Smartball

Joe Morgan and his 'Smartball' fetish got a lot of people riled up last night. A few of the posters over at Baseball ThinkFactory got so riled up, they dug through the Sox box scores to see how effective their 'smartball' has been. I'm not trying to take credit for their work. For that you can thank Bob T, among others. I'm just presenting it here to you because I thought it was interesting.

Here is a list of all of the innings in which the Sox have been credited with a sacrifice, and how many runs the inning produced.

4/6 - Sacrifice in 9th, winning run scores
4/8 - Sac in 8th, no run
4/10 - Sac in 3rd, 1 run
4/13 - Sac in 10th, 1 run
4/17 - Sac in 1st, no run
4/19 - Sac in 5th, 1 run
4/21 - Sac in 7th, 2 runs
4/25 - Sac in 3rd, no run
4/30 - Sac in 7th, 2 runs
5/1 - Sac in 2nd, 1 run
5/5 - Sac in 8th, 2 runs
5/8 - Sac in 9th, 1 run
5/9 - Sac in 3rd, 0 runs
5/10 - Sac in 6th, 1 run on squeeze
5/17 - Sac in 1st, 2 runs
5/20 - Sac in 3rd, 1 run, 1 out by pitcher
5/24 - Sac in 9th, no run, Sac in 11th, 1 run
5/30 - Sac in 9th, 2 runs
6/1 - Sac in 1st, 2 runs, Sac in 6th, 2 runs
6/6 - Sac in 6th, 1 run
6/8 - Sac in 8th, 5 runs score (at Coors)
6/19 - 2 Sacs in 8th, 2 runs score

Morgan and the ESPN fact box were extremely impressed by the Sox high scoring percentage(?) in innings where they sacrificed a runner.

Bunting, or giving away outs, and the sabermetric community are often seen as oil and water. In most situations bunting a runner actually decreases your likelihood for runs scored. (See chart below)

OUTS RUNNERS 0 1 2 --- 0.5379 0.2866 0.1135 1-- 0.9259 0.5496 0.2460 -2- 1.1596 0.7104 0.3359 12- 1.4669 0.9577 0.4605 --3 1.4535 0.9722 0.3623 1-3 1.8540 1.2236 0.5219 -23 2.1343 1.4717 0.6179 123 2.2548 1.5946 0.8082
The numbers on this chart represent the number of runs that a team is expected to score, given base situation and the number of outs.

For instance, if the Sox had a runner on first and nobody out, they stand to score .9259 runs according to the expected run matrix. Bunting that run over to second would give them a run expectancy of .7104 runs. Of course, if you don't bunt, the next guy could ground into a double play, and suddenly you've got 2 outs and a run expectancy of just .1135 runs.

There are weaknesses in making your decisions based on such charts. Obviously, bunting with Frank Thomas is a bad idea. Heck, bunting in front of Frank Thomas is a bad idea.

The run expectancy matrix also doesn't give us a solid handle on the chance of scoring in that inning. It simply states how many runs were averaged last season from the given base & out situation.

For example, getting the lead runner on, how often does a team push across a run? What percentage of innings? It lists .92 expected runs, but that's skewed by teams scoring multiple runs from that situation. Bunting the runner over to second doesn't decrease your chance of that runner scoring, it decreases the chances for multiple runs that inning. So the key is using the bunt only in situations where one run drastically effects the game situation. (i.e. late in a 1-run game)

Enough with the hypotheticals. Let's get back to the Sox. Yes, they've been very successful at scoring a run when they do successfully lay down a sacrifice. BUT, how many times did we waste opportunities with botched sacrifices? How many of those botched sacrifices were turned into double plays? Was Ozzie telling the right guy to sacrifice? i.e. Willie Harris vs. Joe Crede.

Last nights sacrificing was textbook; the right people at the right time. I have no problem with that. The first chart shows a large number of sacrifices in the first few innings though. And while that might be a good idea against Johan Santana or Randy Johnson, it's a pretty poor one against Shawn Estes or Russ Ortiz.

Overall, I think Ozzie's done a pretty good job when calling for the bunt. The 'smartball' thing is exaggerated just because it's Ozzie, who's never afraid of a microphone. I'd like to see him be smarter about who he's asking to lay the bunt down, (Crede's been terrible at it, and Rowand was bad last year.) and obviously, I'm not rooting for the second inning sacrifice.

This 'Smartball' thing isn't going anywhere as long as the Sox keep winning. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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