The baseball season is underway and an incident came up the other day that I would like to discuss. The New York Yankees were playing at home against the Baltimore Orioles. The score was tied, 3-3, when the Yankees came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning.
After the lead off hitter opened the inning with a double, Yankee Manager Joe Gerardi employed a bit of traditional baseball strategy. He asked the next batter, Derek Jeter, to sacrifice bunt in order to advance the runner to third base. The thinking is that with a runner on third base with only one out, it doesn’t require a base hit for him to score the lead run. Gerardi had his two best hitters coming up next and hoped that one of them would be able to drive in the go-ahead run.
As it turned out, the strategy failed. The next batter popped up for the second out. Now, a hit would be needed to score the runner from third. That didn’t happen and Baltimore got out of the inning without any damage. You could say that it was just bad luck but I would like to argue that the strategy employed had a low percentage of success.
Outs are valuable in baseball. For a team to give up an out just to advance a runner one base is not a winning move. Gerardi had a man on second with no outs with his three best hitters coming to the plate. There was a very good chance that one of them could have delivered a hit to score the runner, especially since Yankee Stadium is generally regarded as hitter friendly. Also, even though Derek Jeter is advanced in years, he is still a master at hitting to right. Hitting to the right side of the infield would have advanced the runner even if it didn’t turn out to be a hit.
To add insult to injury in the next inning Baltimore manager Buck Showalter found himself in a similar situation. The score was still tied and his leadoff hitter also opened with a double. Showalter did not employ the old-fashioned strategy but elected to let his two, three, and four hitters swing away. They delivered three straight singles to give the Orioles a two run lead that was enough to win the game.
I know that this sounds like second guessing and that on another occasion things might have turned out differently. There might also have been other reasons for Gerardi to ask Jeter to sacrifice but as a general principle I would say that the percentages were against Gerardi. I believe that it is better to have a runner on second with no outs than a runner on third with one out. In fact, I wonder if the whole idea of sacrificing an out to advance a runner one base is ever a good idea.
What do you think?
Let me end this sports page with a little trivia quiz. Can you name the nine players who have won back-to-back Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards? Here is a hint. The nine played different positions. That is, on the list there is a catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third basemen, and three outfielders. There is even a pitcher from the days when pitchers were eligible for the MVP award.