Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Boston Red Sox's extreme Defensive Shift on Colby Rasmus

In this series Boston is Playing a shift against Rasmus that has the 3rd baseman, with runners at 2nd and 3rd, playing pick-off depth from the 2nd Base bag. (The 2nd baseman is playing a regular 2nd base position, short and towards the line; the Shortstop is playing shallow right, shaded to the right field foul line; and the first baseman is playing on the baseline, shaded towards the bag - so a triangle the base of which draws a line starting half-way between 1st and 2nd.)

Diagram of the Boston Red Sox's extreme Defensive Shift on Colby Rasmus in the Top of the 5th in game two of a three game set played in Boston on the evening of Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 2 Outs, Toronto leading 3-1.

In the top of the 5th Bautista is down the line about half-way to home, but he could come further than that - the safe lead-off in this situation, is how fast the 3rd baseman can run from near second base over to 3rd base to take a pick-off throw from the pitcher; so theoretically Bautista could lead-off 3rd about as far from 3rd Base as the 3rd baseman is from 3rd base! (See the line I marked on the sketch above.)

So even playing it safe,one could imagine that the runner could stand so close to home that they could just start running and score as soon a the pitcher stepped on the rubber.

As play-by-play announcer Buck Martinez points at the moment the situation revealed itself - what if the runner with a lead like that tried to steal home?

At approximately 30 feet from home, even with a left handed batter at the plate (so standing in the 1st base side batter's box, therefore not blocking the view - or partially inadvertently blocking the catcher's path to the top-left corner of the plate), the runner could likely succeed at a steal of home by just breaking for home as soon as the pitcher comes set on the mound!

Michael Holloway

ESPN Box Score: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox, Game 2 - Play-by-Play, 5th Inning -


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Herald! The New Era of Defensive Baseball!

After watching a defensive juggernaut last night between the Jays at Yankees that included lots of successful shifts by the Yankees and that included 6 straight innings of scoreless ball; and inspired by a conversation between Rogers Sportnet's play-by-play man Buck Martinez with colour commentator Pat Tabler on the subject of the shift; I decided to write this short historical, 'What time is it?' piece.

Yankee Stadium, New York, New York, July 25, 2014 - 7:05 PM ET
INNING                     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9   R H  E
Toronto Blue Jays(54-50)   3  0  1  0  0  0  0  0  0   4 10 0
New York Yankees (54-48)   0  2  4  0  0  0  0  0  -   6 11 0

Nobody talks about the history of the 'juicing' of the ball a various moments in major league baseball, but the times in the history of the game where the windings of the official ball were tightened or loosened are document-able and marked great turning points in the way the game was played. In 1920 major league baseball introduced the jack-rabbit ball into the game. In the great era of pitching of the 1960's did major league baseball loosen the windings? Or did the league finally adjust to the jackrabbit ball? - a combination of the slow spread of Branch Rickey's codified farm system and a rise in the gene pool of the population of the country as a whole - resulting in a more physically fit generations one after the other coming to the ranks of the majors?

The answer is not certain.

After the revenue distribution troubles of the 1990's Major league baseball again it appears, juiced the ball once again. This was obfuscated by the introduction of performance enhancing drugs into the cultre of sport gererally and gradually into game of baseball as well. Players and coaches interviewed in the early 2000's phrased it this way - they said the ball came off the bat faster than before. They called it the "Nuclear" Baseball.

That Nuclear Ball is still in play today - now with-out the steroids that mess up any statistical analysis of the era.

Are we seeing today the culture of the game's response to the Nuclear Baseball?

In the early 2000's Joe Maddon took over as manager of the Tampa Bat Devil Rays - and he began to work with the general manager to craft a small-market-team-economic-metric that could win it all though drafting athletes rather than by drafting players by the position they played before they were drafted - and along side that, instituting a farm training system that stressed baseball fundamentals.

The idea was that the nuclear baseball got through the infield quicker, go to the gaps quicker - and also that as such, the run was less worth less than it was in the game as it existed before the nuclear ball - and conversely defense was worth more. Games we saw a lot of in the 1960's that were 3-2 affairs were now 7-5 tilts. Line drive home runs were a new thing. Line drive doubles to the wall were way more prevalent - and as such they plated more runs because there were more runners on more often when they happened.

So a double or a triple held to single was worth much more than the same defensive play made in the jack-rabbit ball era of the 1920's-1980's.

A successful team in the field in the nuclear ball era was a team that had three centre fielders, in left centre and right; as well, a winning team on the infield couldn't afford the slugger with suspect defense at 3rd - or in left. Concurrently the centre defense had to have incredible range - a centre defense on the infield erased line drive base hits, they erased ground ball base hits - and turned then into outs.

Add the digital revolution and the science of recording that new data in baseball, Sabre metrics - to add mathematical probability to defense in the form of pitching to shifts - and all of a sudden the 5-pitch pitcher with command and control becomes something a winning team must have in order to play the shift.

And there you have it a small market team Oakland and the the Rays in their turn have revolutionized the game - with the help of the cotton mill's ability to add tightness to a flying thread of cotton.

Michael Holloway
July 25, 2014

Game Box Score via ESPN Box Score:


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jays lose Encarnacion; and a 'swing-moment' Appeal in the 8th

The Toronto Blue Jays meet an Ace pitcher with his A game; but the 1-5 score doesn't reflect the nature of this game. Many bloops fell in for the Elephants, and key bloops for the first place Athletics, found their way into gloves.

One Ace meet another tonight - and the vagaries of chance spelled another loss in this series for the Jays.

Lind's three dropped balls - one in fair territory and 2 in foul ground - made a massive difference in this game as close as it was. But for Encarnacion's quad pull in the first, Lind would not have even been playing the field tonight.

Most notably in the order of bloop plays made/not-made - Oakland's third baseman Josh Donaldson risked his career slamming head-long into the rolled up tarp on the west side of the field for a pop-up out on Munenori Kawasaki`s lead-off at-bat in the eighth with a 1-1 count.

It's worth noting that a review of the play at the plate resulted in a run erased in a 2-run game in the eighth, and the end of the inning - all with-in a millisecond of a moment after a long wait on New York's decision.

All video reply the public saw indicated the sweep tag never touched the runner - with some compelling angles of the play.

How much did the signing ace Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija (who toured the dugout in the 4th inning) have in the demeanor of this game? Quite a lot I think - as the retort was - as it turned out - the Jays' announcement before the game of their usurpation of OF Cole Gillespie off waivers from Seattle.

Weeks ago I stated that the Jays' batting order was not the problem, that the bats were fine as long as they didn't face great pitching. But as we all know - in the the play-offs it's all about .300 hitting - great pitching destroys power hitting.

The only way a power hitting line-up can win in September - can win in October - is with light's out pitching. Oakland proved that today - and with all the issues facing the Jays line-up and plus Encarnacion going down tonight - this line-up under pressure - struggles.

Yes another 1 or 2 pitcher is essential; but so too is another .300 hitter.

Kawasaki should been seen as an essential part of that solution - but his defense lacks the consistency for it - off the bench in a platoon situation is probably his path to a winning season. As a nine-hitter tonight he turned over the line-up twice.