My criticism of Hillman’s decision to pinch-hit for Gathright with Olivo has attracted a fair amount of response, not all of it positive. I stand by the point I made – that it was the wrong move to make – but dedicating an entire post to the move gave it a prominence that it didn’t really deserve. It was the wrong move, but it wasn’t an egregious one; it might have lowered the Royals’ chance of winning by 2 or 3 percent. I wrote about it because I happened to be at my computer as the ninth inning played out, and because it’s interesting to write about all the different factors that go into a decision like that.
It’s not as interesting to say “the Royals should stop running so much,” in part because it’s so obvious. But Gordon’s decision to try to steal second with the tying run at third base in the 4th inning probably lowered the team’s win probability by something like 5 percent. More importantly, this was just the latest in a series of low-probability baserunning decisions that have cost the Royals outs. Outs that have cost the Royals runs. Runs that have cost the Royals wins.
Consider this: at this moment, the Royals and Indians have roughly the same caliber of offensive stats. The Royals have hit .275/.325/.370 as team; the Indians have hit .241/.336/.365. The Royals have basically exchanged 5 homers and 19 walks for a pair of doubles and 27 singles.
Yet in the same number of games, the Indians have 74 runs, and the Royals have 55 – a difference of over a run a game. The Indians have hit a little better with runners in scoring position; they’ve hit .264/.399/.408 as a team, while the Royals have hit .266/.331/.331 in the same situations. That’s worth a few runs, but just a few. The difference is that the Indians have stolen 9 bases and been caught twice; the Royals have stolen 14 bases but have been caught nine times.
It’s not just the frequency of the caught stealings – it’s the timing. The Royals have been thrown out five times with a runner already in scoring position. Three of those were guys thrown out trying to steal third base (Gathright twice, Gload once), and twice they were guys trying to steal second with a runner already on third.
And then there’s all the outs made trying to take the extra base. According to Craig Brown at Royals Authority, the Royals have made 10 additional outs on the basepaths – either pickoffs or what I call “discretionary outs”, outs made when attempting to take an extra base. That’s a total of 19 baserunning outs, more than one a game. That’s insane.
You can argue that the Royals are still 9-7, so it can’t have hurt them that much. On the other hand, they’re just a game over .500 even though they’ve given up the fewest runs in the league, and every other team has given up 0.75 runs more per game. It’s a fair statement to say that the Royals have already cost themselves a game with their baserunning tactics. It’s time to end the madness. Hillman seems like a smart guy, and I’m confident that he recognizes that the costs of his running game have far exceeded the benefits. If he doesn’t, well, maybe I’m wrong about him.
- It’s been two weeks since the Royals foisted their team calendar on the world, and I still can’t get over this photograph of Mark Grudzielanek (scroll down.) Who took this photo? Robert Mapplethorpe?