The Massive Blunder
This is being written under the assumption that the double steal in the 7th inning was called for from the bench. That assumption could be wrong – if so, just replace “Eric Wedge” with whoever decided to try this. Of course, you can also make a very valid argument that it’s the managers responsibility to make sure that the people under him aren’t stupid enough to do something like this without his consent either…
Tonight, Eric Wedge made one of the worst tactical decisions I’ve seen from a manager in a long, long time. Down by two runs in the 7th inning, the Mariners had managed to get the tying runs on base, and Justin Smoak had worked a 3-0 count from George Sherrill. This was an amazingly great situation for the M’s. Sherrill is a left-handed specialist who is mediocre against right-handers, and he was now pitching in the best possible hitter’s count to a right-handed batter who could sit on a fastball and try to launch it over the fence for the lead.
Instead of getting to see what the team’s clean-up hitter could do in the best possible hitting situation you could imagine, the M’s attempted a double steal. Smoak took a called strike, and Brian McCann threw out Adam Kennedy at second base for the second out of the inning. All of the sudden, Smoak was the tying run instead of the go-ahead run, and any out would end the rally and let the Braves turn the game over to the vaunted Venters/Kimbrel duo in the 8th and 9th inning.
So, yes, the result sucked, but what’s maddening about this play isn’t even that it didn’t work. It’s that had it worked, it still wouldn’t have helped the team. Even if Kennedy is called safe and the team moves the tying run into scoring position, it’s an automatic intentional walk for Smoak to load the bases. There’s no way Fredi Gonzalez would continue pitching to Smoak with first base open when he could simply put him on, get the platoon advantage against Dustin Ackley, set up the double play and a force at home. It’s the easiest IBB call ever.
And so, the best possible outcome if the double-steal is successful is bases loaded, 1 out, and Ackley at the plate against Sherrill. But guess what? Had the M’s not sent the runners, they almost certainly would have had that outcome anyway.
Justin Smoak has had 21 plate appearances this year where he’s worked a 3-0 count (before tonight). He’s gone on to draw a walk 15 times, giving him a .714 OBP after getting to that spot. The AL average this year is .746. When a pitcher falls behind a hitter 3-0, they usually just end up walking them.
The outcome the M’s were willing to risk the tying run for was the most likely outcome if they did nothing. To do anything other than have the runners stand and watch Justin Smoak either get a fastball to try and thump or take his base is just craziness. Absolute insanity.
That double steal call was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on a baseball field, rivaling Eric Byrnes famous pull-back-the-squeeze last year. Whoever called for it needs to take Baseball Run Expectancy 101. That Smoak did walk and then Dustin Ackley immediately singled up the middle for a hit that would have tied the game just makes the mistake all the more obvious, but it was a mistake from the minute it was conceived.
Whether that was Wedge, one of his coaches, or the runners themselves, the person who made the decision to try and steal there owes the team an apology. They may have very well cost the Mariners a win.