Tommy tweeted earlier about how he felt Elliot Johnson and Sam Fuld were going to make the Opening Day roster. Both are out of options and the Rays’ way is typically to squeeze as much value from assets as possible and without world-beating alternatives (although, I still think Felipe Lopez is a better hitter than Johnson), why not? The conversation delved into how these two will be used and one thing we agreed one: they give Joe Maddon the best pinch-running options of his tenure. We then began to talk about the previous options and I figured it would be worth a post in a similar vein to the one I wrote regarding Maddon and the lefty specialists.
2006 (26 pinch-running substitutions)
Maddon used three different players as pinch runners on multiple occasions his first year on the job: Damon Hollins (six times), Josh Paul (seven times), and Tomas Perez (eight times). Now, I don’t want to use too broad of a brush here because of decent baserunning catchers like John Jaso, but when Paul is one of your most used pinch runners, it’s probably not a good thing. Perez’s inclusion is no surprise, though, as he was used all over in 2006. He played one game at first base, 22 at second, 40 at third, 36 at shortstop, and five between left and right field. Perez’s ability to play all over is admirable until you realize he hit .212/.224/.286 in more than 250 plate appearances.
2007 (19 PR)
In year two, Maddon used seven players multiple times: Joel Guzman and Paul (thrice), Brendan Harris, Dustan Mohr, Justin Ruggiano, Josh Wilson, and Ben Zobrist (twice apiece). The weird thing is how many of those guys weren’t on the Opening Day roster and still were used more than guys who lasted all season. Only Harris, Paul, and Zobrist opened the season in the majors, the others were called up and acquired throughout the season. Mohr, well, who even remembers him as a D-Ray? It’s hard to believe, but Mohr actually managed a .394 on-base percentage in 234 plate appearances for the Giants only three seasons earlier.
2008 (16 PR)
I’ll admit, this one threw me for a loop. Everyone who has read TPR11 knows Fernando Perez made a few appearances as a pinch runner (three, to be exact), but when thinking about who made the most, I had Nathan Haynes pegged. Haynes was a slapstick outfielder claimed off waivers from the Angels in the final weekend before the season started. My running joke back then about him was how I couldn’t remember him hitting a ball out of the infield –for an out or otherwise. He was an older Joey Gathright. Yet Haynes only had three pinch-running assignments, leaving him four behind the leading Jonny Gomes. It makes sense, as Haynes didn’t spend much time with the team (20 games total), whereas Gomes had more than triple those appearances, even with the occasional starting assignment. Gomes also appeared 22 times as a pinch hitter.
2009 (21 PR)
Perez again spent some time with the team, albeit a limited amount of time thanks to a wrist injury (he still finished with four appearances on the paths), but one man in particular gained acclaim from his pinch-running assignments. First, though, the leader and one of the runner-ups, both of whom go by the name of Gabe. Gabe Kapler spent the season as the designated pinch runner, doing it eight times, while Gabe Gross pinch ran twice. Gross tied with Joe Dillon, who many have likely forgotten all about.
Dillon was acquired from the Athletics for Adam Kennedy after Andrew Friedman held true to his word on a handshake agreement with the utility infielder. Dillon seemingly spent a month on the roster and rarely appeared in the games. When he did, though, the Dillionaire would come in as a pinch runner or pinch hitter. The idea of Dillon being the most able wheels off the bench is still amusing.
2010 (31 PR)
Another trap. I figured Sean Rodriguez would take the crown, and he came close with six. Jason Bartlett had five, Kapler four, Carl Crawford three, and Reid Brignac as well as B.J. Upton with two, but the guy who had the most was Desmond Jennings. The (then) 23-year-old appeared in 17 games and started five, but he made pinch-running appearances in the short time he was on the roster. It’s an incredible testament to Maddon’s willingness to use a pinch runner and to trust the younger with those assignments. It also got me to wondering who he replaced on the paths and when, here’s what I found:
Sep 13: Replaced Kelly Shoppach on first in the eighth while tied (not the lead runner).
Sep 17: Replaced John Jaso on first base in the eighth while tied.
Sep 18: Replaced Dan Johnson on first base in the ninth while down by a run.
Sep 20: Replaced Dan Johnson on first in the ninth while down by two wins (not the lead runner).
Sep 23: Replaced Rocco Baldelli on first in the sixth while down by a run (not the lead runner).
Sep 29: Replaced Brad Hawpe on first in the eighth while down by two.
Sep 30: Replaced Matt Joyce on first in the ninth while down by a run.
Oct 3: Replaced Carlos Pena on second in the ninth while down by a run.
Essentially, the slow guys in the eighth and ninth inning in games where the Rays trailed or were tied, which is exactly what you would expect. Those are high-leverage spots where squeezing out a run is vital and can change your record in a way the projections may not accurately foretell. Performance in one-run games is mostly random chance, but having a little extra speed to call upon in big moments can help, even if it doesn’t always tip the odds in your favor.