What you get here is a little like an asteroid collision in progress, such as that recently observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. A couple ideas from different places crashed together in my head, a few parts stuck, and others went shooting off in random directions. I haven’t corralled them into nice orbits, yet. Instead you get to observe the messy collision and its immediate aftermath in all its glory, or lack thereof.
The first idea came from a FanPost at Beyond the Box Score that asked why teams even bother to attempt steals against the best-throwing catchers when the net result is below break even. Trip Somers suggested in the comments that some of the plays recorded as caught stealing may be failed hit-and-run plays.
I decided to look at video of all the runners caught stealing by Yadier Molina in 2009, using Retrosheet to identify all the plays. Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference list Molina as allowing 32 stolen bases against 22 caught stealing in 138 games played as a catcher in 2009. However, the play-by-play accounts indicate that six of the runners caught stealing were caught by the pitcher, either as the result of a pickoff throw, or in one fascinating case, when the pitcher Chris Carpenter simply held onto the ball while the runner Michael Bourn broke for second. Carpenter threw to shortstop Julio Lugo, who applied the tag, and umpire Paul Emmel called Bourn out and immediately ejected Bourn for arguing. Television replays appeared to show that Bourn had beaten the tag.
Accuracy of umpire calls notwithstanding, that leaves us to account for 16 baserunners caught stealing by Yadier Molina. How many of them were caught on broken hit-and-run plays? That turns out to be a little bit harder to answer than I expected, even with the excellent resource of MLB.tv video archives available for every game. My best interpretation is that at least nine runners were caught stealing by Molina on straight steal attempts, and at least five and possibly as many as seven runners were caught stealing on failed hit-and-run plays.
Date Opp Runner Pitcher Score Inn Out Count Pitch Type Batter Action Comments 4/11 Hou K.Matsui A.Wainwright 0-0 1 0 1-1 slider low and outside take for a ball straight steal attempt 4/16 Chi K.Fukudome A.Wainwright 1-1 3 1 3-2 slider down the middle swing and miss possible hit and run, no look back to home 5/9 Cin A.Rosales K.Lohse 2-2 4 2 2-2 fastball high-middle take for a ball straight steal attempt after 0-2 pitchout 5/25 Mil C.Counsell C.Carpenter 0-0 7 0 1-1 cutter low-outside corner swing and miss hit and run 5/31 SF F.Lewis D.Reyes 3-5 8 1 0-0 pitchout take for a ball straight steal attempt 6/23 NY L.Castillo J.Pineiro 1-0 6 0 0-0 sinker low and outside swing and miss hit and run 7/1 SF T.Ishikawa A.Wainwright 1-0 5 1 0-0 slider low-outside corner swing and miss hit and run, squared to bunt but swung 7/5 Cin B.Phillips C.Carpenter 4-0 4 1 3-2 cutter high-outside corner foul tip possible hit and run, also running on 2-2 7/30 LA C.Blake B.Thompson 3-3 8 1 1-0 fastball outside foul tip hit and run, weak swing 8/4 NY A.Cora J.Pineiro 4-7 5 2 0-0 curve low-outside corner take for a ball straight steal attempt 8/4 NY A.Pagan D.Reyes 4-7 6 2 1-0 fastball low-inside corner take for a strike straight steal attempt 8/20 SD T.Gwynn J.Pineiro 0-0 1 2 0-0 fastball low-middle take for a ball straight steal attempt 8/20 SD E.Cabrera J.Pineiro 4-1 3 1 2-0 fastball low-inside corner take for a ball straight steal attempt 8/28 Was W.Harris J.Smoltz 1-1 3 2 1-1 slider outside take for a ball straight steal attempt 9/15 Fla J.Cantu A.Wainwright 0-0 2 0 3-2 fastball low-inside corner swing and miss hit and run 9/25 Col E.Young C.Carpenter 0-1 5 1 1-0 cutter low and inside take for a ball straight steal attempt after 0-0 pitchout
|Yadier Molina shows off his arm, September 22, 2009. (Icon/SMI)|
I don’t see any particular patterns, but I present all the detailed data in case anyone wanted to see it. However, this got me thinking about how one could tell from the available data whether a particular play was a hit and run without having to consult the video for each play. This was the other asteroid that collided with my investigation of catcher defensive recordkeeping, ending my hopes of arriving at a useful and tidy conclusion.
In the spirit of this thread at the Book Blog, I’m simply going to present my ideas for how one might go about identifying hit-and-run plays.
The idea is to have a section where anyone can post a suggestion for a study that they can’t do themselves for whatever reasons. Then maybe someone else can take these ideas and run with them, perhaps writing an article on one of the various sabermetric web sites. (Of course, if there is already some research in that area, someone can point that out too.)
When evaluating a play using the data available from MLB Gameday, here’s my ranking of how confident we can be that the play was a hit and run. This list is not exhaustive. For example, I left out some uncommon plays like the pitchout that is swung at by the batter. All of these scenarios assume a runner on first base. I’m not considering the situation with runners on first and second base, although I suppose a hit-and-run play might also be executed occasionally in that situation. What I’m looking for here is a basic framework and a reasonable approximation. The data we currently have, short of getting real-time baserunner information from a system like FIELDf/x, doesn’t allow us to get anywhere close to perfect information on when hit-and-run plays occur.
Yes, a hit and run is highly likely to have occurred.
An air ball is caught and the runner is doubled off.
Yes, a hit and run is fairly likely to have occurred, but we can’t be sure.
The batter swings and misses and the runner gets a stolen base or is caught stealing.
The batter fouls the pitch off and the runner was going.
The runner goes to third on an outfield single (we may be able to assess the probability in a more fine-grained manner by looking at the location where the ball was fielded.)
Yes, a hit and run may have occurred, but the likelihood is questionable.
Ground ball double play turned 6-3 or 4-3.
Ground ball out with runner advancing to second.
The runner thrown out at third on an outfield single (we may be able to assess the probability in a more fine-grained manner by looking at the location where the ball was fielded.)
We can’t tell with any accuracy either way.
There are three balls and the batter takes ball four or is hit by pitch.
An air ball is caught in the outfield or a popup is caught on the infield.
Batter hits an infield single, runner to second.
Batter doubles, runner scores or is thrown out at home.
Batter triples or hits a home run.
Batter is safe on error.
No, a hit and run is unlikely to have occurred.
3-2 count, 2 outs.
The batter takes the pitch with less than three balls.
A line drive is caught on the infield and there is no double play.
Ground ball double play unless it is turned 6-3 or 4-3.
Batter hits an outfield single, runner to second.
Batter doubles, runner to third.
This isn’t a terribly satisfactory article for me in terms of the lack of conclusions. However, rather than letting this work molder on the substantial pile of research I have started but never finished, I decided to share my results anyway in the hopes that my ideas will spur further analysis.
By the way, from among the trivia I learned from Retrosheet during this inquiry, did you know that all three Molina brothers have the name Benjamin? Benjamin Jose Molina, Jose Benjamin Molina, Yadier Benjamin Molina. Really creative with the naming there, Mom and Dad. (It should come as no surprise the Molina brothers’ late father was named Benjamin.)