Games » Detroit TigersApr9
For a play that doesn’t happen very much, the Royals sure are throwing a lot of people out at the plate. They did it again in this game, Alex Gordon to Alcides Escobar to Brayan Pena to get Will Rhymes trying to score in the sixth inning.
The play at the plate is one of the most exciting plays in baseball and, because we’re all watching the ball, we miss the stuff that makes it possible. (Stuff is a technical term that you’ll come across often on this website.)
OK, let’s set the scene: the Tigers are down by two in the sixth, Will Rhymes is on first, Magglio Ordonez is at the plate. Ordonez hits a shot down the left field line. Gordon races into the corner to pick up the ball.
Escobar and Chris Getz head for the left field line to act as relay men in the outfield just beyond third. Wilson Betemit has third base. Kila Ka’aihue goes to the middle of the diamond to act as the cutoff man.
Bruce Chen heads into foul territory to back up either third or home depending on where the ball goes and amazingly enough, right fielder Jeff Francoeur is supposed to cover second (according to the playbook I have).
Centerfielder Melky Cabrera positions himself to back up a throw to second in case they go after the trailing runner, Ordonez.
Rhymes is sent home. The Tigers have two down in the inning so this gamble makes sense. If the runner is held at third, the Tigers will need another hit to score the run. The odds of scoring the runner on this difficult defensive play are generally better than the odds of getting another hit.
Gordon comes up with the ball and throws to Escobar’s glove side. This allows the relay man to turn with the catch and throw in one motion. The throw is a bit low, but that’s better than a bit high. The Tigers Ryan Raburn threw a ball to the plate earlier, overthrew everybody and allowed runners to advance. (Francoeur and Betemit saw the throw was high and demonstrated heads up base running by going to third and second.)
Back to our play: Getz sees he’s not needed and ducks to clear the way to the plate for Escobar. Someone, either Getz or Betemit calls the base to Alcides. ‘Four, four’ for home plate, ‘two, two’ for second (I’m sure you’re getting the drift) or they might say ‘cut and hold.’
Clearly, Escobar was directed to throw home. Now Kila comes into play (although on the replay he appeared to arrive late) Pena is now directing the play and can ask the cutoff man to cut and hold or redirect the ball to another base. This is why it’s so important to keep the ball low, if the ball gets up in the air people can advance without fear.
The final link in the chain, the catcher, prepares by putting his left foot directly on the third base line, toes pointing to third. This way, if the runner slides into his leg, it would be knocked straight back and protected by the shin guard. Place the foot sideways on the line and the ankle can be rolled over or broken. The right foot is pointed in the direction the ball is coming from, left, center or right.
Now some catcher preferences come into play. Some catchers will throw their mask on the ground up the line in the runner’s path. (If you’re throwing it somewhere, why not in the runner’s way?) Jason Kendall likes to keep his mask on and ‘deke’ (stand nonchalantly in front of home plate like nothing is happening in hopes of getting the runner to ease up).
Having the foot on the third base line gives half the plate to the runner. The catcher receives the ball out in front and then collapses back into the runner who’s headed for the back half of the plate. When I asked Kendall if he kept his foot on the third base line all the time he said if the game was close “I take the whole thing.”
That means he straddles the line and gives nothing to the runner, which invites a collision. Matt Treanor said he keeps his foot on the line until he’s sure he’s secured the ball, then takes a slight jab step to his left and straddles. On this play Brayan got one hopped and ended up on his knees blocking the entire plate.
Just in case I haven’t made one play sound complicated enough, let me throw in another factor: the runner’s reputation. Some guys are known for not being ‘physical’ meaning they don’t like colliding with catchers. Some guys are known for trying to take the catcher out. Treanor said he’s very aware of which kind of player is coming down the line towards him.
OK, so Brayan is on his knees blocking the entire plate and Will Rhymes tries to slide around him instead of running him over (probably an excellent decision by Will). Rhymes is called out and the Tigers are deprived of an at-bat with Miguel Cabrera at the plate and the tying run in scoring position.
So next time you see this play developing take your eye from the ball and watch the choreography taking place on the infield. For some of us, it’s better than Swan Lake.
Billy tries to steal one…
I’m pretty cautious about question strategy (as I’ve pointed out there’s often something about that particular situation that I didn’t know), but I wasn’t a big fan of Billy Butler taking off for second with two outs and Kila Ka’aihue at the plate…and I AM a big fan of the two out steal.
If the runner stays at first he’s generally going to need two hits to drive him in. Steal second and it’s usually one. (Do the math on the odds of two hits vs. the odds of a steal and a hit and you’ll see what I mean.)
But one of the questions you should ask yourself before setting sail is, “If I’m thrown out do I want the hitter at the plate leading off the next inning?” In this case the answer was probably no. Kila was really struggling against Detroit lefty Phil Coke and had already struck out twice. Sure enough, when Kila led off the 7th he struck out again.
In this case I think it would’ve been better to have Billy stay put, but nobody asked and they shouldn’t. Like I said, they might know something I don’t…geez, I HOPE they know something I don’t.
And didn’t Bruce Chen throw great?