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Paul Molitor and pinch-running

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Any manager will make substitutions late in the game to help his team win, but Paul Molitor has made a few questionable pinch-running decisions this season for the Twins.

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals

I love that we can now track the speed of players on the baseball field thanks to Statcast’s sprint speed. In the past, scouts and talent evaluators would watch a batter race from home to first base, armed with a stopwatch. Granted, you’d have to wait for the hitter to have an opportunity of getting an infield hit, but for the most part it worked as it was easy to measure.

However, that wasn’t the only time players would run at a full sprint. With the introduction of sprint speed from Statcast, we’re now tracking players at any moment on the field. That means far more opportunities to measure a runner’s speed and it has practically made the days of the stopwatch and home-to-first times obsolete.

I enjoy perusing the sprint speed leaderboards every now and then. It’s fun knowing that Byron Buxton is still the fastest player in the major leagues, while our thicc savior Bobby Wilson is just outside the top 10 slowest position players. It’s also how I learned that Miguel Sano is actually much faster than we would first guess.

It’s this fact that has made me a little confused with Paul Molitor’s moves regarding pinch-running. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I’ve been puzzled a few times when Molitor has ordered for a bench player to run the bases. I’m ignoring whenever Buxton has entered a game, and instead I’m going to focus on the usage of Ehire Adrianza and Gregorio Petit. You can probably guess my reasoning of why I’ve chosen then, but I’m going to withhold that information for now.

Below is a table of all the pinch-running appearances that have occurred between Adrianza and Petit.

2018 Pinch-Running

Date Starter Pinch-Runner Situation Result
Date Starter Pinch-Runner Situation Result
4/9 Miguel Sano Ehire Adrianza 1B, 1 out Forced out (GIDP)
5/11 Mitch Garver Gregorio Petit 1B, 2 out N/A
5/13 Logan Morrison Ehire Adrianza 3B, 1 out Scored (1B)
5/26 Miguel Sano Ehire Adrianza 2B, 2 out Scored (1B)
6/3 Robbie Grossman Ehire Adrianza 1B, 1 out Tagged out - home (2B)
6/5 Miguel Sano Gregorio Petit 1B, 2 out Scored (HR)

The May 11th appearance for Petit says “N/A” because he was not involved in any play that occurred in the inning. Other than the June 3rd mishap for Adrianza...

...this has been an unremarkable collection of pinch-running appearances for the Twins. So, why am I making such a big deal out of it? Well, let’s take a look at the sprint speeds of the players involved.

I’d say there are two primary reasons why a pinch-runner enters a ballgame: he’s faster and/or because he’s a smarter baserunner. Using the speed criteria, I have no complaint when Sano and Morrison were replaced by Adrianza. However, it looks bad when Grossman was replaced once by Adrianza and Garver was taken out in favor of Petit. Thus, we’d want to look at their baserunning instincts. While there’s no perfect way to calculate this, I’m going to attempt to do so with FanGraphs’ Ultimate Baserunning, which attempts to measure a player’s baserunning contributions without involving stolen bases.

Career Ultimate Baserunning

Player UBR
Player UBR
Mitch Garver 1.4
Gregorio Petit 0.3
Robbie Grossman -0.3
Ehire Adrianza -0.8
Logan Morrison -4.1
Miguel Sano -10

Since UBR is a counting stat, Morrison has had more opportunities to accumulate baserunning value, but it does show that you want to get him and Sano off the bases if possible. Meanwhile, it seems that Grossman is not that bad of a runner, while Garver might be a little better than we’d expect in his limited time in the majors. I feel this especially shows that it was egregiously bad to have Petit run for Garver and Grossman, as both have been proven to be faster and in theory have been roughly equivalent or better baserunners. Adrianza’s had some adventures himself (he’s been picked off multiple times this year including one Tuesday night) so he doesn’t even seem like the best pinch-running candidate. Molitor and his coaching staff have the most information to form their decisions though, so perhaps they have something that tells them that they’re still making the right choices. Even so, I think the first table above demonstrates that even if a pinch-runner seems questionable, most of the time his presence isn’t going to make most of a difference if he’s not going to steal a base.