Sunday Notes: Arozarena’s Steal Would Have Been Nullified By a Strike

In what might be the most-thrilling play we’ll see all October, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena successfully executed a straight steal of home in Game One of the ALDS. Moments later, I shared the following on Twitter:

Instead of calmly throwing a ball right down the middle for strike three to end the inning, Taylor panicked.”

Journalist friend Bruce Schoenfeld responded as follows:

That is exactly right. I kept waiting for the announcers to say it. I wrote a [Sports Illustrated] piece on straight steals of home & talked to every active player who’d done it. They agreed that nobody should ever try with two out and two strikes, All the pitcher has to do is throw a strike.”

In other words, Arozarena’s theft could have been nullified.

I checked with a rules expert to make sure Bruce and I weren’t mistaken. According to Chris Welsh — a former big-league pitcher and current Cincinnati Reds radio and TV analyst who runs the website Baseball Rules Academy — we had it right. Had Red Sox reliever Josh Taylor simply remained on the rubber and thrown a pitch that landed in strike zone, the batter would have been out and the inning would have been over. Instead, he made the mistake of stepping off, thereby making himself a fielder and not a pitcher. His hurried heave toward home plate wasn’t nearly in time.

Again, there were two outs and two strikes on the batter.

What if Taylor had “remained a pitcher” and delivered strike three, but with Arozarena sliding home before the ball actually crossed the plate? Glad you asked. The run wouldn’t have counted, because the pitch takes precedence over anything that happens on the base paths. Moreover, if the offering were to hit the runner while he was sliding home, and in the umpire’s judgement the pitch would have been ruled a strike, the run wouldn’t count. The batter would simply have fanned.

Arozarena’s daring theft was unquestionably fun and exciting. Even so, had Taylor kept his composure and executed a pitch in the strike zone — and done so without altering his delivery (as explained in this video) — Arozarena wouldn’t have scored. His mad dash would have gone for naught.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Coco Crisp went 0 for 2 against Rocky Cherry.

Al Kaline went 1 for 3 against Rocky Colavito.

Carlos Delgado went 1 for 11 against Rocky Coppinger.

Kevin McReynolds went 4 for 4 against Rocky Childress.

Chipper Jones went 4 for 6 against Rocky Biddle.

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Washington Post national baseball writer Chelsea Janes was a guest on this past Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and among the topics she addressed was a San Francisco Giants team that far exceeded projections by winning 107 regular-season games. I asked Janes if she could explain why the Gabe Kapler-managed club has been so good. Here are excerpts from her response:

I don’t know. I hate to say this, but it’s so stunning to me that you start to wonder, and be a little suspicious. Like, what do they know that we don’t? Whenever something doesn’t add up in baseball, the first thing you sort of think of is, ’Is somebody doing something they’re not supposed to be?’ I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s that crazy that they’re doing this.

“Whether it’s Kapler, whether it’s the front office, whether it’s the coaches, they’re just kind of willing to do what they feel fits the player, instead of what fits tradition. I don’t think they’re breaking the mold that much; it just seems like they’ve gotten buy-in from a group of guys who already knew how to win. The roster construction has been good, and it’s just been really, really impressive. We’ll see how it stands up to October. I feel like everyone is sort of waiting for the end of this run, but maybe it doesn’t come..”

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Drew Rasmussen pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers before coming to the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this year as part of the Willy Adames deal. I asked the 26-year-old right-hander if he is rooting for the Brewers in the National League playoffs, and what it would be like to face his old team in the World Series.

“I have a lot of friends in the clubhouse,” Rasmussen responded. “I do love that organization, and I enjoyed my time there, so I’d love to see them have success. It’s a really cool city that I think a lot of people don’t know about, and I think it’s a really great fan base [and] a really great stadium. So to get to play October/November baseball in that park would be really cool. When they sing ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ in the seventh inning, that’s an atmosphere I don’t think can be recreated.”

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A quiz:

Ralph Terry threw the fateful pitch when the Pirates beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series on a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski. Which Pittsburgh pitcher — best known for a game he pitched the previous year — was credited with the win?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Daren Willman announced earlier this week that he will be joining the Texas Rangers as Senior Director of R&D and Applications. The creator of Baseball Savant has spent the last five years at MLB.com.

The Detroit Tigers announced that they have hired Gabe Ribas as their new Director of Pitching. The 41-year-old Rivas has spent the last four seasons as a pitching coordinator in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

Per The Athletic’s Evan Dreilich, MLB issued approximately 240 fines to approximately 140 players for failure to properly wear a face mask this season. Details can be found here.

Tom Carroll, an infielder for the New York Yankees in 1955-1956, and for the Kansas City Athletics in 1959, died late last month at age 85. A bench player — he started in just three of his 28 career games — Carroll had nine hits in 30 at bats.

Charlie Lindstrom, a catcher whose career comprised one game for the Chicago White Sox in 1958, died late last month at age 85. Twenty-two years old when he made his debut, the son of longtime New York Giants infielder/outfielder Freddie Lindstrom walked and tripled in his two plate appearances. Per his B-Ref Bullpen entry, Lindstrom is the only non-pitcher to triple in his only career at-bat.

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The answer to the quiz is Harvey Haddix, who on May 26, 1959 had a perfect game through 12 innings, only to lose both the perfecto and the game itself in the 13th inning.

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Cleveland Guardians southpaw Alex Young shared the story behind his spiked curveball in a September installment of our Learning and Developing a Pitch series. Speaking to the erstwhile Arizona Diamondback for that piece, I learned that another weapon in his arsenal has undergone an overhaul. More specifically, he’s tweaked he sinker.

“It’s more of a one-seam now,” explained Young, whom Cleveland claimed off waivers in late July. “The way I hold it is similar to how a lot of guys throw a slider. Matt Peacock of the Diamondbacks taught it to me. My other sinker — [with] the two-seam grip — was cutting a lot; it was staying up or not moving as much, so I tried this one. It had more depth on the TrackMan. It was sinking more, almost to where it looked like a changeup.”

Young grips his revamped sinker with his pointer and middle fingers together on the left side of the horseshoe, with the middle “basically pushing on the seam.” He cited staying on top of the ball and not trying to manipulate the pitch as his primary keys.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The 2021-2022 Mexican Pacific League season got underway this past Tuesday. The schedule runs through December 23, with postseason play to follow. The playoff champions will then advance to Caribbean Series, which will be played in Santo Domingo beginning on January 28.

Softbank Hawks infielder Kenta Imamiya recently became the 311th player in NPB history to reach 1,000 hits. A total of 1,231 players have reached that mark in MLB (since 1901), with Eduardo Escobar and Francisco Lindor joining the list on October 2nd.

Over in the KBO, Shin-Soo Choo went deep for the 20th time season on Tuesday. The 39-year-old SSG Landers outfielder has a .263/.405/.448 slash line to go with 20 home runs and 23 stolen bases.

Aaron Altherr has 28 home runs and 16 steals for the KBO’s NC Dinos. The 30-year-old outfielder is slashing .265/.346/.509.

Baek-Ho Kang leads the KBO with a 1.003 OPS. The 22-year-old KT Wiz first baseman is slashing .355/.459/.544 with 34 doubles and 16 home runs.

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Jumping back to the Boston-Tampa Bay series, Shane McClanahan is in line to start for the Rays if there is a deciding Game Five. That would be advantageous for the AL East champs, right? The left-hander blanked the Red Sox for five innings in Game One, and in his previous start against Boston — this in early September — he did exactly the same. Combined, it was 10 scoreless innings over the two outings.

Let’s take look a deeper look. McClanahan gave up eight hits in the 10 frames, all of them singles. That’s impressive. But balls-in-play that resulted in outs tell another story. Of the 25 he recorded (he also had five strikeouts), 11 came with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph, and five of those were 104-plus. Three more batted balls that ended up in gloves were hit at least 98 mph, one of them a 99.6-mph rocket that traveled 382 feet. All told, 56% of the batted-ball outs that McClanahan recorded over the two games came on hard contact.

Did McClanahan also make some quality pitches and elicit weak contact at times? Absolutely. But he still got squared up a lot. Good defensive positioning helped him get away with it, but the baseball gods arguably played an even bigger role. Balls struck with an exit velocity of 100-plus were hits 59% of the time this season. For the Red Sox-versus-McClanahan, that number was 36%.

If the talented young southpaw were to induce a similar level of hard contact in a Game Five, chances are pretty good that his fortunes would be far less favorable. In order to keep the Red Sox off the scoreboard, he’ll have to miss more barrels.

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What is Gerrit Cole’s pregame demeanor on days he’s scheduled to start? The New York Yankees ace was asked that question on the afternoon preceding the AL Wild Card game, and his response was classic Cole.

“I’m not the guy that can walk out of the bullpen and say, ‘I’m going to flip this switch and slide into my game mentality,’” the righty told reporters. “But that also doesn’t constitute being a not-pleasant person to be around. There are some people who have to do that, and that’s okay, but I’m not… like, don’t bother me with dumb stuff, but I’m not going to snap at you either. But don’t bother me with dumb stuff.”

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Nathan Eovaldi will be on the mound for Boston in this afternoon’s ALDS Game Three, so I asked him the same question Cole had fielded last week.

“I’m super relaxed in the clubhouse,” stated Eovaldi. “I’m talking to everybody. If they want to come up and talk to me, they can. I mean, obviously we’re not joking around with each other too much. It is game day. [But] I’m pretty approachable.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The Athletic’s Andrew Baggerly did a highly-informative Q&A with San Francisco Giants director of pitching Brian Bannister.

MLB’s brightest stars aren’t playing October baseball, and Hannah Keyser wrote about it for Yahoo Sports.

Can baseball fix its pipeline for managers of color? Shakeia Taylor delved into the subject at Global Sports Matters.

Who were the best-ever first-year players prior to the introduction of the Rookie-of-the-Year Award, in 1947? John Thorn explored that question at Our Game.

Baseball America’s Matt Eddy shared minor league park factors for 2021.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Four teams had identical records home and away this year: Cleveland (40-41), New York Yankees (46-35), Oakland (43-38), St. Louis (45-36).

Adam Wainwright is in his 16th season and leads all active pitchers with 27 career complete games. Catfish Hunter had 30 complete games in 1975.

Sandy Koufax went 36-40 with a 100 ERA+ through his age-24 season.
Julio Urias is 32-10 with a 133 ERA+ through his age-24 season.

Jose Iglesias has 923 hits, 1,273 total bases, a .277 BA, and a .700 OPS.
Bill Knickerbocker had 943 hits, 1,279 total bases, a .276 BA, and a .700 OPS.

In 1945, Detroit Tigers left-hander Hal Newhouser went 25-9 with 29 complete games and 63 earned runs allowed. In 1946, Newhouser went 26-9 with 29 complete games and 63 earned runs allowed.

Monk Sherlock slashed .324/.380/.398 in 335 plate appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1930. It was his only big-league season. Vince Sherlock — Monk’s younger brother — slashed .462/.481/.500 in 27 plate appearances with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1935. It was his only big-league season.

The Boston Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians 23-7 in Game 4 of the ALDS on today’s date in 1999. John Valentin went 4 for 5 with a double, two home runs, and seven RBIs.

On today’s date in 1924, Earl McNeely doubled home Muddy Ruell in the bottom of the 12th inning as the Washington Senators beat the New York Giants 4-3 in Game 7 of the World Series. Walter Johnson got the win in relief.

Players born on today’s date include Fiore Gino Tennaci, who paired a 140 wRC+ with a .241 batting average in a career that spanned the 1969-1983 seasons. Better known as Gene Tenace, the catcher/first baseman was the MVP of the 1972 World Series while playing for the Oakland Athletics.

Also born on today’s date was Homer Peel, an outfielder who logged 100 hits while playing for three teams from 1927-1934. A member of the 1933 World Series champion New York Giants, Peel had two career home runs.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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“Al Kaline went 1 for 3 against Rocky Colavito.”

As most people know, Colavito was a position player. He only pitched twice, first on August 13th, 1958 as a member of Cleveland and then more than 10 years later on August 25th, 1968 as a member of the Yankees. Both times were against the Tigers and both were under what appear to be strange circumstances.

The first time he was brought into the 7th inning, Detroit winning 2-1, runners on 2nd and 3rd, no one out. Did Cleveland really have no one else to pitch? Granted this was the second game of a doubleheader but Cleveland only used 3 pitchers in the first game and 3 pitchers the day before. Hard to believe that they were so desperate that they had to turn to a position player to pitch. Anyway, Colavito got out of the inning with only one more run scoring. Cleveland closed the gap to 3-2 on a Colavito triple but went on to lose by that same score with Colavito making the final out of the game at the plate.

The second time he pitched he was brought into a 4-0 game in the 4th inning, bases loaded, 1 out. He got out of that inning without allowing a run and went on to pitch 2.2 scoreless innings. The Yankees rallied to win 6-5 with Colavito scoring the go-ahead run. And he was also credited with the victory based on his 2.2 scoreless innings. While the decision to pitch Colavito obviously worked out, I still don’t understand the logic. Mel Stottlemyre pitcher a complete game the day before so the bullpen was fresh. And while the game that Colavito pitched in was the first game of a doubleheader, he was also the first person to come into the game after the starting pitcher was pulled.

Anyway thought this was interesting and worth sharing. Wonder if there are other position players who were brought into pitch in winnable games?