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Saturday, August 16, 2003

I See The Mean, But Where Is The Variance?

Sports Saturday turns to statistics, with a NY Times piece titled "Statistics-Minded Executives Put a Lower Value on Bunting". The theme is that bunting as a tactic is overrated, and this is offered:

According to Baseball Prospectus, which analyzes statistics, teams with a runner on first base and no outs scored an average of 0.896 runs an inning last year. Teams with a runner on second and one out scored an average of 0.682 runs, meaning their chances of scoring decreased if they sacrificed the runner ahead.

But what is the variance? If it is the ninth inning of a tied game, I don't need to save an out and hope for a five run rally.

It may be the case that the scenario with a runner on second with one out averages .682 runs, but results in zero runs only 35% of the time. Maybe the "man on first, no out" scenario produces zero runs 40% of the time, but also produces more big innings. If this is the case, then bunting is the play.

Incredibly, considering the depths to which it has already been plumbed, we need more statistics. I know the Markov transition matrices are out there.

Time for Michael Lewis.

UPDATE: Last night, I saw a whole new reality about bunting when the Yanks battled the Orioles in extra innings.

With Nick Johnson on first and nobody out in the twelfth inning, Jeter fouled off a bunt attempt - strike one.

Then, Jeter failed to make contact on a hit and run - strike two, and Johnson is picked off in the ensuing run-down.

Finally, Jeter completes his exhibition of prowess by striking out.

However, with two outs and no one on, the O's pitch to Giambi, who crushes a home run. The announcers commented that, if the situation had been Johnson at second with one out, Giambi would have been walked to set up a double play.

So go figure.

BTW, The game-ending play will be on #1 on Sports Center: briefly, with two outs in the bottom of the twelfth, trailing by one run and a man on first, an Oriole doubles to right. The runner on first takes a big turn at third - is he going to try and score to tie the game? NO, he is going to hold up, skid, and fall down. Soriano (Yankee second baseman) throws to third to catch him coming back. A rundown ensues, and oh my goodness, no one is covering home plate!

However, our hapless Oriole decides this would be a good time to fall a second time, and does so, allowing himself to be tagged out just a few feet from home plate. Friends don't let friends drink and play major league ball.

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