The Worst Baserunning Play of the Year

Earlier in the week, we talked about Torii Hunter moving to right field, and it turns out that he was totally on board with the decision. He made a selfless choice for the betterment of the team, and should be lauded for his self awareness.

Last night, though, awareness is exactly what Hunter did not have. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the highlight. The shock of the announcers will key you in that this was bad, but it’s even worse than their reaction may suggest.

The situation – top the 9th inning, Angels trail 9-7, nobody out, and Hunter is on second base. Howie Kendrick is at the plate, representing the tying run.

At least, he would have been before Hunter was thrown out trying to steal third.

The Angels, previously down 9-1, had rallied back and given themselves a 17.5 percent chance of winning the game. When Hunter was thrown out, that dropped to 4.1 percent. It was a death blow to the rally, and to their chances of winning.

The play was all downside. There is almost no benefit from advancing to third base in that scenario. If Hunter had been successful, he would have pushed the Angels WPA up by just over half of one percent. Whether he was on second or third was, essentially, immaterial.

When you’re risking a 13.4 percent loss in win probability and the potential reward for success is .6 percent of win probability, the breakeven rate is off the charts. Hunter would have had to successfully steal third 22.5 times to create enough positive change in win expectancy to outweigh the loss of one unsuccessful attempt. Even when you factor in the possibility of an error that would have allowed him to score on the play, you’re looking at a break-even rate of nearly 95 percent.

His odds of success were obviously not that high. For a runner to have that kind of expectation of making it to third safely, the catcher would have to be Venus De Milo. It was an unbelievably bad play, and Hunter knew it:

“That was stupid,” Hunter said softly. “That was so stupid. Can’t take it back, killed the rally, terrible. They teach you that in Little League — don’t make the first out at third. [It] might have been the dumbest thing I’ve done in years.”

Yes, Torii, it was.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


60 Responses to “The Worst Baserunning Play of the Year”

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  1. danny says:

    I can’t even see how there is any positive expectation in stealing third. When can it help?

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    • Sky says:

      My guess is that it’s from removing a force option at 3B if the batter reaches 1B without the runner advancing from 2B. And I think Dave’s numbers show why that’s rarely important.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      If Hunter stays at second, and then an Angels batter walks, the Orioles would have had a force at any base but home. It makes the double play more likely with runners at 1st/2nd than runners at 1st/3rd.

      Additionally, if Wieters had airmailed the throw into left, and Hunter had scored, that would have eliminated the chance of a double play entirely.

      But, these are really small, marginal gains. They’re barley worth anything.

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      • spindoctor says:

        Dave — I think Danny was asking when stealing 3rd base can help (what situations would warrant an attempted steal of 3rd, statistically speaking, if any).

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      • Temo says:

        I think Dave answered that question in the post…

        “Hunter would have had to successfully steal third 225 times to create enough positive change in win expectancy to outweigh the loss of one unsuccessful attempt. Even when you factor in the possibility of an error that would have allowed him to score on the play, you’re looking at a break-even rate of nearly 95 percent.”

        I don’t think anyone has that kind of expectation for stealing third, unless they have a perfect read on the pitcher and are stealing signs or something (ie, the pitcher is about to bury a curve or splitter in the dirt or something).

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      • spindoctor says:

        Dave responded to that specific situation — down 9-7, man on 2nd, 0 outs, stealing 3rd.

        Again, I believe Denny was asking when stealing 3rd is a worthwhile option, if ever, statistically speaking. I’m not stealthy enough to figure that out on my own, so I will lean on those with the appropriate knowledge and skills.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        Stealing 3rd has quite a bit of value if a team is down by a run and only has one out. Gets you into a situation where a run can score on a fly ball, rather than relying on a base hit. Odds of winning increase from 20 percent to 29 percent if you go from runner on second to runner on third with 1 out in the 9th inning when trailing by a run.

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      • spindoctor says:

        Perfect Dave, that’s what I was looking for.

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      • spindoctor says:

        One more question — what is the decrease in said situation if he is caught stealing?

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      • Ben says:

        Just as an aside, since we’re talking about the value of stealing 3rd and the Orioles happen to be kind of related:

        It also pays to steal 3rd when you’re Brian Roberts. Since 2005, he’s 60-65 when stealing 3rd, good for 92.3 percent. Last year he went 14-14 on 3rd base SB attempts, while going just 16-23 trying to steal 2nd. He’s talked many times about how he finds it much easier to steal third, and apparently that’s more than just talk.

        Also, it’s worth pointing out that it’s a fairly useful skill for a guy who’s averaged 46 doubles over the past six seasons.

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      • NWS says:

        Using Tango’s WE numbers (that are drawn from Markov chains, not historical data), the gain in stealing 3rd in bot 9, down 1, 1 out is +13%. Getting thrown out is -26%, which translates to a 74% breakeven point

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  2. stolenbases says:

    Hunter has been poor all year on the basepaths. At this point Scioscia should have a permanent stop sign for Hunter any time he reaches base.

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  3. slash12 says:

    1 out, #8 hitter in the NL, early in the game. Wouldn’t this be a good opportunity?

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    • P says:

      Sure, but the reason it was so stupid isn’t that he got caught stealing third, it’s that he got caught stealing third, in the 9th inning, with his team needing two runs to tie. Someone behind him has to score to stay in the game regardless, so it hardly matters if he’s on second or third base.

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  4. Steve says:

    I think Ichiro did the same thing in a game against the Yankees last year.

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  5. Jamee says:

    I have a vague memory of Ichiro being CS at 3rd to end the GAME at some point, but I don’t really remember.

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  6. Temo says:

    He kinda looked safe, with the tag where it was. Not excusing anything though (when the throw beats you by that much, they’re gonna call you out regardless).

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  7. Brian says:

    Isn’t it just 22.5 times, 13.6%/0.6% = 22.5?

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  8. Ruben Rivera says:

    I’ve seen worse.

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      • Wally says:

        Tajada stopping to argue an interfience call in the ALDS while with the A’s a few years back was pretty bad as well. He would have easily made it home had he not stopped to argue with the ump. Then during the argument he was tagged out and never got the interference call. It was only the sixth inning, but it would have put the A’s up 2-1 in a game that latter went into extra innings tied at 1-1, and a win would have sent the A’s to the ALDS.

        Since he was basically 100% to score the go ahead run and the out ended the inning, I’m guessing the WPA (or WPL) was huge there.

        http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS200310040.shtml

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    • Franco says:

      Wow, I never saw that one just heard about it. That might be the worst. The only argument for Torii being worse is that his baserunning was thought out in advance while Ruben just had shitty snap decision making.

      The weird Cano and Posada on third base at the same time is bad too. (not the same level of Ruben or Torii though)

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      • Bobby says:

        The difference seems to be that Cano and Posada both know they are bad baserunners and don’t attempt to steal often (if ever). Hunter on the other hand tries often and is thrown out more than he is successful.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    Juan Pierre just led off with the game with a single, stole second … and got picked off 2nd on a Scherzer spin move, while Vizquel was attempting to bunt.

    This is just basic baserunning, and I would consider this a REALLY bad play. Fast runner, that will make it to third on almost any fair bunted ball.

    I don’t have my base state data in front of me, but I’d guess Pierre just took 1+ runs away from the CWS. runner on 2nd, nobody out.

    “Make sure he goes home” is the standard coaching phrase, and it’s a basic baserunning thing.

    I am glad to see pitchers taking outs without making pitches and getting themselves out of troubling situations. When you can, do it.

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  10. Ira says:

    I’m fairly sure that http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA192610100.shtml this was worse. Not as far as hilarity, but sadness. The worst thing would be laying there on the bag in the middle of the diamond, knowing that you just got caught stealing as the final out of the seventh game of the world series. and at home too. OMG. 38,093 fans all staring at you going, WTF were you doing?

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    • Jamee says:

      I’m pretty sure that being the Bambino gets you a pass on things like that. He’ll win them a few others.

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      • PhD Brian says:

        Tori hunter has been considered a possible hall of fame player by a few in his past.

        No one gets a pass for making the last out of the series getting caught stealing second. Ruth was hardly a fast guy.

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  11. JK says:

    The wosrt prediction of the off-season….The Ms at #6….

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    • Franco says:

      That gag never gets old with me, but it’s completely random and silly here.

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    • The Title says:

      The Title of the article is the ‘the worst xyz of the year ‘ so JK was probably playing of that…

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    • dickey simpkins says:

      The only thing worse than that ranking is your complete lack of understanding of what the rankings were about.

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      • Max says:

        ok, Dickey, I’ll bite, can you actually in any shape or form, currently support ranking the Ms #6? I’m not even a basher, but that team is a mess and next year’s team is probably going to be a mess too. I get (along with everyone else) that the rankings were as much about future performance, but there was that whole goofy roundabout piece of the write up about supporting the Ms at #6 because they had a non trivial chance of winning a WS this year. anyway, sorry about hijacking the thread and feeding the fish, and talking to the troll…

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I agree with this dude.

        Even going by the criteria stated, can you STILL make a justification for M’s as being #6?

        Where is all this talent that is better than the 24 other teams? Where’s this great management? Are you going to refer to Figgins, Brantley, not signing Branyan then trading for him?

        I thought the M’s would be an exciting team to watch, but even then #6 as an organization is a big stretch, not unless someone has seen into the future and they really do make the playoffs 4 out of the next 5 years.

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  12. Hard8 says:

    Torii still doesn’t get it. “Don’t make the first out at third”? That’s not even the issue here, Torii. Had there been one out when he tried to steal 3rd, it was still just as stupid.

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  13. Rolero says:

    I am a big proponent of on-base percentage, Sabermetrics, and FanGraphs. BUT, as a baseball man, you have to understand a couple of things. While the statistical odds are a great guideline, you can’t play by them in every instance. Remember, if Hunter gets to third, his odds of scoring go way up. They’d have 2 chances to get him in on a SAC or Fielder’s choice. He will score on every single, without the possiblity of a play at the plate (esp if the single was hit in front of him while he’s at 2nd). If he’s out at home, same effect. 2 other factors – the element of suprise may improve his chance of making it. And an experienced player like Hunter may sense the pitcher is slow to the plate, not paying enough attention, and may have a good idea he is throwing a breaking ball based on signs or where the catcher is setting up. If he makes it easily, or without a throw, everyone says it was a real risky play, but how great is Hunter for being so tuned into the game and sensing an opportunity. Remember, the Angels are not taught to sit around and wait for guys to hit a home run! They’re taught to get that first run in, make it 9-8, and go from there.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      No. Everyone – and I mean everyone – agrees that it was an irresponsible, ridiculous decision. Hunter, Scioscia, everyone. There’s no justifying the move. It was brutal.

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    • kamikaze80 says:

      wrong

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    • NWS says:

      I hope you don’t teach young people baseball

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    • max says:

      You would be right, if Hunter was the tying or winning run. In this case, they weren’t going to even tie the game until they had at least one more baserunner, who would have had to eventually score. Since Hunter would be able to score in front of the tying run, the risk of trying to steal third is completely unnecessary.

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    • William says:

      Expected returns and probability theory says no.
      Joe Morgan probably says no too.

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    • twinsfan says:

      I’m going to pile on, you’re wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong.

      I really hope this was some form of satire.

      The move is indefensible.

      Did I mention you couldn’t possibly be more wrong?

      Please don’t influence our youth with logic of this kind, for the love of all that’s good in this world.

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  14. Elvis Andrus says:

    In 1.5+ years I have been picked off/caught stealing 12 times and have made 12 other outs on the bases. So, while I might not have made the single worst baserunning play of the year, I am definitively the worst baserunner in the bigs.

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  15. payday0023 says:

    Not as bad as Lopez getting doubled up from right field. Lopez…..

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  16. DJH57 says:

    When I saw the title of this thread, I thought maybe it was referring to the boneheaded base running gaffe by Matt Kemp a few days ago against the Padres.

    With two outs in the first inning, Kemp was on 2nd, Loney on 1st, when Casey Blake singled to center. The Padres Denorfia made a good throw to nail Loney at third, and because Kemp was loafing towards home, he had not yet scored before Loney was called out, costing the Dodgers a run.

    This is the same Kemp who has 16 steals but has been caught 13 times, and ranks dead last amongst all center fielders in UZR/150.

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  17. neuter_your_dogma says:

    At least Hunter made it to third. Jayson Werth danced around second last night.

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