Friday, August 24, 2018

Omar Vizquel, the Sultan of Sacrifice, and worthy of the MLB Hall of Fame.

      Babe Ruth is known as the Sultan of Swat. Omar Vizquel should be known as the Sultan of Sacrifice. Omar Vizquel is the Modern Era Leader in Combo Sacrifice Flies and Sacrifice Hits with 350. As far as my research has shown, no other Modern Era player has even reached 300 Combo Sacrifice Flies and Hits. Ozzie Smith is second among modern era players with 277 combo sacrifice flies and sacrifice hits.

     Sabermetricians claim that a sacrifice produces less runs than if a hitter were to simply hit away. Sabermatricians claim that a runner at first base with no outs will produce more runs than a runner at second base with one out. The problem with making such statements is they are most likely devoid of so many of the nuances that are constantly attenuating within the game of baseball.

       Sacrifices are validated through the act of making an out to move a runner over. Yet so many other scenarios can emerge where an out did not occur but the intent to move the runner over was still achieved, therefore numbers just can't be crunched based on pure sacrifices versus hits.

     For instance, if there is a runner at first base who has below average speed, and the batter has a lot of speed but is not known for much power, it might make sense in certain game situations to try a sacrifice because even though an out is given up, either the slower runner is advanced to second base and could possibly score on a single, or, the lead runner is out and the faster runner now replaces the slower runner at first. 

     Is this sacrifice worth an out? Every situation is different and statistics can't always know the answer. If the batter is trying to get on base while also being committed to advancing the runner, that is a metric difficult to evaluate  based on how baseball statistics are recorded and measured. 

     What can be said is that moving a runner over one base, or replacing the slower runner at first base with a faster one, is a better result than hitting a grounder to the shortstop that results in a double play, or popping the ball up, flying out, or striking out, unless the strike out required the pitcher throwing 8 pitches or more, in which case we can assess some value for raising the pitcher's count significantly. The conclusion is there are productive outs and the attempts to quantify a productive out at present time appears to be oversimplified.

    I would also suggest that even when a batter gives themselves up in a sacrifice situation, they still run hard to first base hoping to beat the throw, and this actuality could mess up the comparisons between sacrificing and hitting away. A ballplayer who is trying to get a hit when they sacrifice are not necessarily given credit for a sacrifice if they in fact do get an actual hit as a result of trying to move the runner over. Are ballplayers credited for both a sacrifice and a hit if their sacrifice turns into a hit instead? They should get both, but do they, I don't think they do. Instead, it the sacrifice is called a hit and can then be leveraged as proof that more runs score on hits than on sacrifices.
       Not only do sacrifice bunts generate hits, there are scenarios when a batter hits the ball to the right side to get a runner over and instead gets a hit. The batter is not credited for a sacrifice because they got a hit instead, yet the primary intent of the hitter was to move the runner over. So instead the batter gets a hit and therefore it was not a sacrifice, a big inning ensues, and it's not counted as being caused by a sacrifice even though that was the original intent of the batter. What if the batter had tried to muscle the ball and pulled it to the shortstop and it turns into a double play?  

       The point being that a straight comparison of a runner on first base and no outs with a runner on second base and one outs is an oversimplification that denies complex baseball strategy. Lets add another scenario to the mix and then compare all three. What happens if we compare a runner on second base, one out, with no one on, no outs? If no one on, no outs, produces more runs in an inning than a runner on second base and one out, then I would agree that a sacrifice is not batter than an at bat. However, if a runner on second base and one out is better than no one on, no outs, aka the beginning of an inning, then a sacrifice is clearly better than the start of an inning, even if overall it is less effective than a runner on first base and no outs.

       Sacrifice Flies also have not necessarily been measured correctly by statisticians. If a ballplayer is able to sacrifice a runner over but the ball was hit hard and very deep the scorer may assess that the hitter was trying to get a hit, and therefore no sacrifice will be assessed. That seems inequitable. What if a ballplayer comes up with the bases loaded and no outs and hits a deep fly ball and all three runners advance, only one sacrifice is assessed, and that too is inequitable.

       When calculating the runs scored with a runner on first base and no outs, versus a runner on second and one out, is the speed of the baserunner taken into account? Is it possible that the actual players most likely to bunt, the faster runners with less power, may also be tipping the scales against themselves when the one out, runner on second, zero outs runner on first stats, are compared? Clearly a faster runner on first base with no outs may not be bunted over by a power hitter because a faster runner on first base can be driven in by a double, or can get to third base on most singles, whereas a power hitter on first base is less likely to achieve either.

         It is also important to note, as has been mentioned numerous times by numerous baseball announcers and former baseball players as announcers, the sacrifices that are made during the season can position a team to do better at sacrificing in the playoffs in closely, well pitched games where going for one run to get an early lead or late in a game is the right baseball move to make. Situational needs can defy baseball sabermetric logic. What if the opposing pitcher is pitching really well. Suddenly the likelihood of stringing three singles together may actually be statistically unrealistic versus a single, a sacrifice, and a single. Sometimes just getting that early lead, or scoring that one run late in a game is what decides the game. The overall issue of sacrifices producing less overall runs becomes a moot point because of the game situation.

     Ultimately, those who think sacrifice hits and sacrifice flies have an overall negative impact have to also claim that a random at bat is better than a sacrifice when there is a runner at first base, and that is the sweeping type of statistical generalization that does not belong in Baseball.

      Omar Vizquel, with his 11 gold gloves and a virtual one to one walks to strikeouts batting ratio, along with being the modern era leading 350 sacrifice flies and sacrifice hits, matches the overall achievements of at least two Hall of Fame Shortstops, Luis Aparicio, and Walter "Rabbit" Maranville.