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October 10, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Business, Old and New

by Joe Sheehan

Last week's assertion that Armando Rios getting thrown out at third base in the tenth inning of NLCS Game Two wasn't such a big deal generated a flood of e-mail, even more than Gary Huckabay's famous "I Love You, Britney" piece from late 1998. (Sadly, she never responded; Gary still can't listen to "Sometimes" without weeping.)

Seeking more information, I pestered BP's Michael Wolverton, who provided it. By way of explanation, the figures below represent how many runs a team should expect to score given a certain base/out situation. So with first and second and one out, a team would expect, over the long haul, just over one run.

"Here's the 2000 run expectation table:

     Bases               Outs
                   0       1       2
------------------------------------
      empty   0.5703  0.3079  0.1236 
        1st   0.9743  0.5959  0.2650 
        2nd   1.1798  0.7331  0.3320 
    1st 2nd   1.6263  1.0141  0.4765 
        3rd   1.5221  0.9945  0.4096 
    1st 3rd   1.9164  1.2375  0.5241 
    2nd 3rd   2.0450  1.4988  0.6427 
1st 2nd 3rd   2.5400  1.7031  0.8223 

For Rios's gamble to have been worth it, the probability of him making third (P) would have to satisfy the inequality

 P * 1.2375 + (1-P) * .2650 > .3320

(This ignores some other possible outcomes of the play, like the shortstop throwing to first base instead of third base, or his throwing the ball past the third baseman. Both of those possibilities would work in favor of Rios's choice.)

Solving the inequality yields P > .07. Rios made the right (run maximizing) choice if he had at least a 7% chance of making third safely.

In this situation, you arguably care about the probability of scoring at least one run (i.e., at least tying the game) more than run expectation. For the three situations, those numbers are:

   Outs    Bases     P(score >=1 run)
    2       1st            .145
    2       2nd            .223
    1     1st&3rd          .664

Solving that inequality yields P > .15. So Rios made the right choice if he had at least a 15% chance of making third base safely."

Thanks to Michael for his sharp analysis. I know some of you may disagree, but I don't think there's any way that Rios had less than a 1-in-6 chance of being safe. I'll concede that there were two good defensive players involved, and that the situation could possibly have called for a conservative approach. Still, if you look at the big picture, it's not a bad play.

If anything, Mike Bordick made the riskier decision. If he goes to first base, no one says anything. But if he one-hops the throw or hits Rios with it, he's got a shot to be Bill Buckner. OK, with knees.

And I guarantee this: had Bordick hit Rios with the throw, or Rios's foot kicked the ball out of Robin Ventura's glove, leaving the Giants with first and third and one out, all we would have heard was about "putting pressure on the defense" and Dusty Baker's aggressive attitude rubbing off on his players. Those things that sportswriters love to talk about, speed and hustle and forcing teams to make plays? That's what this was. The Mets made the play, won the game, and now get to be Bird feed.

Well, maybe not.

Chris Kahrl will have more on this series in a Playoff Prospectus tomorrow, but I have to admit to being very impressed with the Mets at this point. They are getting great work from the entire pitching staff. This isn't the kind of playoff staff we've seen over the past five years, where seven pitchers pitch a lot and three others clap. OK, they clap a lot.

Bobby Jones spent most of the season in factoid hell, a teammate of the other, left-handed Bobby Jones. He was terrible early in the season, earning a brief demotion and calling into question his ability to recover from surgery that cost him most of 1999. He pitched better in the second half, but nothing like he did Sunday, when he made the best offense in baseball look like one of Clay Davenport's Strat-O-Matic teams.

By winning Sunday, the Mets are now able to open their series with the Cardinals with their two top pitchers, both left-handers, and are free to use Glendon Rusch as their #4. Had the Mets lost Sunday, they would have had to use Mike Hampton Monday and winning would have come with the burden of starting the NLCS off-rotation.

I'm tired of saying the Mets won't do things. At this point, I'm pretty much convinced they're not only going to beat the Cardinals, but whichever team comes out of the AL as well. If the AL sends an All-Star team to the World Series, the Mets will beat them. If the AL sends a team of aliens from Vector Nebula, it might take the Mets five games.

After the season, I expect World Series MVP Al Leiter to enter the presidential race and win with 62% of the vote. He and Vice President Benny Agbayani will ensure the viability of Social Security through 2200 and establish an educational policy that raises SAT scores 100 points in four years. They will travel the country by foot, improving the lives of ordinary Americans with laying of hands and words of wisdom.

Their teammates, meanwhile, will announce that the team's yearlong "secret project" has reached fruition, and release a cure for cancer that, they warn, has only a 95% success rate. At the press conference, head scientist Jay Payton causes a stir when he mentions, in passing, the progress the team has made in developing a lightweight, reusable vehicle for trips to low earth orbit.

In January, a landmark national referendum relocates the nation's capital to Flushing, N.Y. and renames the country the United States of Piazza. The National Mint issues new currency featuring, among others, Mike Hampton on the $10 bill and Turk Wendell on the $20.

It's a Met world. We all just live in it.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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