Playing for the Tie

Last night in St. Pete, the Red Sox trailed the Rays, 4-3 in the top of the ninth.  Fernando Rodney opened the frame with six balls in seven pitches, walking Will Middlebrooks (who gave way to pinch runner Xander Bogaerts), and falling behind Jacoby Ellsbury, who then blooped a single into shallow left.

Read on for more and to weigh in on John Farrell’s strategy.

At this point, with two on and no outs, the Red Sox had a 44.1% chance to win the game (according to Tom Tango’s win probability charts).  Shane Victorino laid down a good bunt, moving the runners to second and third and increasing Boston’s win probability… to 44.8%.  Dustin Pedroia followed with an RBI groundout before Rodney fought back from 3-0 to strike out Mike Carp, taking a tie into the ninth inning.  You all know what happened in the bottom of the ninth.

Win probability charts, to the best of my knowledge, assume average players in all roles.  Victorino is an above-average hitter, as evidenced by his .351 regular-season OBP (and his .353 wOBA).  He’s 5-for-11 with two hit-by-pitches in the series so far.  Rodney is an above-average pitcher, as evidenced by his opponents’ .310 OBP against him in the regular season.  But Rodney couldn’t find the plate, perhaps opening a door for a big inning for the Red Sox.

Bunting was the right strategy to scrape one run across.  It put Pedroia in a position to bring the runner home with a groundout or a fly ball, and significantly reduced the likelihood of a double play.  But the Red Sox were playing on the road against a team that had won three straight elimination games and was flying high after taking advantage of Boston’s shaky defense in the eighth.  A big inning would have all but clinched a trip to the ALCS for the Red Sox.  A run just prolonged the game.

What should John Farrell and Victorino have done?  Was the bunt the right call?  Weigh in below.

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13 Comments on "Playing for the Tie"

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mosc
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A bunt, when successfully implemented, raised the chances of WINNING the game. That’s not playing for the tie. The bunt raises the odds of scoring a single run in the inning which may seem as playing for the tie but in fact the winning run is only on first with no outs so moving him over to second with one out is also a somewhat reasonable approach to bringing him home as well. Classic small ball would have said have Elsbury bunt, not Victorino. That would have been playing for the tie. Now, the strategy of bunting is more complicated… Read more »
no statistician but
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Bryan:

With Victorino at the plate, the bunt has to be the better strategy, not only for the reasons mentioned by mosc above, but also because, despite his performance in games one and two of the series, Victorino was a guy who batted .161 in Tampa during the season, meaning that to expect another hit at this juncture would be to rely on gut feeling, not statistical probability. He’s a good bunter. Let him make one of those ever-popular productive outs.

David Horwich
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Victorino’s .161 BA in Tampa was over 31 AB. That’s pretty much the definition of small sample size, so it’s hard for me to see that as particularly meaningful/predictive.

no statistician but
Guest

As I suggested, that is just one element of several, the others delineated in mosc’s contribution above. This isn’t to say Victorino might not have gotten a hit of some kind or worked the pitcher for a walk. The question, though, was to validate or question the strategy of the bunt in that set of circumstances.

To me it wasn’t a hard decision to have him lay one down. It was the best choice.

bells
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Yeah, but we’re trying to make a meaningful decision or predict what a single player will do, so it’s more relevant/appropriate than just using WPA, I feel. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from teaching stats, it’s that they are more useful numbers than many people give them credit for, but they simply provide some context for you to make an informed decision. Not that I’m saying I believe baseball managers knowingly use stats wisely, but in this situation, I see the context that mosc laid down as an appropriate set of considerations for a decision of a bunt. Maybe… Read more »
Doug
Editor
Surprising that 1st and 2nd and no outs is essentially a wash with 2nd and 3rd and one out, when trailing by a run in the 9th on the road. But, if the hitter is not that fast and hits a lot of ground balls, I would definitely be bunting. But, I’m going to say the bunt wasn’t a great move here simply because Victorino is a savvy hitter who will be selective with a pitcher who is not hitting his spots, and because his speed makes him an unlikely double play candidate (yes, I know he’s banged up but… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
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mosc: “Now, the strategy of bunting is more complicated than win probability” Bingo X 10. At the risk of becoming an absolute broken record on the bigger issue involved in these kinds of questions, and to keep the story short, using Win Expectancies to predict the usefulness of a move over some large sample of games of randomly chosen teams over some randomly chosen time frames is one thing… …and using them to predict what Victorino, Pedroia and Carp will accomplish against Fernando Rodney in Tampa in 2013 is **another thing altogether**. Managers are paid to make exactly this type… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
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“Is this fact really that hard to understand?” No. Are you suggesting that someone doesn’t understand this, Jim? No, I’m not suggesting that you don’t understand it Brian, I’m really not. I know you’re knowledgeable on these things. I want to make that absolutely clear and I mean it. My question there was an expression of a general exasperation of seeing people attempt to apply statistics that were either (1) generated from some (typically, vastly) larger collection of situations, and/or (2) really only applicable to such situations…and then applying them to very context specific situations. I just see it over… Read more »
John Autin
Editor
Normally, I’d frown on giving away an out against the likes of Fernando Rodney, who has been shaky all year. But given Victorino’s superb record of bunting, and Pedroia’s equally outstanding record of getting the man home from 3rd in that situation, I liked the bunt. Pedroia’s K rate is under 9%. His career rate of producing that runner from 3rd with less than 2 outs is 60% (league average is 51%), with just a 28% failure rate (12% were BBs or HBPs, no run but no out). As others have noted, Farrell wasn’t strictly playing for the tie —… Read more »
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