Posted by: Tyler Green | 06/02/2011

Discovering Strategy in Baseball

Three times in the past week I have seen strategy in baseball work, and it has come as a welcome relief as I near the end of my first year as a baseball fan.  About a year ago, I decided the sport was worth caring about.  There are not too many other exciting things happening in the sports world in the summertime, and the sport must be at least slightly interesting to earn the title of “America’s Pastime”.  I have watched/attended several professional and college games, learned to keep a scorecard, and read a few books, but I still hadn’t had much experience knowing what a team could do in a given situation, seeing it happen, and the team being rewarded for it.

The three scenarios I was glad to see were:

  1. In the bottom of the 9th inning of the Reds-Phillies game last week (yes, the one that the Reds lost in 19), the game was tied 4 – 4, and the Phillies had runners on second and third with one out.  I have always heard that you should intentionally walk the batter to produce a force out at any base, and here the Reds did it successfully.  The next batter after the walk fouled out to set up a bases loaded, 2-out situation.  The following batter grounded to the shortstop, who made an easy toss to the second baseman for the force out at second to end the inning.  Without the bases loaded, there would have been no force out at second, and the resulting toss to first would have been much more difficult and error prone.
  2. In the Cubs-Pirates game I attended at Wrigley Field on Sunday, the Cubs successfully executed a hit and run.  With a runner on first who is theoretically not fast enough to steal second, he took off for second during the pitch.  The batter swung way out of the strike zone simply to make contact with the ball to avoid an easy throw out at second and hit a grounder.  With the extra step, the runner made second easily, avoiding the double play, and the batter beat the throw to first.  This advanced a runner who would have been unable to steal and avoided the double play to result in a hit.  The Cubs did not end up scoring in this inning, but advancing the runner into scoring using the hit and run position majorly increased their chances of scoring, and it would probably be beneficial in future situations.
  3. Earlier in this same Cubs-Pirates game with a man on 2nd, the Cubs batter performed a sacrifice bunt, being thrown out at first, but advancing the runner to third to result in the first out.  Now with less than two outs and a runner on third, the situation called for a sacrifice fly.  This exactly what the next batter did, hitting a fly deep enough to right to allow the runner from third to arrive home safely.  Though it took two outs to perform these two sacrifices in the bottom of the third inning, this ended up being the winning run as the Cubs held on in a scoreless remainder of the game for a 3-2 victory.

None of these three plays were highlight-reel-worthy, but they were all executed with purpose and proved successful.  I hope to continue to be able to pick out plays like these, and maybe even predict what teams will do in future situations.  Regardless, I am learning a lot about the game as I try to fully experience “America’s Pastime”.

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