Monday, January 7, 2008

Of equines, eulogies and epilogues…

Final thoughts on the 2007 Blue Jays: the thing is; everybody knows that defense is an important part of the game. It’s the reason they don’t put Gregg Myers in centerfield or Frank Thomas at short. Part of running an offense is to try to create errors by the opposing team’s defense. It’s how you get the proverbial ‘extra outs.’

To let it be known through words or actions that they can count on their opponents to simply get on base and wait for the extra base hit is like (in football) inviting the opposing defense into the huddle. It’s pretty much letting the other team know how to defend at all times.

I guess ‘sac bunt’ might be the wrong term to use since ideally bunting for a hit would be the preferred outcome. It might be better stated that the occasional attempt at bunting for a hit where, at the very least, it ends up with man on third (or second and third) with one out.

For example, suppose you have a Ryan Braun type at third base/Prince Fielder at first or an aging pitcher. Why not occasionally exploit that by making them expend some extra effort by taking them out of their ‘comfort zone’? Why not make them work a little harder for the out? I cannot fathom why, in every other team sport, it’s a bad idea to telegraph your intentions to the opposing defense but not in baseball.

Since outs are so precious, why not try to get ‘extra’ ones by pressuring the defense and trying to create errors? As Mike Emeigh noted at BTF:

From 1985-1990, Coleman's six full seasons with the Cardinals, there were a total of 180 balks called while the Cardinals were batting, an average of 30 per season. The other 25 teams averaged 15.4 called balks a season. Of the 180 balks, 64 came with Coleman on base (22 in 1986).

That’s a lot of free bases (and runs scored) simply by making the other team jittery. It’s part of the human element of the game that doesn’t show up on Run Expectancy. It’s not a simple matter of ‘to give up outs or not to give up outs--that is the question’ it’s about creating an environment of uncertainty for the other team. To allow the opposing team peace-of-mind knowing that with two men on/nobody out they can set themselves up for the double play without needing to concern themselves with getting in motion to nab the lead runner at third.

To state the obvious--the replacement-level hitters employed by the Jays in 2007 needed all the help they could get. By having them drop the occasional bunt would have created uncertainty that might have led to errors or, if they suspected a bunt was coming, allow an otherwise double-play ground ball get through the holes generated when the infielders were in motion.

Oh well, 2007 is gone and hopefully the bottom of the Blue Jays lineup will be closer to league average than replacement level. It’s time to lay the club aside and bury the badly bruised deceased equine.

Besides, I have a column to finish.

Best Regards


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