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The Blue Jays lost last night 6-5 in 10 innings, after rallying from a 5-0 deficit.  It was one of those games which could easily have gone the other way- the perfect launching point for the baseball-obsessed to pore through the fine details of the game to see if one can make some sense of it. 

We, the baseball-obsessed, often speak of a player’s baseball IQ, which essentially means the ability to make good quick decisions on the diamond- usually in the field or on the bases, but occasionally at the plate.  Some of it is preparation (knowing the arm or speed of the other involved players, the characteristics of the ballpark…), some of it is instinct and some of it is knowing the game.  A player can get better at it (by more thorough preparation), but there are limits governed by their own native ability.


It's one thing, though, to make the decision while static- like the baserunner on first who tags up on a long flyball to left-center and decides whether to try to advance.  Standing in one place looking at the leftfielder or centerfielder converging on the ball, and knowing where it is and how well each throws and how fast you run.  You weigh all that standing on first base and then either go, or stop, or maybe provisionally go while you see the quality of throw.  That initial decision is really quite straightforward and standing in one spot, the process isn’t that much different than me setting in my office and making a decision in my work. 


It's another entirely to make a decision while moving at speed.  When I’m running as fast as I can or even at 75% of full speed, there is no way that I could make an important decision.  But some ballplayers can do it.  Devon Whyte was so comfortable in centerfield that he could make decisions at full speed without looking at the ball.  It was a beautiful thing to watch.  And at the other end of the spectrum…no wait, let’s save that for the end. 


There were three very different plays last night, one early and two late, where we saw different players making decisions on the move, with the decisions being of varying complexity and difficulty. 



The most straight-forward of the decisions was Teoscar Hernandez’s decision to try to stretch a line-drive single in right-center into a double leading off the second inning.  He was thrown out on a great play by centerfielder Mark Contreras.  The play was in front of Hernandez, and he had to consider that the centerfielder would need to spin around and make an accurate throw.  The commentariat (Nigel and me) was divided on whether Hernandez ran as hard as he could out of the box.  Nigel thought that he ran 75% of full speed and I thought that he ran at full speed.  On sober second thought, I think that we were in a way both right.  Teoscar has many fine qualities, but the one thing he cannot do is make decisions at full speed.  He can run and make decisions- in the field usually slower than on the basepaths- but just not all out.  So, Nigel was correct that he was running 75% of full speed, but I was correct in the sense that he was running as fast as he could (for him) given that he had to make an important decision.  It wasn’t a question of effort.




The situation.  Top of the tenth, one out, Biggio on second, Guerrero Jr. on first and Lourdes at the plate.  Second baseman Arraez is playing fairly deep.  Biggio takes a very good-sized secondary lead.  Gurriel Jr. hits a line drive which is over Arraez’ head but sinking as it approaches him.  Biggio takes maybe a step then hesitates.  Arraez jumps but can’t reach it, and Biggio advances to third but does not score when Hernandez and Bichette strike out.


Biggio’s baseball IQ is excellent, but, man, this was a tough decision.  There are three factors- how likely is Arraez to catch it, is Biggio a dead duck even if he hesitates before the ball is caught because of how far off he already is, and what is the break-even point on a decision to go.  Arraez is 5’10”, but you’ve got to know his jumping ability (has Biggio even see Arraez jump? I certainly had no idea but would have guessed correctly that Arraez does not have much vertical) and you’ve got to be able to project the arc on the ball from a bad angle.  And that’s just the first part of the decision.  And as for the break-even point, it would take me 15 minutes to run the calculations in general and then you have to consider whether to adjust for Fulmer facing Hernandez and Bichette.  The calculations have more uncertainty than usual because there’s a relative shortage of data on the extra-inning ghost runner situation.


I don’t know whether Biggio made the right decision and in particular how committed he already was when he stopped, but I can certainly understand why he made it.




The situation.  Gordon on second, nobody out, tie game, Cave at the plate.  Romano coaxes on a swinging strike three on a slider in the dirt which Jansen blocks and the ball rolls up the first base line as Cave hesitates only briefly.  Jansen pounces on the ball and swipes at Cave as he goes by but misses.  Jansen tries to throw him out, but Cave is in the way so the throw is high.  Guerrero Jr. jumps and the ball is in his mitt, but he can’t squeeze it.  Gordon advances to third when the ball falls away from Guerrero Jr. 


Did Jansen make the right decision to attempt the tag, or would he have been better to pounce, step to the side and make an unimpeded throw?  I tend to think the latter. However, again, this is a decision made at full bore with moving parts, the ball and the baserunner.  I can’t imagine having to make those decisions under those conditions for a living, but that’s why they pay them the big bucks.


Incidentally, it was very important that Guerrero Jr. was unable to hold on to the ball.  The degree of difficulty on that play was less than Jansen’s.  If Gordon had remained on second, Chapman would have had a shot at a 5-4-3 on Beckham’s grounder, or at least to go 5-4.




So, at one end of the spectrum, we have Devon Whyte in centerfield and then we have Biggio on the basepaths or Jansen on the field and then we have Teoscar on the basepaths or in the field and then at the other end, we have…Raimel Tapia after he hits the ball. 


It’s generally not a hard thing to decide what to do after you hit the ball.  Unless you’ve fouled the ball off, you run.  And if there’s any doubt at all whether you’ve fouled the ball off, you run.  The worst thing that happens to you if you run on a ball that’s clearly foul is you look a bit foolish.  Is that why Raimel Tapia doesn’t routinely run when he hits the ball- fear of looking the fool?  I don’t think so.  I think he just needs to process what has occurred and to decide what to do, and he needs to just stop.  It’s obviously not an asset, but it’s a quality like a quick twitch reflex.  It means that he will ground into more double plays than you would think given his speed, but it’s not a big moral failing or something.  It just is. 

One of the really nice things about baseball is that the team gets to play the very next day after a tough loss like last night's.  And the slate is clean. 


Under Pressure- Decision-Making in Motion and a partial defence for Raimel Tapia | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
mathesond - Saturday, August 06 2022 @ 01:24 PM EDT (#419250) #
Nice write-up, Mike. Having not been able to watch the game (I did manage to catch the final 2 episodes of the first season of Mythic Quest, so it wasn't a total loss!), your descriptions of some of the crucial plays in the game is very much appreciated, as is the analysis of what may have been going through our protagonists' minds.
Nigel - Saturday, August 06 2022 @ 01:59 PM EDT (#419252) #
I agree with all of that Mike. I was going to post today that I shouldn’t be as critical of Hernandez in that situation for the very reason you mentioned. Since the beginning of last season, Hernandez has played the OF at 3/4 speed and it has all but eliminated those moments of complete brain lapse that he used to have when playing the OF. Some loss of range is a good trade off to eliminate those blunders. I enjoyed reading this. It reminds me of an interview I remember of Wayne Gretzky from many years ago. The discussion was about the fact that Wayne wasn’t the fastest skater. Wayne jokingly said that he skated about as fast as his brain could think the game (or something like that). At the time I thought it was false modesty but as I’ve aged I’ve suspected that there was something to that.
vw_fan17 - Saturday, August 06 2022 @ 02:15 PM EDT (#419253) #
Speaking of Tapia.. He has some VERY interesting splits. When batting leadoff - 5 games, 28 PA, OPS of 893!! All other situations are <= 710, except for 2 PA batting 3rd and 20 PA batting 5th where he hit 776.

When he swings at the first pitch (82 PA): OPS of 930 for that PA. Otherwise, 607 (207 PA).
It gets MORE extreme: when he HITS the first pitch (32 PA) - OPTS or 1.167. 2-0 count, 1.182 (both > 159 sOPS+). 3-1 count, he's 571, MINUS 19 SOPS+. After the count gets to 2-2 (46 PA), he's hit 273. Yes, 273 OPS. He hits better 0-2 (361).

Does he get in his head too often, the later the count goes and when he thinks the pitcher has to come to him?
krose - Saturday, August 06 2022 @ 07:21 PM EDT (#419259) #
Very interesting Mike! I did many cognitive assessments with students, and processing speed was an interesting sub test. Many think it has no place in a general intelligence score. But isn’t it interesting how slowing down Hernandez’s fielding helps him make better decisions in the field. But…he still has a hard time deciding whether he can actually turn that single into a double. Gurriel has some similar characteristics.

I think you are bang on with regard to Tapia and the need to “see” before taking off. I wonder if his little league team mates used to yell “run” “run”. Makes me smile to think about that.
Magpie - Saturday, August 06 2022 @ 07:33 PM EDT (#419260) #
I also think that the way Tapia swings actually shifts his weight backward, which is a little odd.

Gretzky - he skated just fast enough so you didn't catch him! Just like he shot hard enough that you couldn't stop it.
Mike Green - Saturday, August 06 2022 @ 07:38 PM EDT (#419261) #
For fun, I had a look at some Win Expectancy charts to see if I could get a handle on the break-even point for Biggio going on that line drive over Arraez on these assumptions:

- ball drops, Biggio goes and scores (estimated win-expectancy 75%)
-ball drops, Biggio stays and the bases are loaded with 1 out (estimated win-expectancy 55%)
-ball is caught, Biggio goes and is doubled off (estimated win-expectancy with more accuracy 19%)
-ball is caught, Biggio says and the Jays have runners on 1st and 2nd (estimated win-expectancy 32%)

The break-even point is almost exactly 40%- Biggio should go if the ball drops in 40% of the time or more.

There is insufficient data to use win-expectancy charts for the 10th inning because of the ghost runner.  I have used estimates for the top of the ninth and considered the outcomes for the bottom of the ninth with home team tied, down 1 etc. and runner on 2nd with nobody out.  

I would have thought that the break-even point would be significantly higher.

Under Pressure- Decision-Making in Motion and a partial defence for Raimel Tapia | 6 comments | Create New Account
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