It happened well after midnight last night, so you may not have seen it live. You probably won't see it at all if you casually scan the box score. But something frustrating and all-too-predictable happened in the 9th inning of last night's Orioles game.
Small ball orthodoxy dictates that you replace the plodding Aubrey Huff with a pinch runner, and ask Mora to bunt him over to second. Sabermetricians often malign the sacrifice, but according to Michael Lichtman and Tom Tango, this may be the rare situation where a bunt is appropriate:
Late in a close game, in a low run-scoring environment, it is correct to often sacrifice bunt with a runner on first and no outs. In an average run-scoring environment, you should sometimes sacrifice to keep the defense honest.
Dave Trembley decided not to bunt and he also decided not to put Felix Pie out on the basepaths.
That's fine, because it's also defensible to give Melvin a pat on the back and tell him to be patient and look for a pitch he can drive. That's exactly what Dave appeared to be doing, as Melvin quickly worked the count to 3-1.
Then something strange happened - or at least, I imagine it would be strange to anyone who doesn't follow the Orioles closely.
Dave Trembley called for the hit-and-run. This wasn't the first time he called for the hit-and-run in this game, as Adam Jones narrowly avoided being doubled off on a line drive out just a few innings earlier. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen another major league manager call for the hit-and-run as reliably as Dave Trembley.
Dave Trembley hates the double play, which is understandable. Perhaps last night he was still reeling from Matt Wieters' inning-ending GIDP with the bases loaded earlier in the night. But I'm convinced that the hit-and-run causes as many double plays as it prevents, and it ALWAYS puts the hitter in a position where they must shorten their swing and sacrifice power in order to make contact.
The hit-and-run should be used sparingly, and it should absolutely never be used with a slow runner on first, a strikeout pitcher on the mound, and a below-average contact hitter at the plate.
Lets get the game recap over with. Melvin Mora fouls off the first pitch with Huff running. Dave calls for the hit-and-run again. Melvin Mora fouls off the next pitch. Dave calls for the hit-and-run again. Melvin Mora swings through the pitch for a strikeout and Huff is nailed by a mile a second base. Rally over.
That was the fifth time Aubrey Huff was caught "stealing" this year, and he has yet to successfully steal a base. The Orioles lead the American League in caught stealing, and they are near the bottom in stolen bases. Only Brian Roberts and Adam Jones have stolen more bases than they have been caught stealing.
There's more to the problem than the hit-and-run, though. Doesn't it seem like the Orioles are also getting picked off a lot, including two more pickoffs last night? Doesn't it also seem like they are getting doubled off on line drives or nailed at the plate or trying to stretch an extra base pretty much every day?
Thanks to Dan Fox's work at Baseball Prospectus, we have a pretty good way of quantifying all of this. Fox developed a series of stats to measure baserunning. The statistics are all expressed in run values above and below average. EqSBR measures the value of stolen bases versus caught stealing. EqHAR, EqGAR, EqAAR, and EqOAR measure how well a team advances bases on hits, groundouts, air outs, and wild pitches respectively.
Let's take a look at the 2009 leaderboard:
EqSBR: The Orioles rank 30th out of 30 teams.
EqHAR: The Orioles rank 25th out of 30 teams.
EqGAR: The Orioles rank 29th out of 30 teams.
EqAAR: The Orioles rank 30th out of 30 teams.
EqOAR: The Orioles rank 5th out of 30 teams, but this is by far the least important category.
Add it all up, and you get, EqBRR which measures the total runs above/below average for baserunning as a team. Not surprisingly, the Orioles rank dead last at -15 runs.
It's not fair to blame all of this on Trembley, but the stats are pretty revealing. The Orioles ranked 9th in EqBRR in 2006. In 2007, with a half year of Trembley, they fell to 19th. In 2008, with a full year of Trembley, the Orioles ranked dead last, and this year they rank dead last again and are on pace to be the worst baserunning team in recent history.
The numbers don't lie. Dave Trembley's strategy of aggressive baserunning has been a miserable failure and it is making a bad team even worse. Those 15 runs that the Orioles have squandered on the basepaths this year could easily be worth three wins given the high-leverage situations that the outs are occuring in. According to Fangraphs, the Orioles went from being 60% favorites to win the game to 40% underdogs because of the failed hit-and-run last night. Three more wins and three fewer losses make this Orioles team a .500 ballclub.
It's time for Dave Trembley to adopt a baserunning strategy that makes sense, or it's time for Andy MacPhail to find someone else who will.
Edit: I found one more opinion I trust on this, the Earl himself:
I don't have a hit-and-run sign, and I believe it's the worst play in baseball. First, the runner is going to second base at half speed, looking to see if the hitter makes contact. If the hitter fails to connect, 90 percent of the time that runner is thrown out stealing second. Also, the hitter is at a disadvantage because he knows he has to swing at any pitch in order to protect the runner. Odds are that he'll be going after a pitch that isn't a particularly good one to hit. It puts everyone at a disadvantage and I don't think much of it.