Small ball, well done!

Did you see the Yankee game yesterday?  Not sure what you were watching, but here’s what I saw: A great example of small ball done right, and more bullpen mismanagement from Aaron Boone.

Let’s start with small ball!

Top of the 7th, Yankees leading 3-1, Oriole’s pitcher Paul Fry issues a one-out walk to Thairo Estrada, who was batting 8th in the Yankees lineup.  Number nine batter, Austin Romine stepped to the plate.  On the first pitch to Romine, Estrada stole second base.

This was the 100% perfect strategy, even if Estrada had been thrown out.  I’ve been saying it for years and I’ll continue to say it:  “Aggressive” baseball, “manufacturing” runs, “putting pressure on the defense” and/or whatever other nonsensical clichés baseball announcers use, is a bad play far more often than not.  Risking an out when batters two, three and four are coming up is almost never worth the risk, which is why speed is generally wasted at the top of the order.

However, when batters number seven, eight or nine are due up – that is to say, players who are far more likely to put the ball in play on the ground or as a soft liner – having a runner on 2nd base is FAR better than having a runner on first.  When you have three guys due up with a SLG of > .500, that’s to say, guys who hit the ball over the wall and in the alleys, a runner on 2nd isn’t much better than a runner of 1st – they’ll score anyway.  (Plus, the potential of a huge inning is there and you don’t want to run yourself out of it.)

But when batters with career .339 SLG (like Romine) are due up, who are far more likely to ground a ball through a hole or slap one to the outfield, being on 2nd base is a huge advantage as one can score on those batted balls.  Plus the chance of a huge inning is minimal, so the potential of being thrown out at 2nd base isn’t much of a risk.

In this instance, it worked.  Romine grounded a ball through a hole into right field and Estrada scored.  Well done all around – Aaron Boone, Estrada, and Romine.  But even if it hadn’t worked, it was 100% the right move.

That being said, “A good piece of hitting” is what ex-jocks call grounding it weakly to the right side.  When Clint Frazier and Luke Voit hit it 400 feet over the wall, it is not a good piece of hitting somehow.  And hitting it over the wall is still always better than a grounder to 2nd base.

Jonathan Holder should not have faced Trey Mancini, period.  Bottom eight, Yankees up 5-1.  Holder walks two batters with respective OBPs of .298 and .296 to lead off the inning.  I’ll pause a moment to allow you to re-read that.  He issued free passes to two consecutive batters with sub .300 OBPs.  This brought up Mancini – the one batter on Baltimore with whom opposing teams need to be concerned – who has a better SLG% than JD Martinez this season.  This is a giant, flashing, neon billboard that screamed “problem”.  Your reliever has thrown 23 pitches, can’t find the zone, there are no outs, two on, a dude who can rake is up, and the tying run is on deck.  (Paging Aaron Boone, paging Aaron Boone, Mr. Boone, wake up please…)

Less than 10 pitches later, the game was tied.  At that point, the Yankees got a great game from their starting pitcher, had hit two HR, played good small ball (!) and still had only a 44% chance to win the game.  All from a non-managerial move.  Again, a “W” is a “W”, but Boone’s inaction was a very unnecessary risk.

And tangentially, why bring in Kahnle and not Ottavino?  When I saw Kahnle I just assumed Ottavino must’ve been unavailable.  Turns out I was wrong when he started warming up after the game-tying HR was allowed.  Maybe there was a good reason, but we’ll never know because the Marakovits and Currys of the world would never dare ask a serious question.

Did I miss something?  Let me know.

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