Change-UpOctober 07, 2008
The Squeeze
By Patrick Sullivan

Ok, let's just get the squeeze out of the way. It was an idiotic, indefensible play and one that illuminates what I have long suspected; that there is an egocentrism to the way Mike Scioscia goes about his work. On the one hand, I cannot blame him. He has a career .551 win percentage and a World Series title in nine seasons managing a team that was an afterthought when he took the gig. Now the Los Angeles Angels are on the short, short list of marketable baseball franchises. Good for Mike.

But let's be clear about that suicide squeeze call. Erick Aybar, the previous evening's hero, was at the plate and Chone Figgins, one of the Angels best players in the ALDS was on deck. It was a tie game in the ninth, and the Red Sox had their cleanup hitter, Kevin Youkilis set to lead off the bottom half of the frame. With a man on third and one out in 2008, according to BP's Run Expectancy Matrix, teams can expect to score .96937 runs, or pretty much one run per inning. In other words, had Scioscia played it straight, it would have been extraordinary for the Angels not to have scored in that scenario. Maybe you can tweak that .96937 number down some because of the players involved but it remains that the likelier scenario for plating a run would have been to steer clear of the squeeze.

So what role did Mike Scioscia's ego play? Well I am searching all over the web and I cannot seem to find one article blaming the guy for the call. Here is what Mike had to say after the game (excerpted from an article in the NY Daily News titled, get this, Don't blame Mike Scioscia for calling bunt that squeezes Angels out of playoffs)

"It was a great count for it," was the way Scioscia put it. "And Erick's a terrific bunter. Delcarmen throws hard, but it was a buntable ball. Erick just didn't get it done. That happens."

"Erick just didn't get it done." What a guy.

Scioscia knows he is teflon. The media loves "the way the Angels play" ("the right way", etc), to the point where they now actually ignore the way the Angels play (mediocre fielding, second in the AL in caught stealing, generally poor fundamentals as was on display in the ALDS). So he made the "gutsy", "aggressive" call because hey, that's how Scioscia plays and he knew there was no personal downside. And if they had converted and K-Rod came in to slam the door? Forget about it. They would be mapping the parade route through Disney as we speak.


"With a man on third and one out in 2008, according to BP's Run Expectancy Matrix, teams can expect to score .96937 runs, or pretty much one run per inning. In other words, had Scioscia played it straight, it would have been extraordinary for the Angels not to have scored in that scenario."

I certainly agree that they should've played it straight, but there's a big difference between being expected to score .969 runs, and being expected to score a run 96.9% of the time.

The .96937 number is misleading. You need a percentage of innings in that situation that result in runs, not an average of the number of runs that score in the inning. To really have an argument you need to find the percentage of innings in that situation when NO runs cross the plate. I think you'll find that it's much higher than most would expect.

Scioscia was playing for one run, which would seem like a good play in the 9th inning of a tie game. If a squeeze is more successful at getting in that one run than playing it straight, and it seems to me that it is, it's a good call. They just found the 10-15% or whatever where 0 runs score on the play. It's a risk you take.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let me start by saying that I am a Tiger fan first, and a BoSox fan second, so when the announcers were bringing up the fact that he might do it, I was thrilled. In Detroit, we have been putting up with this run prevention offense for three years, and it is absolutely asinine the way these managers who follow the LaRussa school of "why score 3 when we can get just 1" offense. Like you said, you have the hero from the night before at the plate, and the best hitter on your team on deck. Mike Scoscia is a fraud, but LA loves him, and you know what, I hope he stays there for many years to come. I just wish Leyland would go somewhere else with that philosophy.

The statistics in this article are misleading and/or wrong. The mean number of runs scored (essentially, the expected value) in the Angels situation last night is .96937. That mean includes many times in which 2+ runs are scored.

The number that you want to look at is the percentage of times at least one run is scored. While I don't know where one can find those numbers, it is definitely lower than 97%.

In the top of the ninth, what's wrong with tacking on additional runs? Nowhere did I state that the team would score 97% of the time.

Other parts of the context here include the utter predictability of what Scioscia did. Manny Delcarmen remarked after the game that the Sox almost *knew* the Angels would try a squeeze. Playing aggressive strategies declines in efficiency when everyone knows they're coming

Also, if Aybar's not enough of a hitter to get the very fast Willits home otherwise, what about one of the 3 or 4 available pinch hitters?

I agree with Sully.

"In other words, had Scioscia played it straight, it would have been extraordinary for the Angels not to have scored in that scenario." --

The place you'd want to look for that is a run frequency matrix. The first one I turn up,, says: from 3rd and one out, there's a 34% chance of scoring no runs.

I was against the squeeze before it was called, but this piece leads me to reconsider. I think the move was defensible.

Here's Tango's WE chart for the last few innings. Get the bunt down, you're WE goes from .679 to .814. Don't get it down and it goes from .679 to .397. So it was a gain of .135 against a loss of .282. The breakeven point was 67.6% -- so if Scioscia thought Aybar had a better than two-thirds chance of laying down the bunt, the move makes sense.

I suspect Aybar's chances were, in fact, better than that. I wouldn't have made that call, but it is defensible.

Sully, I'm no fan of small ball but given the batter involved and the situation - tied in the ninth - for once I can completely see playing for one run. I don't have much use for Aybar and the chances that he could get a second late-game heroic hit in as many games seemed really low. Also, does anyone know how many times he bunted this season? I don't have that number but, given who he plays for, you gotta believe he's squared around a bunch this year?

I didn't question the bunt as much as the *suicide* aspect of the play. What is wrong with the ol' "safety squeeze?" The runner on third gets a big jump and decides at the time of contact whether to head for home or not. In this case, Willits is not only fast but a heady baserunner who would have never been picked off had the Angels employed the safety rather than the suicide squeeze.

You beat me to it Rich. Talking to my son last night I asked the same question. Seemed to me that the suicide squeeze was unnecessarily risky; if it fails, you lose the runner on third and with 2 outs have to depend on Aybar to keep the inning going. If the safety squeeze is on, a failure still keeps your runner on third.

So many reason why you don’t squeeze right there then there is for squeezing.

Left handed hitter allows for the catcher to see the play developing.
No obstruction at all by the hitter is available.
Pitching out puts the catcher in the line for the tag.
Infield is playing in to cut off the run (hitters avg goes up dramatically in this situation).
There was no element of surprise with a squeeze (always helps) BoSox ready for it
New pitcher had not thrown 1 strike
Appeared that the BoSox were fine with walking Aybar
2-0 pitch and you think he is getting a fastball strike...then swing away
Your not the home team and it isn’t for the win just the lead
Failure leads to momentum change
Still have 2 shots to get him home from 3rd 9 different ways
Pressure is on the pitcher more then the hitter to produce

Like I said so many reasons to let the players dictate the outcome and not try to be a button pushing micromanaging manager

They don't call it the "suicide" squeeze for nothing. You can kill your whole season with it. Despite the fact that Tim Donaghy - I mean Welke - was not even watching the play.

Why did Varitek hold onto the ball instead of throwing it to third? I think he made the play unnecessarily close.

Doesn't anyone think that Mike Scioscia was right that the tag was not complete and the runner was safe. The ball came loose before the catcher demonstrated control after the lunge and subsequent fall the ground.

I would have called the runner safe as soon as I saw the ball pop loose.

Does anyone agree?

All those doing the criticizing weren't watching the game. The RISP for the Angels was pitiful for the entire series, and the notion that a run scoring from 3B was just a basehit away fails to note that the Angels weren't getting that timely basehit from anyone not named Torii Hunter.

To "Mike at the beach" above, the answer to your question is 9--Aybar had the most bunts of any Angel hitter. He had shown the ability to drop the bunt when called upon to do so.

Unfortunately, he didn't get it down this time. Otherwise, all he had to do was drop the bunt down ANYWHERE and the run scores. Assuming Frankie Rodriguez is as good as he thinks he is, the Angels hand Frankie a 1-run lead and he closes out the victory, with the teams heading back to Anaheim for Game 5.

This is not the blunder that some make it out to be. It was a bold roll of the dice, made necessary by the continued inability of the Angel hitters to plate runners in scoring position.