Sunday, April 10, 2011

Buck Showalter's $2,000,000 tactic

From Tom Verducci's article on Buck Showalter, in the March 28, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated:

"Showalter had schooled his players on this: runners at first and third, less than two outs and a ground ball that the second baseman fields near the baseline. Most runners on first are taught either to stop or head toward the infield grass, making it hard for the second baseman to tag them and still have time to throw to first for the double play. Showalter taught the Orioles to slide directly into the second baseman, essentially breaking up a double play in the baseline. "That's six to 10 outs a year if we do it right," Showalter said. Which is 0.2% of the more than 4,000 outs a team gets over a season."

Well, an extra six to ten outs is a lot. Plus, it's not just the outs: it's also the extra runner at first base.

Assuming the runner on third always stays put, and doing a little arithmetic with Tango's base/out matrix:

Suppose there's one out. If the team turns the double play, the inning ends and the run expectancy is zero. If they don't, it's first and third with two outs, which is worth .538 runs.

Suppose there's no outs. Runners on 1st and 3rd with one out is worth 1.243 runs. Runner on 3rd with two outs is worth .387 runs. Difference: .856 runs.

Now, most of the time there'll be one out (it's a lot easier to get two runners on with one out than with no outs). Again from Tango, it's about a 2:1 ratio of one out over no outs. That means the .538 happens twice as often as the .856, which means each broken-up double play averages .644 runs.

"Six to 10" instances of saving .644 runs is 4 to 6 runs. Call it 5.

A free-agent win is worth about $4.5 million. A win is about 10 runs. So, at free-agent rates, 5 runs is worth over two million dollars.

So Buck Showalter has saved his team $2,000,000 -- over half his salary -- in that one small on-field strategy change.


I don't know anything about on-field strategy, so I have no way to evaluate all that. So these questions are for you SMEs reading this.

Will Showalter's strategy work? Is 6-10 outs a reasonable estimate of what it saves? Are there unstated drawbacks that negate those outs?

By sharing the strategy with Sports Illustrated, Showalter runs the risk that all other teams will adopt it, completely negating the Orioles' $2 million advantage. Why would he do that?

I guess I'm thinking that the story sounds a bit too pat. But, I don't really know. Your comments?

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At Monday, April 11, 2011 9:25:00 AM, Blogger Hizouse said...

Re sharing with other teams:

This tactic, if it works, is easily observable by other teams. You can't really keep sliding-into-second-baseman-in-middle-of-basepaths a secret. Everybody else catches on after you do it once or twice.

Also, this play just feels like interference, but I don't think it it is covered by the rules. If we assume the second baseman has already fielded the ball, the closest I could find is 7.09(e), which only applies after the runner has been put out:
[Interference occurs when] Any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall
be declared out for the interference of his teammate
I suppose there may be some ambiguity about whether the runner is entitled to complete his slide after he is tagged out.

At Monday, April 11, 2011 12:04:00 PM, Blogger The Baseball Idiot said...

They'll start calling it an automatic double play. No way Bud lets something like this happen.

At Tuesday, April 26, 2011 2:13:00 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

I'd bet that the first person to this gets a plunked by a fastball.


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