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.

Jim Vance: Telling Truth to Power

WRC-TV evening news anchor and Washington DC legend Jim Vance delivered a scathing editorial on-air recently, lambasting the local sports media–including his own WRC-TV!–for overhyping Redskins training camp and ignoring the first-place Nationals.

This is a significant moment in Nats fandom. When a local media legend like Jim Vance says it’s time to get behind the Nats, you know it’s serious.

Here’s his editorial, transcribed in full:

Okay. So. Did you notice the lead story in our sports segment a couple of minutes ago? Did you see the front page of the Post today? Are you wondering, like I am, what the hell is wrong with you people?

RGIII and the Redskins have been dominating local sports coverage for weeks now, way out of proportion, in my view, to the place they deserve–to the place that they’ve earned–on the current DC sports landscape.

Did I just now commit heresy? Did I just even suggest that there might be another professional sports franchise in this ‘Skins-crazed town? Yeah, I did. And I have a feeling that I’m not alone.

Allow me to make something clear before I go any further. I am lovin’ me some RGIII. I think his might be the most refreshing and exciting athletic presence in this town in years. I love the way that he’s been handling himself and the media, and I am especially thrilled that that maturity and articulation are so obviously the result of a mother and a father who would expect nothing else from their boy.

That being said, the kid has yet to play a down in the NFL, for goodness’ sake! While back in the city–where a sports franchise that carries the city’s name ought to be, by the way–the Nationals are on fire. There is not one team in Major League Baseball with a better record. The Nationals–our team–they are 20 games above .500.

You’ve heard, haven’t you, that the last time that happened was in 1945, when Doreen [Gentzler] was looking at her driver’s license? You want some front-page material? There it is. And this is with a team that’s been banged-up and injured all season long! You want a headline? Davey Johnson ought to be Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” for masterful stewardship of that team. Our team.

Listen, I am not even a baseball fan. And I am jacked up over this team.

Here’s my problem with the ‘Skins training camp overkill hype: That’s what it is–hype! I was at all four of our Super Bowl appearances, and for twenty years since then, that team has set me up in August and cut my heart out in November.

I was also at RFK for the last Senators game back in ’71. Truth is, I didn’t really care if they left. I didn’t know anything about ’em. But now, forty-one years later, I have never been more excited and filled with hope for a baseball team.

The ‘skins promise. The Nats deliver. And, until that changes, that’s my sports headline.