Sunday, June 17, 2007

Waving Home Prince

Today's very exciting Brewers-Twins game featured a bizarre play in the top of the ninth. With the Brewers down 9-7, Prince Fielder hit a high fly ball to center. Lew Ford lost sight of the ball, which dropped far away from where Ford was standing. Fielder motored around the bases and was waved home, beating the throw for an inside-the-park homer. The Brewers went on to tie the game, but lost it in the bottom half on a Justin Morneau walkoff homer.

As per the title of this blog, we're not interested in the outcome, but the decision process. Why was Prince Fielder waved home when his run meant nothing?

I touched on a similar play last month. Even though Jose Lopez was thrown out and Fielder was safe, sending Prince home was a far worse decision. After today's game, one of the Brewers higher-ups absolutely must go ask their third-base coach why he gave the windmill signal.

He'll probably spout off some rule of thumb about the outfielder not releasing the ball before the runner hit third, or something like that. So what? Fielder's run doesn't change the outcome of the game. Essentially, the only risk they take by leaving him on third is that a line drive is hit right to the base and Prince is doubled off, an extremely rare occurrence. Meanwhile, Fielder beat the throw by only a step; he could easily have been gunned down, crippling the Brewers' chances of winning.

Third-base coaches often have to make difficult decisions without enough time to properly analyze them, but there are some rules that should be burned permanently into their brains. "Never make the first out at third" is a reasonable but flawed maxim; if the runner has a 90% chance of making it to third safely, he should probably attempt to do so. On the other hand, "Never make the first out at home in the ninth when you trail by multiple runs," is basically always correct, yet we still see coaches taking stupid and needless risks.

What if the Twins had executed a great relay throw home and gotten Prince out? The Brewers then load the bases but fail to get any runs home, and everyone second-guesses the decision to send Fielder. Instead, the play makes the highlight reels and no one says a word. That shouldn't be the way important baseball decisions are scrutinized.

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