Blargh Blog

Monday, April 04, 2005

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? (Trivial baseball edition)

In a 1965 game in Yankee Stadium, with the score tied, two outs in the bottom of the ninth, a runner on first and a 3-1 count on the batter, Yankee manager Johnny Keane ordered the batter to take the pitch -- even though the pitcher was sure to throw a strike rather than walk the potential winning run into scoring position at second. Why did Keane do that?

Correct Answer: Because he made a mistake.

George Will's Answer:
Because with a 3-2 count and two outs, the runner on first would be running with the pitch and could be almost certain to score on a double. Which he did.

What is mistaken about Keane's decision and Will's answer? Let's break this down into cases, assuming that we do not expect the batter does not get a better pitch to hit on a 3-2 count (because if that's what we expect, that should be Will's answer). The possible outcomes resulting from one pitch: a ball in play, a ball (or hit by pitch), a foul ball, or a strike. What happens in each of these cases if the runner is running on a 3-1 count instead of a 3-2 count?

1. Batter hits the ball in play with the batter running. Whether it turns into a hit with the runner running or an out, the count is irrelevant once the ball's in play.

2. Batter takes a ball (or gets hit by the pitch). The batter goes to first and the runner gets second base, whether the count had been 3-1 or 3-2.

3. Batter hits a foul ball. The count becomes 3-2, and the runner goes back to first base. It doesn't matter if it was 3-1 or 3-2.

4. Batter lets a strike get by him. If the count had been 3-1, then the catcher has a chance to throw the runner out at second. If he succeeds the game is over, but if he fails then the Yankees have a runner on second and the batter has a 3-2 count. If they let the count get to 3-2 before the strike is thrown, then the batter is out and the game is over.

So sending the runner and letting the batter swing away on 3-1 is a dominant alternative*. It might work out better than taking a pitch on 3-1 and then sending the runner on 3-2, and it never works out worse. Keane made a mistake, and Will repeated it on page B07 of the Washington Post.

(Hat tip Tapped.)

*Under the assumptions that the pitcher isn't any tougher on 3-1 than on 3-2, and that the batter can approach his task with a 3-1 count the same way he approaches it with a 3-2 count.

Related: A review of Chance


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