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January 21, 2013 5:00 am
If it doesn't make sense to call for pitchouts, why do major-league managers keep doing it?
Last week, my colleague Sam Miller ran a few numbers on the pointless, yet poignant play that is the pitchout (a billion points to whomever catches that reference) and concluded that pitchouts are actually a net loser: they cost the defense/pitching team more in runs than they gain. Sure, individual pitchouts sometimes nab a would-be base stealer (and that's a good thing), but overall, managers guessed wrong so often that the expected payoff wasn't high enough to justify the strategy. Rule number one of strategic thinking is that just because you got lucky on a stupid bet, it doesn't negate the fact that it was a stupid bet.
Most pitchouts aren't very effective. Maybe managers should stop calling for them.
On Sept. 23, 2012, the Washington Nationals pitched out. “I could count the times on one hand that the Nats have pitched out this year,” said MASN broadcaster F.P. Santangelo. Hmmm.
I think I stopped paying much attention to pitchouts around 1987. I know they happen; if you’d asked me to guess, I’d have guessed there was one every two games, enough that I know they happen but don't really notice them. I know they work sometimes; if you’d asked me to guess, I’d have guessed the pitchout was timed correctly about half the time, and if you’d asked me to guess, I’d have guessed that in such cases the baserunner was out around three times out of four. If my guesses were correct, it would make the pitchout a tremendously valuable strategy, but one that, for obvious reasons, could be deployed only occasionally.
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Ben and Sam discuss TV shows, the lack of things to talk about, and some interesting findings about pitchouts.