The Urena Express: 5/19/21

By Steven Urena

Albert Pujols
Good move? Bad move? I can’t say yet. However, it was at a bargain. At under 500K, “The Machine” himself is in Dodger blue.

At the moment, I would say his role is that of a pinch hitter. Sure, he can play first base and slide Max Muncy over to second base, but I do not see Pujols getting significant playing time, especially when Cody Bellinger comes back.

Right now, Pujols wants to prove to the Angels and the rest of the MLB that he still has some gas left in the tank. There is nothing like proving the haters wrong. There is also the motivation to play for a World Series contender and have one last hurrah.

Pujols will be a veteran presence in the clubhouse and provide mentorship to the young players (maybe even a veteran or two). I love seeing Pujols kicking down knowledge to the guys. If this is the end of the road, what a Hollywood ending.

Shohei Ohtani
The more I watch him play, the more I am impressed. The man can absolutely play baseball. I hope he stays healthy. MLB needs to invest more in him and make him one of the faces of the MLB.

5 No-Hitters in 2021
Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter on May 18 was the 5th one this season. The last time the MLB saw five no-hitters at this point in the year was 1917. Madison Bumgarner came close with his 7-inning no-hit game. Aside from Bumgarner, ten other pitchers have taken a no-no into the 7th inning. Some think the new baseball being used in the MLB has a lot to do with the historic slump the MLB is going through. The aggregate .234 MLB batting average is looking to be the lowest ever. The lighter baseball can be thrown faster and spun at higher rates. It is still a small sample size, but time will tell if the different ball this season will have a long term impact on hitting.

To bunt or not to bunt? That is the question. 

To help answer this question, the Run Expectancy Matrix was created. The Run Expectancy Matrix is a chart that gives teams the number of expected runs scored in certain situations. The number of outs and the placement of the runners are the two factors that are measured.

Example: with a runner on second and no out outs, MLB teams, on average, score 1.068 runs. This is not to be confused with a 106.8% chance of scoring a run. This simply states that usually, when teams are in this situation, they score 1.068 runs by the end of the inning.

Below is the Run Expectancy Matrix with every scenario and how many runs, on average, are scored in those situations.

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Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Is bunting advantageous to scoring runs?

Scenario #1: Mookie Betts is leading off for the Dodgers. He walks. Corey Seager is up to bat. Runner on first, no one out. In this situation, MLB teams have a run expectancy of 0.831. Seager successfully bunts Betts to second and gets thrown out at first. Betts is on second with one out, and now Justin Turner is batting. The Dodgers went from a run expectancy of 0.831 to 0.644. According to the MLB average, the Dodgers just decreased their chances of scoring a run. With a runner on first and no one out, MLB teams score an average of 41.6% of the time. With a runner on second and one out, MLB teams score an average of 39.7% of the time.

Why, with a runner in scoring position, does an MLB team have a lower run probability? Below are my opinions.

Take #1: If Seager does not sacrifice, he has a .361 chance of getting on base. If Seager reaches first, now, with runners on first and second, the Dodgers have a run expectancy of 1.373.

Take #2: Teams give up an out on a sacrifice. Less outs, less opportunities to score. One undeniable truth about the Run Expectancy Matrix is the more runners on base, with less outs, the more likely you are to score.

Take #3: After a sacrifice, the next two hitters still have to get a base hit. Even with a base hit, a run is not guaranteed.

Take #4: Pitchers will be much tougher to hit with a runner on second, as opposed to a runner on first. They know a hit will bring a run across, so they will be much more mindful of their pitch selection and location.

Scenario #2: Taylor Ward is leading off for the Angels. He doubles. Shohei Ohtani is up, with a runner on second and no one out. The MLB run expectancy, at this point, is 1.068. If Ohtani successfully bunted Ward to third and got thrown out at first, now the Angels have a runner on third with one out. The run expectancy shifts to 0.865. This situation is a bit tricky. With a runner on second and no outs, the chances of an MLB team scoring are 61.4%. With a runner on third and one out, the chances of an MLB team scoring are 66%. Let’s discuss below.

Take #1: Your chances of scoring are greater if you bunt the runner over from second to third. Most teams would never think to bunt because the runner is already in scoring position. Here is part of the problem, most baseball people are stuck in what was taught to them and would NEVER stray away from conventional thinking. To most old-schoolers, this strategy is out of the question.

Take #2: Why on Earth would you ever ask Ohtani or Seager to bunt? If you have a below-average hitter batting, a bunt only makes sense if the next hitter has enough muscle to consistently hit the ball out of the infield.

Anyone that does not take this information into account is a dinosaur. We all know what happened to the dinosaurs. They died. I would never dismiss anyone with experience, but the information is here for us in black and white. It offers tangible evidence as opposed to going on a whim or gut feeling.

The numbers play out over a 162 game season. Does this mean bunting never works? Absolutely not. You could see how putting the pressure on a defense is beneficial in an extra-inning game or playoff game.

There is a right and wrong time to make calls. If a manager makes a call and it works, he’s a hero. If play backfires, he’s a goat. Bunting and Small Ball are declining in the MLB, but they are not dead. What is dead may never die!

Teams will continue to utilize the strategies, but data says to take your walks and rely on the long ball. It would be interesting to see a team fully committed to Small Ball, but I don’t think it would ever happen. Too many egos, and over a long season, they would be exposed. The element of surprise would not be in their favor, and pitchers would pitch them accordingly.

Steven Urena

The Urena Express appears every Wednesday at JoeTorosian.com
Contact Steve Urena at:
Email: theurenaexpress@gmail.com
Twitter/IG: @theurenaexpress

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