On Monday night with two outs in the eighth inning, Tampa Bay’s Steve Pearce was on second base and tried to steal third. Kansas City third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert moved to his right to cover the bag, and that was a mistake.
The batter, Steven Souza Jr., hit a grounder through the hole Cuthbert created by covering third and the Rays scored a run.
I originally thought Cuthbert should hold his ground because the pitcher — Kelvin Herrera — was throwing an off-speed pitch to the plate, but after asking around I found out the reasoning is simpler than that: you don’t cover third base on a steal attempt if there are two outs.
If the runner wants to take third base with two outs, let him. Hold your ground and give your pitcher better defense; he’s two-thirds of the way through the inning. Help him out.
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With nobody out or one out, cover third base. There’s not a huge advantage to being on third with two outs, but with nobody out or one out, a runner can score on a sac fly or grounder. So preventing a steal of third is important in those situations.
OK, so one of Herrera’s earned runs in 2016 was not his fault; if Cuthbert had held his ground, Souza would have hit into an inning-ending ground-out. Will anybody remember that at the end of the year? They won’t put an asterisk by the run, so if you look at Herrera’s numbers, his ERA will be higher than it should have been.
You might try to dismiss Herrera’s earned run as an aberration; how often does something happen that is so statistically misleading?
And the answer is all the time.
Cuthbert gets an RBI ... and shouldn’t have
In the second inning of that same Monday night game against the Rays, Kendrys Morales was on third base with one down. The Royals put the contact play on; Morales was going to break for home as soon as the batter made contact and hope the ball wasn’t hit right at somebody.
But it was.
Cuthbert hit a grounder to second baseman Steve Pearce and it appeared Pearce had a fairly easy out at home plate. To just about everyone’s surprise — including the people wearing a Tampa Bay uniform — Pearce looked home, then threw the ball to first base and allowed the run to score.
Turns out Pearce is not really a second baseman.
Pearce has been in the big leagues for 10 years but hasn’t played second base very often. Not having the instincts of a guy who’s played the position his entire career, Pearce made a bad choice: he didn’t throw the ball home. He chose to go after the easy runner at first base, the runner that didn’t involve a tag play.
Once again, when we get to the end of the season, will we remember that Cuthbert has one more RBI than he should have?
Logan Morrison’s balk
Actually, the balk was credited to Rays pitcher Matt Andriese, not first baseman Logan Morrison.
But the balk was Morrison’s fault.
In that same Monday night game, Andriese attempted a pickoff ... and when he spun around to throw the ball to first, Morrison wasn’t looking at him. Andriese held onto the ball and got nailed with a balk.
One game and at least three plays where the numbers do not reveal what really happened that night.
So do numbers matter?
A pitcher takes too long to deliver the ball to home plate; the runner steals second base and the stolen base goes on the catcher’s record.
An outfielder fails to take charge on a pop fly, comes too close to the infielder trying to make the catch and the ball is dropped. It was the outfielder’s mistake but the infielder gets the error.
Lorenzo Cain beats out a bunch of infield grounders and dumps some flares just beyond second base and hits .301; Eric Hosmer spends the first part of a season hitting laser beams right at people and hits .232. If you weren’t there watching, you wouldn’t know what went into those batting averages.
Every night on every ballfield, something happens that the numbers can’t take into consideration.
So if numbers can be misleading, do they matter?
Of course they do: numbers reveal important information that every ballplayer and coach wants to know. But those ballplayers and coaches take the numbers with a grain of salt — they know they don’t reveal everything worth knowing.
The guys who play the game for a living look at the numbers as a starting place; other information has to be filled in to have a complete understanding of what actually occurred. And those of us who don’t play the game would be smart to take the same attitude.
Numbers are important, but they can still be misleading.