Catcher Humberto Quintero appeared in 43 games for the Royals in 2012. One night Quintero, who had one stolen base in the previous nine seasons, decided to go for his second career steal and was thrown out.
It was an easy decision to ridicule and people did.
But what we failed to notice was the pitcher had been called for a balk on his last pickoff attempt and the Royals felt Quintero could take a lead halfway to second and the pitcher still wouldn’t try to pick him off. Quintero was urged to take a huge lead, then break for second.
It didn’t work — Quintero didn’t take a big enough lead — but it wasn’t a crazy idea.
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Skip forward to the 2014 American League Wild Card Game: with runners at first and third, Billy Butler wandered off first base toward second. Oakland pitcher Jon Lester was holding the ball. While the A’s defense focused on Butler, Eric Hosmer broke from third for home. Hosmer was thrown out at the plate and people immediately jumped on Butler for some bizarre base-running.
But what we didn’t know at the time was Lester had the throwing yips. The Royals wanted Butler to draw a throw from Lester because they thought there was a decent chance Lester would spike the ball into the ground or launch it into the outfield. Butler never got going full speed and that allowed Lester to make a leisurely throw instead of a throw while under duress.
It didn’t work, but once again not a crazy idea.
So here’s my point: When you hang around a baseball team long enough and people begin to trust you enough to tell you the truth, you find out you often didn’t know what was going on and if you were in possession of all the facts, you wouldn’t be so critical.
Now skip forward to Thursday night and the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers. With Jarrod Dyson on first base, Alcides Escobar hit a groundball to third. I pointed out that Dyson appeared to be jogging toward second base, then peeled out of the base path and never came close to breaking up the ensuing double play.
But then Royals base running coach Rusty Kuntz told me Saturday afternoon that Dyson had been told to peel off and here’s why:
Instant replay is changing the game and now middle infielders aren’t getting the “neighborhood play.” Just in case you don’t know; the neighborhood play meant the middle infielder turning two would fudge a bit on whether he actually made contact with the bag while in possession of the ball. The neighborhood play was allowed to keep base runners such Hal McRae from killing a second baseman with a takeout slide.
But now we can watch a play frame-by-frame and it makes umpires look bad when 40,000 people can see the shortstop never had the ball when he was stepping on second base.
So if the umpires are going to require middle infielders to actually be touching the bag when in possession of the ball, the umpires are going to protect those middle infielders by being tougher on a runner trying to break up a double play. Runners have to go straight into the bag and if they veer off to one side in order to flip the pivot man, umpires are going to call them and the runner at first base out.
So Royals base runners are being told to peel off if they don’t think there’s a chance of getting to the pivot man before he makes his throw to first. Saturday night Dyson told me if the ball is hit hard — and Thursday’s grounder from Escobar was — there’s no way to get to the pivot man in time; better to peel off and avoid an automatic double play.
One of the luxuries this blog affords me is the ability to wait and find out what was really happening before I pop off; but I can’t say the same about Twitter.
Nevertheless, there’s a lesson to be learned: maybe we should all take a deep breath before speculating on the stupidity of attempting a stolen base or why a base runner peeled out of the base path on a double play. Because when we assume…