When Jeffrey Hammonds drew a walk on April 12 to load the bases in the first inning against Randy Johnson, it turned out to be the beginning of one of the more impressive offensive showings the Brewers have had in years. Not many teams can say they scored 10 runs in less than five innings off of the Big Unit. To put it in perspective, over the last four years, the Brewers have scored a grand total of 8 runs in 36 2/3 innings against Johnson.
However, Hammonds' walk was significant for another reason as well. It marked the Brewers' fourteenth plate appearance of the season with a runner on third base with less than two outs. More importantly, it was the fourteenth consecutive time that a Brewers hitter had not struck out in that situation. In fact, of the 14 plate appearances during that span, only one could be considered "non-productive", or in other words, resulted in an out that did not score a run. That would be Eric Young's popout to left that was not deep enough to score Alex Sanchez three batters before Hammonds' aforementioned walk. The Brewers combined line in those 14 plate appearances looks like this:
5 for 7, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 2 SF and one memorable suicide squeeze by Glendon Rusch.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, as the Brewers' last 17 plate appearances in that same situation have resulted in 8 strikeouts and a double play. Richie Sexson is the main culprit, registering 5 of the 8 strikeouts. And while Royce Clayton was the guilty party that grounded into the double play, it is hard to fault him, since his other three opportunities in this situation have yielded two three-run homers and a run-scoring single.
So which team is the "real" 2003 Brewers? Well, any person that has taken Statistics 101 will tell you right away that there is not a large enough sample size 13 games into the season to form any logical conclusions. However, I think it would be interesting to monitor for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a statistical source that tracks performance with specifically with a runner on third base and less than two outs.
This leads to another topic, which is a hot debate item between fans. Is a strikeout just another out? While I am not about to try to justify an answer either way regarding this topic, I will give my thoughts about how it relates to this situation. Obviously, a strikeout in this situation does you no good, unless the third strike is a wild pitch that gets by the catcher. Coaches and fans often stress the importance of making contact in this situation. But is it any better to pop out to an infielder, or hit a sharp grounder to third that results in the runner getting thrown out at the plate? Or worse yet, grounding into a double play? I would argue that the last two of these situations are actually worse than striking out. On the play that the runner gets thrown out at the plate, you replace a runner at third with a runner at first, while adding an out. If someone can explain to me how that is better than striking out and leaving a runner on third base, please let me know.
So how can we measure a hitters' productivity in this situation? To try to answer this, I have devised a rating system to try to quantify a hitters' productivity in Runner On Third, Less Than Two Outs (ROTLTTO) situations. For each plate appearance in a ROTLTTO situation, a hitter is given a point value ranging between -1 and 2. The criteria for assigning points is as follows:
2 Points: Hitter reaches base, runner on third scores, and no out is recorded.
Examples: The most obvious example is a base hit. Other examples would include a bases loaded walk or HBP. A final example is one that will definitely generate debate. That would be a situation similar to Wes Helms' at bat in the first inning on April 14. He hit a grounder to Miguel Cairo, who bobbled it for an error. All runners were safe, and a run scored. Though Helms probably should have been out, by putting the ball in play, he created the possibility for an error. In terms of the end result, it is just as good as a base hit. This should make the members of the "Strikeouts are Evil" camp happy.
1 Point: Runner on third scores but an out is recorded or hitter reaches base, runner on third does not score, and no out is recorded.
Examples: The most obvious examples of a run scoring with an out being recorded are sacrifice flies and squeeze bunts. However, a fielder's choice or groundout could also result in a run scoring. As far as a hitter reaching base without a run scoring and without an out being recorded, common examples would include walks and HBP's. I suppose it would also be possible for someone to get an infield hit or reach on an error without the runner scoring from third.
0 Points: Hitter does not reach base, runner on third does not score, an out is recorded or hitter does not reach base, runner on third scores, and two outs are recorded.
Examples: Strikeouts would fall into this category, as well as popouts and a fielder's choice where the run doesn't score. One other situation would be bases loaded with no outs, where the hitter hits into a double play that results in a run scoring. This is right in line with the way MLB scores a situation like this (i.e. no RBI credited to the hitter, no points given)
-1 Point: Hitter does not reach base, runner on third does not score, two outs are recorded.
Examples: Grounding into a double play to end an inning. Hitting a fly ball that results in the player on third getting thrown out at home.
To simplify, the process of assigning ROTLTTO points can be summarized as follows:
When the runner on third scores: (ROTLTTO Points) = 2 - (# of outs recorded)
When the runner on third does not score: (ROTLTTO Points) = 1 - (# of outs recorded)
By assigning each plate appearance in a ROTLTTO situation a point value as described above, it allows you to develop a ROTLTTO Ratio to evaluate the performance of a player in a runner on third, less than two out situation. The ROTLTTO ratio is simply the number of ROTLTTO Points divided by the number of plate appearances. So far this year (through April 16) the Brewers have had 31 plate appearances in ROTLTTO situations. The chart below uses the above point system and the ROTLTTO Ratio to summarize the Brewers' performance so far this season:
Based on the definitions of the point values, you could argue that a ROTLTTO ratio of 1.00 is getting the job done, either by scoring the run from third, or by reaching base and allowing the next hitter to have a shot in the same situation. By that measure, the Brewers seem to be doing pretty well this year. Again, I caution everyone that the sample size so far is extremely small. However, I plan to track this stat all season long, and will probably follow up with an article at the end of the year, when more data will be available. If there is interest, maybe I can even see if Brian can find a spot to add this data to the Brewerfan.net website somewhere.
Even with the small sample size, it is clear that Richie has to get it going in these situations. As you can see, he has the most opportunities so far, and given his spot in the lineup, it would be reasonable to assume that he will be among the team leaders in ROTLTTO situations. Hopefully he can shorten his stroke a little and cut down on the strikeouts when he comes up with a runner on third and less than two outs.