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