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Baseball Strategy: Runner on first. No outs. Tie ballgame.

I just thought I'd carry you through my thinking as to why I would've let Bard try to get on base yesterday instead of sac bunting Hairston in the 7th. You're totally welcome to disagree with me. I ain't no baseball manager, but I love working through strategy.

First off, I look at the fact that a single run in the 7th is not going to win the game. If this were the bottom of the 9th inning and scoring that one run guarantees a victory, then my thinking changes. The only "clock" you have is the 27 outs you begin the game with. A sac bunt that doesn't guarantee a victory is like trying to kill the clock in the 3rd quarter of a football game. The fact that it's only the 7th is probably the biggest thing to me that makes me dislike the bunt here.

Bored yet? There's more after the jump!

The next big thing is the fact that the runner is on first base and after sacrificing him over, we'll still need an actual hit to score him. If the runner is already on second thanks to a double instead of a single or perhaps a stolen base early in the next at-bat, I like a sac bunt a little bit more because the thinking then is that our pinch hitter only needs to get the ball out of the infield to score Hairston.

Digging a little bit deeper into the context of the situation, Hairston walked on 9 pitches including 3 foul balls. What that tells me is that the pitcher may not be locating his spots, but he's near the strikezone. Given that, the fact that Hairston has some speed, and the fact that Bard is more of a groundball hitter with a respectable batting average, I give very strong consideration to a hit-and-run. After Proctor falls behind early with a first pitch ball to Bard, the hit-and-run becomes extra savory.

Along with those ideas, I like thinking about my probable outcomes and best and worst case scenarious. Sure, a sac bunt has a decent chance of being successful in that situation, but where does it get us? A tie game with a runner on second base and one out. By some counts, we actually lowered our win expectancy by 2% by sac bunting.

With a runner on second, and one out, what are the next situations that could happen? Best case for the Padres is obviously some sort of base hit to score Hairston, but the Dodgers have a base open. A walk isn't so bad as it sets up a double play starting at second base or third base. Any sort of "productive" out that Tony Clark happens upon (fly ball or groundout) at best puts Hairston on third, but with two outs. So what's the incentive to really go after Tony Clark?

What about a hit-and-run? Worst case scenario is a double-play, which we're trying to mitigate by putting the runner in motion. Best case scenario is extra bases to score one or two runs. Our in-between scenarios include:

  • Runners on first and third with no outs.
  • Kouz getting a base hit or walk, and Hairston advances to second. Runners on first and second with no outs.
  • Kouz hitting into a FC and making it to first (somewhat unlikely given that Hairston would be put in motion on the hit-and-run)
  • Kouz hitting into a FC leaving Hairston on second (same as the sac bunt situation)

So given our situation and our likely scenarios, I personally really like the hit-and-run call. Sure, our worst case scenario is better with the sac bunt (1 out, runner on first vs a double play), but the best case scenario is miles better with the hit-and-run play (1 or 2 runs with nobody out vs runner on second with 1 out). Additionally, the in-between scenarios with the hit-and-run include several that aren't really that bad and include the sac bunt's best case.

We could try to assign a best guess probability to each situation and run a probability analysis, but based on gut and knowing that a runner on second with 1 out almost always gives a lower win expectancy than a runner on first with no outs, I like the move that doesn't, at best, guarantee that we're less likely to win.