Baserunning Is Hard! (Featuring Charlie Blackmon)

In the bottom of the 10th inning of last night’s Guardians/Rockies game, Charlie Blackmon made a bad read. No, not this one:

That wasn’t the greatest baserunning decision ever – if Andrés Giménez had snared that ball, Blackmon would have been stuck at second – but you can at least understand his hesitation. The ball was still in the air nearly the whole way there, a double play would be disastrous, and hey, if it gets through Giménez, a runner on third with no one out almost always scores, right?

Right? Wrong:

This was a series of tough decisions that went awry, and since I love bad baserunning, I had to break it down.

Let’s start with the first step. I can’t tell whether the Rockies had the contact play on, forcing Blackmon to head home with the crack of the bat and re-evaluate based on the ball’s path. He was hardly blazing headlong down the line at first contact:

Even stranger, it took him quite a while to get going and quite a while to realize his error. Here he is with the ball already squarely in play:

The point of going on contact is to minimize the defense’s reaction time. It has plenty of downsides – you can run into an easy out, basically – but turning close plays into runs is often worth the risk. But Blackmon was actually closer to third base than fellow baserunner Yonathan Daza was to first. He didn’t succeed in the “put pressure on” part of going on contact.

In fact, by the time it was clear where the ball was going, Blackmon likely still could have retreated to third:

This is a math problem that doesn’t favor Blackmon. Emmanuel Clase is much closer to the ball than Blackmon is to home plate. Austin Hedges is in perfect position to receive a throw. In fact, Blackmon was so tardy on his jump, and could see the entire play so clearly thanks to the ball’s location, that I’m sure in retrospect he wishes he’d pumped the brakes. Clase never makes a play at second base here; worst case, if Blackmon stops, it’s second and third with one out.

By the time Clase got to the ball, Blackmon realized his mistake:

That’s the worst place you can be, and Blackmon knew it. He throttled down completely and accepted that he’d be in a rundown. There’s just not much to do there; continue home, and he would have been out by a comical margin.

Then the hijinks really began:

Charlie Blackmon accomplished one of the hardest feats in baseball: he got out of a pickle. Halfway through his retreat to third base, and clearly jogging to extend the rundown, he received a gift from Hedges. All he had to do was trot back to third:

Let’s think about this one for a second. The ball was on the ground roughly halfway between home plate and third base (slightly closer to home). Hedges wasn’t far from it; in the best case for Blackmon, it’d take him a few seconds to grab the ball and get his bearings. And Blackmon was 80% of the way back to third, to having the bases loaded with no one out. Heck, look at Daza in the background up above, jamming on the brakes when he sees that Blackmon will be able to escape back to third.

Except, we know that isn’t what happened. “Go home!” whispered Charlie’s brain. And that’s exactly what he did. Only, did you see where the ball was? Drop aside, Hedges is a phenomenally skilled defender, but all he had to do was pick up a ball at his feet and make an easy toss home. Blackmon was out by 15 feet. And because he ran so far towards Clase, he wasn’t able to draw the rundown out any longer, so there was no chance of the two trailing runners advancing:

Charlie Blackmon is a good baserunner. In his career, he’s been six runs better than average at taking extra bases and avoiding outs as a runner. But baseball is hard. Even baserunning, something we all take for granted, is hard. If you have a single mental hiccup, you might end up charging to your doom when you could have scampered to safety. And while we’re at it, fielding is hard too. Hedges is in the major leagues exclusively because he’s good defensively, and he literally dropped the ball during the biggest moment of the game last night. It didn’t come back to haunt him, though, because baseball is hard for everyone. It’s enough to make you stare off into the middle distance:

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Dick Monfort
1 year ago

We pay Charlie to score runs. Can’t fault him for trying to do that.