On Monday, April 1st, the Cubs played the Pirates in the opening game for both teams. In the top of the fourth, with A.J. Burnett pitching for the Pirates, the following sequence occurred:
Nate Schierholtz led off with a walk
Welington Castillo hit a double, moving Schierholtz to 3rd, making for runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs.
Since I'm writing this Tuesday, you already know (if you're a Cubs fan) that the Cubs followed up this start with two strikeouts and a groundout by the pitcher Jeff Samardzija. For the Cubs faithful, for whom there's ALWAYS NEXT YEAR, there remained the glimmer that this wouldn't be a grim reminder of what the rest of the season would be like (that was saved for Carlos Marmol's performance in the 9th inning, where he completed the impressive feat of turning a save opportunity into a HOLD). On Tuesday, Len Kasper, one-half of the Cubs TV broadcast duo (along with former Astros pitcher Jim Deshaies) was on The Score in Chicago and discussed this play, stating that this was a continuation of a trend that began last year. He was right, as usual, and since I have the play-by-play data to delve into that, thought I would show just how teams perform in this unique situation.
Before I show the data, intuitively, one would think that scoring both runners should be the primary goal. In a worst case scenario, two sacrifice flies would drive in both runners, leaving aside some nagging issues:
1. If the batter is left-handed, he'll be fed a steady diet of pitches low and away to try to keep him from lifting a fly into right.
2. If the batter is right-handed, he'll be jammed and also thrown pitches at the knees that will be difficult to get in the air.
So this is what I'll show--it will be the percentage of those two runners that actually scored. Len said that last year, the Cubs were around 50% and MLB was around 70%, and I'm going off memory, so if I misquote Len, that's on me. In addition, I suspect that what I'm going to show will differ slightly from what Len was describing, which I think was how often a run scored, not how many. Either way, here's the data:
Just to be clear, there were 597 instances of this happening in 2012. Since each of those base runners had a chance to score, that made for the 1,194 scoring opportunities, of which 940 of those runners (78.7%) actually scored.
There is absolutely no doubt that we're working with a small sample size here, but even if I extended the search and went back to 2009 and bumped up the opportunities to closer to the 120-150 it would be in a four-year time span, there's little doubt in my mind that the percentages would change very much. What is kind of interesting is seeing where the better teams in 2012 rate, since there's no strong correlation between success in this admittedly small slice of situational hitting and overall success. However, as usual, Mr. Kasper was dead on (and since he has the benefit of talking with Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and anyone else in the Cubs statistical brain trust, as well as a more-than-capable sabermetric mind of his own, this comes as no surprise).
One last little nugget--since the only runners I cared about were those runners on 2nd and 3rd, I was curious how many goose eggs teams put up in this situation. The answer is 56 (and not discernible from any of the data shown here).
Of which the Cubs were the proud owners of five of them.