Great Lakes Royals

June 5, 2010 5:47 PM

Jason Kendall Intentionally Runs Into 3rd Out: Smart Play or Wasted Out?

In the 6th inning of last nights game against the Tigers, Jason Kendall was on first base after getting his third hit of the game, with two outs.  The batter was left-handed David DeJesus, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland went to his bullpen to get lefty specialist Fu-Te Ni to face DeJesus.

DeJesus took a real ugly swing at a first pitch fastball too low to be called a strike (Dana DeMuth's strike zone was stingy around the knees all night anyway), then on the second pitch, DeJesus took a well located slider for strike two.  With DeJesus behind in the count 0-2 with two outs, the next play was something that is very rarely seen in baseball.  Jason Kendall, with Ni in the set position, took off for second base with the pitcher looking right at him.  Ni threw to first and then Miguel Cabrera's throw to Adam Everett at second base got Kendall to end the inning.

It was strange because there was almost no element of deception on the part of the pitcher that caused this play.  Kendall pretty much was looking to take an out, or at the very least, take second base if the defense gave it to him.  Outs are your most valuable resource in baseball, and for a baserunner to just give one away, well, it's usually not a smart play.  This is more true of a team that gives away as many unintentional outs on the bases as the Royals.

But it might have been a smart, if fairly meaningless, move by Kendall.  This data is old, but The Book Blog, has a repost of some data at that shows different hitting averages by count.  Obviously, if Kendall does what he did with no count on DeJesus, he runs the Royals right out of an inning and costs them an out.  But that's not really the case here.  DeJesus was in an extreme pitchers count (0-2) against a pitcher with a platoon advantage, he, at best is about a 16% chance to extend the inning in that count.  The data, of course, comes from four years ago, when hitting was -- not at record levels -- but quite high.  At this point, offense -- for the AL in particular -- is quite depressed.  Really, DeJesus wasn't going to have a better chance to get on base unless he could work the count back to 3-2, and Kendall buys him a completely fresh count by getting himself caught stealing there.

After Kendall's RBI single, the Royals had a 94% chance to win according to Fangraphs.  Picking Kendall off of first dropped that chance to 93.4%.  Perhaps though, we can argue that the probability of a 0.177 wOBA hitter (or the league average hitter, in 2006, down in the count 0-2) extending the inning actually drops the win percentage below 93.4?  I mean, it goes without saying that a lineup that has DeJesus/Butler/Guillen/Callaspo is going to produce more runs, on the average, than a due up of Butler/Guillen/Callaspo/Aviles.  I mean, heck, if you picked your best no. 1 and no. 2 hitters from the Royals starting nine right now, DeJesus and Butler would hit there in basically all variations of an optimal lineup (and Guillen and Callaspo would probably hit third and fourth, but I digress).  As it turned out, DeJesus grounded out to lead off the next inning anyway, so it was fairly irrelevant.

It's completely splitting fractions of 100ths of percents at this point, trying to determine if Jason Kendall actually helped the Royals win a ballgame by intentionally running into an out that saved his teammate a fresh count in the next inning, so I'll just conclude by saying: whatever the heck Kendall was thinking about when he went for second, it was a sound enough idea to not hurt his team's ability to score runs.  By the standards of the bunt/hack-happy KC Royals, that's more or less a good idea.

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