Terrance Gore Is Human After All

This is not how a catcher reacts to your typical regular-season caught stealing:

And this is not the sort of enthusiasm with which a catcher is typically met in the post-game high-five line:

If you missed what happened in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals, I’ve already spoiled the surprise. Terrance Gore, pinch-runner extraordinaire, was caught stealing in a regular-season game for the first time in his career. He’d gone 17-for-17 before Wednesday night. He’d gone 4-for-5 in the postseason, too, and his only caught stealing came at third base on a play in which he beat the throw and was originally called safe, only to have the verdict changed because his foot came off the bag for a split-second.

For more than a century prior to the advent of instant replay, Gore’s only caught stealing before Wednesday night wouldn’t have been a caught stealing at all, and even with replay, the ruling was dubious. Gore was damn near 21-for-21 in steal attempts to begin his career before Wednesday night, and the major-league record in the expansion era is 26, set by Mitchell Page in 1977. What was amounting to an historic streak has now come to a close, at the hands of Indians catcher Roberto Perez and reliever Cody Allen.

Let’s have some fun with small samples. The small samples being Gore’s. Gore has appeared in just 32 major-league games, and he’s barely played in any of them, because he’s almost exclusively been used as a pinch-runner. He’s batted just nine times, and he still doesn’t have a major-league hit. He might never get a major-league hit. He’s played 19 innings in the field. So, Gore’s sample is small. But even in the largest possible sample, Gore stands out.

I exported a leaderboard of every player in the history of major-league baseball — I mean going allllllll the way back to 1871 — who’s appeared in at least 10 games. Just 10. Gore is one of those players. There are 8,433 others. Zero of them are quite like Gore. Here are some silly rankings.

  • PA/game: 0.28, which ranks 15th of 8,434 in literally the history of baseball
  • SB/game: 0.53, which ranks 7th of 8,434 in literally the history of baseball
  • BsR/162 games: +22.8 runs, which ranks first of anyone literally ever

Gore’s actually been sent to the plate at a historically low rate. He’s stolen bases at a historically high rate. And he’s accrued base-running value at the most historically high rate. Another fun thing about Gore is that, since he almost exclusively appears in the eighth and ninth innings of close games, his every step comes with extremely high importance. Since play-by-play data began in 1974, only three players who appeared in at least 10 games have a higher career average leverage index than Gore — Manny Mota, Charlie Manuel, and Rod Gaspar. In other words, in terms of something made-up like intensity per minute, Gore’s had one of the most pressure-packed careers ever. He’s never stealing just to steal. Gore’s every action means something.

With that in mind, perhaps the most remarkable thing about what Gore does is that his intentions couldn’t be more obvious. One of the largest advantages a base-stealer can possess is the element of surprise, and in that regard, Gore handicaps himself in doing the only thing he’s asked to do every time he steps on the field. Terrance Gore’s entire career is like a poker player flipping one card up after the flop, getting you to call three streets and then scooping the pot every time. Terrance Gore would win a sack race, by himself, with both feet in the sack.

Perez had a crack at Gore the night before. Andrew Miller was on the mound, and, ever since ditching his leg kick several years ago, Miller is extremely quick to the plate. Gore was the first player to even attempt a steal against Miller this season. Only two players attempted a steal against Miller in 2015, and only one was safe. Only three players attempted a steal against him in 2014, and only two were safe. Ditto 2013. Not a single runner tried in 2012. Miller holds runners with the best of them, and so most don’t even waste their time.

Gore went on the first pitch:

Miller, as always, is quick to the plate. My video editor shows the ball hitting Perez’s glove 1.33 seconds after the first observed movement of Miller’s right leg marking the beginning of his delivery. The throw from Perez was strong, but shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis had a miscommunication over who was covering the bag, and Perez had to hesitate for a split-second before unleashing an errant throw.

There wouldn’t be a miscommunication the following night.

“As soon as they brought Gore in, I knew he was going to come in and try to steal a base,” Perez told reporters after the game.

Perez knew. Allen knew. Everyone knew. Everyone knew that, pretty soon, Terrance Gore would try and do the one thing he’s never failed to do in his career.

“On my end, all I’m trying to do is just disrupt his timing as much as possible,” Allen said. “I don’t want him to get a good jump. Jumps come off the pitchers. So, a guy that quick, that good at what he does, you’re trying your best just to kind of let his feet sink into the ground a little bit right there, so he doesn’t get a good jump.”

Look No. 1: Allen comes set, nods his head once toward home, and holds for a total of 3.98 seconds before firing a pickoff to first base. The pickoff has no intention of actually throwing Gore out.

“I’m trying to hold the ball, disrupt his timing,” Allen said.

Look No. 2: Allen comes set, nods twice, holds for 5.06 seconds, fires.

Look No. 3: set, three nods, 6.67 seconds, pitch. Gore breaks, but hesitates. Unclear whether this was intentional or a re-calibration. On the one hand, it gives him one opportunity to attempt to time Allen. On the other, Allen hasn’t given him anything close to the same look twice.

The money shot:

Look No. 4: set, three nods, 6.89 seconds, pitch, perfect throw, double fist pump.

The throw from Perez couldn’t have been better. Lindor was in the right position to place a quick tag. Gore called his jump “terrible” after the game. All of that, and it was still close.

Perhaps the biggest difference was this — here’s Allen delivering a pitch against the Blue Jays last month, with Josh Donaldson on first and Edwin Encarnacion on second. In other words, without the threat of a steal:

And now here’s Allen on the pitch that led to Terrance Gore’s first career caught stealing at second base:

In case that difference isn’t clear:

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-1-51-23-am

Allen dramatically muted his high leg kick, expediting his time to the plate. By my count, he shaved roughly two-tenths of a second off his delivery. Two-tenths of a second is an eternity when Terrance Gore has already broken for second base. “That was probably the quickest I’ve ever been to the plate,” Allen said.

Everything has to be executed perfectly to catch Terrance Gore stealing. Perfection is hard to come by, which is why we’d never seen what happened on Friday night happen until everything was finally executed perfectly.

“I’m not freaking God,” said Gore after the game.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Conrad Parrish
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Conrad Parrish

It would be cool to see Austin Hedges catching Andrew Miller, with Gore at first. It would effectively be the best at their three respective roles.