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Running Into an Out as a Strategy

I tried to come up with a witty preamble to this but all I could come up with was a lame story about playing RBI Baseball 4 against my older brother. And unless you have mistakenly come to FanGraphs while trying to get to Farmers Almanac (no judgments, Google auto-complete can be weird sometimes) then you probably don’t care about that. So let’s dispense with the amusing introduction and get right to the question. (Or did I just subversively come up with a witty preamble by explaining how I did not have a witty preamble?!)


Runner on first with two out. 0-2 count.

Now anyone who is even slightly familiar with baseball will tell you that this is not a good situation for the offence. Those who are very familiar with baseball to the point that they read things like this post will probably even quote the run expectancy matrix to demonstrate how bad of a situation this is for the offence.

So, yeah, not looking good for the offence. The chance of scoring a run from that base/out state is 0.127. And that is without even accounting for the 0-2 count which obviously makes things worse. MLB as a whole slashed .155/.187/.237 with a 47.6 K% and a 10 wRC+ last year through two-out, 0-2 situations with runners on. In other words, the batter made the third out ~80% of the time. Even Mike Trout, who is Baseball Jesus, strikes out over half the time in 0-2 counts and is running a tOPS+ that is almost single digits. For all intents and purposes, the inning is likely over when it hits that situation.

But the team at the plate is not totally powerless. It can still decide how to end the inning, and they could do it in a way that gives them a more favourable outcome. Which brings me to the crux of this argument;

Why not have the guy on first just take off running?

Before the pitcher even comes set, just take off for second. Worst case, they tag him out and the inning ends (which was the most likely outcome anyway), but now the guy at the plate leads off the next inning in a fresh count, which is obviously a much more favourable scenario for a hitter. And best case, the defence screws up and the runner is now on second. Granted, that is an extreme outcome, and even two out and runner on second is still not a great scoring scenario. But referring back to the run expectancy matrix, it’s ~50% higher than when he was standing on first.

If the outcome of the scenario is almost overwhelmingly going to be an out, then you are not really giving away an out as much as you are just deciding who takes the out. If you have a good hitter at the plate, why have him continue to hit in what is a pretty futile situation, and waste one of his limited PAs, when you can reset the situation and give him what amounts to an extra PA by having the runner take the out instead?

Let’s look at Mike Trout’s career as an example since, well, since it’s fun to look at Mike Trout’s numbers.

No surprise, Mike Trout is a much, much, much better hitter overall than he is in 0-2 counts. Every hitter is. Now let’s also check back in with our friend, the run expectancy matrix.

So right off the bat (no pun intended), we see that the chances of scoring a run at the start of any inning are considerably better than scoring a run with two outs and a runner at first. Add in the fact that you have a very good hitter leading off in Trout and things have seemingly changed significantly for the better, simply by having your base-runner act like an 11-year-old exchange student on the base paths.

If Trout does anything to get on first (single, walk, HBP, dropped third strike, coming to the plate and performing a stand-up routine that is so good the opposing team just awards him first as a thank you, etc etc), now all of a sudden the chances of scoring a run in the inning have gone up to 0.416. Given that Mike Trout got on base nearly 45% of the time last year and is around 40% for his career, it seems like a fairly reasonable outcome. So by having your base-runner deliberately make an out to end the previous inning and saving Trout from doing so, you have gone from a situation where you had a .127 (or lower given the fact that the 0-2 count is not accounted for in the matrix) chance of scoring a run and your best hitter producing an out to a situation where you very likely have a 0.416 chance of scoring a run. And that does not even account for all the other things Trout might do new in this new PA. If he hits a lead-off double, your chances of scoring a run in the inning are now 0.614. If he hits a lead-off home run, your chances of scoring a run are….hold on, where is my calculator? Plus, you have also avoided what was highly likely an out for your best hitter and having to wait two or three innings for him to bat again.

Last year, MLB teams averaged 219 PAs where they had runners on and an 0-2 count. As stated above, in that situation the hitter wound up making the third out ~80% of the time. So that is ~200 innings that could have started with a different guy at the plate and ~200 outs at the plate that could theoretically have been something other than an out. How many innings would have been different by simply giving up the runner for the third out and letting the hitter lead off the next inning in a more favourable count? If you have a good hitter at the plate and he is down 0-2, it might be worthwhile strategy to just tell your base-runner to take off and let your hitter try again the next inning.

Or maybe I have had too much coffee today.

Someone Give Juan Uribe a Job

Todd Frazier has 38 home runs this year. That’s probably a strange way to start off a post about Juan Uribe but hang with me.

Todd Frazier has 38 home runs this year. Todd Frazier also has a wRC+ of 100 this year. That is a pretty remarkable combination. According to wRC+ Frazier has been exactly an average hitter this year despite the fact that he is currently 8th in all of baseball in home runs. This interesting and seemingly unlikely union piqued my curiosity and sent me down a statistical rabbit hole in search of home runs and terrible wRC+’s. At the bottom of that rabbit hole is where I ran into Juan Uribe.

Juan Uribe has not played an MLB game since July 30th. In that game he went 0-for-3 and he was released by Cleveland a few days later on August 6th. This probably wasn’t a surprise to most people as A) Most people probably would be more surprised to learn he was still in the league to begin with, and B) he was running a 54 wRC+ over 259 PA with Cleveland this year.

But I’m not here to argue that someone should give Uribe a job because his current talent level deserves one (although you probably could; he was nearly a 2-WAR player as recently as last year). I’m here to argue for someone to give him a job because Juan Uribe is on the cusp of history. Juan Uribe has 199 career home runs.

You might think that 200 career home runs isn’t that much of a milestone and it’s only because humans love round numbers that we even recognize it as a milestone. And you would be absolutely correct in saying that. But much like Todd Frazier’s 38 home runs this year, Juan Uribe’s 200 career home runs would be fairly unique. In fact they would be entirely unlike anyone before him because Juan Uribe would be the worst hitter to ever hit 200 home runs.




That is the board of directors of the Terrible 200 Club (patent pending) and as you can see Juan Uribe is poised to unseat Tony “why the hell am I standing sideways at the plate” Batista as CEO with one more measly home run, and by a pretty decent margin. Obviously though his bid is now under threat because he is 37 years old, has been without a team for over a month now and was absolutely awful when he did have a team. It is entirely possible, maybe even likely, that he never hits another MLB home run. And it’s not like there is another current player who is a slam dunk to make a run at Batista if Uribe never steps into the batter’s box again:




Brandon Phillips will get to 200 but he is sneaky old. He turned 35 in June, so while he is nowhere near what he was earlier in his career it seems unlikely that he plays long enough to see his career wRC+ fall below 90.

AJ Pierzynksi is all but done at this point. At 39 years old and nearly a win below replacement level this year it’s probably more likely that the ghost of Clete Boyer gets signed and hits 38 home runs to get to 200 as it is Pierzynski hits 12 more in his career.

-Which bring us to James Jerry Hardy. Hardy seemed to be doing his best to crater his wRC+, posting a dreadful 50 last year, but he has rebounded (relatively speaking) to post a 93 so far this year. One has to wonder if he can even get to 200 home runs (he still needs 16 more to get there and he has hit only 26 over his past 1404 PAs), and secondly, if he does, will he post a wRC+ low enough to “best” Batista? You could probably argue that any version of Hardy that is good enough to get to 200 homers is probably also good enough to not decimate his career wRC+.

The easiest solution is for some intrepid and/or awful team to just give Uribe a spot so that he can chase history with each swing. Atlanta, Arizona, Minnesota, what have you guys got to lose? Would a Kickstarter or GoFundMe to pay some of his salary help? It would just be such a shame for the baseball public to be denied a potentially marvelous thing when it’s so close to realization. Like teasing a dog by pretending to throw a ball or every season after the first one of Homeland.

Somewhere Tony Batista is sitting in a recliner, probably in some crazy way that no one else sits in recliners because he is Tony Batista, just waiting for the news that Uribe has been picked up by someone so he can hand the crown to the new king of the Terrible 200 (patent pending). He just needs a little help. Let’s make this happen, MLB.