I have got to be the last person east of Yuma watching this baseball game.
As I write this, the Padres and Rockies are headed into the bottom of the 17th inning in San Diego, tied 1-1. The game was scoreless through 13, but the teams traded runs in the 14th, with both stranding the bases loaded in the process. With the pitchers involved at this point, it’s quite the indictment of both teams’ lineups-sorry, you can’t lay this one at the feet of Petco Park-that the game is still being played. Wil Ledezma has thrown three shutout innings, which I believe is the first time he’s done so since Double-A.
Really, the game should have ended in the 13th, with only a rock by Pads’ third-base coach keeping it from heading that way. Leading off the inning, Paul McAnulty pulled a ball into the right-field corner, an easy double leading off the inning. So easy, in fact, that McAnulty, who looks a bit like Matt Stairs at a similar age, was decelerating as he pulled into second base. Glenn Hoffman, though, had another idea, and waved McAnulty, who, remember, looks a bit like Matt Stairs at a similar age, on to third base. He was out by the distance between Hoffman and good judgment.
We spend a fair amount of time debunking conventional wisdom at Baseball Prospectus, but one hoary saying that holds up is this: you don’t make the first or third out of an inning at third base. The second part is fairly easy-when you need a hit to score a run, and the baserunner needn’t worry about being doubled off, the difference between being on second and being on third is small enough that risking making an out to gain a base is a bad play. With no one out, you already have a very positive situation-runner on second, no one out-so risking an out to gain a base is a mistake.
(Top of the 18th, by the way. This will be posted while baseball is still being played. If Ledezma survives Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton and Matt Holiday-again-I might save a downballot Cy Young vote for him.)
Put in more concrete terms, with a runner on second and no one out, you have a 62.5% chance of scoring one run. With a runner on third and no one out, you have an 82.7% chance of scoring one run. With one out and no one on, you have a 16.5% chance of scoring one run. (All numbers in the aggregate, taken from Baseball Between the Numbers.) Now, I’m no Dan Fox-we’ll miss you, buddy-but I’m pretty sure that to make that gamble make sense in Petco Park in the 13th inning of a scoreless game, you have to be safe approximately 142% of the time.
Paul McAnulty, who looks a bit like Matt Stairs at a similar age, came a bit short of that.
I have no idea what Hoffman was thinking. None. It was one of the more inexplicable sends I’ve seen in a long time. It caught everyone in the park by surprise except for Brad Hawpe, Clint Barmes and Garret Atkins, who combined to cut down McAnulty. If you just let McAnulty, with his one triple and no steals in the last two years, stop at second, you bunt with Joe Thatcher or a pinch-hitting starter and take your chances with the top of the lineup and the Rockies in a seven-man infield. What you gain by trying to stretch a slow runner to third in that situation-when you’re going to bunt him over anyway-isn’t remotely worth the risk.
(Walk, single, GIDP, and poor Ryan Speier is left to fend for himself, striking out on four pitches. Go Wil Ledezma.)
We don’t spend too much time analyzing the decisions that third-base coaches make. It’s the kind of things fans of a local team will complain about, because they watch every inning of every game, and occasionally a Wendell Kim or someone will gain a reputation. Because so many of the decisions are made on the fly, we tend to yield a lot of ground, not be as critical as we are with players, managers and GMs. Still, because of the run impact of their decisions, a third-base coach is in position to impact a lot of scoring over the course of a year. They make high-leverage decisions, and when they make the wrong ones, teams pay. Hoffman made a decision tonight, a terrible one, that reduced the Padres’ chances of winning considerably, and at the very least has contributed to screwing up the bullpen and exhausting the team.
We go to the 19th. What time does the Cubs game start?