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Suicide Squeeze: Thievery, Genius and Insanity

by Tim Muma                                                     4/29/2013
                                  7:00am



Calling a squeeze play - especially a suicide -
needs extremely careful consideration
There are few plays in baseball that create as much anticipatory excitement followed by exhilarating cheers or frustrating anger than the Suicide Squeeze.

For the most part, today's game shies away from the risk-reward tactic of asking a runner to break for the plate on the pitch while the hitter does everything possible to get a bunt on the ground.

The Suicide Squeeze has been around since before 1900 and is a great microcosm for the game of baseball itself:  Statistical analysis, gambling, second-guessing, execution, swindling and the value of a run.

With the development of more advanced statistics in baseball, the bunt itself has been highly scrutinized and de-valued as an effective strategy - save for pitcher's at the plate and extremely specific scenarios.

Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has a love affair with the conniving strategy, and it's mostly been successful in his time with the Crew. However, having a runner tagged out at home with less than 2 outs quickly enrages the fan base, leading to heads in hands and expletive-filled rants -
regardless of the team's overall success rate.

Roenicke uses the squeeze more frequently than
most managers - he just needs to pick his spots
With that in mind, it's vital to tactfully pick your spots when calling for the Suicide Squeeze, making sure the play can be justified if it turns out to be a Wile E. Coyote result and you're left with the bomb exploding in your face.

On Friday night in Los Angeles, the Brewers were poised to take game one of a three-game set against the Dodgers. The Crew had just taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the 7th inning and had Norichika Aoki on 3rd with only 1 out.


At the plate was Jean Segura, the hottest and most consistent hitter thus far on the club (entering the game with a .356 AVG and .891 OPS). Not to mention, one of the best hitters in the game, Ryan Braun, was waiting in the on-deck circle to take his cut, potentially with a runner or two aboard.

Suddenly, Aoki is breaking for home and Segura - who has just 1 sacrifice bunt in short Big League career - whiffs on the bunt attempt on a pitch well out of the strike zone, leaving Aoki hanging out to dry for the 2nd out of the frame. Segura would end up striking out, but had they not attempted the squeeze, he would have had a 3-1 count to try and drive in Aoki (or walk to bring up Braun).

Lucroy became very adept at the squeeze in 2011-12,
including a key delivery in the NLDS
 
I'm not blaming the 7-5 loss on the botched squeeze play, but it was a huge part of it. The biggest take-away from that decision was the poor logic behind it.

I actually like the Suicide Squeeze in general as I cherish the value of a run over the out; however, it needs to be utilized in the proper situation with the appropriate personnel.



When to Squeeze:
  • Down 1 run or tied late in the game
  • Bottom of the order, especially in NL with the pitcher/pinch hitter looming
    • Exception:  Batter is currently hitting well or has a favorable matchup
  • Only with players who have proven the ability to bunt consistently (e.g. Norichika Aoki)

When NOT to Squeeze:
  • Trailing by multiple runs
  • With best hitters at the plate (e.g. Braun, Aramis Ramirez) or when a guy is hitting well (e.g. Segura on Friday)
  • With best hitters on deck
  • Against a pitcher displaying major control issues - need to feel confident you will get a strike (or close to it)

Areas of Debate on the Squeeze:
  • Prior to the 7th inning:  Stat guys say don't do it because you're limiting your chances at multiple runs. I could argue for tacking on a run versus quality pitchers or if your team has a top-of-the-rotation guy on the hill where one run means a lot more.
  • Winning late in the Game:  General thinking is that when your team is ahead by a run or two, that's the time to be aggressive and try to open things up. Again, I see the value in upping your odds at one run and increasing a 2-run lead to 3 instead of possibly only holding the 2-run edge.


Contrary to some people's thinking, the squeeze play (which includes a safety squeeze where the runner doesn't take off for home until the ball is heading toward the ground) has been a very successful tool, even at the Major League level.

Typically speaking, it makes no sense to call for a squeeze with the bases loaded (force out at home) or with 0 outs. Thus, to gauge some general numbers on the squeeze, we don't factor those in to the success rate.

From 2000-2011, there were 356 bunts with a runner on 3rd or runners on 2nd and 3rd with only 1 out.
  • 84 times the runner on 3rd scored with no outs recorded
  • 193 times the runner on 3rd scored and 1 out was recorded
  • 25 times a double play was recorded (once a runner also scored)
  • 49 times no run scored and 1 out was recorded
  • 5 times no run scored and no out was recorded
  • 53 times a runner was "caught stealing" on a missed bunt
  • 5 times a runner was safe at home on a missed bunt (wild pitch/passed ball)


It all comes down to playing the odds and putting
each player in the best position to succeed
 
Thus, if we consider a "success" being where at least 1 run scored and 1 out or no outs were recorded, the success rate for the squeeze play during this time period was about 68%.


In 2012, the MLB league average for scoring a run with a man on 3rd and less than 2 outs = 51%. The league leader in that category, the San Francisco Giants, were at 57%.

So as you can see, the squeeze play is a terrific option if used correctly, as the numbers over the previous 12 years were 17% higher than the league average from last season.

It's not a science by any means, but it's an exciting play that can determine how "Old School" or "New School" you are as a fan. Either way, the Suicide Squeeze needs delicate deliberation before the skipper gives the sign.

As with many decisions in baseball:  if it works, you're a genius...if it doesn't, you're an idiot.


2 comments:

  1. Just like the contact play, Roenicke should re-evalute his strategy on this instead of just using it all willy nilly. Or at least it seems that way. Like last night in the 8th inning. Gomez was on 3rd with 1 out and Yuni B. grounds one to 3rd and Gomez goes on contact. Sitting duck. And he is one of the fastest guys in the league. Runners need to stay on a grounder to 3rd in that situation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Completely agree, Matt. Admittedly, I'm conservative as a player and coach because I hate wasting a hit or walk (or HBP) because of a baserunning mistake.

    The contact play is fine in certain situations, but as you said, it shouldn't be used "willy nilly." I had some thoughts on the contact play here (www.brewersmix.com/2013/04/talking-strategy-contact-play.html) if anyone is interested on seeing some details.

    Thanks for the comment, Matt!

    ReplyDelete


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