Thursday, October 6, 2011

Details of defense

David Freese gets out of the way after tagging
Chase Utley on a rare 6-3-5 fielders choice. The
umpire is Chris Guccione.
I'm not a fan of Tony LaRussa — mostly for the constant belligerence, but also because he, more than any other manager, created the seven-man bullpens and nonstop pitching changes that drag out games. I also suspect that, if a truly accurate history of steroid use in baseball could be compiled, TLR would be a near-constant figure.

But there's no denying his record. The man has been, and remains, one of the great managers in the game's history, and his infield on Wednesday night provided a couple of plays that I think illustrate the attention to detail that LaRussa demands.

Play One: sixth inning, Cardinals up 3-2, Chase Utley on first with no outs. Utley runs with the pitch, and Hunter Pence hits a grounder to the left side. As shortstop Rafael Furcal throws to first, Utley rounds second and heads to third.

Two things happen here: First, Albert Pujols sees Utley make his move to third and comes off the bag to shorten the throw from Furcal. Second, third baseman David Freese doesn't stand around admiring the play — he's in position to take the throw from Pujols. Utley is out by several feet — a 6-3-5 fielders choice.

There are a lot of teams that wouldn't have cut off Utley. Some first basemen would have clung to the base to get the sure out, then tried — doubtless too late — to throw to third. Some first basemen wouldn't have the arm to make that throw. (Inability to throw makes outfielders first basemen.) Some shortstops might have made a higher throw to first, forcing Pujols to hang back. Some third basemen wouldn't have anticipated the play coming his way.

The Cardinals played it as if they knew it was coming. By doing so, they turned man on third, one out into man on first, one out. In a one-run game, that's significant.

Play Two: Eighth inning, Cardinals up 5-2, pinch-runner Michael Martinez on second, no outs. Jimmy Rollins hits a hard grounder to second. Ryan Theriot holds Martinez at second, then gets the out at first.

This is a more subtle play than the previous one, but remarkable in its own right. It's virtually automatic — grounder to the right side, a runner on second is taking third. Maybe a second baseman will occasionally be able to check a Jim Thome or one of the Molina brothers — but Martinez is hardly immobile.

It was a bit of a perfect storm. Theirot didn't have to move left to make the play. Martinez didn't get a good jump off the base. And while Theirot doesn't have a great arm, he throws well enough to have spent most of his career at the position, so he probably throws a bit better than most second basemen.

Martinez wound up scoring anyway. The point is, Theriot and the Cardinals didn't concede that base.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't watch the game; I'm just not that interested in the Cards and Phillies at this stage in the playoffs. But that photo in your post makes a very good case for one of the teams wearing a contrasting color shirt compared to the other team. It's hard to tell in this picture which team is which, and in the days of B&W TV it would have been hopeless.