Archive for October, 2010

Jonathan Sanchez’s Costly Mistake

The surprising hero of Game 3 was No. 9 hitter Mitch Moreland; there can be no doubt. But his three-run home run in the second inning, the biggest play of the game by most statistics, may have been surprising for reasons that don’t immediately come to mind.

Yes, he is a rookie in the World Series. But we might remember an even younger Andruw Jones launching two home runs in his first two World Series at-bats.

Yes, Moreland, a left-handed hitter, was digging in against the left-handed Jonathan Sanchez. And yes, Moreland had a poor track record against left-handers this year. But his .200/.304/.300 line against lefties came in only 23 plate appearances, and per Tom Tango’s research, it usually takes about 1,000 at-bats for a lefty’s platoon split to become even 50 percent reliable. Moreland was well short of that benchmark, and the sample is so small as to make the line almost meaningless.

Really, the surprise comes because of the type of pitch Moreland punished Saturday night. Moreland’s home run came on a fastball on the ninth pitch of an extended at-bat. Check out the pitch selection that Buster Posey and Sanchez went with:

88 MPH fastball (ball)
76 MPH slider (ball)
89 MPH fastball (foul)
89 MPH fastball (called strike)
79 MPH slider (foul)
79 MPH slider (foul)
80 MPH changeup (foul)
80 MPH changeup (foul)
89 MPH fastball (home run)

The surprise here is that the tandem chose a fastball in a full count when the slider is Sanchez’s out-pitch (he used it 43 percent of the time on 0-2 pitches in 2010). In a game that was the battle of the slider — Colby Lewis was 11th and Sanchez 26th in slider usage percentage among qualified starters — the Giants’ starter went with a pitch that only got him whiffs 6.8 percent of the time during the regular season. His slider had a 17.4 percent whiff percent during the year.

The fateful pitch did come in a full count, and perhaps the thinking was that a slider was closer in speed to the last two pitches Sanchez had thrown in the sequence, and that Moreland might be waiting for a changeup or slider and could be late on a fastball. But Moreland loved fastballs in 2010. FanGraphs keeps a statistic that tracks in-game results by pitch type, and Moreland was easily best against the fastball (2.6 runs better than average against the fastball, minus-1.1 runs versus sliders). Once again, it looks like the slider might have been the best move.

On Saturday night, the slider wasn’t moving like it normally does for Sanchez. After averaging over five inches of horizontal break during the year, the slider only broke about two inches horizontally during Game 3. He also didn’t manage a single swinging strike on any of his 13 sliders. It wasn’t working for him, and perhaps Posey knew it even as early as the second inning.

We can only guess why the slider wasn’t breaking. Maybe Sanchez didn’t quite get loose, or maybe he was nervous. Or maybe he’s tiring. After a career high of 163 1/3 innings in 2009, Sanchez is now up to 213 1/3 this year. Increasing your workload by 125 percent might make for a tired arm — that’s a lot of sliders.

Sanchez lived by the slider all year, and probably should have died with it too. Despite the surprising pitch selection in that fated at-bat, Mitch Moreland and Rangers fans are not complaining.

Rangers Feel Right At Home

With Cliff Lee’s struggles in Game 1 and the bullpen meltdown in Game 2, the focus of the World Series has been squarely on the Rangers’ pitching staff, and understandably so. However, overshadowed by their teammates’ more noticeable failure is the fact Texas’ offense hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain yet, either.

As a team, the Rangers are hitting just .227/.293/.303 through the first two games of the Fall Classic. For comparison, that’s roughly the same offensive performance that Bobby Crosby had this year — you know, the guy who the worst team in baseball got rid of for not performing up to its standards. No matter how you look at it, the Rangers simply haven’t hit, and that will have to change tonight if they want to get back in this series.

There are a couple of reasons for optimism in Texas, however. As the series moves to Texas, the rules change, allowing the Rangers to put Vladimir Guerrero back in the lineup without subjecting him to the embarrassment of playing the field again. The return of the DH will be a welcome addition for Texas, and it comes at the perfect time in the series, as the Giants will be starting left-handed pitchers in both Games 3 and 4.

Like most right-handed hitters, Guerrero fares better against southpaws. In addition to hitting .338 against them this year, his walk rate was double that of his mark against right-handers. For his career, his walk rate against lefties is 60 percent higher than against right-handers. As an outfielder facing a right-handed pitcher in Game 1, Guerrero was a liability; as a designated hitter against left-handed pitchers each of the next two nights, he could be a big asset.

The other reason for hope in Texas is simply the shift in ballparks itself. As Ian Kinsler will tell you, even hitting a ball on the screws is no guarantee that it will get out of AT&T Park. The Giants’ home park is one of the toughest places to hit home runs, which is one of the main ways Texas puts numbers on the scoreboard. The Ballpark in Arlington, on the other hand, is one of the best places in baseball for home run hitters, and the Rangers have a roster built to take advantage of the park’s dimensions.

Below are the home and road splits for the Rangers’ expected Game 3 lineup, by weighted on base average (wOBA):

Player Home wOBA Road wOBA
Elvis Andrus .289 .307
Michael Young .373 .297
Josh Hamilton .506 .384
Vladimir Guerrero .375 .344
Nelson Cruz .467 .348
Ian Kinsler .395 .319
Jeff Francoeur Not enough ABs
Mitch Moreland .361 .355
Bengie Molina .283 .266

The disparity in performance for the middle of the Rangers’ lineup is staggering. Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Kinsler, especially, did most of their heavy lifting in their home park, and were far more mortal outside of Texas. Most teams hit better at home than on the road, unless they play in a severe pitchers’ park, but the Rangers responded to home cooking like no other team in baseball.

In Texas, they hit .288/.352/.449, the fourth-best mark in the American League. On the road, they hit just .265/.324/.391, only the seventh-best mark in the AL and just a hair ahead of offensive behemoths like the Los Angeles Angels and the Kansas City Royals. Or, to put it another way, the Rangers hit only three more home runs on the road this year than the Seattle Mariners did.

The combination of natural home-field advantage and the hitter-friendly nature of the park allow the Rangers to rack up runs in a hurry. The Giants should not count on throwing any shutouts while on the road, as they’ll have to keep putting up big run totals to offset the offense that is likely to come from their opponents.

So, with the series shifting locales, expect the dynamic of the first two games to change dramatically. However, there is good news for the Giants — the Rangers can’t win this thing in Texas, and they will have to win a game in San Francisco before all is said and done. Given that the Rangers’ bats are likely to come alive in the next three games, there’s a good chance that San Francisco will have the opportunity to win the World Series on its home field.

Behind The Mastery Of Cliff Lee

You can make an argument right now that Cliff Lee — the Texas Rangers’ Game 1 starter in the 2010 World Series — is among the best postseason pitchers ever, or certainly within the last few decades.

How does he do it?

Lee thrives not just because of fastball command, curveball movement and cut fastball usage — he’s very good in all respects — but also because of how he works the count. Lee was ahead in the count (36.3 percent of pitches) twice as often as he was behind in the count (18.4 percent of pitches) in 2010, demonstrating that he gets ahead early and often. He also averages 10.3 strikeouts per walk, which is the second-best ratio in baseball history.

Lee throws, basically, six specific pitches: four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cut fastball, changeup, curveball and slider. The cut fastball is a newer pitch for him, but it might already be among his most important: he used it on 19.8 percent of pitches this season.

If you break down Lee’s pitch selection by count and batter, the first trend that sticks out is the use of his fastballs; versus left-handed batters he throws the four-seamer 42.7 percent of the time — that’s the most for any one pitch — and against right-handed batters he throws the two-seamer 45.3 percent of the time — again, the most of any one pitch.

Aside from those two pitches, Lee distributes very evenly. He doesn’t throw curves (5.9 percent to righties, 3.9 percent to lefties) or sliders (0.2, 7.1) that often, but he mixes in changeups and cut fastballs adeptly.

Lee distributes his cutter pretty evenly no matter the count but uses the curveball on two-strike counts and pitcher’s counts, rarely throwing it otherwise. In fact, 78 percent of the curveballs he throws are on two-strike counts. Lee clearly uses his curveball as an out pitch, which induces a swinging strike the highest percentage compared to his other pitches.

In two-strike counts, Lee uses some variation of the fastball 75 percent of the time. Here’s how they break down placement-wise, starting with the four-seam. For these heat maps, the brighter the color, the more often the pitch ends up in that area. As you can see, Lee’s pitches are rarely in the middle of the plate:

Here’s the two-seam:

And here’s the cut fastball:

Lee is more willing to throw four-seamers inside or up and out of the zone to righties — while being more selective against lefties and throwing it into the strike zone. He is more selective with the two-seamer against righties but is also quite willing to throw the pitch inside on lefties. Lee tends to locate the cut fastball outside to both hitters on two-strike counts, painting the edge of the strike zone while mostly hitting the inside of the zone.

The two pitches that Lee gets the highest swinging strike percentages on are his curveball and changeup, particularly when he throws them against right-handed batters. Here’s a look at where Lee locates his breaking balls and where right-handed batters swing and miss (misses are the red dots):

Lee isn’t afraid to locate either pitch down the middle but tends to throw his changeup low, away and in the zone to righties. He is very successful at getting swinging strikes there. Lee’s changeup gets swinging strikes in the zone, while many of his swinging strikes on curveballs are down and out of the zone.

Bengie Molina Gets What He Wants

The Texas Rangers have put the vise grips on the ALCS, going up 3-1 in the series by beating the New York Yankees 10-3 in Game 4 on Tuesday night. The turning point came on Bengie Molina’s three-run home run in the sixth inning, turning a one-run deficit into a two-run lead.

In the year of the pitcher — and the playoffs of the pitcher — the A.J. BurnettTommy Hunter matchup looked seriously out of place. It lived up to that billing, with Hunter getting through just 3.1 innings, and Burnett struggling through six innings. Burnett was in and out of trouble, with the same problems that have plagued him all year: three walks (one intentional) and a hit batter, a wild pitch and a stolen base allowed.

Still, it looked like Burnett might give the Yankees six innings of two-run ball. With Nelson Cruz on first base and one out in the sixth inning, Ian Kinsler flied out to center field. Cruz, with the base-running aggressiveness Texas has shown throughout the playoffs, tagged up and went to second base.

With two outs and first base open, Yankees manager Joe Girardi elected to intentionally walk the lefty David Murphy with Molina on deck. Putting an extra man on with the lead in the sixth is an unorthodox move, and it didn’t work. Molina hit the first pitch, an up-and-in fastball, down the left-field line for a three-run homer. Before that, the Rangers had a 33.7 percent chance of winning. After the Molina homer, it went up to 73.3 percent. The swing of almost 40 percent was easily the biggest in the game.

This graphic shows the locations of the pitches that Bengie Molina has hit for home runs over the past two seasons. The one in bold is the pitch from A.J. Burnett on Tuesday night.

Up-and-in pitches can sometimes handcuff a batter, but over the past two years Molina has had no problems with them. Many of his home runs have come on pitches in this location. In the graph to the right, you can see the locations of the pitches he has hit for a HR, with the one against Burnett marked. The graph is from the catcher’s perspective.

The second-largest win percentage shift happened in the top of the fifth when the Rangers’ Mitch Moreland hit into a double play. Molina had just hit a single, so Texas had one on with no outs while down by just one run. The Molina hit translated into a 42 percent win percentage for Texas, but when Moreland hit into the double play, that fell to just 31.3 percent.

The third-largest win percentage came in the bottom of the second inning on Robinson Cano’s controversial home run. That play took the Yankees’ win percentage from 52.9 percent to 63.1 percent. At the time, Burnett was cruising; he had struck out three of the first six batters with no signs of the command issues he would show later in the night. It was the first time the Yankees had struck first in the series, and with what looked like a solid Burnett on the mound versus a shaky Hunter — two batters later Lance Berkman almost hit another solo HR — the Yankees must have felt like they had a better than 63 percent shot at the game.

But that is not how it played out. Now the Yankees will need three straight wins against the Rangers. It’s not where they wanted to be, but the Yankees are set up with their best three starters all on normal rest.

Pitch Selection Dooms Pettitte

The odds of Josh Hamilton beating Andy Pettitte on Monday night seemed minute. A good left-handed pitcher, Pettitte had to know that allowing a run or two early could be enough for Cliff Lee to secure a 2-1 lead in the series for the Texas Rangers.

There was no way Pettitte could afford to give Hamilton, Texas’ best hitter, a pitch he could drive with a runner on first base. Not in the first inning and not with Lee looming. Sure enough, he held true, but only until the fourth pitch of the at-bat. It was then that Pettitte threw Hamilton a cutter that caught far too much of the plate. Hamilton connected with an upper-body heavy swing and watched as the ball snuck over the right-field wall. Just like that, the Rangers led 2-0 only three batters into the game.

According to win probability added (WPA), Hamilton’s home run increased the Rangers’ chances of victory by 15.7 percent — pushing them near 65 percent. It is important to note that win expectancy does not measure the likelihood of the team winning by that margin or score, but rather the odds of the team winning after leading at that point in the game. That percentage also does not account for the quality of opponent or the pitching matchup. Hamilton’s home run likely would be worth more if Lee’s presence on the mound for Texas had been accounted for in the formula.

The entire sequence is a series of questionable decisions by Pettitte. Hamilton’s previous playoff opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays, held him without an extra-base hit in 20 plate appearances by tempering the amount of fastballs he saw and choosing to instead pound him with off-speed and breaking pitches. The strategy proved successful and sparked speculation that Hamilton’s rib injury, which caused him to miss four weeks late in the season, affected his ability to hit those pitches.

Admittedly, questioning the pitch selection is basing the analysis on results. Most pitch-by-pitch analysis is, much like a curveball over the middle for strike three is a successful pitch only if the batter fails to shoot the ball into orbit and a slider below the zone that Vladimir Guerrero cranks for a double is a bad pitch regardless of intent or probable outcome. Such is the life for pitchers, and such is the second-guessing that will follow Pettitte for relying on his fastball against Hamilton, likely rendering the effectiveness of the strategy in Hamilton’s subsequent at-bats irrelevant.

Sure enough, Lee shut down the mighty Yankees lineup and proved that two runs were more than enough. Hamilton helped cement the lead in the ninth with a leadoff double to catapult the Rangers into the catbird seat in the American League Championship Series.

Free Passes Burn Giants

According to win probability added, the biggest single play of Game 2 of the National League Championship Series was Cody Ross‘ third solo home run of the series that came in the fifth inning off Roy Oswalt. However, in the seventh inning the Phillies put together a couple of hits that, although they did not individually have the impact that Ross’ homer did on win probability, together had more, in part thanks to the Giants’ own tactical decisions.

While Jimmy Rollins‘ 2010 regular season was marred by injury, his bases-loaded double in the seventh inning with two outs off Santiago Casilla drove in three runs, increasing the Phillies’ chances of winning the game by 9.2 percent. While the Phillies were already winning 3-1 at that point, the game was still within reach for the Giants. In the bottom of the seventh, the Phillies were ahead only 2-1, but with one out and runners on first and second, Placido Polanco hit a single that drove in the sliding Oswalt. That play itself was an 8.5 percent WPA increase for the Phillies. Together, that’s almost an 18 percent increase.

What is particularly interesting about both hits is that each was preceded by an intentional walk. With Oswalt on first and no outs, the Phillies had Shane Victorino sacrifice Oswalt over to second, which actually decreased their win probability by 1.2 percent. Giants manager Bruce Bochy decided to return Charlie Manuel’s generosity by intentionally walking Chase Utley to face Polanco, giving back that same 1.2 percent of WPA.

Viewers must have felt a sense of déjà vu just a bit later. With Polanco on second, Utley on third, and two outs, the Giants intentionally walked Jayson Werth, bringing in Casilla to pitch to Rollins, who then drove in the three final runs of the game to effectively put the game out of reach for the Giants. The irony, of course, is that of the three baserunners Rollins’ double drove in, two were deliberately put on base by the Giants. Utley and Werth are, of course, very good hitters (although it is also worth noting that they are also both good baserunners), but neither Polanco nor Rollins is a slouch. Perhaps the Giants were hoping for a double play. However, in Rollins’ case, he is actually better than average at avoiding the double play. Polanco is slightly worse than average in regard to double plays, not enough to offset the risk of having another baserunner.

Those additional baserunners weren’t the deciding runs in the game, of course. Polanco’s and (especially) Rollins’ hits probably would have driven in runners either way, as the intentional walks did not advance any runners. But giving Philadelphia free baserunners certainly didn’t help the Giants’ chances of going up two games to none in the series.

Raul Ibanez Hurts Phillies Chances

While Cody Ross‘ two solo home runs will get the attention, it was a ball that stayed in the park that cost the Phillies their chance to win the first game of the NLCS. With two outs and a runner on first base in the sixth inning, Pat Burrell drove a ball to deep left field, and while Raul Ibanez had enough time to get under it, he couldn’t figure out how to make it land in his glove.

An awkward and unnecessary jump right before crashing into the wall helped the ball bounce off his arm, and by the time he recovered, a run was in and Burrell was on second base. Instead of the inning ending with the Phillies trailing by a run, Roy Halladay was forced to face another hitter with a runner in scoring position, and a single to center made the score 4-1.

Had Ibanez made the not-routine-but-not-that-hard catch, the Phillies’ chances of winning would have stood at 40.2 percent, and Jayson Werth’s two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth would have given them a one-run lead with their ace on the mound. Instead, they ended the top of the sixth with just a 17 percent chance of winning, and Werth’s home run proved to be a nonfactor in the result.

Halladay has had better performances, but Game 1 of the NLCS was decided by the defense of Ibanez. Ibanez’s inability to field his position was one of the main reasons the deal was roundly criticized when Philadelphia gave him a three-year, $30 million contract after the 2008 season. Ultimate Zone Rating estimated that he was 6.9 runs below average for a left fielder this year, among the worst defenders in the league at the position.

Ironically, he was brought in to replace Burrell, whose lead glove antics in left field led the Phillies to go in another direction. Two years later, Burrell got his revenge, driving a ball that his replacement couldn’t catch, and the play directly led to the Giants taking the lead in the fight for a World Series berth. While Ibanez is a decent hitter, his problems in the outfield offset a good chunk of his value, and Charlie Manuel should be more willing to remove him for defensive purposes once his team takes a lead.

The Phillies’ decision to go with offense over defense cost them in the sixth inning and hung Halladay with a loss he didn’t deserve.

Where Was Neftali Feliz?

The Yankees entered the eighth inning Friday night with only a 4.1 percent chance of winning.

The Rangers decided to allow C.J. Wilson to continue pitching in the eighth. The inning started off with a Brett Gardner infield single, and then Derek Jeter doubled, scoring Gardner. Wilson was pulled for Darren Oliver, who walked both Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira to load the bases.

The Rangers then brought in Darren O’Day to face Alex Rodriguez. O’Day threw one pitch, which Rodriguez hit past third baseman Michael Young into left field. Both Jeter and Swisher scored on the play. Next, Clay Rapada was brought in to face Robinson Cano. On Rapada’s first and only pitch, Cano hit a single to center field, allowing Teixeira to tie the game.

The Rangers went to the ‘pen again for Derek Holland, who allowed Marcus Thames to single, scoring Rodriguez. The Yankees finally took the lead for the first time in the game, 6-5. All of the five runs scored in the eighth were with no outs. Holland finally was able to get three outs before any more damage was done. The chances of the Yankees winning the game soared from 4.1 percent to 67.5 percent by the end of the inning.

The Rangers went through four relievers in the eighth, and they opted to leave Neftali Feliz, their best reliever, sitting in the bullpen. The decision to not use Feliz at any time during the eighth inning will come back to haunt the Rangers. Once it was decided that Wilson could not go any farther, the Rangers should have brought in Feliz, for a couple of reasons.

First, the heart of the Yankees’ lineup — Swisher, Teixeira and Rodriguez — was due up. The Rangers should have looked at using their strongest pitcher against the Yankees’ strongest hitters. Also, the situation could not have been any more important: a runner on second, no outs. Instead, Feliz was being saved for the ninth inning to save the game. That save would never come, and four other relievers were brought in who didn’t record a single out until a 5-1 lead turned into a 6-5 deficit.

The Rangers entered the eighth inning with a great chance of winning, but everything fell apart. This a perfect example of why managers should sometimes think outside the box and use their closers when the game is on the line.

Joe Girardi’s Meaningless Move

When Joe Girardi announced his rotation for the ALCS, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes had been flip-flopped, with Hughes now taking the ball in Game 2 and Pettitte going in Game 3. Girardi cited a variety of factors, but no doubt one of the numbers he consulted was Hughes’ home/road splits. Over his career, and continuing this year, Hughes has performed significantly better on the road than he has in New York, especially in terms of home run prevention.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising, given that Hughes is an extreme fly-ball pitcher and New Yankee Stadium is home run-friendly, especially for left-handed hitters. He’s the kind of pitcher who will be hurt most by how the park plays, and that shows up in the results. Getting him a start on the road in Game 2 seems like a good idea. But a closer look at the data suggests that this is a meaningless move.

The Ballpark in Arlington is actually a very similar offensive environment to New Yankee Stadium. Both parks are left-handed-power-friendly, increasing home runs by 24 percent (New York) and 18 percent (Texas). They’re not as nice to right-handed power hitters, though both are still above average in terms of inflating home run totals, with right-handed bats getting a 10 percent boost in New Yankee Stadium versus the five percent boost they get in Texas.

Phil Hughes home/road splits

Park  BB/9	K/9	HR/9	FIP
Home	3.28	7.72	1.43	4.58
Road	3.05	8.05	0.67	3.44

A park doesn’t just influence home runs, however, and this is where the benefit to starting Hughes in Texas begins to break down. New Yankee Stadium promotes home runs at the expense of doubles and triples, both of which occur at a lower-than-average rate in that park. In Texas, home runs are inflated, but so are doubles and triples, so offensive levels overall are higher.

By attempting to take advantage of Hughes’ road numbers, the Yankees are actually asking him to pitch in an even tougher environment than the one he faces in New York. Someone has to pitch the games in Texas, but they didn’t make Hughes’ job any easier, and they shouldn’t expect him to match his career road numbers just because he gets a start outside of the Bronx.

Over in the National League, the San Francisco Giants did the same switcheroo, swapping Game 2 and Game 3 starters from the NLDS so Jonathan Sanchez would start in Philadelphia and Matt Cain would start in San Francisco. This time, the numbers suggest it could make a pretty significant difference, as it would be hard to find two less similar parks than Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Sanchez will now take the hill in a park that is very home run-friendly, creating 16 percent more home runs for left-handed batters and 20 percent more for right-handed hitters. However, Sanchez is the type of pitcher that is least affected by the environment in which he’s pitching, because a large percentage of his at-bats end with a walk or a strikeout. This year, 38 percent of the batters who stepped in against Sanchez failed to put the ball in play. Only 27 percent of the batters that faced Matt Cain did the same.

Sanchez’s high-walk, high-strikeout approach makes him a more suitable choice for parks that inflate run scoring, as Citizens Bank Park does. Meanwhile, AT&T Park works perfectly with Matt Cain’s skill set.

Cain, like Hughes, is an extreme fly-ball pitcher. San Francisco is one of the hardest places to hit a home run, and is most challenging for left-handed batters. The ballpark depresses home runs by lefties by 18 percent, making it the perfect place for a fly-balling right-hander like Cain to go up against Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. The big alleys do increase doubles and triples, so it plays as a mostly fair offensive environment overall, but it’s certainly a better place to ask Cain to challenge the big left-handed bats in Philadelphia’s lineup.

Both Joe Girardi and Bruce Bochy have changed up their rotations to try to optimize their outcomes in their respective league championship series. The Giants’ switch could pay real dividends, as they are able to take advantage of the unique way each park plays. But the Yankees are just going to have to pitch well, because the two parks the ALCS will happen in are too similar to really exploit any matchup differences.

Rangers Touch All The Bases

Even though managers and color commentators alike expend considerable effort in singing the praises of baserunning, research shows us that, generally speaking, runs (and, thus, wins) gained from effective baserunning pale in comparison to the contributions, respectively, of batting, pitching and fielding.

Or, rather, that’s usually the case.

Were it not for their attentive (and sometimes merely lucky) baserunning Tuesday night, it’s unlikely the Texas Rangers would find themselves en route to the American League Championship Series for the first time in the history of the organization.

Yes, the Rangers beat the Rays 5-1 in Game 5 of their ALDS largely on the strength of their legs. How much did they produce on the basepaths? Well, with the help of win probability added (WPA), we can get a sense of that very thing.

Let’s look at the first three runs — all a product of taking an extra base of some kind. In each instance, we look not only at the WPA of the play itself, but also what the play’s WPA would have been had the baserunner in question not taken the extra base. This way we’re also able to find, thirdly, the contribution of the baserunning in terms of WPA.

Note that each of the following three plays either occurred with two outs or involved the making of the second out. Furthermore, each was directly followed by a third out, meaning each play’s relative importance is, in fact, magnified.

Play No. 1

Inning: First
Situation: Josh Hamilton batting, Elvis Andrus on second base, one out, 0-0 tie
Play: On a 3-2 count, Hamilton hits a ground ball to Carlos Pena, and Andrus is off to third base on contact. David Price runs to cover first, where he takes the flip from Pena, and turns around to find that Andrus is on his way home. Price’s throw home is too late to catch Andrus.
WPA: +4.1 percent
WPA with Andrus stopping at third base: -3.5 percent
Baserunning adds: +7.6 percent

Play No. 2

Inning: Fourth
Situation: Ian Kinsler batting, Nelson Cruz on second base, two out, 1-1 tie
Play: With Kinsler batting — and moments after hitting a double when he very well could have made it to third base — Cruz attempts a steal of third. Tampa catcher Kelly Shoppach misses third baseman Evan Longoria badly on the second-base side of the bag, and the ball goes into left field. Cruz runs home to put Texas up 2-1.
WPA: +9.9 percent
WPA with Cruz safe at third: +0.5 percent
WPA with Cruz thrown out: -4.1 percent
Baserunning adds: +9.9 percent (compared with Cruz on second base), +9.4 percent (compared with Cruz on third base), +14.0 percent (compared with Cruz getting thrown out at third base)

Play No. 3

Inning: Sixth
Situation: Ian Kinsler batting, Nelson Cruz on first base, Vladimir Guerrero on second, one out, 2-1 Texas
Play: Kinsler hits a grounder to Carlos Pena. Pena throws to shortstop Jason Bartlett, thus forcing Cruz. Bartlett attempts, but is unable, to complete the double play. Guerrero, meanwhile, has progressed around third base and is headed home. Pena throws to catcher Kelly Shoppach, but Guerrero slides in safely, putting the Rangers up 3-1, and putting their overall win expectancy at about 75 percent.
WPA: +5.7 percent
WPA with Guerrero stopping at third base: -4.3 percent
Baserunning adds: +10.0 percent
All in all, what we find here is that the Rangers gained approximately +27.5 percent from just these three plays. Because a team starts — generically, at least — with about a 50 percent chance of winning, we can say that their baserunning helped them get halfway to their victory.

Of course, none of this is to ignore the dominance of Cliff Lee. With his nine-inning, 11-strikeout performance, Lee was worth +47.7 percent all by himself. However, Lee’s excellence is almost old news by now. Teams winning games so decidedly with their baserunning — that’s a story.