Commentary

Fire all the third-base coaches!

Stop signs are fine at intersections, but they're not worth much at the hot corner

Updated: February 17, 2010, 4:44 PM ET
By Russell A. Carleton | Baseball Prospectus
Getty ImagesJose Oquendo tells Matt Holliday to "go!" last September; this is a smart move.

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The setup

Consider the following situation: Jimmy Rollins is on third base with no outs. Chase Utley hits a fly ball to medium-deep left field; this is, essentially, a sacrifice fly waiting to happen. Rollins knows what to do. He retreats to third, puts his head down and waits for third-base coach Sam Perlozzo to yell -- What?

Should he stay or go? How does Perlozzo make that decision? And do his all-too-human failings mean he'll probably end up costing his team, the Philadelphia Phillies, runs in the end?

The answer comes in understanding a good bet as opposed to a bad bet. If offered the chance to lay $1 on a heads-tails coin flip with the chance to win $10, would you take the wager? What if you could call it in the air? Suppose you could play this game several times. You'd probably take that bet, even though you have a 50 percent chance of losing each time. Why? Because if you play the game long enough, you have a chance to come out slightly ahead. You've instinctively applied what's known as expected value theory. You might lose an individual coin flip, but if you play over and over, you know you'll eventually be ahead of where you would be if you'd just held on to your dollar bills. This is how third-base coaches in MLB need to work and think.