Last night’s last-minute win was terrific, exciting, fun and made everyone forget about how poorly the New York Yankees played for the first eight innings. In particular, there were a number – that number being three – of very poor baserunning decisions that significantly hurt the Yankees’ chances of winning, and which need to be avoided in the remaining playoff games.
Luckily, there’s a nice little tool out there, created by sabermetrician Tom Tango, which takes all the game data from the past 50 years or so and calculates the probability that a team will win a game given the inning, base-out situation, and score. Using that data, as well as some subjective adjustments by yours truly, I’ve sorted the three baserunning errors by costliness below:
3. Russell Martin is thrown out at home with 1 out in the 7th.
Win expectancy (WE) if Martin had stayed at third: 51.6%
WE if he had scored: 77.2%
WE after being thrown out: 49.9%
Change in win probability (WPA) because of Martin’s base-running: Either -1.7% or -17.3%
In the 7th inning of the tie game, after a [questionable] sac bunt from Derek Jeter, the Yankees had runners on second and third with 1 out. Ichiro Suzuki hit a ground ball to second, and Martin was thrown out on a fielder’s choice at home. This play was obviously huge, as overall it decreased the Yankees’ chances of winning by 14.7%. However, it’s unclear how much of that was due to (1) Martin/Rob Thomson’s decision to attempt to score on the routine grounder or (2) Martin’s awful slide.
If Martin had stayed at third, the situation really wouldn’t have been much better for the Yankees, since there would have been two outs anyway. The slide was the major mistake of the play, as the throw forced Matt Wieters to hold his mitt high and inside. A good slide could have allowed Martin to sneak in under the tag and score a run, dramatically increasing the Yankees’ chances of winning the game.
However, even though Martin’s inability to score hurt the Yankees more than either of the other two mistakes, I decided to rank it as the least costly of the three. First of all, it’s not entirely clear whether a better slide really would have produced a run. And secondly, it’s easier to understand Martin’s bad slide, as he seemed to be expecting a collision, or at least a situation in which the quality of the slide would not affect the end result.
2. Ichiro gets caught stealing third with no outs in the 1st.
WE before the play: 64.8%
WE after the play: 57.5%
After a leadoff single by Jeter to start the game, Ichiro slapped a double into the left-center gap, scoring Jeter easily and giving the Yankees a quick 1-0 lead. However, Ichiro promptly ended the rally by attempting to steal third against Wieters, who has one of the best catcher arms in baseball.
We all knew that this play was very costly at the time, and the WPA supports that conclusion. In just the first inning, the Yankees had a 65% chance of winning with Ichiro on second and no outs; in reality, the chances were probably even higher with the middle of the order coming up for the Yanks. This is not to mention the fact that Oriole pitcher Jason Hammel was clearly struggling at the beginning of the game, giving the Yankees a perfect opportunity to break the game open right then and there. But Ichiro’s decision to steal third with no outs against a fantastic catcher let Hammel off the hook and kept the Orioles in the game. We should applaud Ichiro’s double, but the caught stealing negated much of the benefit of the double and kept the game too close for comfort.
1. Mark Teixeira gets thrown out at second with 1 out in the 4th.
WE if Teixeira had stopped on first: 58.7%
WE after being thrown out: 48.5%
Like Ichiro, Teixeira’s mistake came immediately after a huge success. With runners on 1st and 2nd in the 4th with one out and the Yankees down by one, Teixeira hit a shot that would have surely been a home run in Yankees Stadium, but hit off the top of the right field wall in Camden Yards. Alex Rodriguez scored, but Teixeira, who is not known for speed, was thrown out at 2nd, again hurting the Yankees’ chances at taking the lead and breaking the game open.
If Teixeira had stayed at first, the Orioles would have had to pitch to Curtis Granderson, and the Yankees would have had a good chance at scoring Nick Swisher on a sac fly – or, possibly, break the game open with a home run by Granderson. However, Teixeira’s terrible decision to go to second led to no additional runs that inning, or for the next four innings for that matter. As in Ichiro’s case, the net result was still positive, but could have been so much more if not for the baserunning mistake.
The Yankees are lucky that they broke through in the 9th and won, or these mistakes would have received a lot more attention. Overall, three baserunning mishaps decreased the Yankees’ chances of winning by between 19 and 35%. That is simply unacceptable, and unsustainable if the Yankees want to advance to, and ultimately win, the World Series. The game last night could have been over much sooner than it was, and while it made for dramatic television, I’d take a god old-fashioned blowout any day of the week. Be smart, Yankees, and you’ll be fine.
WE and WPA data courtesy of Fangraphs and The Hardball Times.