It was an eventful week for San Diego with two squeeze attempts. Against the Giants in extra innings, they called on starting pitcher Andrew Cashner to pinch hit, and he dropped down a beauty to take the lead. A couple days later against the Giants, they tried to tack on run late but instead got some first hand evidence that Adrian Gonzalez is awesome defensively.
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Game: Cincinnati at Miami, September 15 (box, 6-4 Marlins win)
Situation: Bottom 4, one out, 2-0 count, runners at 1st/3rd, Miami up 3-2
Pitcher: Johnny Cueto
Batter: Mark Buehrle
Runner on 3rd: Donovan Solano
Leverage index: 1.8
Win probability added: -7.0%
Calling this a fail really isn’t fair to the Marlins. The bunt could have been a little less straight, and Solano could have been a little more aggressive, but what you see here is Cueto define being “a gazelle off the mound.”
Dandy Squeeze Score (what’s this?): -1 (-1, fail)
Game: Cincinnati at Philadelphia, August 21 (box, 5-4 Reds win)
Situation: Bottom 7, one out, 0-1 count, runners at 2nd/3rd, game tied 3-3
Pitcher: Sean Marshall
Batter: Juan Pierre
Runner on 3rd: Ty Wigginton
Leverage index: 2.85
Win probability added: -15.0%
The way this play unfolds, it looks like Wigginton is surprised that the squeeze is on. He has no lead off third, and then gets no secondary lead on the pitch. Pierre puts down a pretty good bunt, but by the time Marshall fields the ball, Wigginton is still 50 feet from the plate.
I don’t really understand this play call. Pierre’s main skill, along with bunting, is slapping singles around. With runners on 2nd/3rd, (and faster runner Jimmy Rollins on 2nd) a single scores two runs. Pierre is not much of a threat to drive in a run with a sacrifice fly (low fly ball rate, low power). With a slow runner like Wigginton on 3rd, a ground ball is unlikely to score a run, but that’s essentially what a safety squeeze is. With Pierre at the plate in this situation, take advantage of his bunting skill with the suicide squeeze or play it straight up.
Dandy Squeeze Score (what’s this?): -1 (-1, fail)
Game: Minnesota at Cincinnati, June 23 (box, 6-0 Reds win)
Situation: Bottom 4, one out, 3-2 count, runners at 1st/3rd, Cincinnati up 3-0
Pitcher: Anthony Swarzak
Batter: Johnny Cueto
Runner on 3rd: Scott Rolen
Leverage index: 0.9
Win probability added: +1.5%
The video doesn’t begin to do justice to this circus. Here’s the whole plate appearance:
- Pitch 1 (0-0): Bunted foul up first base line.
- Pitch 2 (0-1): The suicide squeeze is on, but Cueto takes the pitch for a ball. Twins’ catcher Ryan Doumit makes a poor throw to third, and Rolen dives back in safely. Rolen’s lack of speed probably helps him here. If he was any further down the line, he would have been hung out to dry.
- Pitch 3 (1-1): The pitch is in the dirt. Cueto pulls the bat back at the last second. It should have been ruled a strike.
- Pitch 4 (2-1): Bunted off the plate foul.
- Pitch 5 (2-2): The Reds keep the bunt on with two strikes. Swarzak finally catches on that he’s trying to bunt and throws a high fastball. Cueto shows bunt, but takes the pitch for a ball.
- Pitch 6 (3-2): As you see in the video, the bunt is pretty good, into the triangle between the pitcher, first baseman, and second baseman. For some reason, Rolen stops halfway down the line to home. He should have paid for this mistake, but Doumit is already directing the play to first, and Swarzak doesn’t even check the runner, even though he’s got all kinds of time with Cueto trotting toward first. Rolen scores without a throw.
A very similar play happened earlier this year in a game between the Blue Jays and Yankees.
Let me add that Jeff Brantley is a horrendous broadcaster. He mispronounces Trevor Plouffe’s name and doesn’t even know Doumit’s name, despite the fact that the latter used to play in the NL Central for the Pirates.
Dandy Squeeze Score (what’s this?): +0 (+1, success; +1, two strikes; -1, missed sign)
Leverage index: 4.7
Win probability added: +17.0%
The Tigers are playing with fire this year. Their defense is by far the worst in the AL. Of course this is partly by design: they have Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, two great hitters but awful defenders, and they want them both in the lineup every day. (For the moment, we’ll ignore the fact that one of them could DH; this interleague game at Cincinnati was DH-less.)
So when the Miguel Cairo led off the bottom of the tenth with a triple for the Reds, it probably took manager Dusty Baker only a minute to figure out how to manage this inning. He’d give Ryan Hanigan, a pretty good hitter, a shot to win it. The pitcher’s spot followed Hanigan, and with a pretty meager selection of bats on his bench, I bet Baker looked at those slow, stone-handed corner infielders of the Tigers and knew exactly what he’d call for.
Sure enough, Hanigan grounded out weakly, and Baker sent up the less than intimidating Wilson Valdez. With the winning run on third base, the Tigers were forced to play their infield in. No matter. Valdez dropped it down, and Cairo dove in under the tag safely, securing the victory for the Redlegs. I have to think that just about any other first baseman would have made this play, with the advantage of playing in. Prince himself almost caught Cairo. Detroit made a decision to sacrifice of defense for offense, and in this game it cost them.
As far as the Reds go, they chalk up another win on top of the NL Central and the second most important squeeze of the season so far.
Dandy Squeeze Score (what’s this?): +5 (+1, success; +1, seventh inning or later; +1, ninth inning or later; +1, tie game; +1, walk off)
Game: Cincinnati at New York Mets, May 16 (box, 6-3 Reds win)
Situation: Bottom 6, one out, 0-0 count, runners at 2nd/3rd, New York up 2-1
Pitcher: Mike Leake
Batter: Mike Nickeas
Runner on 3rd: Daniel Murphy
Leverage index: 1.4
Win probability added: +2%
The Mets have become squeeze happy this week. After executing successfully against the Brewers the day before, they tried their luck against the Reds. Here, they’ve got a lead and Johan Santana on the mound. An extra run might seal it for them. And with weak-hitting catcher Mike Nickeas (.186/.259/.245 career) at the plate, why not try the squeeze? The play extends the Mets’ lead to 3-1, but it goes for naught as the bullpen implodes, and they lose 6-3.
I don’t know if this is justified or not, but I don’t think of catchers as good bunters. When I imagine a good bunter, I think of a scrappy, speedy, middle infielder. Plodding catchers can’t bunt for a hit. On the other hand, there are many defense-first catchers out there. Those guys might need to have the bunt in their skill set. Nickeas does a great job here.
Continuing the theme for the week, the Mets tried a safety squeeze the next day, but the runner didn’t break for the plate. As long as the bottom half of the Mets’ lineup is exclusively sub-.200 hitters, their opposition should expect squeezes early and often.
Dandy Squeeze Score (what’s this?): +3 (+1, success; +1, suicide; +1, right-handed pitcher)
Leverage index: 1.7
Win probability added: +2.0%
With Mat Latos on the mound and the bottom of the order (6,7,8) coming up for the dreadful Houston offense, the Reds likely expected to cruise into their half of the inning. But after getting the leadoff man, Latos surrendered a couple of hits, and the ‘Stros found themselves with runners at the corners with one out and their pitcher, Jordan Lyles, due up. For his professional career, Lyles has three hits, so the clear play is to sacrifice the runner from first to second. With one out, it might also make sense to try the squeeze here, but Lyles only had two successful sacrifices through his major and minor league career, so he’s not exactly an accomplished bunter either.
Houston put the suicide squeeze on anyway. Lyles does an amazing job getting the bat on the ball at all. The pitch is going to drill him if he whiffs. Not only does he get the bat on the ball, it turns out to be a perfect sacrifice. Houston extends their lead for the moment, but Cincinnati roars back later for the victory.
Dandy Squeeze Score (what’s this?): 4 (+1, success; +1, suicide; +1, right-handed pitcher; +1, pitcher batting)