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  • On 3rd Base Coaching Decisions

    Letís start with this: I donít care if Aaron Hicks slid or not Ė Joe Vavra blew the call to send him last night in the fourth inning. This is not debatable. I doubt Vavra would debate it. And even had Hicks slipped into some shiny leather and slid like Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, he was still going to be out. It was not close. It was Vavra's mistake that the announcers should have been talking about.

    Here was the situation. The Twins lead 2-1 in the top of the fourth inning. Hicks was on second base, which he had easily stolen. Leadoff hitter Brian Dozier was up to bat with one out. He hit a line drive to left field. It appears Hicks got a slow start but was waved home the whole way by third base coach Vavra. It was not close, the throw reached the catcher on a bounce and Hicks was out by several feet. He tried to dipsy-doo around the catcher, looked silly, and was criticized by announcer Roy Smalley for not sliding. And he deserved that. But the the more significant message was delivered by play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer who announced that Hicks was being sent home with (what I would call) surprise in his voice. Because Hicks never had much chance.

    Making outs is a cardinal sin for a third base coach. (Technically, I forget whether itís a subset of ďgluttonyĒ or ďgreedĒ.) But in this case, the story is not to beat up Vavra about a bad call. Itís just to explain the philosophy a third base coach must have, and the math behind why he must have it. And maybe learn why Vavra could risk a little more on this play.

    The basic rule for a third base coach is if you think thereís a decent chance your runner can get thrown out, stop him. This can be shown mathematically, which Iíll demonstrate below, but it also just makes sense: the value of the extra base, even though itís tied to a run, is nowhere near the cost of adding an out AND losing a baserunner at 3rd base.

    Sabrmetrics has provided a lot more precision, and it lends a little extra insight in this case. In this game, because the hitter can advance into scoring position on a throw to the plate, that rule is not quite as stringent.

    Sabrmetrics, for problems like this, uses something called Palmer and Thornís Run Expectancy Matrix. Pete Palmer and Roger Thorn studied 75 years worth of baseball games and found out the average number of runs that scored in basic situations. (By the way, they did this back in 1975.) You can find it here, but these are the relevant numbers:


    1. The average team with runners on 1st and 3rd and one out will score 1.088 runs in that inning. Thatís what happens if Vavra holds up the ďstopĒ sign.
    2. The average team with a runner on 2nd and two outs will score .348 runs in that inning. Thatís what happens if Vavra waves Hicks home and heís thrown out.
    3. The average team, with a runner on 2nd and one out will score .699 runs in that inning, PLUS they would have already scored a run, so thatís 1.699 runs. Thatís what happens if Vavra waves Hicks home and heís safe.


    So if Hicks is sent home and safe, the Twins gain about .6 runs. If heís out, they lose .75 runs. It doesnít take a math major (just a good algebra background) to see that Hicks needs to be safe about 55% of the time to break even. If Vavra felt it was a ďcoin flipĒ situation, sending Hicks is defendable. (It didnít look like it was, but given Hicks speed, maybe he had additional confidence.)

    Now thatís just the base rule. It assumes that there are average hitters and average pitchers and average fielders, etc. In this case there were some extenuating circumstances.

    For starters, the next hitter was not average. In face, Doug Bernier didnít have a major league hit and he's 32 years old. He might be more likely to strike out or to hit into a double play than an average hitter, so maybe sending the runner makes more sense. Of course, Joe Blanton is on the mound, and he hasn't been an average pitcher. He might be more likely to give up a couple more hits, so maybe it's a better idea not to send the runner. Finally, batting behind Bernier is Joe Mauer, who is a pretty good guy to have up in a clutch situation, which is probably the best reason to keep everyone from risking that extra out. So in this game, itís hard to find extra incentive to risk that out.

    But the decision by Vavra to send Hicks by might not have been as egregiously wrong as it initially looked. (And certainly not as bad as it looked after Bernierís double.) Third base coaches need to be pretty conservative in general, but as far as picking a moment to be aggressive, this was a pretty good choice.
    This article was originally published in blog: On 3rd Base Coaching Decisions started by John Bonnes
    Comments 31 Comments
    1. SpitefulRabbit617's Avatar
      SpitefulRabbit617 -
      Man I wish they had these west coast games closer to the weekend, 9 pm start really only gives you a few innings to watch if ya work early. DVR just isnt the same if you can look up the boxscore.......
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      One additional thing to note is that according to fangraphs scouting reports, Schuck has a below average arm in terms of strength and accuracy. So when you couple that with the guy coming up after Dozier, I can see why he was sent.

      Hicks had a bad jump on the hit and took a very round turn after third. If either of those are tightened up he probably slides in easily. As it stands, any throw within 5 feet of the plate and he was pegged with or without a slide IMO.
    1. AROG's Avatar
      AROG -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gernzy View Post
      Hicks could have tried to slide, but we have no way of knowing if he'd be safe or not. Would have been more exciting at least.

      Speaking of Vavra, I think he's done a pretty good job at third. I can't think of many other times that he sent someone that he shouldn't have.
      When they showed the angle from behind you could see that Hicks was coming from the foul side of the line to angle his slide the from front side of home plate. The catcher was well to the foul side of the line. Hicks looked like he was starting to slide when the catcher swung quickly to the fair side of the plate.

      Had Hicks slid he would have broken an ankle with the force of the catchers sudden movements. Hicks did his best impersonation of Domit and tried to not get hurt and almost hurt himself in the process.

      Other then that, I loved the article.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gernzy View Post
      Hicks could have tried to slide, but we have no way of knowing if he'd be safe or not. Would have been more exciting at least.

      Speaking of Vavra, I think he's done a pretty good job at third. I can't think of many other times that he sent someone that he shouldn't have.
      My issue has less to do with the time he sent someone he shouldn't than the time he didn't send someone he should. Too conservative. Need to force the issue more. Then again, being aggressive isn't exactly the coaches and upper management's ways.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      This is an opportunity for Hicks needs to run the base-paths like his hair was on fire. Not only would he score on situations like this, but he would look good doing it.
    1. AROG's Avatar
      AROG -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kwak View Post
      It sounds to me that this is a wakeup call to Hicks--don't assume and play to maximum effort. I also agree with Chief, if nobody is ever thrown out trying for an extra base, then you're not aggressive enough.
      I am going to assume much of you are also Vikings fans, if not just the casual one. Robert Smith was faster then Quadri Ismael! When people watched Robert Smith run, he looked slow and like he wasn't trying and didn't give any effort to his runs. People assume the same thing about Hicks. But when Smith ran down the sideline and people fell further and further behind him it was obvious.

      Both Smith and Hicks run/ran with a long stride which, unless they are running next to someone or being timed, doesn't seem very fast at all.

      I am not saying that he doesn't loaf it up (the play in New York where it sliced away from him) from time to time. But just consider that if he couldn't get to a normal ball, he probably was at full speed and wouldn't get there anyway.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      First off... I like aggressive baserunning. I get frustrated with careful station to station baseball. Putting pressure on the defense to make a throw and tag is the only way to play in my mind.

      However... That doesn't mean suicidal either.

      The throw was not a good throw... It was slightly off line and it was kind of loopie. My guess would be poor arm with Schuck based on that throw... However... that doesn't matter when looking at the play.

      Vavra's mistake wasn't mathatical from a percentage standpoint. Vavra's mistake was not noticing or caring that Schuck had the ball and was into his crow hop as Hicks was touching third.

      An average high school player could have made that throw. Ben Revere could have made that throw. Sending Hicks, Byron Buxton, Jose Reyes, Mike Trout, Emilio Bonafacio or anyone was suicidal.

      If Shuck was still moving away from the throw while fielding it... Yeah... Send him because Schuck would have had to stop his momentum and set his feet before throwing. The time it takes to do that would have given Hicks half the distance depending on the mo he needed to stop.

      Decisions to take the extra base should not be based on arm strength... They should be based on how the fielder is positioned when fielding. If he has the ball in his hands and cocked... and you haven't crossed third... It's stop sign time. Every MLB player can throw the ball faster than anybody can run.

      That's right Revere can throw the ball faster than Ben Revere can run.

      Vavra blew it... It happens... I forgive him.

      Now... Once Vavra blows it and sends the runner.

      Forget the slide... Hicks needed to PLOW the catcher. Show his coaches and teammates and fans that he can play the game hard and a catcher ain't getting in his way. If you don't plow the catcher... I wonder about you and I'm wondering about Hicks.

      Yeah... You can get hurt... You can hurt running into outfield walls or swinging at an inside pitch. It's baseball... Play the game and play it hard. This ain't little league. Plow the catcher!!! I'm kinda pissed that he didnt.

      The Twins lack this toughness in my opinion. Its about time somebody showed it.
    1. ltwedt's Avatar
      ltwedt -
      Ha! Bottom Line -

      *Twins third base coaches ever since Gardenhire have been HORRIBLE - Ulger???? Liddle??? Vavra?? Really?

      * Hicks HAS to slide - any close play at the plate Hicks HAS to slide.

      Mellow game? or not schooled enough to know when to slide.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by AROG View Post
      I am going to assume much of you are also Vikings fans, if not just the casual one. Robert Smith was faster then Quadri Ismael! When people watched Robert Smith run, he looked slow and like he wasn't trying and didn't give any effort to his runs. People assume the same thing about Hicks. But when Smith ran down the sideline and people fell further and further behind him it was obvious.

      Both Smith and Hicks run/ran with a long stride which, unless they are running next to someone or being timed, doesn't seem very fast at all.

      I am not saying that he doesn't loaf it up (the play in New York where it sliced away from him) from time to time. But just consider that if he couldn't get to a normal ball, he probably was at full speed and wouldn't get there anyway.
      It boils down to the start and the finish--not just the middle. Early and fast start, and the best "curve" around 3B (not slowing down but running the curve like the 200M sprinters). It's more than just effort.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      Maybe Hicks will learn something after watching Morneau's slide in tonight's game.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thegrin View Post
      Maybe Hicks will learn something after watching Morneau's slide in tonight's game.
      My sentiments exactly. You have to contest the plate. Anything can happen. Don't just stop.
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