit-and-run plays mixed with only a few straight steals.

Hernandez argued that the hit-and-run play was most likely to be used with no outs, where the following batters had the most opportunities to bring the baserunner home and the cost of a defensive swing leading to a groundball out was the lowest. Let’s see if we can pick that up in the stolen base success rate based upon the number of outs. The following table shows the data for situations with less than two strikes.

 

Outs

Stolen Base Success Rate

 

Batter Takes

Batter Swings

Difference

0

79.0%

60.4%

-18.6%

1

77.3%

64.3%

-13.0%

2

79.0%

81.1%

+2.2%

 

When the batter swung and missed, the runner was caught stealing much more often with none out or one out than with two outs. This data is a good indicator that hit-and-run plays almost never happen with two outs. It also suggests that the hit-and-run is used a little more often with none out than it is with one out, though without having a good estimate yet for the stolen base success rate on pure hit-and-run plays, it is hard to calculate exactly how much more often.

Let’s look at the same data, but this time for ball-strike counts. I will include all of the ball-strike counts for comparison, even though hit-and-run plays are very unlikely to be executed with two strikes or three balls. We can check if the data backs up our assumption. Because I determined that two-out situations do not contain many hit-and-run plays, I will restrict the data in the following table to situations with less than two outs.

Count

Stolen Base Success Rate

 

Batter Takes

Batter Swings

Difference

0-0

80.5%

58.3%

-22.2%

1-0

76.8%

60.7%

-16.1%

2-0

84.3%

72.4%

-11.9%

3-0

90.2%

n/a

n/a

0-1

77.7%

72.8%

-4.8%

1-1

75.6%

59.3%

-16.2%

2-1

72.6%

62.3%

-10.3%

3-1

68.9%

63.9%

-5.0%

0-2

82.5%

84.1%

+1.6%

1-2

79.5%

84.7%

+5.2%

2-2

78.4%

72.3%

-6.1%

3-2

57.0%

54.0%

-3.1%

 

The five ball-strike counts with a difference of more than 10 percent in stolen base success rate were 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, and 2-1. There was some difference on the 0-1 and 3-1 counts, but it was small enough that we probably do not lose many actual hit-and-run plays if I exclude those counts from our list of likely hit-and-run situations.

The score of the game is another possible factor. Teams are unlikely to pursue strategies that put baserunners at risk when they are trailing by a large number of runs. However, teams are more liberal with the hit-and-run play relative to the score than I expected. The following graph shows the change in stolen base success rate when the batter swings and misses, given various score differentials for the batting team. The data in the graph is for situations with less than two outs and in the five likely hit-and-run ball-strike counts I identified.

The stolen base success rate decreased by about 19 percent when the score was within three runs. It decreased by about nine percent when the score of the two teams was exactly four runs apart. Though the runner-going situations with a four-run differential seem to include some straight steals, I will include them in our definition of a hit-and-run situation.

Finally, we arrive at the definition used for a hit-and-run situation in this study: (1) runner on first, bases not loaded, (2) none or one out, (3) a ball-strike count of 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, or 2-1, and (4) the team leading or trailing by four runs or less. If the runner went on the pitch and the batter swung in such a situation, I will consider it a likely hit-and-run play.

The batter’s position in the lineup affects the likelihood of seeing a hit-and-run play in any given hit-and-run situation.

The second hitter is the most likely position in the lineup to be involved in a hit-and-run play, particularly on the first time through the order. The fourth and fifth-place hitters are relatively unlikely to be involved in hit-and-run plays. The probability of a hit-and-run play increases again at the bottom third of the order.

I could further screen our likely hit-and-run situations by removing the third through sixth spots in the lineup. However, I suspect the variation in hit-and-run rate is more an indication of a decision based upon hitter quality. It might vary more widely based upon specific personnel and managerial preference than some of the criteria that are more closely tied to the game situation. Thus, I chose not to use lineup position as part of the definition for a hit-and-run situation.

Here is how the hit-and-run plays break down by team from 2003-2011, as best I was able to count them using the Retrosheet data and the above definition of a hit-and-run situation.

Batting Team

Hit-and-Run Plays

Opportunities

Hit-and-Run Pct.

LA Angels

536

8319

6.4%

St. Louis

535

8652

6.2%

Detroit

416

8542

4.9%

Minnesota

395

8404

4.7%

Chicago Sox

387

8272

4.7%

Tampa Bay

354

7828

4.5%

LA Dodgers

378

8551

4.4%

Toronto

368

8471

4.3%

Seattle

359

8350

4.3%

Kansas City

342

8222

4.2%

San Francisco

347

8441

4.1%

Houston

334

8136

4.1%

Montreal/Washington

335

8239

4.1%

Cincinnati

289

8137

3.6%

Pittsburgh

286

8072

3.5%

Florida

288

8252

3.5%

San Diego

292

8381

3.5%

Texas

275

8150

3.4%

Colorado

284

8421

3.4%

NY Yankees

303

9109

3.3%

Milwaukee

273

8220

3.3%

NY Mets

271

8332

3.3%

Baltimore

271

8406

3.2%

Chicago Cubs

250

8370

3.0%

Arizona

240

8101

3.0%

Cleveland

248

8449

2.9%

Oakland

202

8793

2.3%

Philadelphia

188

8608

2.2%

Atlanta

178

8695

2.0%

Boston

163

9045

1.8%

 

It is worth noting that American League teams used the hit-and-run slightly more often than National League teams during this period.

Here are the totals year by year for each team.

Team

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

ANA

45

69

60

67

64

55

37

67

72

ARI

26

41

36

16

14

22

15

31

39

ATL

20

29

31

14

13

15

14

20

22

BAL

20

47

31

26

25

44

27

26

25

BOS

11

12

19

30

26

21

12

11

21

CHA

32

35

50

31

37

37

52

65

48

CHN

32

19

42

43

23

25

20

20

26

CIN

16

22

24

19

24

38

36

54

56

CLE

37

31

20

22

25

27

19

33

34

COL

21

24

37

26

22

23

36

36

59

DET

47

39

57

54

46

44

51

49

29

FLO

41

42

24

48

28

18

30

29

28

HOU

25

37

56

40

39

35

37

37

28

KCA

28

44

35

33

40

34

40

42

46

LAN

27

17

49

53

44

58

45

48

37

MIL

35

42

29

30

26

41

19

21

30

MIN

41

39

46

56

57

42

50

17

47

MON

45

50

41

52

15

26

35

36

35

NYA

36

23

25

39

47

60

28

27

18

NYN

37

24

40

23

34

30

34

28

21

OAK

25

14

23

18

29

15

21

37

20

PHI

17

24

23

13

30

25

13

23

20

PIT

51

49

38

22

31

15

29

16

35

SDN

31

35

38

28

25

18

28

39

50

SEA

30

41

38

36

60

53

26

47

28

SFN

26

44

46

28

38

57

33

35

40

SLN

56

61

73

69

58

50

44

61

63

TBA

24

28

41

59

36

32

24

38

72

TEX

37

22

15

16

27

24

30

53

51

TOR

34

48

59

61

40

39

18

14

55

 

Mike Scioscia’s teams led the major leagues four times in hit-and-run plays, and Tony La Russa’s teams led three times. For managers who spent the bulk of a season with a team and managed multiple years, here are those with most and the fewest hit-and-run plays. (I did not have managerial data split out at the game level in order to divide season data on teams with multiple managers in one season.)

Manager

Team

Hit-and-run

Years

Hit-and-Run/Yr.

Mike Scioscia

LA Angels

536

9

60

Tony LaRussa

St. Louis

535

9

59

John Gibbons

Toronto

160

3

53

Alan Trammell

Detroit

143

3

48

Frank Robinson

Montreal

188

4

47

Lloyd McClendon

Pittsburgh

138

3

46

Jim Leyland

Detroit

273

6

46

Phil Garner

Houston

135

3

45

Ozzie Guillen

Chicago Sox

355

8

44

Ron Gardenhire

Minnesota

395

9

44

Joe Maddon

Tampa Bay

261

6

44

League Avg.

35

Eric Wedge

Cleveland-Seattle

209

8

26

Bob Geren

Oakland

102

4

26

Fredi Gonzalez

Florida-Atlanta

98

4

25

Buck Showalter

Texas-Baltimore

115

5

23

Charlie Manuel

Philadelphia

147

7

21

Larry Bowa

Philadelphia

41

2

21

John Russell

Pittsburgh

60

3

20

Ken Macha

Oakland-Milwaukee

120

6

20

Bobby Cox

Atlanta

156

8

20

Terry Francona

Boston

152

8

19

Cito Gaston

Toronto

32

2

16

 

Subject to the limitations of what I can discern from the data, we now have a pretty good idea of when hit-and-run plays occurred and which teams used them. But, is the hit-and-run play a good idea? That turns out to be a question fraught with selection bias.

Teams that attempted the hit-and-run play scored 0.11 runs on the play and 0.69 runs in the remainder of the inning on average, compared to 0.17 runs scored on the play and 0.70 runs in the remainder of the inning by teams that did not attempt the hit-and-run play in hit-and-run situations. On its face, it seems that the hit-and-run play cost teams about .06 runs per play. Before I wade through some of the factors that bias this simple answer, let’s examine how the results of hit-and-run batters differ from those of the batters who do not hit-and-run in the same situations.

The batters who attempted the hit-and-run play ended that plate appearance with an average batting line of .294/.323/.403, as compared to the batting line of .267/.324/.419 for the batters who did not attempt the hit-and-run play. At first take, the hit-and-run appears to confer about 26 more points of batting average, at the cost of some walks and extra base hits. Since the two pools of batters have very similar batting average skills, as we will discuss in more detail, this difference is largely attributable to the hit-and-run play. Creating the hole in the infield defense really is a valuable advantage.

The hit-and-run attempt also significantly cut the rate of walks, strikeouts, and the double play. It is no surprise that swinging at pitches early in the count, perhaps even bad pitches, cut the walk rate, dropping it from seven percent of plate appearances by batters who did not hit-and-run in these situations to only four percent of plate appearances by batters who attempted the hit-and-run play. The strikeout rate also dropped for hit-and-run batters, to 13 percent of plate appearances, compared to 15 percent for batters who did not execute the hit-and-run. Presumably, the increase in balls in play early in the count had a greater effect than did being forced to swing at bad pitches to protect the runner. The double play rate dropped from 13 percent of plate appearances when the hit-and-run was not attempted to nine percent when the hit-and-run was attempted. That rate includes both groundball and line drive double plays.

Baserunner advancement is another obvious consequence of the hit-and-run play. Extra runners caught stealing roughly balanced out the reduction in double plays, leaving about the same number of outs and runners on base on average whether or not a hit-and-run was attempted. However, the runner from first base had a better chance of moving up to second or third base on a hit-and-run play. The drop in extra-base hits that accompanied the hit-and-run slightly decreased the runners’ chance of scoring from first base as a result of that plate appearance.

Runner Result

Hit-and-Run Play

No Hit-and-run

Difference

Out

19%

19%

0%

1st Base

21%

37%

-16%

2nd Base

41%

32%

+9%

3rd Base

15%

8%

+7%

Scored

4%

5%

-1%

 

Now that we have some idea of the typical results of the hit-and-run play, let’s examine some of the potential biases in our data, particularly in the average runs scored in the inning during and after the hit-and-run play.

One obvious consideration is that the number of outs affects the chances of scoring. The overall run scoring following the hit-and-run play looks better than it really was because the hit-and-run play was used more frequently with no outs, when run scoring expectations were highest.

 

Runs with No Outs

Run with One Out

On Play

Rest of Inn.

Total

On Play

Rest of Inn.

Total

H-R Play

.09

.90

1.00

.13

.50

.62

No H-R

.14

.93

1.07

.18

.52

.70

Difference

-.05

-.02

-.08

-.05

-.02

-.08

 

I included as potential hit-and-run situations those with runners on first and second or runners on first and third. However, teams are much less likely to hit and run with multiple runners on base. If I restrict the analysis to the hit-and-run situations with only a runner on first base and the other bases empty, here are the run-scoring results.

 

Runs with No Outs

Run with One Out

On Play

Rest of Inn.

Total

On Play

Rest of Inn.

Total

H-R Play

.08

.89

.97

.07

.49

.55

No H-R

.07

.82

.89

.08

.45

.53

Difference

.00

+.07

+.08

-.01

+.03

+.02

 

Once I have adjusted for the number of outs and made sure the baserunner state is the same, the hit-and-run play is a net gain for run scoring in the inning, particularly when it is attempted with no outs.

The quality of the batters and pitchers involved is another important concern. I calculated the average performance of batters and pitchers during the period 2003-2011 and weighted the result by the number of times they appeared in a hit-and-run situation. I compared it to the average performance of the batters and pitchers during 2003-2011, weighted by the number of times they attempted a hit-and-run play.

The pitchers were of similar quality in both pools, with an average of .004 fewer runs allowed than average, as calculated from their linear weights runs allowed. The batters who attempted hit-and-run plays, however, were noticeably worse hitters than those who did not attempt hit-and-run plays in hit-and-run situations. The batters who attempted a hit-and-run had an average batting line of .274/.342/.419, or +0.003 runs above average per plate appearance, as compared to the batters who did not attempt a hit-and-run, who had an average batting line of .275/.349/.448, or +.014 runs above average per plate appearance.

Before I add the difference in batter quality to the ledger in favor of hit-and-run plays, however, we need to consider the effect of the lineup order. Because more hit-and-run plays occur before the middle of the order comes up, the likelihood of a runner subsequently being driven in by the big bats is higher. Conversely, fewer hit-and-run plays occur ahead of the bottom of the lineup, where the weaker hitters are less likely to drive the runners home.

We can compare the number of runs scored in the remainder of the inning for attempted hit-and-run plays to the runs scored when a hit-and-run play was not attempted in a hit-and-run situation for each spot in the lineup. Here again, I restrict the data to those situations where there was only a single runner on base, in order to compare on a level playing field, or at least as level as I can make it.

The hit-and-run play is most advantageous in the second, third, and ninth spots in the lineup, and it is a net negative only for the fifth-place hitter, although I am not controlling here for the quality of batter involved in the hit-and-run plays, other than as represented by the lineup position.

The preceding graph shows the weighted average of the no-out and one-out situations. We can also look at them separately.

The no-out situation shows a bigger advantage for the hit-and-run attempt over the one-out situation at every lineup spot except for the second and sixth-place hitters.

In order to combine the remainder-of-inning scoring advantage with the batter quality advantage for a total hit-and-run advantage, I need to adjust both for lineup position. After adjusting for the lineup, teams scored .057 more runs when they attempted a hit-and-run play as compared to when they did not. After adjusting for the lineup spot, the quality of the batters who did not hit-and-run was .005 runs per plate appearance better than that of the batters who did hit-and-run. Thus, the advantage for attempting a hit-and-run play during 2003-2011 appears to be about .061 runs on average.

That is a much larger number than I expected when I embarked on this research. I have attempted to remove as much of the selection bias as I could reasonably identify. It is possible that I have overlooked some bias or used a mistaken assumption, but every direction from which I came at the analysis pointed to the hit-and-run being a positive offensive play in most circumstances in which it was attempted.

We have already considered how the number of outs and the lineup position affect the advantage to be gained via a hit-and-run play. The ball-strike count also plays a role. The more favorable the count is to the hitter, the less likely that the batter will be forced to swing at a pitch he does not like. On the other hand, the same is true if the batter is not protecting the runner, and in that case, he may be more selective and take more powerful swings.

Ball-Strike Count

Hit-and-Run Attempt Pct.

Hit-and-Run Advantage (R/PA)

0-0

1.2%

+.041

1-0

3.2%

+.050

2-0

1.9%

+.031

1-1

3.2%

+.026

2-1

6.6%

-.026

 

The biggest advantage for the hit-and-run play comes early in the count, on the first pitch or at 1-0. However, 2-1 is the most popular count on which to attempt the hit-and-run play, even though the average result of the play in that count is a net negative.

With this in mind, let’s see which teams did the best job of turning the hit-and-run play into extra runs over the course of 2003-2011. This time I am considering only the plays with a single runner on base in order to compare apples to apples, as explained earlier, so the “plays” totals will be slightly lower than those listed in the previous team table.

Batting Team

H-R

Plays

Oppor.

H-R%

Avg. Run Advantage

Adj. for Batter Quality

Total Net Runs

NY Yankees

289

6512

4.4%

0.288

0.294

85

San Diego

263

6143

4.3%

0.175

0.180

47

LA Dodgers

335

6302

5.3%

0.123

0.132

44

Houston

316

6011

5.3%

0.092

0.111

35

Florida

264

6040

4.4%

0.127

0.133

35

LA Angels

492

6158

8.0%

0.060

0.068

34

Milwaukee

245

6015

4.1%

0.129

0.136

33

Detroit

390

6193

6.3%

0.072

0.083

32

Boston

151

6379

2.4%

0.176

0.189

28

St. Louis

495

6149

8.1%

0.028

0.052

26

Chicago Sox

359

6136

5.9%

0.054

0.069

25

NY Mets

248

6163

4.0%

0.085

0.095

24

Philadelphia

172

6232

2.8%

0.138

0.137

24

Seattle

329

6176

5.3%

0.060

0.068

22

Pittsburgh

265

5923

4.5%

0.073

0.084

22

Toronto

324

6060

5.3%

0.060

0.068

22

Baltimore

256

6163

4.2%

0.080

0.086

22

Minnesota

371

6177

6.0%

0.049

0.058

22

Mont./Washington

301

6068

5.0%

0.061

0.067

20

Cincinnati

267

6005

4.4%

0.058

0.063

17

Texas

255

6001

4.2%

0.051

0.062

16

Kansas City

324

6052

5.4%

0.010

0.016

5

Colorado

259

6151

4.2%

0.006

0.015

4

Chicago Cubs

241

6111

3.9%

-0.017

0.000

0

Atlanta

165

6149

2.7%

-0.014

-0.006

-1

Tampa Bay

323

5980

5.4%

-0.010

-0.006

-2

San Francisco

301

6073

5.0%

-0.027

-0.018

-5

Oakland

195

6282

3.1%

-0.052

-0.042

-8

Arizona

216

5966

3.6%

-0.053

-0.048

-10

Cleveland

217

6085

3.6%

-0.111

-0.101

-22

 

Across nine seasons, a handful of teams have managed to add a total of 30 runs or more by using the hit-and-run play. The average team has added about two runs per season on hit-and-run plays.

Which batters hit and run most often? Here are the leaders from 2003-2011. I have also listed each batter’s success percentage in hit-and-run situations with a runner at first base only, where a successful hit-and-run play is defined as one that advanced the baserunner. League average was a 60 percent success rate.

Batter

H-R Plays

Opportunities

H-R Pct.

Success%

Orlando Cabrera

135

1009

13%

64%

David Eckstein

95

528

18%

55%

Placido Polanco

90

851

11%

70%

Luis Castillo

69

728

9%

57%

Yadier Molina

66

549

12%

67%

Jack Wilson

65

691

9%

65%

Derek Jeter

64

956

7%

64%

Jason Kendall

61

680

9%

61%

Omar Vizquel

59

660

9%

59%

Mark Loretta

58

630

9%

62%

Bengie Molina

57

609

9%

72%

 

Among others of interest, Jonathan Herrera attempted a hit-and-run play in 27 percent of his opportunities, Skip Schumaker had an 86 percent success rate at advancing the runner from first, and Albert Pujols attempted a hit-and-run play in three percent of his opportunities (with a 49 percent success rate). No word on how many of those plays he called himself.

Here are the baserunners who were on first base for the most hit-and-run attempts, along with their stolen base and caught stealing totals when the batter swung and missed in such situations. Since most of these players are regular basestealers, some of the plays I have classified here as hit-and-runs were probably actually straight steals.

Runner

H-R Plays

Opportunities

H-R Pct.

SB

CS

Juan Pierre

144

1250

12%

17

5

Chone Figgins

89

1074

8%

12

5

Ichiro Suzuki

86

1506

6%

13

3

Scott Podsednik

75

776

10%

11

7

Curtis Granderson

64

690

9%

5

0

Johnny Damon

62

1146

5%

8

1

Brandon Inge

60

660

9%

5

7

Rafael Furcal

58

954

6%

7

4

Jose Reyes

56

870

6%

7

2

Adam Kennedy

56

712

8%

3

2

 

The hit-and-run is far from the worst play in baseball. For a small-ball tactic, it has been quite successful over the past nine seasons, increasing scoring by .06 runs per attempt on average. The value of the hole in the infield defense is real, adding about 27 points to the batting average of the hitter. The double plays avoided by executing the hit-and-run offset the runners caught stealing on the play, and the extra bases gained by the runner when the ball is put in play are enough to move the play into the plus column overall.

However, there are some situations where the hit-and-run attempt made less sense and was a barely positive or even a net negative play—with the fourth and fifth hitters in the lineup up, with one out, or in the popular ball-strike count of 2-1.

Additional research could be done to fine-tune the definition of hit-and-run situations. In particular, I suspect that some of the situations with runners on first and second or runners on first and third could be removed. It would also be interesting to examine the detailed PITCHf/x data for the hit-and-run plays in the seasons for which that data is available.

Furthermore, future studies on the stolen base breakeven point or on the value of catcher defense in controlling the running game should probably incorporate what we have learned about the hit-and-run play.
 

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at 20 Sunset Rd., Newark, DE 19711.

Mike Fast is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

36 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

harderj

Fascinating study. Thanks.

Most interesting to me is that the effect of calling for a hit and run in the "classic" 2-1 count is negative...

I know in Strat-O-Matic I'm likely to use it mostly to stay out of double plays with a low on base, "b" hit and run, "gb(a)" machine at the plate, but in Strat you have all the percentages beforehand, of course, and the count never comes into play.

When a guy's on base against a particular pitcher is 27% or worse and he's a 25% hit and run guy with a starred base stealer on first I tend to go for it.

And it does suck when a walk turns into a ground out or they still turn a double play on an (x) play, but it sure is sweet when it's a single from the SADV chart, the runner takes third, and it "makes the manager look like a genius."

Dec 21, 2011 03:31 AM
rating: 3
 
jhardman

Or, when you win a playoff series by rolling snake eyes in a tie game with that GbA machine catcher in Strat.... :-)

I've noticed that Ron Washington uses the hit and run a lot with the Rangers, but I it looked your data was not mature enough to have specific data points for him as a manager. Are there a few of the other managers with less than 6-7 years experience doing the same thing?

Dec 21, 2011 06:42 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Washington used the hit-and-run a lot with the Rangers the last two years, but not as much before that. Some people on Twitter mentioned that Washington liked to hit-and-run with the Kinsler-Andrus combo. I have the data on the combos he used; I'll have to take a look at that.

Dec 21, 2011 06:50 AM
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

The most popular Rangers hit-and-run combos 2007-2011 were Young behind Andrus (10 times), Andrus behind Kinsler (7 times), Young behind Kinsler (5 times), and Borbon behind Andrus (5 times).

Dec 21, 2011 07:21 AM
 
Brandon R. Warne

'nother Mike Fast column to bookmark. As if I didn't reference others -- like the catcher's defense one -- enough.

Bravo, Mike!

Dec 21, 2011 07:04 AM
rating: 9
 
dianagram

I'm shocked no MLB club has coming knocking on Mr. Fast's door (yet).

Great stuff as always.

Dec 21, 2011 07:32 AM
rating: 8
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Thanks, Diane.

MLB clubs are welcome to come knocking. I'll answer the door.

Dec 21, 2011 07:56 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Don't answer. We like reading your stuff.

Dec 21, 2011 15:23 PM
rating: 3
 
Randy Brown
(189)

Great piece of research Mike. I really appreciated the thoughtful evaluation of selection biases. As I was reading the article, I was thinking to myself "What about batter quality?" (oh, he addresses that in a minute) and "What about lineup position?" (oh, he addresses that too...)

Quick question that wasn't immediately clear to me: are foul balls included in your H+R total, or just plays with either a swing and miss or a ball in play?

Dec 21, 2011 07:46 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Thanks, Randy. Yes, foul balls are included.

Dec 21, 2011 07:55 AM
 
SaberTJ

Awesome stuff Mike!

Dec 21, 2011 07:55 AM
rating: 0
 
prs130

From a coaching rather than managing standpoint, hit-and-run is a great way to get a pull-happy, trying-to-do-too-much RHB to ease up and get his swing in order. There's no better slump-buster than a sharp grounder the other way.

Dec 21, 2011 08:01 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Interesting observation.

I spent a little time looking at whether contact hitters and groundball hitters got more advantage from the hit-and-run play, but I wasn't able to deal with the selection bias issues there to my satisfaction prior to writing this up.

Your observation would be interesting to test even outside the context of the hit-and-run play.

Dec 21, 2011 08:05 AM
 
MichavdB

Great article. Both the baserunners and batters that lead those lists don't really come as too much of a surprise I guess.

Dec 21, 2011 08:03 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Thanks.

For my part, I was surprised to see the Molina brothers among the leaders at executing the hit-and-run play. The other names made more sense to me.

Dec 21, 2011 08:08 AM
 
Sharky

Kevin Seitzer in the house!!! Well done, Mike.

BTW, I was a huge Keith Hernandez fan in my youth (even after news of his cocaine use broke). But his massive ego in the announcers' booth has severely diminished my respect for him. The excerpt you provide from his book rekindled my respect for Keith Hernandez as a ballplayer. He clearly had a strong and nuanced understanding of the hit-and-run, and probably of baseball in general. So glad you shared his insights along with yours.

Dec 21, 2011 08:32 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Thanks.

I love Pure Baseball. It's one of the best thinking-about-the-game books I've read.

Dec 21, 2011 08:50 AM
 
ScottyB

Awesome article!!! (yet again)

Dec 21, 2011 09:00 AM
rating: 2
 
eighteen

I remember an Atlanta-St. Louis game years ago. Men on 1st and 2d, no outs, pitcher Woody Willimas at the plate. One of the announcers said something like "La Russa likes the hit and run, and Williams isn't a bad hitter for a pitcher."

I believe it was 2 pitches later, the runners took off and Williams swung, hitting a hard liner just to Edgar Renteria's left. Renteria caught the ball, touched second 2 strides later, and tagged the runner coming from first for the Unassisted Triple Play.

Dec 21, 2011 14:06 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

Going to have to take this back. I started thinking it was Furcal, not Renteria playing for Atlanta; which Baseballreference seems to confirm - but I couldn't find the game. Would've had to be 2001-2004. I'm sure I wasn't hallucinating, but without documentation, well...

Dec 21, 2011 14:40 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

It must have been the game on August 10, 2003:
http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/2003/B08100SLN2003.htm


Dec 21, 2011 15:04 PM
 
eighteen

Thank you!!

Dec 22, 2011 11:39 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Is there an advantage to being a visiting/home team in doing a hit and run? Or is it more successful in certain innings?

Dec 21, 2011 15:24 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

There is no sizable difference in the rate of the hit and run attempts between visiting and home team until you get to extra innings, where the visiting team uses it more often.

However, I don't know whether the visiting or home team has an advantage in making it successful. I wouldn't see why, unless it was coupled to an advantage in personnel. It's very hard to study things by inning because various parts of the lineup come up more often in certain innings. If you have a big enough sample, you can split both by inning and lineup position, but I don't have the luxury of that sample size with this data set.

Dec 21, 2011 16:07 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Some teams use hit and runs more often than others and supposedly, groundskeepers sculpt grass height etc to tailor to their team's strengths, which is why I wonder if home teams have a higher success rate at hit and runs. Also, since a home team score a run in the bottom of the 9th or an extra inning, it would seem to me they'd have more incentive to try a hit and run more often.

Dec 21, 2011 16:37 PM
rating: 0
 
frampton
(870)

Well, when one run will win the game in the bottom of the ninth or the bottom of an extra inning, seems to me that a sacrifice would be the safer play. Some of that is the "avoid second-guessing if it doesn't work", but it also avoids the potential negative outcomes inherent in hit and run plays.

Dec 21, 2011 22:49 PM
rating: 0
 
MGL

Mike, great work, but I still think that the hit and run is virtually never correct and I think I found a fatal flaw in your analysis:

You see, Mike, I don’t think you can combine the two types of base runners. If you do, of course you are going to come up with a postive result (for the hit and run) as long as there are enough good base stealers in your sample (even if those were indeed hit and runs with those runners at first and not straight steals, although clearly some of your hit and runs are actually straight steals, especially with good base stealers on first).

Rather than compare the hit and run to no hit and run, you should be comparing the hit and run to:

1) a steal by those base runners and no hit and run.

2) no hit and run with a non-base stealer at first.

The ONLY thing we care about is what happens with a non-base stealer at first!

We already know the answer with a good base stealer at first. The answer is that a hit and run is better than no hit and run (with the base runner not going), BUT a steal with no hit and run is likely better than that!

So if the answer is that a hit and run with a non-base stealer at first is wrong and a straight steal (not all the time) with a good base stealer at first is better than a hit and run, then you would still get the results you are getting, but a hit and run would still be never correct!

Does everyone understand that?

Dec 21, 2011 23:10 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

MGL, as I had mentioned to you at the Book blog, I had looked into this preliminarily prior to publication, and I didn't see in the data much indication of what you claim. The good basestealers don't steal at their normal success rate in these situations (they are below 70 percent), nor do they make up a majority of the hit-and-run attempts, so I don't think it's going to move the results as much as you think.

But as a result I also disagree with how you're framing it. The only thing we care about is what happens with a hit-and-run play, regardless of the quality of the baserunner. If the baserunner quality is biasing the results, I need to adjust for that. My preliminary look said there was not a big bias there.

I believe that either the good-basestealer, straight-steal group is so small in these situations that it's insignificant to the results, or good basestealers on first base in these counts don't have a high enough run expectation to move the results all that much. But it's worth double checking.

Dec 22, 2011 06:44 AM
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Differences in baserunner quality between H&R attempts and H&R situations with no attempts inflated the value by about .016 runs/play. If make that adjustment, it drops the overall hit-and-run advantage to about +.045 runs/play.

I divided the runners on first base into four equal groups based upon their stolen base attempt rate over the period 2003-2011. I defined the stolen base attempt rate as (SB+CS)/(singles+UBB+HBP).

The fastest runners do get more advantage out of the hit-and-run play than do the slowest runners.

Group   SBA% range        SBA%    SB%    H&R Adv. (runs/play)
A SBA>=17.5% 25.7% 77.4% 0.070
B 17.5%>SBA>=10.0% 13.2% 73.1% 0.043
C 10.0%>SBA>= 5.4% 7.3% 67.1% 0.060
D 5.4%>SBA>= 0.0% 2.7% 60.4% 0.008

Dec 27, 2011 13:13 PM
 
greenengineer

Really great article. Thanks.

Dec 22, 2011 04:35 AM
rating: 0
 
bravejason

A few questions to ponder with regards to further study.

The results are presented in aggregate for a several year period. What do the year-to-year results look like in terms of consistency? The question is partially aimed at determining if the hit-and-run success a function of skill or luck and partially aimed at determining if it is a reliable strategy (thinking in the context of AVG, which tends to exhibit a fair amount of year-to-year variation).

Also, and you alluded to this a little bit, how much does hit-and-run success, or lack thereof, depend on the quality of the hitters in terms of AVG, SLG, and OBP? If a team struggles to score runs, then should it hit-and-run more often or less often?

Given choice between a straight steal and a hit-and-run, is there a breakpoint at which one strategy is favored over the other? Is there a point at which the preferred tatic is to do neither and simply let the batter bat?

Dec 28, 2011 11:45 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Good questions. As far as breakeven points, that's a good idea for further study.

In terms of year-to-year consistency, I'm not sure exactly which parameter you're asking about. If you asking about the average net run value for a hit-and-run attempt, I don't know that year-to-year consistency would indicate anything. The success of the play is very dependent on the situation. There were just over 8600 hit-and-run plays that I identified. The further you break down the sample from there, the more you have to be concerned about the situation. The samples with 1000 or more plays seemed to have a decent mix of situations, and the samples with 100 or so plays are quite situation-dependent.

In terms of various individual rates, like the success percentage for advancing baserunners with the play, or the caught stealing percentage when the batter swings and misses, those were pretty stable year to year, but I don't know if that's what you were asking about.

Dec 30, 2011 15:02 PM
 
Shaun P.
(676)

This is a fascinating study, and one I am surprised no one look at in detail before.

The Yankees fan in me, however, is most blown away by the Yanks having added 85 runs from 2003-2011 by the hit and run, significantly more than any other team. Did most of those runs come under Torre (2003-2007) or Girardi (2008-2011)? The Yanks seemed to hit and run a lot more under Torre (2008 aside), but I wonder if Girardi is employing it more selectively (and thus more successfully)?

As a side note, why isn't Torre on the manager list? He managed all but one year from 2003-2011.

Dec 29, 2011 07:52 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I would assume he averaged between 26 and 44 hit and run plays a year, meaning he was around league average.

Note that though the Yankees scored a lot of runs on hit and run plays, they only had 289 from 2003 to 2011 for an average of about 32 hit and run plays a year. Perhaps they score so many runs just because they have quality hitters that don't strike out mouch?

Dec 29, 2011 21:50 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Thanks.

Joe Torre was at 321 hit-and-run plays in eight seasons, for an average of 40/year, which is why he didn't make the list of leaders.

The one table in which I probably have the least confidence in the whole study is the number of runs gained by each team. When I looked at the league as a whole, I spent a lot of time looking at all the numbers from different angles. For the teams, I mostly assumed that what applied to the league applied to each team, with the exception that I looked at the quality of hitters on each team that were asked to execute the hit-and-run.

So there are a number of situational biases that I accounted for at the league level that might not apply quite as well to a given team.

In particular, the performance of the batters following the hit-and-run attempt might have biased the results for a team. I looked into this some for the Yankees, and if you simply looked at the bases gained, rather than runs scored, and the RE24 values for those bases, the Yankees total is more like 40-50 runs gained rather than 85.

There wasn't a big difference between Torre's Yankee teams and Girardi's teams. If you use the runs-scored method, Torre's teams come out a bit better, and if you use the bases-gained method, Girardi's teams come out a bit better.

Dec 30, 2011 14:53 PM
 
drawbb

I'll personally guarantee 72 is not the high-water mark for Angel hit-and-run attempts over this time period.

Jan 30, 2012 06:35 AM
rating: 0
 
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