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The Joys of Small Ball

It seems to be the topic of conversation around here. I'll easily admit, I'm not a huge fan of small ball, at least most of the time. We've had several years worth of studies now that show that a lot of the small ball stuff just doesn't help you win. But then I wouldn't throw it all out. 

Our buddy Cito was a very successful manager and he almost never used small ball tactics. He used them so rarely that, when he did, it seemed to always be the wrong moment, that he just wanted to show that he could order a bunt but didn't have the feel for when it might work. He was a big fan of not asking players to do things that they weren't likely to be successful doing. He had Edwin try to bunt once last year, and then apologized afterwards for trying to get him to do something that Edwin wasn't good at. If you look, Edwin has 0 sac bunts in his career. You think a guy that is never asked to bunt practices it? Cito never used the hit and run and didn't have guys steal much. 

Let's look at the different strategies:

Hit and Run: Is it my imagination or have we had players miss hit and run signs more often then they have actually done the play right? Maybe it is because it is the end of a long season and they are mentally tired. It shouldn't happen but it is and it ought to be fixed.

You all know Cito didn't use the hit and run. There wasn't one hit and run called last year. I understand why, it goes against his hitting philosophy. He always preached "go up looking for your pitch, when you get it, hit it hard". It seems to me to tell batters 'ok this time, swing at whatever is thrown' isn't reinforcing the message that he wanted to send. 

I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of it either. There aren't a lot of hitters that I'd trust to make contact with whatever the pitcher throws. And I think the cost of screwing it up is far larger than the gain the odd time that it works. Not that I'd never use it, I think refusing to use a strategy is a bad move, I think having the reputation that you will do it is likely worth as much as actually doing it. 

Obviously, I wouldn't do it with guys that strikeout a lot. Sorry JP but I don't trust you could make contact when I need it. Nor would I want to do it with a power hitter, because I always want those guys to be looking for a pitch they can hurt and not chasing one they can't. I don't want to do it against a pitcher that gets a lot of swings and misses. I also don't want to do it against any pitcher that is wild, if he just walked someone on four pitches, why get the next guy to chase?

So. for me, it would be a very rare combination of baserunner, batter, pitcher and game situation that I would use it. 

Oh, and I don't believe in the 'run and hit'. It stretches my suspension of disbelief to think that a runner would get a different jump if you said 'run and hit' instead of 'hit and run'. The difference between the hit and run and the straight steal is that, on a steal, the runner decides if he got the right jump to steal, if this was the moment, if not he doesn't have to go. Hit and run or run and hit, he has to go, I don't see that a runner would think 'hey this is a run and hit, not a hit and run, I gotta get a different jump'. In both cases I want him to get the best jump he can.

Stolen Bases: I love stolen bases, you know, when they work. No, actually I like stealing when you think the runner has a very good chance of being safe. If you know the catcher has a bad arm or if the pitcher is slow to the plate, go. I like the steal of second if you can be successful 75% of the time or better. I'll live with the 25% that you get caught.  I also think that if you get the right combination of pitcher and catcher, you should be stealing a ton. If Varitek is catching, everybody run. Send Molina. Make him show you he can throw someone out. I don't know why we wouldn't be running against him.Matt Wieters? Don't steal. 

Again, I think it depends on what is going on in the game. If the pitcher is wild, why try to steal? I really hate those times when a pitcher walks a guy on 4 pitches then the guy steals right away. Let's wait and see if the pitcher can find the plate. 

Stealing third? IF you try you better be safe. If I'm manager, you get caught stealing third, I won't be happy. You get caught stealing third twice, you have lost your green light to try. If you get caught stealing third with two out? I'm pulling you from the game. You are going to sit for a bit. There is so little gain in going from second to third with two outs, that a reasonably smart baserunner will never try to steal unless he can see there is no chance he'll get caught. If you get caught stealing third and Bautista is up,  you just signed your ticket to Vegas. 

Double steals I like, you are moving a second guy into scoring position. But then you ought to be sure guys are likely to be safe. 

Bunts: I hate the bunt 90% of the time. Bunts should never happen in the first inning or any other early inning. Anyone sacrifice bunting in the first inning should be fired. They don't get the game. Earl Weaver said 'if you play for one run, that's all you will get'. Playing for one run early is bad baseball.

I hate bunts with runners on first and second. For one, they are tough to get down. You have a force play at 3rd, the runner on second can't get a good jump, he has to be sure the bunt gets down before he can run. If he strays too far from 2nd and the batter misses the bunt, he'll get picked off and that can't happen. Worst is trying to bunt when that runner on second isn't fast. The other reason it is a bad move is that the pitcher has allowed the first two batters of the inning to get on base. Obviously things are going well for him. It is a very tense moment, why help him out by giving him a free out. It might just be what he needs to get back in the groove. 

When do I like bunts? When a really poor batter is up. Pitchers should bunt. John McDonald, late in a one run game, runner on first, sure he can bunt. Mike McCoy? Well, usually I'd say yeah he could bunt late in a one run game but the last couple of games he's looked terrible trying to get the bunt down. Guys that have played for years and haven't bunted before? No don't make them bunt. Brett Lawrie? No don't make him bunt. I want Lawrie to be the guy that drives in runs. It might sound Citoish (new word) but I want Brett to get to bat in as many big moments as I can, so he is used to the pressure and so it builds his confidence. I want him to think 'my manager thinks I can drive in important runs'. Set him up for success in the future.