PxP: Aus aktuellem Anlass

Aus aktuellem Anlass is a German phrase meaning “due to current events”. It is very widely used around here, replacing the description of an event everybody knows everything about anyway. So, when your company starts a workforce management round you might be called to an informational meeting aus aktuellem Anlass. They will not say An Informational Meeting In Which We Describe How We Will Fire Your Sorry Asses, no, aus aktuellem Anlass sounds so much more elegant. And it’s not like anybody will think that current events worth discussing revolve around beer and pretzels, anyway.

You also might get invited to coffee and cake aus aktuellem Anlass. Coffee and cake is a very strange, very German concept, one they like to organize at any time of the day, but preferably just before eating real food. But being invited to such a ritual at your workplace makes it very clear that the inviting colleague is yet another year older and does not really feel like speaking about his or her newly increased age.

So, to resemble what it would look like in the country that has given us both Porsche and Sauerkraut, I invite you to:

PxP: ZOMG! NO DOUBLES DEFENSE SUCKS!!1! Aus aktuellem Anlass

A careful observer must have noticed – were the A’s outfielders standing any deeper last night, they would have been asked to pay the admission. Oh, yes – the all powerful no-doubles defense. Only, the A’s seemed to be worried about the extra base hit most all of the time, not only in the situations where such positioning has traditionally been used.

Aren’t you lucky. This time, unlike all these other times where I lamented about hitting home runs here and there, I actually have a vague idea of what I’m talking about. There are two things I was always pretty good at, roaming the centerfields and yelling at people. So, outfield positioning comes naturally to me. But you don’t really care about my experience, you spoiled brats – you want graphs.

Here we go:

The locations on the field where the A’s outfielders fielded the ball last year while playing in Coliseum

To start off, here is a chart showing where A’s outfielders went to work last year. It includes everything, ground balls through the hole, liners in the gap, fly balls off the wall, cans of corn caught, everything. Each mark represents the point on the field where an A’s outfielder first came in contact with the ball, regardless whether he made an out or not.

Three hot spots are visible right away, and they are partially influenced by ground balls getting between the first baseman and the second baseman, the second baseman and the shortstop and shortstop and the third baseman, respectively. But in general, the density is much higher around the 250ft mark than around the 300ft one.

Say we only look at the air outs the A’s outfielders recorded.

Not really all that different, huh?

The first time I had the opportunity to work with a coach that MLB sent overseas to help improve European baseball, he told me I was positioning my corner outfielders too much towards the line. He said that I should put them on the imaginary prolongation of the lines that lead from first (or third) base over the second base. Playing like this he said, would cover for the most often results of an at bat, and allowing an occasional double down the line would be an acceptable trade-off.

And, indeed, if you look where most of the air balls go to die, he seems to have been right. Of course, we moved a bit depending on the scouting reports and just reading how the batter would react to our pitcher, but that seems to be the ground where one will be most busy, if not most effective.

But what if you had a very specific reason not to allow an extra base hit?

First, let’s look where extra base hits happen:

Two things jump out, and they would also logically be expected. Doubles occur on deep hits and on the ones down the line. Triples occur mostly on the balls that find their way in deep right field. So, without yet taking a stand on when it’s OK to play a no-doubles defense, it does seem quite obvious how you want to play it.

First, you want your corner infielders hugging the line to help reduce them beige rhombuses (I didn’t want to go all rhombi on you) along the foul lines. Of course that will only work for ground balls, so you have to spread your corner outfielders some, too. And finally, a hand wave behind your head will indicate to your fellow outfielders to take a few steps back.

As a rule of thumb, the outfielders in a no-doubles defense position themselves so that they are able to sprint back to the wall on a deep fly ball. However, spreading out also means that there are larger gaps between them, so increased depth also helps to offset for that, helping them converge in time.

Two caveats about the no-doubles defense.

First, there is no such thing as a no-doubles defense. There is a reduced-doubles defense, which is the one where fielders are positioned as mentioned above. Unless you play with six outfielders and a second baseman (I really hope Geren doesn’t read AN) you will not be able to prevent a double, just to reduce the possibility of it. And it also depends on the athleticism of your fielders. Or in other words, if the dirt under Juan Pierre’s cleats in the moment he fields the ball is that of a warning track and not that of the infield edge, it’s a double no matter how you slice it.

Second is that such increased insurance comes at a price. And as all insurances and casinos know, the house wins if you play long enough. By reducing the chance of a double, the fielding team increases the chance of a single. Just look at any of the above charts and you’ll quickly see that by placing your outfielders deep (it doesn’t even have to be ridiculously deep as we have witnessed), you are moving them further away from where most action takes place. They will catch fewer fly balls. They will take longer to field a ground ball, making it easier for a runner to advance first to third.

The payback on such positioning is positive only in very limited situations. Typically you will see it when the tying or the go-ahead run is on first in the ninth inning, especially with two down. What managers are saying in such situations, when they opt for the no-doubles defense, is: We’ll make it easier for them to get a hit, but they’ll need two.

It’s hard to say if that is sound reasoning or not, at least on an objective, measurable level. We don’t have easily accessible data on fielder positioning to go along with our hit charts. I’m pretty sure Farhan Zaidi has. I guess he knows.

I did a very quick and dirty script to test it. I placed a runner on first with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tied game. I first assigned probabilities as on average in 2010:

67.8% for an out
15.8% for a single
8.7% for a base on balls
4.7% for a double
2.5% for a home run
0.5% for a triple

I then ran 100,000 simulations and had that runner scoring 13.9% of the times.

Then I tweaked it a bit and simulated no doubles defense. Obviously from this point on, it’s anybody’s guess what the percentages should look like, but my (un)educated guess was that:

- Doubles: 60% of would-have-been doubles are now singles. 20% of would-have-been doubles are now outs
- Singles: 20% of would-have-been outs are now singles. 60% of would-have-been doubles are now singles.
- Outs: 20% of would-have-been outs are now singles. 20% of would-have-been doubles are now outs.

If the inning was not over after the first PA, I returned the defenses to the normal defensive alignment.

The result? The run scored 14.6% of the times.

Obviously, this little exercise lives and dies with the quality of assumptions of what happens to would-have-been doubles and outs. Perhaps doubles decrease by much more and outs increase significantly less, I don’t know. But, on a first glance, it does not seem to bring much even in situations for which it was intended.

And, needless to say – you have to adapt your tactics to situation and batter on hand. Hey, even I positioned outfield according to hit charts. In Croatia. In the nineties.

Finally, another chart I found interesting, although I would again not put all too much value in it. Here is the list of how many singles AL defenses allow for every extra base hit. It measures only the balls handled by outfielders and only in their home parks (half of the data is still very large sample size, and I wanted to include the park effects). You would think that Coliseum being somewhat spacious would lead to fewer singles compared to numerous extra base hits? Well, no. And don’t ask me if it’s a good thing or a bad thing:

OK, so higher the cylinder, more singles allowed per every extra base hit. The red one is for all the visiting defenses in Coliseum. And remember, that’s only on the balls handled by outfielders.

You can look at it in two ways: A’s are very good at limiting extra base hits in the outfield. Or, A’s limit extra base hits at the cost of increased number of singles. Your call. And just so you don’t think it’s because of all the ground balls rolling into outfield for singles, remember that A’s infield was pretty good in hunting those down. And while A’s pitchers were good in inducing ground balls, they didn’t lead the league:

I would have included NL teams, too, but cross-querying for events and teams does require some manual work, too. And I wanted to put this up quickly. You know, it is aus aktuellem Anlass.

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