Judging by the aggression with which third base coach Ryne Sandberg instructs third baseman Michael Young to run the bases, one would think that Young possesses a modicum of agility. Not true, sadly. 2011 was the last season in which Young stole more than two bases and he’s overall been a below-average base runner every year dating back to 2007, according to FanGraphs. Over the last week, though, Sandberg has been sending Young home with reckless abandon on outfield hits, but Young has been safe exactly zero times out of three attempts.
Below are all three depressing attempts.
June 9 @ Milwaukee
The Situation: Top of the 1st, tied 0-0, runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out.
It’s the first inning. No need to be greedy early, especially when Domonic Brown would be coming to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. The win expectancy for the initial base-state and the possible ensuing base-states, via The Book (from the Phillies’ point of view):
- Initial: 54%
- Bases loaded, 1 out: 59.5%
- Result (runners on 1st and 3rd, 2 out): 50%
My assumption is Sandberg had read a couple of scouting reports on right fielder Norichika Aoki. He has never been lauded for having anything better than an average arm. Jaymes Langrehr from fellow Sweet Spot Brewers blog Disciples of Uecker called his arm “less than ideal” for a right fielder. When the Brewers won the rights to Aoki in December 2011, Mike Axisa of MLB Trade Rumors felt Aoki’s arm was so weak that he would be limited to left field.
However, Sandberg should have considered that Howard hit the ball well, which means it gets to Aoki quickly. Secondly, Aoki was charging in on the ball, therefore able to get momentum behind his throw.
June 13 @ Minnesota
The Situation: Top of the 6th, Phillies ahead 1-0, runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 out.
In a vacuum, I don’t hate Sandberg’s aggression here. The Phillies were squandering opportunities left and right, and this seemed like a golden opportunity to get a crucial insurance run. Here’s a look at the win expectancy:
- Initial: 64%
- Bases loaded, 2 out: 67%
- Inning over (bottom 6th, 0 out): 59%
Here’s what makes the decision to send Young poor: first, Young is slow as heck. Second, right fielder Ryan Doumit is a catcher by trade, so his arm is pretty good. Third, as above, Howard makes solid contact which means the ball gets to Doumit quickly. Fourth, Doumit is able to charge the ball, getting his momentum behind the throw.
June 15 @ Colorado
The Situation: Top of the 1st, Phillies ahead 1-0, runner on 1st, 1 out.
This is just awful. Gonzalez, by all accounts, has a terrific arm and Sandberg had already been burned sending Young twice. Holding Young at third would’ve allowed Domonic Brown to come to the plate with a runner on third base and less than two outs, meaning Young scores on most fly balls to the outfield. The win expectancy
- Initial: 59%
- Runners on 2nd and 3rd, 1 out: 67%
- Runner on 2nd, 2 out: 57%
Unlike the previous two plays, Young has to travel 270 feet to score rather than 180. Unless Young’s cardio is incredible, he (like most runners) will get tired towards the end of his run. If it’s Ben Revere running, the aggression isn’t entirely unwarranted, but Young is no Revere. This is really just a situation where a simple risk/reward calculation and knowledge of Gonzalez’s scouting reports makes this a no-brainer hold for Sandberg.
I asked Eric Longenhagen to provide a systematic scouting perspective. Here’s what he had to say:
Michael Young is an average runner. At least that’s what the times I’ve always had on him from home to first would tell you. He routinely times right around 4.3 seconds flat, an even 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale for right handed hitters (though in the research I’ve done, average for righties is actually 4.35 seconds, but I digress). One thing I’ve noticed in timing every and all things baseball is that some hitters have a natural jail break in their swings, follow throughs that start their momentum toward first base while other hitters are pulled away from it. These hitters (like Rickie Weeks and yes, Michael Young) tend to put up times that indicate they are better runners than they actually are. This is where the scout’s eye has to come into play. Here are the times from the three outs Young made at home plate recently (In the order you sent them to me, Bill)
Young traveled three bases in that first time in just about half a second faster than Ryan Howard traveled three bases on the triple he hit on June 6th (I timed it at 12.18 seconds). That’s about .17 seconds faster per base. That’s a grade and a half faster than Howard, who is easily just a 20 runner. Based on that we can estimate Young is actually about a 35 runner underway, well below average. Assuming, of course, that Young ran hard the entire way. Which we should. Because he’s Michael Young, and Michael Young ALWAYS runs hard.