April 26, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Some of you may remember a play from the 2000 postseason that generated a lot of discussion. It occurred near the end of Game 3 of the NL Division Series between the Mets and the Giants. With one out in the top of the ninth, the Giants' Armando Rios was on second base representing the tying run. Rich Aurilia hit a ground ball in front of Rios to shortstop Mike Bordick. Rios lit out for third base, and was thrown out by a wide margin.
I argued that Rios's decision was defensible, based on the difficulty of the play and the risks and rewards involved. Many, including some people on staff here at BP, disagreed with me. In fact, the comment on Rios in Baseball Prospectus 2001 references the incident.
I bring this up because in watching the Giants play last night against the Reds, I saw a similar baserunning maneuver that has me on the other side of the argument, wondering what the hell the guy was thinking.
The play in question occurred in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Giants trailed 6-3, with Shawon Dunston on second base, two men out, and Rich Aurilia at the plate. Aurilia hit a grounder to the right of Barry Larkin that Larkin gloved in short left field. Dunston rounded third base and stopped, but when he saw Larkin stumble upon fielding the ball, he took off for the plate. Larkin rushed his throw home, the ball one-hopped catcher Jason LaRue, and Dunston was safe at the plate.
It was one of the worst baserunning decisions I've ever seen.
If Dunston doesn't run, the Giants have first and third, two out, and some guy named Bonds coming to the plate as the tying run. By going, Dunston risked that for a shot, and not a real good one, at one run. It may have even taken the bat out of Bonds's hands, as Aurilia moved to second base on the play, opening up first base for what sure looked like a semi-intentional walk. Jeff Kent then grounded out to end the inning.
The worst part was listening to Joe Morgan completely miss the point. He first praised Dunston for all the things for which announcers like to praise scrappy veterans. Then, he used the play to extend a point he'd been making about Larkin, that the shortstop's arm isn't particularly strong.
The problem, of course, was that the judgment exercised by Dunston was terrible, and that Larkin not making the play had nothing to do with arm strength, and everything to do with not setting himself for a throw. Larkin tossed a HuckaBall(TM) 10 feet in the air while falling away from his target... and the throw still beat the runner home by three steps. Had he taken the half-second necessary to set himself, Dunston would have been out by the distance between Tony Muser and competence. That's not about arm strength, it's about decision-making.
But, hey, Dunston's a hustler, and the play fit Morgan's theme, so why let what actually happened get in the way of the story?
Hustle is a good thing, but it has to be tempered by judgment and an awareness of game situation. Dunston demonstrated the first, but not the other two, and he shouldn't be given a free ride just because he scored and got his uniform dirty in the process.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.