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Baseball fans are a people with divided conscience.
On the one hand, baseball is a game of tradition and conventions. A pitcher never steps on the chalk. No one talks to the starter. A rookie gets shunned after his first home run.
On the other hand, in the wake of Moneyball, baseball’s landscape has been transformed by sabermetrics, advanced stats, algorithms and metrics.
We here at BtB are neither baseball purists–whatever that means–nor bleeding edge types. We care about the game and welcome the old school and new school alike. It doesn’t have to be an either or. We love a good old fashioned pitching duel and we love bat flips.
Conventional baseball wisdom says two different things about scoring position. One says that in a one-run game with two outs, the runner in scoring position should be sent home. The other says that one should never make the third out at third base.
Saturday afternoon, these axioms were put to the test at Miller Park as the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds battled in the second match-up of an entertaining three-game series between division rivals.
In the bottom of the third inning with two down and a runner on second (Eric Thames), Domingo Santana faced righty Scott Feldman. See for yourself.
Entering Saturday, the Brewers had lost three of their last ten games and on a six-game losing streak. In that ten-game slog, the Crew were outscored 41-32, which doesn’t seem so bad until one factors that 1) ten of those 32 runs came Friday night against the same Reds, 2) two of those victories were in interleague play against the somewhat-less-than-good Tampa Bay Rays, 3) prior to Friday, the potent, vaunted Brewer offense hadn’t scored the George Webb’s burger run in a game (5) since July 26 against the Washington Nationals.
In short, this was a team in desperate need for offense and going into Saturday, it appeared that the night before was the exception rather than the rule.
So, in a 3-2 contest with two out, Sedar sends Thames–running on contact–when the ball gets through the hole. Conventional wisdom.
Here’s where conventional wisdom is, in this situation, lacking:
It’s the third inning. Those kinds of desperation moves are more suited toward the later innings in close affairs. This is the opening third of the game. Another standard axiom: there’s a whole lot of baseball left to be played; in this case, there are 19 more outs to work with, particularly when we consider…
Scott Feldman‘s pitch count. Feldman was having a hard time with the Brewers lineup Saturday. 70 pitches is more suited toward the fifth or sixth inning, seven if a pitcher is being particularly effective in an outing. Feldman was struggling and members of the bullpen not named Raisel Iglesias have ranged from pedestrian to dreadful.
Who’s on deck in this situation? Orlando Arcia. Arcia had reached base in 10 of the last 12 games and was the Brewers’ lone offensive factor during their prolonged offensive slump. His bat, long considered a lone area of opportunity in an otherwise highly-prized prospect’s dossier, has far exceeded expectations in 2017 and he is a boon on the bottom of the lineup card, getting back to the big bats more quickly and picking up the heart of the order in the process. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t expected to clear .250 this season.
Keeping Thames at third puts Arcia at the plate with two out and men at the corners. A base hit scores Thames and likely puts Santana–a better runner than Thames–at third. At the very least, it continues to wear out a flagging Feldman, possibly forcing Bryan Price to call on his vulnerable bullpen. Giving Arcia a shot to tie the game would be no more of a gamble than Sedar’s decision to send Thames, which was a fool’s errand as soon as he game the green light, because…
Adam Duvall is enjoying a great defensive year. Leading the NL in assists (and leading by a considerable margin) Duvall is on track for his best yet season in the field and boasts a strong arm. That soft single to left essentially rolled right to Duvall roughly 300 feet from home plate. As you can see at the :06 mark of the video, Duvall is getting to the ball as Thames is about to touch third. Sedar is giving the green light before he can adequately evaluate the situation, which is especially silly when we consider…
Thames just stole second. With the count 1-2, Thames was sent to second. Again, Thames isn’t the fastest out there, but he can swipe the occasional bag. So Thames had already used a burst of energy and speed to avoid being the third out at second.
Few pro baseball players can swipe a bag then, within a pitch or two, score from second at the same speed. I’m not convinced Sedar should have sent any Brewer not named Keon Broxton or Arcia in that situation. Look at Thames at the end of that sequence: he’s gassed sliding into home.
Conventional wisdom would say that it is somehow unjustifiable to make the third out at third base; that same conventional wisdom somehow justifies sending a runner who is, barring a throwing error, dead meat at the plate.
The Brewers have shown tremendous moxie this season in their decision making. Manager Craig Counsell has rolled the dice and taken chances, all with reinforcing his trust in his team to succeed. Whether it’s sending Corey Knebel out for an old school, Rollie Fingers-esque two inning outing and telling his offense to win it (June 28) or trusting Jimmy Nelson to work through mid-inning struggles (as he did in Nelson’s complete game gem June 18), Counsell has matured from a manager overly reliant on his coaching staff into a savvy, self-assured skipper putting his trust on his team to respond to the game’s context.
Now, we freely grant Counsell couldn’t possibly react in this situation in real-time, but that attitude should permeate the coaching staff, as leadership is wont to do. The moment that ball hit the outfield, first base coach Carlos Subero and that entire dugout should have been shouting as a Greek chorus to put the brakes on Thames. Save the powder, let Arcia have a shot, put the onus on Price to make a decision with his bullpen. Instead, Sedar killed the Brewer rally in the third by defaulting to folk baseball wisdom.
For what it’s worth, in the bottom of the fourth, Arcia led off and singled to right.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.