By focusing solely on runs scored and not on winning baseball games sabermetricians miss the impact the context of scoring has on the value of a run.
“A hitter’s job is to create runs for his team” The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
Bill James is wrong. He is wrong on a fundamental concept of baseball.
For example, if the lead-off hitter in an inning reaches 1st the team is expected to score .941 runs that inning. If he steals 2nd the expected run total increases to 1.17. If he is thrown out, however, the expected runs drops to .291 (1out, bases empty). By stealing 2nd the runner is risking .65 runs to gain .229 runs. You can calculate the threshold of success by dividing the runs risked by the total of the runs risked and the runs possibly gained. In this case .65/(.65+.229) = .739, in other words the correct strategy is to steal 2nd if you will be successful more than 73.9% of the time. In this case you would gain .229 runs * 73.9% and lose .65 runs * 26.1% and would break even.
But if you only need 1 run, say it’s tied in the bottom of the 9th, you just want to focus on the first run.
We can use the right side of TABLE 3 to calculate threshold of a runner stealing 2nd in the bottom of the 9th after a lead-off walk. From 1st his team will score 44.1% of the time. From 2nd his team will score 63.7% of the time. If he is thrown out his team’s scoring chance drops to 17.2%. So by attempting to steal he is risking .269 to gain .196. We compute the threshold the same way: .269/(.269+.196) = 57.7%. “Holy Tony La Russa, Batman!” We knew that maximizing runs didn’t make sense in the bottom of the 9th, but still that is a big drop.
Correct me if I’m wrong but it doesn’t appear to me that Soper is accounting for the other team’s run scoring ability or that late innings have a different run environment than average. Plus he’s using a strawman argument when declaring that sabermetrics would tell you to do one thing in a very specific situation based on a very general strategy.
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