The Marlins defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers last night in thrilling fashion, walking off in the bottom of the ninth inning after coming into the ninth trailing by one run. Oddly enough, the hero of the evening was Omar Infante, whom was the object of great ridicule earlier in the evening via Twitter. How can he be a “zero” in one instance and immediately turn into a hero the next? A look at Win Probability Added (WPA) certainly should say something about the matter.
That ugly eighth
Infante was twice the cause for ugly plays in the eighth inning. The Marlins had manufactured an early first and second situation with no one out thanks to a walk by Scott Cousins and a single by Chris Coghlan. With Infante stepping up to the plate, announcers Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton both mentioned the possibility of a sacrifice bunt. In that particular case, however, I think the Marlins would have been better off swinging; a successful sacrifice bunt in this case is a sideways move at best, and with the team down by two runs, we might need those extra opportunities over the extra bases garnered. Nevertheless, it seemed like the Fish were planning on holding off on the bunt, at least until Infante pulled out the bunt anyway on a 1-1 count with the runners seemingly unaware of the play. Cousins was thrown out at third base and the Marlins threw away 11.2 percent of their chances of winning.
I don’t know who is at fault, if anyone, for that play. From the video, it did not seem like Cousins was prepared for the bunt. Assuming there was a signal, that would have been Cousins’s fault. But the announcers mentioned that Infante may have attempted to bunt on his own, which would have been a disastrous decision if no one else was in on the play. A bunt can be turned easily into a force out at the lead base if the runners are unaware of the potential play. Without knowing whether there was a play set up from the managers and coaches, however, we cannot fully blame Infante.
However, the move that followed was clearly his fault. After an RBI single by Gaby Sanchez brought the Fish up to a 40.6 percent chance of winning, Infante inexplicably took off on a fly ball to center field, making the dreaded “third out and third base” and helping to cost the Marlins some of that 0.242 WPA that was negatively charged to Mike Stanton.
I don’t have my run / win expectancy charts on me, but the move from second to third when down by one run with two outs according to this win expectancy table by Tom Tango is worth 0.019 wins. On the other hand, going to the top of the ninth inning still down by one run gives you a loss of 0.119 wins. In other words, for that play to be considered “break-even” (that is, of no advantage or disadvantage in the long-term) for Infante and the Fish, he would have had to think he could tag up successfully 86.2 percent of the time. Given Matt Kemp‘s decent arm and Infante’s average speed, I’m not sure if that tag up was wise. There’s a reason why that adage about third outs at third base exists; the tag just isn’t that advantageous given the heavy downside.
The hero’s return
Of course, none of that mattered once Infante’s line drive single whizzed by the glove of left fielder Jerry Sands, scoring the winning run. That play itself bought the Marlins 34.1 percent of their victory, guaranteeing the win after the bases loaded situation gave them a 65.9 percent chance of victory. Though Infante hit the ball hard, there was some luck involved in that as well, in particular with the placement of Sands in left. In order to get the best play at the plate if possible, Sands appeared to be playing somewhat shallow compared to normal, and that allowed Infante’s line drive to just get above his outstretched glove.
Of course, luck played a big role in even getting the Marlins to that situation. Despite the immense contribution of the walk-off hit, that play was not the biggest one of the night. That honor goes to Cousins and Jamey Carroll, who combined to bring home Emilio Bonifacio and add a whopping 0.437 wins to the Fish’s ledger. Yes, Carroll’s error allowed Boni to score from third after a walk (!) and Hanley Ramirez single put him there. So between the unlucky error by Carroll and the surprising walk by Bonifacio (my personal surprise captured by this Tweet) led the series of events that finished in this most excellent of hits.