DMB News October 2003
Diamond Mind Email Newsletter
October 22, 2003
Written by Tom Tippett
Welcome to the fifth edition of the Diamond Mind email newsletter for the year 2003. Through these newsletters, we will try to keep you up to date on the latest product and technical information about the Diamond Mind Baseball game, related player disks, and our ongoing baseball research efforts. Back issues are available on our website.
Topics for this issue:
For those of you who prefer to order by mail, we have begun sending our annual mailing to all registered owners of version 8 of the game. The mailing includes an updated order form -- with the 2003 Season Disk, the 2004 Bill James Handbook, the new All-time Greatest Players Disk, the four new All-time Greatest Teams Disks, plus our collection of past seasons -- and a postage-paid reply envelope.
To order by mail without waiting for your letter, which should arrive in your mailbox in the next three weeks or so, you can print an order form via the "How to Order" page of our web site.
Work is well underway on the 2003 Season Disk, which will be ready for shipment on or before December 9th, and we are now taking advance orders.
As usual, you'll receive a ton of information with this season disk, including everything you need to start playing games immediately upon installation:
- full rosters with every player who appeared in the big leagues this season
- official batting, pitching and fielding statistics, including left/right splits for all batters and pitchers and modern statistics such as inherited runners, holds, blown saves, pickoffs, and stolen bases versus pitchers and catchers
- games started by position versus left- and right-handed pitchers
- updated park factors
- a full set of real-life transactions and game-by-game lineups for season replays
- two schedules, the original (as-scheduled) schedule and another (as-played) reflecting rainouts and other rescheduled games.
- real-life salaries for all players
- complete manager profiles for all teams
You can place a credit card order now, either through our web store (follow the link from www.diamond-mind.com) or by calling us at 800-400-4803 during business hours (9-5 Eastern time, Mon-Fri).
Since 1990, the annual Bill James Handbooks have formed the backbone of our baseball library. For a complete, well-organized reference that includes every active player, you won't find a better book. And now you can order your copy from Diamond Mind for only $17.95, a 10% discount off the cover price. (Available the week of November 3rd.)
Among the many great features of the Bill James Handbook are:
- career registers for every active player, including minor-league stats for players with little big-league experience
- complete fielding statistics for every player
- expanded pitcher stats include hitting, fielding, and holding runners
- park factors and rankings
- left/right splits for all batters and pitchers
- conventional and sabermetric leader boards
- team standings, augmented by many team performance splits
- team rankings for batting, pitching and fielding NOTE: Because of the added weight, first-class and air mail shipping rates are not available for orders including this book. Priority Mail and Overnight shipping rates are available.
After watching the Red Sox get burned by the strike-him-out/throw-him-out double play three times in the ALCS, we decided to take another look at the idea of sending the runner from first with less than two out and a full count on the batter. What follows is more of a quick-and-dirty than a complete analysis, but it might serve to shed a little light on the subject nonetheless.
One good number to know is the overall rate at which ground-ball double plays occur. Since 1978, if we set aside bunt attempts, 11.4% of all plate appearances that occurred in GDP situations (runner on first, less than two out) resulted in a GDP. This rate has been remarkably stable in that time, peaking at 12.6% and bottoming out at 10.9%. The rate was 11.5% this season.
Pitchers rarely hit into double plays, but that's largely because they're usually not allowed to swing away in GDP situations. Most of the time, they're bunting. When they do swing away, they produce a GDP about 9% of the time.
If you take pitchers out of the mix, you still get a GDP rate of about 11.4% for the position players. You might have expected this rate to be higher to compensate for the pitchers. I did, at first, before I remembered that pitchers bunt so much that they represent only 1.5% of the non-bunt plate appearances in GDP situations.
This overall rate of 11.4% includes two types of plate appearances, ones where the batter puts the ball in play (including homers) and ones where he doesn't.
In 2003, approximately 74% of all plate appearances resulted in a ball in play. Assuming this rate applies equally to GDP situations and non-GDP situations, we can infer that GDPs occur 0% of the time when the ball IS NOT put in play and 15.4% of the time when the ball IS put in play.
Furthermore, the GDP rate is only about 1.5% when the hit and run is on. This means that the GDP rate for non-bunt, non-hit-and-run plays when the batter puts the ball in play is higher than 15.4%. But it's only a higher by a few tenths of one percent because the hit and run isn't used often enough to affect the overall averages in a big way.
OK, let's get back to the decision about whether to send the runner on a 3-2 pitch with less than two out, focusing on the situation where the only runner is on first. What are the possible outcomes?
The next pitch could be ball four. Or it could hit the batter. Either way, the runner is not at risk. In 2003, 22% of all 3-2 pitches resulted in a hit batsman or a walk.
The batter could foul off the pitch. This happened on 29% of all 3-2 pitches in 2003. Taking HBP, walks, and foul balls together, we've determined that the runner is not at risk 51% of the time with an average pitcher on the mound and an average hitter at the plate.
In 2003, 15% of all 3-2 pitches resulted in a strikeout, and the runner is very much at risk on these plays. The remaining 34% of the time, the batter put the ball in play. Using these numbers, let's see if we can do a rough cost-benefit analysis of the decision to send the runner.
(Of course, we're assuming that the distribution of 3-2 outcomes is the same in GDP situations with the runner going as it is in all situations. That assumption may or may not be a valid. It would be fun to write a little program to test that assumption, but we're too busy with the 2003 Season Disk and version 9 right now. That's why we said this was a quick-and-dirty analysis, not a comprehensive look at this topic.)
If you DO send the runner, and if that runner is an average base-stealer, what's your risk of a double play? If strikeouts happen 15% of the time and the runner is thrown out 1/3 of the time, you'd expect to see a strikeout double play about 5% of the time. If the ball is put in play 34% of the time, but the GDP rate on a ball in play with a runner going is only 1.5%, you'd expect to see a GDP in only about 0.5% of these plate appearances. That's a total DP rate of 5.5%.
If you DON'T send the runner, what's your risk of a double play? If the batter makes contact 34% of the time, and ground-ball double plays occur on about 16% of all balls in play, you'd expect to see a GDP in about 5.4% of these plate appearances.
Interesting, isn't it? With a full count on the hitter, you've got a DP rate of 5.5% if you send the runner and a DP rate of 5.4% if you don't. Sounds like it doesn't matter much either way.
But these are overall averages, and averages don't always apply to specific situations. Besides, there are a few other factors.
If you have a batter who's much less likely to strike out, sending the runner makes more sense. A guy who whiffs a lot, well, that's another story. And if Nolan Ryan is on the hill, even the best contact hitter is vulnerable to the strikeout.
With an extreme ground-ball pitcher on the mound, you're asking for a GDP if you DON'T send the runner. With an extreme fly-ball pitcher on the mound, a GDP isn't likely anyway, so why take the chance?
If you have a runner at first who has no chance to steal the base, sending the runner makes less sense. With Vince Coleman on base, you're more likely to avoid the DP even if the batter misses the pitch, especially if the pitcher and catcher are easy to run on.
Sending the runner can pay off in extra bases advanced on a single or a double, and it might get the middle infielders moving around enough to let a routine grounder get through for a hit. On the other hand, it can also increase the chances of a fly-ball or line-drive double play.
If there's a lousy pitcher on the mound, why risk an out on the basepaths? Let the hitter take his hacks and see if you can put a rally together without getting fancy. Conversely, if you're up against Sandy Koufax in Dodger Stadium, you may need to gamble some.
In other words, the decision depends a LOT on the players involved. The manager needs to assess the likelihood of a strikeout given THIS batter-pitcher matchup, the likelihood of a stolen base given THIS pitcher-catcher-runner combo, the likelihood of a GDP given THIS pitcher's tendency to induce ground balls and THIS hitter's tendency to hit into double plays, and the cost of an extra out in THIS situation.
Getting back to Grady Little and the Red Sox, what can we say about those three ALCS decisions?
Well, we can point out that this tactic worked pretty well for Boston during the regular season. They sent the runners a little more often than most teams and ran into only 7 strikeout double plays (KDPs). The average was about 5 per team, so the cost was relatively small. And there was a benefit: they had the MLB's fifth-lowest GDP rate (only 10.3% of their PAs in GDP situations produced a GDP) in 2003.
So it has to be considered a little odd, and perhaps unlucky, to see the Sox run into KDPs in three consecutive games in the ALCS after having only 7 in 162 games all season.
Other than the obvious fact that they were facing very good pitchers in the ALCS, there doesn't appear to be much difference between what Boston was doing during the regular season and in the ALCS.
Of their seven regular-season KDPs, only two baserunners (Lou Collier and Damian Jackson) were legitimate base-stealing threats. The other five (Bill Mueller three times, Kevin Millar twice) had little chance to steal the base if the batter failed to protect them.
The hitters (Bill Mueller twice, David Ortiz once) involved in the three postseason KDPs were guys who were trusted more than most to protect the runner during the season. From March to September, Mueller had two KDPs, Ortiz had none, and both showed a remarkable ability to foul off pitches when they weren't taking ball four.
In fact, Mueller had one of the season's great atbats in a crucial game in Seattle on August 16th. In a tie game, with one out in the top of the third and Damian Jackson on first, Little sent the runner on the 1-1 pitch, and Mueller fouled it off. After a ball evened the count at two, Little sent Jackson again, and again Mueller fouled it off. The next pitch was ball three, running the count full. Mueller proceeded to foul off five straight pitches, with the runner in motion each time. Undeterred, Little sent Jackson one more time, and Mueller delivered a base hit that put runners on the corners.
Mueller was the third batter in that inning, and by the time he was done, Piniero had already thrown 27 pitches in that one frame. After an Ortiz double, a single by Ramirez, and a sac fly from Millar, Boston had a 4-1 lead they wouldn't surrender in a game they needed to win.
Given all that, was Little correct in his decision to send the runners in these three ALCS situations?
The first KDP came in the top of the first in game two. Kapler led off the game with an infield single, Pettitte ran the count to 3-2 on Mueller, Grady sent the runner, Mueller struck out, and Kapler was thrown out stealing. Little couldn't have known that the next three hitters would reach base, so I don't think it's fair to second-guess him on this one.
The second one, I felt, was an obvious mistake. It was in the bottom of the first in game three. Clemens was struggling, having given up a pair of singles and a double to the game's first four hitters. Boston was up 2-0, and the count went full on Ortiz with Manny Ramirez on first. I was at that game, and before the next pitch, I said out loud that Little should NOT send the runner with this particular matchup. Ortiz took strike three, Manny was out by a mile, inning over.
At the time, I didn't know that Ortiz had a perfect record during the regular season in such situations -- no KDPs, six foul balls, one hit. Even if I had that information, I would have viewed it as a small sample with little predictive value in a confrontation with Roger Clemens, and I would have had Ramirez stay put.
The third KDP occurred in game four with no score in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Nixon was on first, Mueller struck out swinging, double play. Mussina had already struck out three men in two innings, Mueller wasn't swinging the bat well at the time, and it didn't work, so second-guessers had an easy time of it. I don't think I would have done it, but sometimes you have to try to make something happen against a good pitcher, so it wasn't an obvious mistake.
Of course, when it comes to managerial tactics, one must resist the temptation to judge the decision by the outcome. Sometimes it's the right move and it doesn't work out. Sometimes the wrong move will work anyway. To assess these decisions, we need consider the probabilities before the outcome is known, and because baseball is such a complex game, it's not always easy to nail down those probabilities.
We'd like to thank everyone who volunteered to help with beta testing version 9. It probably won't come as a surprise to learn that we were swamped with volunteers. As a result, we've expanded the size of the beta team by more than 50% compared with past release. Even so, we had more than five times as many volunteers as we were able to accept.
In addition to the sheer number of volunteers, we were very impressed with the quality of the emails we received. That made it even harder to decide how to put the team together.
As we said in the last newsletter, we wanted a mix of power users and less-experienced users, a mix of playing styles, a mix of operating systems, and so on. We feel we've been able to do that, but at the same time, we're disappointed that we couldn't include more of you in the process.
The people who have been invited to participate in the beta test process have been notified by email. To everyone else who volunteered, thanks again for your interest in our work and for offering to help.