Worst Play Of His Career
Ichiro, we’ve written so many good things about you over the years that hopefully you’ll forgive me for this next sentence:
That was the dumbest thing I’ve seen on a baseball field in a long, long time.
If you missed it, Ichiro was on second base, with Lopez over at first and Branyan hitting, with two outs in the 7th inning. The team was down 4-2. Ichiro tried to steal third, and was thrown out by a couple of feet to end the inning.
As a tactical decision, attempting to steal third in that situation is indefensible. He’s already in scoring position, and he’s really fast, so he’s going to score on pretty much any base hit to the outfield. Russ Branyan, as you might know, is not a particularly big threat to get an infield hit. The situations where Ichiro would be able to take advantage of moving up in that situation, scoring on a play where he wouldn’t be able to from second base, are basically limited to passed balls and wild pitches. Those happen too infrequently to bet on in almost every situation.
In the average example of that situation, a successful steal of third base adds about 0.5% to the team’s chances of winning. Getting thrown out removes about 7.5% from the team’s chances of winning. The out is fifteen times more costly than getting in safely is beneficial. In order to justify the decision, Ichiro would have had to be successful 94% of the time – that’s the break even number. For it to be a real value added decision, it’s more like 100%. There had to be essentially no chance he would get thrown out in order to make the risk worth the reward. And that’s in a situation where we assume that everyone else in a position of influence is average.
It gets worse. Jose Molina, the Yankees catcher, is really good at throwing out runners. For his career, he’s thrown out 40% of all attempted base-stealers. There was a left-handed batter in the box, making it an easier throw fro the catcher. That left-handed batter, Russ Branyan, is a pretty good hitter. Oh, and the count was 2-0, making it very likely that Branyan was going to get a fastball over the plate at some point during the at-bat. Russ Branyan kills fastballs over the plate.
Even if Josh Wilson was hitting, Ichiro had no business trying to take third. With Branyan up there, in a hitters count, representing the go-ahead run, running from second base is about as dumb a decision as you can make on a baseball field.
That was incredibly dumb, and it cost the M’s a pretty significant part of their chance at winning the game. If he wasn’t an MVP caliber player, it’s a benchable offense. I might bench him tomorrow anyway. Holy crap was that stupid.