Miller found out that when guessing correctly, base-stealers were thrown out roughly 50 percent of the time. However, the league was accurate in guessing correctly just 20 percent of the time. Not the greatest of odds.
At the top of the list of managers who called for pitch-outs was Angels own Mike Scioscia. In 2012, Scioscia called for 34 pitch-outs and was right 44 percent of the time. The next highest was Bob Melvin of the Oakland A's who called for 23.
While Miller's conclusion is that the pitch-out was largely pointless and even slightly detrimental, there were a number of aspects that Miller's article didn't touch on. Here's one comment on the article from BP contributor Russell A. Carleton:
"Isn't there a game theory issue here? If I know for sure that the other manager won't pitch out, then I can feel a little more comfy at first base as I plan my mad dash to second and my manager can call for the SB at will. You have to do it once in a while if for no other reason than to keep them honest."
This would also suggest that a catcher can actually be more prepared for a likely steal after a failed pitch-out attempt. The unquantifiable psychology of baseball. Gotta love it!
Other aspects that can be taken into consideration not covered by Miller's article include the pitcher on the mound, his move to first and time to the plate from the stretch as well as who the runner on first is and the frequency in which the opponent steals. Also, while the likelihood of guessing a pitch-out is low, it does give the catcher an advantage in throwing the base-stealer out. As Miller noted, in correctly guessed pitch-outs, the base-stealer was thrown-out more than 50 percent of the time.
All of this can take us down a lot of different paths but let's stick to the Los Angeles Angels. Why does Scioscia chose to pitch-out more than any other team by such a wide margin?
There's a number of different possible answers. Small-ball mentality assumes small-ball from the competitor. Scioscia is a former catcher. Angels played teams with high attempted steals frequency more often. Scioscia is stubborn and hates sabermetrics, etc.
However, two options seem most obvious to me: low caught-stealing rates from Angels catchers and slow delivery to the plate/bad pick-off rates from Angels pitchers. The second option is tough to assess given my limited access to stats like Ervin Santana's average time to the plate from the stretch so let's try and tackle to first.
First, take this in: the Angels catchers haven't had a caught stealing percentage that was above league average since 2006. That's a six year drought below league average. Keep that in your pocket as we move on.
In 2012, Angels catchers threw out 24% of potential base-stealers putting them just below the league average of 26%. Despite the low number, did calling a high-number of pitch-outs help the Angels 2012 caught stealing percentage rate?
In 34 pitch-outs, the Angels guessed right 15 times. Unfortunately, Miller doesn't give us in the article how successful the Angels were on those pitch-outs but seeing how he seems like a nice guy, I tweeted him. Voila!
@saxonius 42 of 85 led to CS leaguewide; 42 of 84 when runner stealing second; 7 of 15 for Angels.— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) January 15, 2013
7 out of 15 is roughly 50 percent or league average out rate on successfully called pitch-outs. So in total, they threw out 41 base-stealers, with seven of them (we're assuming) coming from a pitch-out.
However, what if Scioscia instead was league average in his calls for a pitch-out? Let's assume he called for 15 pitch outs (2012 league average for former catchers turned managers) instead of the 34 he actually did call for? And what if his accuracy rate was also the league average on pitch-outs at 18% on those 15 pitch-outs? That would result in 2.6 runners. Couple that with the average percentage of runners actually getting caught on a pitch-out (50%) and we talking around one base-stealer getting caught from a pitch-out. So now instead of seven runners thrown out from the pitch-out calls by Angels catchers, now it's only one.
In keeping with these league averages, that would leave us 19 attempted steals against the Angels that a pitch-out was not called in 2012. Angels catchers threw out runners at a 27% clip (if we subtract all pitch-outs). 27% of 19 is roughly five. Add in the one base-runner caught during a pitch-out and that's six runners caught.
The result is then that by calling for more pitch outs, Angels catchers threw out a grand total of one more runner than they would have if Scioscia had called (and guess accurately) at a league average rate.
How unexciting for so much math!
It's important to also note that Miller was working with runs in his assessment. I am not. And since runs is the name of the game, an argument can be made (and probably won) that even if one, two or more runners are thrown out by Scioscia's increased (and more accurate) tendency to call for a pitch-out, that it doesn't make a significant difference in runs saved when taking into consideration the value of giving up a strike for the ball that is called when there is a pitch-out.
Still, a logic exists. Just take the 50% league average number of base-stealers being thrown out when a pitch-out is called showcases the increased likelihood that a runner gets thrown out and thus, helping your catcher's chances. Considering the Angels lengthy run of poor success rates in the caught-stealing department, Scioscia's decision to call for increased pitch-outs makes a little more sense when viewed in this light.
Now whether Scioscia takes any of this into consideration when calling for a pitch-out is an entirely different story (insert sad-face).
Note: I am no math/statistics badass. See a mistake? Point it out!