Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

The Nats won Game 1 of their NLDS series against the Cardinals, 3 runs to 2, on a dramatic two-out RBI single by rookie Tyler Moore. But let’s rewind and remember how they got there.

Michael Morse reached on an error. Ian Desmond singled, putting runners on first and second and nobody out.

Danny Espinosa then, inexplicably, bunted. Many of us in Nats town scratched our heads (which were already raw from pulling our hair out in clumps all game). Why the hell would Espinosa bunt? On the radio, Slowes and Jaegler wondered if perhaps Morse had missed a sign–was that a safety squeeze? A suicide squeeze? What the hell was going on?

After the game, Davey Johnson said he had called for a straight sacrifice bunt, figuring it was the best way to win. (Upon hearing this, I’m sure that Bob Brenly, giving small-ball analysis for the TBS television feed, achieved orgasm).

But did it really give the Nats a better chance to win? Let’s look at the numbers. Before the sacrifice bunt, the situation was runners on first and second, nobody out. Looking that situation up in our handy run expectancy matrix , we see that in that situation, the Nats had a run expectancy of 1.556. That is: when you look at all the times that situation has occurred in baseball between 1993 and 2010, the team in that situation scored, on average, 1.556 runs.

After the sacrifice bunt, the situation was runners on second and third, with one out. That drops the Run Expectancy slightly, to 1.447. So, did the sacrifice give the Nats a better chance to win? Strictly speaking, no. But the drop in run expectancy isn’t big enough, really, to get all that upset about it–especially if all you’re trying to do is get one run over and tie the ball game.

Where things really got dicey was after the Kurt Suzuki strikeout. That made it two outs, runners on second and third: a run expectancy of 0.626–a huge drop from 1.447!

That puts Tyler Moore’s pinch-hit RBI single into perspective. When we watched it, it felt deleriously unexpected–that’s because it was.

Incidentally, I wish TV broadcasters kept a little base/out state run expectancy figure off in one corner of their broadcast. It would be an excellent bit of additional information.

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3 thoughts on “Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

  1. I had zero issues with Espinosa’s bunt. When it happened, I didn’t think safety squeeze or sacrifice; i thought he was trying to bunt for a base hit. And for a guy who had waved at pitches all afternoon en route to three weak strikeouts, a bunt which either turns into a surprise base hit or at worst case turns into a sacrifice is better than another strikeout. I credit Espinosa for recognizing that he was struggling on the afternoon and trying to do something/anything to play.

    Run expectancy analysis; when Espinosa bunted it was actually guys on 1st and 3rd, not 1st and 2nd, with zero outs. RE of 1.853. Espinosa bunting turned it into 2nd and 3rd with one out; RE of 1.447. However, if Espinosa struck out yet again, it’d be 1st and 3rd with one out: RE of 1.211. Sooooooo by Espinosa not striking out and at least advancing the baserunner to 2nd he DID help the Run expectancy.

  2. I’ll stand “amended” after reading media reports today; apparently Johnson called for the bunt (according to Jerry Crasnick’s espn chat, referring to other recaps and interviews done post-game). I’ll stand by my “approval” though; Espinosa was over-matched all night and I wouldn’t have had any confidence that he wouldn’t have struck out again. Perhaps this is what Johnson was thinking when he called for the bunt in the first place … thinking i’d rather have 2nd/3rd with one out than 1st and 3rd with one out (and thus being in a position where a grounder turns into a double play and ends the inning).

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