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The importance of the sac fly

Oct 21, 2011, 5:48 PM EST

US Presswire photo
Ian Desmond led the Nats in sacrifice flies … with five.

A wonderfully quirky and genuinely nice man who for decades served as an official scorer at both Yankees and Mets games, Bill Shannon, hated the sacrifice fly. When he was scoring a game and someone would drive in a run via a flyball, Shannon would grab his microphone and reluctantly say the words "sacrifice fly" with disgust.

His rationale: Shannon didn't believe batters were intentionally sacrificing their at-bats in order to drive in the run. They simply happened to hit a flyball with a man on third and less than two outs, even if they were trying to record a clean hit.

I was thinking about Shannon, who tragically was killed in a house fire last year, while watching the gripping ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series last night. The Rangers, trailing 1-0 and on the verge of falling two games behind the Cardinals in the series, managed to scrape together both the tying and winning runs via two singles, a stolen base, some adept baserunning and — most importantly — two sacrifice flies via their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters: Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.

Were those two sluggers intentionally trying to sacrifice themselves to get those runners home? You better believe it.

"I don't care how we scored them," Young told reporters following theRead more »

  1. Anonymous - Oct 21, 2011 at 5:57 PM


  2. Anonymous - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    Mark:I wonder how much of the low sac fly number has to do with low on-base percentage, so that the Nats just didn't have a man on third with fewer than two outs as often as other teams.

  3. V Lombardi - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:15 PM

    Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing.

  4. Mark Zuckerman - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:18 PM

    Good question, Anon 2:09. The Nats had 319 runners on third base with less than two outs this season, which ranked 20th in the majors. They ranked 28th in sac flies. So there is a bit of a gap there, meaning their low sac fly total wasn't entirely a byproduct of having fewer opportunities.

  5. JamesFan - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:42 PM

    After watching the Nats this year, I have gone from a guy who didn't think that it mattered how an out was made to someone who thinks putting the ball in play is a huge factor in the game. The constant strike outs with men on base and specifically on third cost the Nats a lot of games this year. This is an area the Nats must improve in if they are to contend next year.

  6. Jeff L - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    Mark wrote: "And they actually ranked 10th in the majors in advancing 57.3 percent of their runners who reached second base with no outs"I trust you on these numbers, Mark. But, wow! It sure didn't seem like 57% watching this season.

  7. Steve M. - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Enjoyable read Mark. Small ball/smart ball. What does Davey think about giving up an out?Certainly with 1 out, and last night with no outs you do it to solidify the tie, but what about if it is the 5th inning in a 1 run game and a chance to blow the game open?I always think of a batter with a man on 3rd with no outs or 1 out as a chance to drive the ball into the outfield. A hit is great, a Sac Fly works well.I saw Michael Young shorten up his swing and appeared to have getting air under the ball as his motive. Young was up with 1 out.Even though it was the Rangers getting it done, I think the Cardinals players say about McGwire as their hitting coach is going up to the plate with a plan.Do the Nats go up with a plan? Even Jayson Werth at times seemed to lose focus of the situation when he was struggling.

  8. Scooter - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:56 PM

    This is terrific stuff.I tend to think that scoring the run is most important — heck, a hit's better than a sac fly, and a grounder can get the job done too. But since the Nats were "just a tick" below average at scoring the guy, that tick has to come from somewhere. And heck, I wouldn't complain about being a few ticks above average!

  9. Doc - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:56 PM

    Good stuff MarkMeister!Maybe with Davey being an offensive minded manager,things will change with SFs and RISP. Let's hope!!

  10. Anonymous - Oct 21, 2011 at 6:57 PM

    Thanks, Mark. I can well imagine that there would be this differential, even after the low on-base percentage is factored in. Having closely followed the Nats since they first came to town, it just always seems like they have difficulties in clutch situations. Can "clutch" be taught?Anon 2:09 (David)

  11. Section 222 - Oct 21, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    I'm with Shannon, kind of. Does anyone really believe that Hamilton was trying to hit a sacrifice fly in that situation? Of course not. He was trying to get a base hit to drive in both runs and win the game. Major league players might try to hit the ball to the right side to move the runner over, which is kind of like a sacrifice bunt even though it's not scored that way, but they don't try to hit a fly ball deep enough to score a run. They try to make solid contact and drive in the runner any way they can. That said, I don't have a problem with not charging an AB to someone who drives in a run with a flyball. In fact, I wouldn't mind if they had a category for "productive out" and charged all of them like SF's or SB's. Seriously, what's the difference btw driving in a run with a flyball and driving it in with a groundout? They both get the job done, which is something the Nats need to learn to do. On the other

  12. Sam - Oct 21, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    It worked twice in a big situation and it's all of the sudden a great strategy?I've closed my eyes when making a left turn onto a busy street and made it, but that doesn't make it the right move.In certain situations (e.g. bottom of the 9th inning, runner on 3rd, <2 outs), it is a good move. In the aggregate, it hurts the team. You can't argue with math. This, of course, leads to a discussion of marginal costs vs. average costs. Like I said, in a few particular situations, the sac fly (along with bunting) can be helpful. The vast majority of the time, it is not.

  13. Steve M. - Oct 21, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    Sect 222, 100% agree with the "productive out" put in by the official scorer. I also wish they had the mental error or flyball in sun not counted against a pitcher almost like an unearned. The pitcher throws a great pitch and 2 fielders come together and the ball drops in front of them and is scored a hit. Another is the great slider that gets the batter swinging at strike 3 and is called a wild pitch.Some of my pet peeves that distort what really happened in the game.

  14. Roberto - Oct 21, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    JamesFan@2:42, I couldn't agree more with what you said. When you put the ball in play there's a chance that something good might happen — when you strike out by swing a pitch outside the strike zone nothing good comes of it. I've been a sabre-metrics devotee since the early Bill James abstracts in the early-to-mid-1980s, but the insouciance with which modern sabre types treat things like advancing the runner and putting the ball in play bugs me. All outs are not created equal.

  15. Another_Sam - Oct 21, 2011 at 8:04 PM

    The first couple of postings were what I was thinking as I read this article. In my admittedly subjective assessment, I feel that the miserable sac fly performance is just a funtion of general poor performance at the plate. Sabremetrics are a cool armchair thing, but didn't some study pretty much debunk situational hitting, esecially clutch hitting, entirely?

  16. bobn - Oct 21, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    Has anyone researched what impact that would have occurred on the averages of Ruth, DiMaggio and other pre-Sacfli hitters?

  17. NatsLady - Oct 21, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    I just read this interesting remark about strikeouts.Studies have shown that a player who strikes out a lot isn't hurting his team by any significant margin versus a player who strikes out far less, assuming their other statistics are the same. Although a strikeout can't advance a runner the way a "productive" groundout or flyout can, a batter who doesn't make contact also can't ground into a double play. The benefit of the occasional runner advancement is canceled out by the cost of the double plays, making the strikeout, on average, no worse than other kinds of batting outs. But try telling that to a manager who's just watched his hitter swing and miss twelve times in a game. The bias against high-strikeout hitters remains alive and well, facts be damned.Jonah Keri;Baseball Prospectus. Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong (p. 10). Kindle Edition.

  18. Gonat - Oct 21, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    NatsLady, some of that is true but you can't hit into a DP with 2 outs and you generally aren't hitting into a doubleplay when 1st base isn't occupied.The thought is a strikeout is a non-productive out. If the ball was put into play, the result can be a hit or advance a runner. Strikeouts are part of the game and strikeouts need to be in proper ratios.The one player that concerned me was Danny Espinosa. Highest K rate and worst swing & miss on the team. He has to improve even though he had a league average OBP.

  19. baseballswami - Oct 21, 2011 at 11:53 PM

    Gonat – and a rookie who broke a hr record,played fantastic defense, hustled every minute, and played in almost every game until late in the season. I think we can give the kid until next season to improve on that one thing. There are veterans with great reputations that swing and miss a lot – don't pick on the rookie.

  20. natsfan1a - Oct 21, 2011 at 11:59 PM

    If there were a like button then I would totally "like" this post.

  21. natsfan1a - Oct 22, 2011 at 12:04 AM

    Oh, wait. There's a "good" button. D'oh! I guess I'm with Young in that I don't care how my guys score the runs, just so they score 'em. Sac flies work for me. Seems like I've read some debunking of clutchiness, um, clutchness, uh, clutch hitting as well, Another_Sam, but I can't recall just where. Oh, and bonus points to Roberto for his use of insouciance.

  22. NatsLady - Oct 22, 2011 at 12:11 AM

    Right on about not GIDP with two outs, and with first base open (usually). I'd like to look at a really smart hitter–Jayson Werth comes to mind–and see if he has a plan for hitting that recognizes when it might be better to risk a strike out than a GIDP. In other words, how many times did he strike out with two out or first base open (I know he did sometimes, because we all sighed when he struck out to end an inning…).

  23. NatsLady - Oct 22, 2011 at 12:23 AM

    In listening to discussions that "debunk" clutch hitting, e.g., on Baseball Today, the arguments run something like, "If you say a major league player hits better in clutch situations then you are saying he is lazy the rest of the time" or "Players that buckle under pressure don't make it to the majors."Both arguments are COMPLETE BUNK!! Of course players are "lazy" in some situations. Would you expend your maximum effort in the ninth inning down 7-1? Maybe, but probably not, unless you are going for the triple crown. Players conserve energy for the crucial situations, that makes logical sense, and those who conserve energy the best, and who are the best at judging what they can do in crucial situations and against what pitches–those are the clutch hitters. Players know, just like managers, that a good team will lose a lot of games, and win a certain number of lopsided victories. So OF COURSE they are more alert, adrenalin kicking in, in the high leverage situations. And when adrenalin kicks in, eyesight is better, etc., etc.As for players who are not affected by "external" circumstances, I hope that's hooey too, or we fans might as well never cheer!

  24. Gonat - Oct 22, 2011 at 12:31 AM

    baseballswami said… Gonat – and a rookie who broke a hr record,played fantastic defense, hustled every minute, and played in almost every game until late in the season. I think we can give the kid until next season to improve on that one thing. There are veterans with great reputations that swing and miss a lot – don't pick on the rookie. October 21, 2011 7:53 PM _____________________________"He has to improve even though he had a league average OBP." , but thanks for his statistical accomplishments.

  25. Gonat - Oct 22, 2011 at 12:40 AM

    NatsLady said… Right on about not GIDP with two outs, and with first base open (usually). I'd like to look at a really smart hitter–Jayson Werth comes to mind–and see if he has a plan for hitting that recognizes when it might be better to risk a strike out than a GIDP. In other words, how many times did he strike out with two out or first base open (I know he did sometimes, because we all sighed when he struck out to end an inning…). October 21, 2011 8:11 PM _______________________________62 strikeouts w/ 2 outs and of those 62 he had 40 strikeouts w/ 2 outs and men on base.He had 46 strikeouts w/ RISP of which 26 were when there wasn't a runner on 1st.

  26. Wally - Oct 22, 2011 at 2:19 AM

    I understand the argument on clutch a little differently (I didn't watch the Baseball Today episode, so I am going by your description, NL), or more specifically, why somebody isn't clutch. You first need to get to thousands of ABs for a hitter (ok, maybe not thousands, but a statistically meaningful sample), and that leads you to be able to measure a hitters true ability (those 9-1 ABs would wash away in the sample size). Adrenaline or pressure can't make him perform better than his true skill set (ie more 'clutch' than he is normally). At best, he can perform up to his skill level, and if he is a good hitter generally, and performs according to his true talent level in pressure situations, he will feel like a clutch hitter too. Ryan Zimmerman comes to mind. People who deviate from this pattern (meaning hit better with RISP than they do on average, let's say, or maybe you want to use high leverage situations) are usually thought to have too small of a 'clutch' sample for it to be reliable. So 1 year of it wouldn't be considered statistically reliable, but flukey or lucky. (btw, I think that really they mean random, not lucky, which people might be willing to accept more easily, but whatever). Conversely, 'choking' is attributable to when pressure or stress prevents a player from performing to his true talent level. Again, there needs to be statistically meaningful samples for any of this to be considered legit. I read a great article somewhere within the last year from a guy with a medical/biology background that tried to describe how the brain/body works for baseball skills, and talked about the reaction time on a 95mph FB, etc being so fast, that essentially players were reacting on a subconscious level to it. Choking happens when the awareness of the situation causes the brain and body to react less subconsciously, and more consciously, which slows reaction time, which leads to bad results. Literally, the scientific version of 'you're overthinking it'. I have no idea whether it was right (or even if I can find it), but I'll try to find it if anyone is interested.So, according to the theories as I understand them, you can't really be clutch, but you can be a choker. It takes some of the magic out of the game, but both of these feel right, to me.I hope everyone appreciates the effective sleep aid that I have just given you! Good night, and sweet dreams.

  27. Scooter - Oct 22, 2011 at 2:40 AM

    Thanks, Wally. And if you do manage to dig up that article and want to share it, I would not say you nay.

  28. NatsLady - Oct 22, 2011 at 3:04 AM

    In Baseball Prospectus there is a long (very long) statistical analysis of whether clutch hitting "exists." In summary, the best clutch hitters are the best hitters. However, there is a small but meaningful difference between what hitters are expected to do based on their skill and what certain hitters actually do in high-leverage situations. "Producing wins at the plate is about 70 percent a matter of overall hitting ability, 28 percent dumb luck, and perhaps 2 percent clutch- or situational-hitting skill."Jonah Keri;Baseball Prospectus. Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong (p. 34). Kindle Edition.

  29. natsfan1a - Oct 22, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    I'm wondering whether the article may have been in Sports Illustrated. I recall reading something like that last year. Might have been this time of year, as I think I picked it up at an airport bookstore while en route to California to visit my brother. However, I'm thinking that the article I saw related to various sports, not just baseball, so maybe it's different.

  30. natsfan1a - Oct 22, 2011 at 11:06 AM

    I think this is the one I had in mind:

  31. natsfan1a - Oct 22, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    hmmm, that's the one, but it was *this* year's California trip. Wonder whether they've done any studies memory decline in, um, older sports fans? heh. But I digress. Anyhoo, interesting piece.

  32. Wally - Oct 22, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Natsfan1a – that was a good article. I don't think it was the one that I was thinking of (which I can't seem to find), but it essentially gets to the same stuff. I thought that I found it in this one, but it stopped just a point or two short of what I remembered. must be that I was thinking of someone summarizing the book by Sian Beilock Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To .Wait, what were we talking about?

  33. natsfan1a - Oct 22, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    Thanks, Wally, that is an interesting read as well, and a great site. Oops, gotta go. (Hey, you kids: get off my lawn!!)

  34. Wally - Oct 22, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    On a different topic, it looks like the P-Nats may be moving to Loudon County. I noticed Goessling posted something about it, but I had an indirect connection to it. My business has its office in Fairfax County, right on the border with Loudon County. We are in the process of moving offices, and I met with a realtor to go over space options. As part of that, she told me unprompted that their firm is involved in the Loudon stadium project, which will be located just west of the Dulles mall (north of the airport), and that the owners were now signing contracts on space and construction contracts. So while there has been no announcement, it looks like it is happening.Pretty cool, from my view.

  35. natsfan1a - Oct 22, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    Yes, I saw that piece as well. I'm wondering, though, whether the realtor may have been referencing the Hounds park?

  36. Wally - Oct 22, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    1a – yes, that has to be it. It is exactly where she was referring to, she probably just had some of the details wrong. I must be living in a bubble – who are the Hounds, and which organization do they belong to? I couldn't quite figure that out. (or are they still searching for a team?)

  37. natsfan1a - Oct 22, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    They'll be in the independent Atlantic League and not affiliated with an MLB team.

  38. Anonymous - Oct 22, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    I'm betting the Nationals would have won at least six more games with a sac fly. As a former coach, a player who brought the runner home from third was always "my man". How many games per week did the Nats have a man on third, less than two outs and get nothing. Runs are golden and like anyone I like a big inning as well as the next guy. But a hitter, against a tough pitcher who can ground it up the middle or loft a fairly deep fly ball can play for me all day.

  39. natsfan1a - Oct 22, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    This guy's sac fly was pretty meaningful. I'm not saying, I'm just saying… (Yeah, yeah, I know. Maybe Holliday was safe and maybe he wasn't… :-))





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