L.A. is off to an impressive start at 12-4 entering a six-game homestand against the Braves of Atlanta and the Nationals. This is partly a result of playing the Padres and Pirates, but still, the best record in baseball is the best record in baseball. It is also perhaps more directly the result of Matt Kemp’s early season barrage on National League pitching. Some numbers through Monday’s game:
Matt Kemp 2012 League Ranks:
• 1st in NL in BA (.460)
• 1st in NL in HR (9)
• 1st in NL in RBI (22)
• 1st in NL in R (18)
• 1st in NL in OBP (.514)
• 1st in NL in SLG (.952)
• 1st in NL in OPS (1.466)
At this pace, Kemp is on pace to hit 347 home runs and drive in 1,798. These numbers may be wrong given that I just made them up instead of doing actual math. But still, I think we all can all agree Kemp is not a terrible player.
Capuano was on the mound, and he was in constant trouble from the first inning on, but despite allowing at least one baserunner in every inning, he somehow managed to give up only one run in seven innings on a mammoth home run to straight-away center by the Braves backup catcher Ross. The dodgers would win in relatively comfortable fashion 7-2, but there was one call by the Braves manager that stuck in my mind that I will now articulate/complain about.
The play was a sacrifice bunt by the pitcher with runners on first and third and one out with his team trailing 3-1 early on in the game. I hate this play. It seems impractical. By asking your pitcher to sacrifice the runner from first to second, your best-case scenario is runners on second and third with two outs (which is what happened). In this situation, you are then asking for a two-out base hit to score even one run in the inning. Sure it’s the pitcher, but isn’t the better play swinging away? A groundout, flyball, error, base hit or act of God all score the run. If he strikes out, which is very possible, you’re in the exact same position as if he had sacrificed, requiring a two-out base hit. The marginal improvement of having two runners in scoring position balanced against giving away an out seems a poor tradeoff. Perhaps the pitcher in question is massively incompetent at the plate, incapable of swinging the bat, or prone to bursting into flame if asked to round the bases.
Jair Jurrjens has a career OBP of .188 in 261 plate appearances, which is not good, but still means that he will not make an out in this situation 19% of the time. He has struck out 71 times, which means that at least 27% of the time he will make an out that leaves the team in functionally the exact same situation as if he had bunted, again requiring a two-out hit to bring home any runs. So a minimum of 46% of the time he will either reach base safely, which is the optimal result of the plate appearance, or create an out that does not significantly alter the strategic situation. He has only grounded into 4 double plays, so 1.5% of time, Jurrjens would take the bat out of the hands of the following hitter and end the inning, the worst case scenario.
This leaves us with 52.5% of the at bats in which Jurrjens will put the ball in play but create an out in the process, such as a foul pop, or a squibber to the pitcher, or a grounder to the shortstop or a flyball to center field. Some of these plays will result in the run scoring, a majority will likely not. Let’s say that 10% of balls in play that result in an out also result in a run scored (via sacrifice fly, for instance) and that 40% of the time the out produced does not score the run (the remaining 2.5 percent is an out that advances the runner from 1st to 2nd but does not score the run, the same as a sacrifice bunt). While this seems perhaps to lowball the man’s chances of driving in the run with a groundball up the middle or flyball to right, it illustrates my point – roughly 30% of the time (or more) in a situation with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs, Jurrjens will reach base safely and/or drive the run in. 30% percent! A sacrifice bunt, by comparison, drives in the run 0% of the time, with a margin of error involving only the potential the opposing team has to make an error, and worse still, forces the following hitter, who fails to deliver a hit 73% of the time to do exactly that to score the run. As if this isn’t bad enough, even should Jurrjens fail to reach base safely or drive in the run via an out,something he will do in the neighborhood of 60% of the time, the out he does record will still accord the following batter the overwhelming likelihood of an at bat and opportunity to drive home the run.
So what does the sacrifice accomplish other than simply giving an out away?
Also, Jair Jurjjens is a great name. More baseball players should have cool names.