Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/18/14
The most exciting play in baseball, within context, is presumably the walk-off grand slam with two outs and a three-run deficit. Within context, I imagine it’s almost a perfect correlation between play excitement and Win Probability Added. This is why WPA works as both a baseball statistic and emotion statistic. Any immediate reversal of deficit to victory is going to be outstanding. From the other side, perhaps a game-ending and game-preserving strikeout or double play. Context leads to leverage, which leads to excitement, which leads to viewing satisfaction. The most exciting play in baseball, removed from context, is up for debate. Some people say triples; some more adventurous, aggressive people say inside-the-park home runs. Some people say steals of home. Some people say other things. What a lot of these have in common is maximum hustle, or maximum effort. People respond well to players putting everything they have into a play, because then you’re watching world-class athletes at their most athletic. That’s one of the points of all this. As it happens, there was particular hustle on display on Wednesday. And hustle from two of baseball’s premier emerging stars, in Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig. On the road in Yankee Stadium, Puig gathered for himself a hustle double. At home in Anaheim, Trout managed a hustle double of his own. To have two hustle doubles on the same day by different half-player/half-phenomenon entities — the two can’t not be compared. So, below, they’ll be compared, somewhat or mostly arbitrarily. MIKE TROUT Hustle Double Hustle Double, Alternate View Degree Of Difficulty We have to acknowledge, first, that all hustle doubles are difficult. They require hustle, and they are unexpected, looking like ordinary singles off the bat. Trout pulled a line drive into left, taking the left fielder toward the line and away from second base. The ball was cut off before it got to the wall, but it was cut off by Raul Ibanez, who has an arm like a leaky faucet you can’t completely turn off. That’s actually not very fair to Raul Ibanez, but Trout wasn’t running on, say, a Yasiel Puig or Jeff Francoeur. This wasn’t easy, and not many players could’ve done it, but this could’ve been more of a challenge. 8/10 Wisdom Trout was leading off the bottom of the sixth, and the score was 0-0. He had, behind him, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo, and Howie Kendrick, against a left-handed pitcher. Obviously, Trout had himself at least a single, so the break-even calculation is identical to what it would be for an attempted stolen base. The break-even point is about 65%. That is, Trout needed to be about 65% sure he could make it safely to justify trying to stretch. The outfielder was Raul Ibanez. A smart gamble, that paid off. 10/10 Execution Look how easily Trout makes it. What you might take away from that is that the degree of difficulty wasn’t actually that high. But now look at the second .gif. Trout was busting his ass the entire way, always thinking two bases. His slide was perfect. Trout made this double happen, and like so many things he does, he made it look like he was putting bread in the toaster. 10/10 Overall Trout gets 28 of a possible 30 points, based on whatever formula it is my brain has been acting on. This is a nothing exercise but this is sports, and we can’t not compare two completely different things in sports, because then what else would we talk about? YASIEL PUIG Hustle Double Hustle Double, Alternate View Degree Of Difficulty Let’s just acknowledge that Puig picked up a double on a grounder up the middle. Most of the time you don’t even consider that possibility, and Brett Gardner‘s momentum was taking him toward the infield when he retrieved the ball. According to Baseball-Reference, this was a groundball double hit to location “6″. There have been eight such doubles hit by righties this season. This is a rare thing, and wait, there’s more! Puig didn’t even have the element of surprise on his side! Here he is, from earlier in the same game: Puig earlier tried to do the exact same thing, and he got himself thrown out. So the Yankees’ defense would’ve been somewhat prepared. Puig tried again anyway. Yeah. 10/10 Wisdom Did I tell you that the Yankees would’ve been at least somewhat prepared? Also, Puig was leading off the top of the eighth, and the Dodgers were trailing 6-2. The break-even point for Puig trying to stretch was about 84%, much higher than with the Trout double above. The extra base didn’t do the Dodgers a whole lot of good, because they were behind by four, and they needed baserunners instead of potential outs. There was little to gain from this, but there was a lot to lose, relatively speaking. Behind Puig were Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Andre Ethier. 3/10 Execution One more time, Puig didn’t take anyone by surprise. He didn’t seem to be running at full speed the entire way, although it’s possible his full speed is just impossibly graceful. The slide was dangerous, in that Puig could’ve hurt himself or come off the bag. At the end of the day, though, Puig turned a grounder up the middle into two bases, and that’s the most important thing. Flaws and all, that’s highly unusual. 8/10 Overall Puig gets 21 out of a possible 30 points. When I started this exercise I didn’t expect the numbers to come out so different, but then Trout’s double was a lot smarter than Puig’s was, and the execution was better. Puig is just a higher-risk player in general, in so many senses, and that can be a lot of fun when it’s working, and incredibly frustrating and wasteful when it’s not. So far, it’s been working, but we’ll see how people respond when Puig hits a slump, should that ever happen. When you watch him, a slump seems impossible, but slumps always seem impossible for players on hot streaks, because streaking players look positively unbeatable. Kudos to Puig for the exciting, daring, unusual double. Kudos to Trout for the better double that’ll get less attention. In this way, there is a player people like to talk about more than Mike Trout, and that’s nuts. And it’s nuts that it’s understandable. We’re all nuts.
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