Last night, the Phillies threatened to tie the game in the ninth inning. Jimmy Rollins drove in Ben Revere with two outs, setting up a runner on first base for Chase Utley. Utley ran a 1-1 count against righty reliever Randall Delgado when Rollins took off for second base. Rollins successfully stole second base, setting up a runner in scoring position with two outs.
With the count now 2-1, Delgado was visited at the mound and the decision was made to walk Utley to get to right-hander John Mayberry Jr., who was brought in earlier in the game to pinch run for Ryan Howard but did not go first to third with one out on a well hit, but well played, ball by Marlon Byrd to Tony Campana in left just an inning earlier.
With runners on first and second with two outs, Mayberry struck out looking end the game. In what sounds like a counter intuitive question, did Jimmy Rollins stealing second cost the Phillies a better chance to win the game?
Let’s start with Mayberry: Mayberry is a .225/.292/.368 career hitter against righties. With only Freddy Galvis and Wil Nieves available on the bench, Mayberry essentially had to hit in crunch time. Mayberry was not the person you wanted to hit in that situation.
Let’s move to the probability of scoring: according to this expected runs chart, there is a 12.8% chance that a team will score with a runner one first and two outs versus a 23.1% chance a team will score with runners on first and second with two outs. Obviously, there is a better chance with a runner on second base than there is if there is a runner on second base.
Finally, let’s check in with Utley. Utley is a .297/.374/.511 career hitter against righties. Entering last night, Utley was 0-5 against Delgado.
A few things are at work here: by their splits, Utley gives you approximately a 7.2% increase at getting a base hit off of Delgado. Assuming there is a straight correlation between a base hit and scoring, which isn’t necessarily the case because there’s no guarantee Rollins would have scored from first.
But assuming Rollins would have scored from first, again, not guaranteed, Utley would have given the team around a 20% chance to score from first base with two outs, still slightly less than the 23.1% chance Mayberry, on average, should give you.
There is a difference, however, in what an extra base hit would do. And there is no doubt, Utley would have given the team a better chance in that regard. Utley has a 143 point advantage on Mayberry in slugging percentage and a double likely would have scored Rollins.
Did Rollins run the Phillies out of the game last night? The short answer is no. The long answer is that Utley had about a 4 out of 10 chance of getting on base anyways, not driving in Rollins. Even though Mayberry is not a very competent hitter, the odds were still in favor of Mayberry driving in Rollins from second base.
The Phillies may have run themselves out of the game last night, but it wasn’t Rollins. Mayberry, in the game specifically as a pinch runner, not attempting to take third base on Byrd’s single, had the potential to increase the odds of scoring from 42.5% (first and second, one out) to 65.3% (first and third, one out).