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.

We hoped you liked reading The Worst Baserunning Play of the Year by Dave Cameron!

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


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.