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Yankees-Rangers: Should a Team Alter Its Offensive Strategy for Rain?

NEW YORK - APRIL 16:  The grounds crew work on home plate prior to a rain delay after the sixth inning of the game between the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers on April 16, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Tom AuSenior Analyst IIApril 17, 2010

In baseball, there are such things as intentional walks on defense. Could there be such a thing as intentional strikeouts on offense? That is a question that may have been put to the Yankees last night.

You're the home team, with one out in the bottom of the fourth. You have just made the breakthrough of a formerly tied game; first, having loaded the bases, and then scoring all three runners on two subsequent hits, leaving you with men on first and third, ahead 4-1.

Suddenly, it begins to rain. The weatherman has told you, accurately as it turns out, that if it does rain, the rain will be hard enough to end a game.

Rain-shortened games are counted, if they last at least five innings. If the home team is leading at the end of four and a half, that will do, with the bottom of the fifth being a moot point, like the bottom of the ninth is normally.

Generally, your batters like to take pitches, "work the count," and wait for the best one, while tiring out the starter, making for long at-bats. Your team has been (wrongly) accused by a particular umpire of unnecessarily prolonging games.

On the other hand, if rain is threatening to shut down the game, you might be more concerned that the game gets counted. Meaning that you might want to tell your remaining fourth inning batters, Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson, to go for short at-bats.

The operative strategy on would be to "swing at everything," like some other teams, at the risk of getting quick strikeouts, or quick outs, generally. An extreme version of the strategy would be go for intentional strikeouts to end the inning as soon as possible.

Your starter is CC Sabathia, a Cy Young Award-winner who is capable of striking out three people in the top of the fifth. (He, in fact, fans two, for a total of nine, in six innings.)

With a three-run lead, your chances of winning are 82percent if it is really the end of the fourth in a nine inning game. They're 97 percent if your opponents get only one more chance to bat, making this the "eighth" inning so to speak.

They're 93 percent if your opponents get two more chances to bat, as was actually the case. The fact that the game ended in the sixth inning made the fourth the "seventh" inning.

Everyone wants to maximize their chances to win. Most of the time, winning means  maximizing the score, and thus the chances to come out ahead.

But in this case, maximizing the win chances might mean maximizing the chances of getting in a basically won game "under the wire."

In games like bridge, it's often a good idea to sacrifice "overtricks" in order to be sure of making the "game." And how many students have rushed papers or projects to meet a deadline because the late penalty outweighs the likely improvement for taking more time?

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