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The hit and run play: is it worth it?

Dec 21, 2011, 11:00 AM EDT

Third Base Coach

The hit and run play: when it works and the batter pokes a single through the right side of the infield resulting in runners on the corners and nobody out, boy, it’s a thing of friggin’ beauty.  When it doesn’t and results in a strike-em-out/throw-em-out double play it’s the most maddening thing on the planet.

But does it work? In the aggregate, I mean?

That’s the question Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus attempted to answer. And he does so with a thoroughness that is pretty damn breathtaking.

Be warned, though: if you’re the sort of person who glazes over when confronted with graphs and charts and things, you may just want to scroll to the conclusion.  Which, wouldn’t you know it, is full of nuance and complexity, just like everything else worth knowing in life:

The hit-and-run is far from the worst play in baseball. For a small-ball tactic, it has been quite successful over the past nine seasons, increasing scoring by .06 runs per attempt on average … However, there are some situations where the hit-and-run attempt made less sense and was a barely positive or even a net negative play—with the fourth and fifth hitters in the lineup up, with one out, or in the popular ball-strike count of 2-1.

I suppose that won’t stop the old school guys from thinking it’s the best thing ever and the stat guys from thinking it’s the worst thing ever. But hey, there’s fun in that stuff too.

  1. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    It depends where and when you use the play, like most anything else in baseball. If the guy on base is fast, and the guy at the plate is a great contact hitter, and there are 0-1 outs, it makes sense.

    But over the years I’ve seen it happen with 2 outs and a low-OBP or slow guy on base, and it just creates an automatic out in that type of situation.

    If I’m going to see the play, all factors in play should be accounted for by the manager.

    • phillyphreak - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:11 AM

      You should check out the article…it’s fantastic and addresses counts/outs/lineup order in using the hit and run.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:28 AM

        I did – it was nice to read!

  2. thefalcon123 - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    I would suggest not doing a hit and run in a World Series game with the best hitter in baseball at the plate and Allen “Molasses” Craig on…twice.

    I

    • 78mu - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:56 PM

      Pujols and TLR both said Albert called that on his own. Whether that’s true or not, anyone who has watched more than a dozen games has to know that was the absolute worst thing to do. And then to stand there and look at the pitch was the icing on the cake.

  3. steveohho - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    Interesting. Scioscia’s Angels and TLR’s Cardinals had the highest frequency through 03-11.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:27 AM

      Also interesting (not really, just like TLR and Scioscia leading this is also not surprising) but Uncle Cholly is near the bottom. The guy is a the BEST people person in MLB, but he flat-out does nothing to help the team once the first pitch is thrown.

      • Kevin S. - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:06 PM

        When you have a team as loaded as the Phillies, the best course is often to just get out of their way and let them do their thing. A manager’s ability to add wins via strategery is vastly overshadowed by his ability to lose them.

      • thefalcon123 - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:56 PM

        “A manager’s ability to add wins via strategery is vastly overshadowed by his ability to lose them.”

        Great point. In game strategy is what is usually discussed. It seems like handling players, deciding who play (is this rookie just on a hot streak or has turned a corner and is becoming great/is this veteran just in a slump or has he lost his stuff) is far more important to the outcome of the game but gets about 2% of the attention.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 21, 2011 at 2:11 PM

        If I was Charlie, I’d only pull a hit and run with Victorino or Rollins on base. Interesting though that Manuel and Cox both know better than to call the hit and run too often. It’s as if those old fuddy duddy’s know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

  4. Old Gator - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    The play is also startling, exciting and entertaining for fans – and since baseball is, after all, an entertainment (despite the extent to which it is also a metaphysics), entertaining plays damned well ought to continue to be a fun part of the game.

  5. bigxrob - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    It drives me nuts when the hitter lines out into an easy double play, or worse, the dreaded triple play.

  6. stex52 - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    It strikes me from the article that the percentages are sufficiently small that you are not going to come to a definitive conclusion on those alone. So look at the capabilities of the guys up, don’t be stupid, and don’t be obvious. Your gut is just as good as the odds here. If you are Albert Pujols, never hit and run.

    To draw a comparison, sometimes in a card tournament I will make a play that is really against the odds on a gut hunch from the opposition. If I did it regularly I would be dumb, but on a single play it doesn’t hurt to go with your feel and it occasionally pays big.

    And yes, managers should not try to inject themselves into the game that much. That’s what they have players for.

    • thefalcon123 - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:51 PM

      “If you are Albert Pujols, never hit and run.”

      First off, I agree with you. I don’t think the risk is worth the potential reward with Pujols up.

      But, oddly, Albert Pujols is probably the most logical player in the game to hit and run with. He rarely swings and misses and grounds into a ton of double plays (he has ranked in the top 10 in ten of eleven big league seasons!)

      It may be an overall plus, but damn if a failed hit and run isn’t the most infuriating thing to watch happen in a baseball game!

      • Francisco (FC) - Dec 21, 2011 at 1:15 PM

        I have to wonder if the amount of DPs hit into is also a function of how many people get on base before you. I mean, the RBI is poo-pooed because it is dependent on the hitters before you getting on base to begin with. Should not DPs be viewed with this same lens as well?

        AP may well be in the top ten, but is that because he is so damn horrible or is it a function that he is far more often put into these situations than your average hitter?

      • thefalcon123 - Dec 21, 2011 at 1:29 PM

        I think a big factor is a slow player who makes a ton on hard contact . Overall, it’s a great, great thing (well, not the slow part). The double plays are just a side effect. And with a career .328/.420/.617 line, a pretty minor one.

        Looking over the career leaders in GIDP, they are overwhelmingly (but not all) middle of the order guys who didn’t strike out a ton. Jim Rice and George Scott are the only guys in the top 20 to consistently strike out more than 100 times in a season. Since they are mostly middle of the order type, I’d say the the your point about runners on base is certainly a good one.

      • jwbiii - Dec 21, 2011 at 5:17 PM

        For much of his career, Jim Rice was batting behind Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans, who were often on base and weren’t going to win any medals at a track meet.

  7. purnellmeagrejr - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    I think the most important variable is the batter -and there has to be two criteria – a negative and a positive first, the negative: the batter is unlikely to get an extra base hit, the second is the likelihood of the batter putting the ball in play on the ground. Sounds like Derek Jeter’s job description.

  8. yankeesfanlen - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    Hit-and-Run? What is this you speak of?
    Doesn’t seem proper with Beep-beep at the plate.

  9. spudchukar - Dec 21, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    When you have a guy like Yadier Molina, who rarely strikes out, hits the ball the other way as well as almost any big-leaguer, have an offense that puts lots of runners on base in front of you, who do not possess much speed, and therefore are a double-play candidate “par exemplar”, use it as much as possible.

    Like many things, it is most successful when the practitioners are proficient in their endeavors.

    Not sure I agree, with the “one-out” theory. Getting a runner, particularly one that is prone to station-to-station base running, to third with less than two outs is the object.

  10. Walk - Dec 22, 2011 at 4:26 AM

    Fredi gonzalez kept using the hit and run last year with martin prado as the runner. I did not see it work a single time. It was extremely frustrating to watch a play fail over and over again. I understand not wanting to hit into a double play but watching prado get thrown out by 2-3 steps each time on that play was tiresome.

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