In-game strategy too predictable

With the Pirates leading 1-0 tonight, Rod Barajas led off the seventh inning with a double. On the next pitch, Clint Barmes tried to sacrifice him to third. The bunt was mediocre and the slow-footed Barajas was easily thrown out at third on the play. Yamaico Navarro flew out for the second out, bringing Jose Tabata to the plate. On an 0-1 pitch to Tabata, Barmes broke for second and was thrown out to end the inning. Frustrated, I tweeted the following:

A moment later, I noted that I should actually research what I had just said. So I began sifting through game logs. I picked out any situation in which the Pirates were tied, leading by a run or behind by a run in the seventh inning or later, with a runner at first base only. Here are the results.

Total Situations 28
Stolen Base Attempts 9
Stolen Bases 4
Caught Stealing 5

I was somewhat surprised to find the Pirates have only attempted to steal in about a third of these situations. It has seemed to happen far more frequently by my recollection. However, when looking a little deeper at each of these situations, the cause of my frustration became a bit more apparent. The first hitter up after the runner reached base put the ball in play within two pitches eight times, eliminating most of the opportunity to steal. On two other occasions, the runner on first was picked off while clearly trying to break toward second. The man at the plate bunted five different times. (That only includes bunts that showed up in the game log. Who knows how many times a hitter tried to bunt and ended up swinging away after falling behind in the count.) In only about 50% of these situations did Clint Hurdle simply sit back and let his hitters swing away. More than a third of those “swing-away” situations may have turned out differently, but the hitter put the ball in play within two pitches.

Sometimes, Hurdle really likes to force the issue. On April 17, Tabata walked, watched as Alex Presley popped out while trying to bunt, and then was thrown out trying to steal. This past Friday, Barajas singled in the eighth inning and was replaced at first by Josh Harrison. Hurdle had Barmes attempt a sac bunt, keeping the bunt on even after the count went to two strikes. Immediately after Barmes narrowly avoided fouling out on the bunt attempt, Harrison was picked off while trying to steal second.

It is pretty clear that with a guy on first base late in a close game, Hurdle is going to try to force that runner to second base. It could be a sacrifice bunt attempt, or it could be an attempted steal. Regardless, opposing teams can be confident that the Pirates are usually going to try something when someone reaches first base. That predictable nature may just have something to do with the team’s awful success rate on stolen base attempts.

In the ninth inning tonight, Presley walked with two outs. I half-jokingly tweeted that there was an 80% chance he would try to steal. Two pitches later, Presley broke for second and was thrown out.

Note: I counted up these numbers by manually going through game logs, so it is possible that I missed something here or there. You can see the rough notes that I kept here, if you’re interested.

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cocktailsfor2

Since you’re doing all this research, it might be interesting to see how other teams are trying to predict Hurdle’s “predictability” by throwing FBs early in the count when that runner gets on first, to facilitate catching someone trying to steal second.

Lee Young

Hurdle = Great guy, lousy manager.

Thx for that research.

RandyLinville

I was thinking the same thing. Even pitch location – are they setting up on the outside to give the catcher a mini pitch-out?

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