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May 23, 2014

Pebble Hunting

A Billy Hamilton/David Ortiz Race

by Sam Miller


On April 16th, Johnny Cueto singled against Francisco Liriano, which brought up Billy Hamilton, who grounded weakly to shortstop Jordy Mercer, which sets up a question we don’t ask very often but, in this case, must: Should Mercer have taken the out at second, or ignored Cueto and thrown Hamilton out at first?

Eric Hartman phrased the question a bit differently in an email to me this spring: “Down 1 run in the 9th, would you rather have David Ortiz on 2nd base, or Billy Hamilton on 1st?”

Most of the questions we get aren’t this simple. All I have to do is go to a run-expectancy table, and I can see that with nobody out and a runner on first this year, the average team has scored .48 runs; with nobody out and a runner on second that team has scored .62. So I’ll take the runner on second. Asked and answered!

But, alas, a Billy Hamilton run expectancy table is very different. With a runner on first and nobody out, according to the Billy Hamilton run expectancy table, the most likely result is mayhem; with a runner on second and nobody out, it’s madness, and with a runner on third and nobody out it’s hysteria.

So while the question seems silly—Hamilton and Ortiz aren’t even on the same team, for starters—it’s actually somewhat tied to reality. Mercer didn’t seem to think twice about his play, flipping it casually to second, where a disinterested Cueto never even entered the frame. But Mercer had just loosed Hamilton in a one-run game. Did he do wrong?

***

In one sense, there might not be a bigger tools gap in the sport than that between the speed of Hamilton and the speed of Ortiz (or some similar slug). Ortiz will hit considerably more home runs than Hamilton, for instance, but Hamilton will also hit some home runs; any home run Ortiz hits Hamilton might also have hit, so there is never a situation where Ortiz’s power is infinitely better than Hamilton’s. But when Hamilton does something like this,

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Related Content:  Billy Hamilton,  David Ortiz,  Run Expectancy

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

BP Comment Quick Links

leez34

Why Ortiz? He's certainly slow and a bad baserunner, but by no means is he the slowest and the worst. Why not a true slowby, like Paul Konerko, Jose Molina, or Billy Butler?

May 23, 2014 06:09 AM
rating: 0
 
tannerg

Ortiz is also a bad comparison because there's a park effect with Fenway's left field, especially on scoring from second on a single.

May 23, 2014 11:50 AM
rating: 2
 
Scott
(296)

At least based on data at Baseball Reference, Butler and Ortiz are pretty similar interns of the number of times the take the extra base on a hit, while Ortiz tended to score more often when on base (26% vs 22% for Butler), though other factors can account for some of the difference. Jose Molina actually scores more often (27%) and takes the extra base more often (27% vs. 23% and 22% for Ortiz and Butler), so maybe he gets a pass in this group. Konerko's numbers are 19% runs scored and only 8% extra bases taken on a single or double.

FWIW, the league averages for the categories mentioned (based on avg 600 pa) were 29% runs scored and 40% extra bases taken. Those are small samples and limited data points, and I would suspect that coaching has something to do with the XBT %, as some players had wildly different % when playing for different teams. But it would be an interesting analysis to run the numbers for all MLB hitters and see how the numbers shake out. I wonder if managers and coaches would study those tendencies as much as pitcher tendencies, they could be equally fruitful.

May 23, 2014 07:26 AM
rating: 2
 
maphal

Sam is probably aiming for relevancy. Konerko and Molina are finished as hitters and are now backups. Billy Butler is a'ight but fairly anonymous. Ortiz is a good representative of the "unhook the wagon" club.

May 23, 2014 08:37 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Also, Ortiz was in the question.

May 23, 2014 08:39 AM
 
Behemoth

Can't you approximate what happens when Hamilton's on first by looking at the stats of whoever else you decide used to the fastest baseballer?

May 23, 2014 08:50 AM
rating: 3
 
Biesterfield

This. Use a collection of very fast runners as an estimate and assume Hamilton is slightly faster than those players.

May 23, 2014 10:52 AM
rating: 1
 
Dodger300

There is another advantage to allowing Cueto to have second while throwing Hamilton out at first.

The pitcher is forced to continue to run the bases, rather than going back to the dugout to rest.

May 24, 2014 11:57 AM
rating: 3
 
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Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (05/23)
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