Did Nunez Make The Right Decision Last Night?

The Red Sox’ 5-4 loss last night in Yankee Stadium will be best remembered for the epic 5-run bullpen implosion, brought to you courtesy of Addison Reed and Joe Kelly. But it should also be remembered for the 7-5 double play turned by the Bombers in the top of the ninth that all but snuffed out what was remained of the Red Sox chances. That play ended with Eduardo Nunez getting thrown out at third base from the warning track by left-fielder Aaron Hicks.

Radio broadcaster Tim Neverett intimated that it was a poor choice to attempt to advance to third on the play: but just how bad was Eduardo’s decision?

After a meltdown in the bottom of the eighth – during which the Sox pen turned a 3-0 lead into a 5-3 deficit – Yankees manager Joe Girardi predictably turned to Aroldis Chapman to finish the job of breaking the Beantowners’ 8-game win streak. But Chapman was not sharp, walking Jackie Bradley, Eduardo Nunez, and Mookie Betts in succession, earning only three strikes in his first fifteen pitches. Andrew Benintendi was next up, and on an 0-2 pitch he lofted a fly ball to deep left that was caught by Hicks just in front of the warning track.

Bradley scored easily, making it a one-run game. But Eduardo Nunez surprised everyone by tagging and trying to move to third. Hicks came up to the big leagues as a centerfielder and has a strong arm. The throw was off-line but in time. Nunez lost his helmet, which is something he does on seemingly every play. Though Eduardo almost evaded Todd Frazier’s tag – the Red Sox challenged the call but it was upheld on replay – the Red Sox utility man had made the second out of the inning at third base.

Neverett’s point was that Nunez, as the tying run, was already in scoring position with one out. Why take the chance to advance? What Neverett’s analysis failed to consider is that the Red Sox needed not just one run to tie the game, but another to win it – assuming they survive the bottom of the ninth. If Nunez had succeeded, the go-ahead run would have been on second with one out as evidenced by the fact that Betts advanced on the throw to third.

A long-standing baseball adage is that when behind in a close game in the late innings, “play for the win on the road, and the tie at home.” The not-immediately obvious wisdom of this aphorism is that the road team tying the game in the ninth or extras doesn’t provide a 50/50 chance of winning – the home team still bats that inning. In fact, since a run scores in about 28% of all innings, the home team batting in the bottom of the ninth, or extras, is likely to win the game 64% of the time.

So let’s evaluate this particular decision. Using Greg Stoll’s handy online “Win Expectancy Finder”, we can see that had Eduardo succeeded, the Red Sox would have had about a 46% chance to win. When he failed, the odds dropped to about 9%. And had he stayed put, it would have been about 28%. Succeeding adds about 18% to the Sox’ chances, while failing subtracts about 19%. In other words, if the chances of making it are about 50% it was worthwhile to attempt to advance.

In the end, Nunez may have underestimated Hicks’ cannon, and it took a terrific tag by Frazier to complete the twin-killing. The Red Sox have hurt themselves with plenty of ill-advised baserunning decisions this season, but this was far from the most egregious example.

Featured image courtesy of Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

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Lee Gregory has lived and died with the Red Sox since Rich Rollins' popup settled into Rico Petrocelli's glove. A 20-year Red Sox Fantasy Camp veteran, during any Red Sox home ALCS or World Series game you can find him tailgating in the Lansdowne Street parking lot.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think this is a flawed explanation of the matter. The prime thing a team needs to be worried about when batting in the top of the 9th while trailing is tying the game. If they can’t tie it, they can’t win it.

    If the team is trailing by one run, then the question devolves to which situation of baserunner(s)/outs gives you the best chance of scoring exactly one run. If the team scores that run they still have a chance of scoring more in the inning (barring an unusual play where the run scores before the third out is made on the bases, e.g., the runner scored before the batter was thrown out trying to stretch his hit.

    We’re dealing with Run Expectancy, not Win Expectancy, here. Win Expectancy looks at the state of each game from the viewpoint of the home team: the inning, the score, the baserunner/out state, and figures out the winning percentage from that point. Probably I should have just said to read this article by Tom Tango:
    http://www.hardballtimes.com/crucial-situations/

    There is also another problem that I find with some of these tables: they use data covering several years for compilation. For example, Stoll’s charts uses data “from MLB games from 1957-2016, including postseason games.”

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