June 27, 2008

When fishing for third, try a hook

A mid-June 4thebirds post from another network, by permission:

In the sixth inning of last night's game, Ryan Ludwick attempted to tag up at second base on a fly ball to deep left field. Jose Guillen would catch the ball at the warning track and fire to third base.

Ludwick was out sliding on a close play.

Strategy. Okay, six of one, half a dozen of the other, but as long the risk isn't too outlandish, I tend to agree with aggressive base running. Forcing the defense to be perfect will oftentimes produce enough pressure to force mistakes. Unfortunately for Ludwick, Guillen made no mistake. In Ludwick's defense, it took a perfect throw to get him.

But the potential solution here is too use a more appropriate slide in this situation. Ludwick might have chosen better, as this was no bang-bang play. Guillen, the Busch Stadium sellout crowd, and entire viewing fandom all new Ludwick was tagging up on the ball. That he used the wrong slide probably got by most folks. And keep in mind, that had Ludwick employed a different sliding technique, he very well still might not have been safe.

The slide, in my opinion, that Ludwick should have executed is called a hook slide, whereby a base runner falls away to one side or the other of the base he is approaching. In this case, Ludwick would've had to extended his left leg outward toward the home plate side of third base, laying as far over as possible and still "hook" the bag with his right foot. His right leg would sort of drag along, bent at the knee, allowing the top of the right foot to contact the bag. The left arm is usually held high for balance while the right hand and arm reach to the right, following the right foot to the bag in case of an over-slide. A hook slide to the right side of the bad uses the same technique, with all limb assignments flip-flopped.

What Ludwick employed was a pop-up slide, so named because the base runner slides directly to the bag with lead leg (whichever he is comfortable with) extended for the most part, with a slight bend in the knee. The other leg is bent and is part of what the base runner is sliding upon, beside his backside. Ludwick performed a decent pop-up slide, in all fairness.

Now, the difference in each slide as per the Ludwick putout at third base. Pop-up slide: gets Ludwick to the base faster, but puts him much closer to the tag. Hook slide: takes Ludwick a bit longer to reach the base, but places him farther from the tag.

Considering the third baseman had to reach in order to make the tag, the hook slide might have served Ludwick better.

As well, observant fans would've noticed Cardinals' third base coach Jose Oquendo waving Ludwick toward the home plate side. A good base coach--like Oquendo--will assist a base runner in this fashion, but it requires the base runner be aware and ready to accept his help. I speculate that Ludwick never gave him a look. But okay, Ludwick decided he was going to take the quick route, and gave it a shot. I would feel better as a coach, however, if I knew Ludwick was aware of all the aforementioned techniques and strategies, and simply made a base running decision on his own. If not, then a hitter like Ludwick, who gets quite a few extra-basehits, would serve himself and the team by getting up on these very different slides, and the how's and whys and whens to employ them.

Using a hook slide to combat the Guillen throw from left should have been a consideration on a throw from this steep left field angle. There simply wouldn't be any other area to go in avoidance of such an impending tag. On throws into third from center and right, Oquendo can do the base runner a great service in directing them left, right, or straight in, employing big, swooping double-armed waves. This does require Oquendo to decide pretty fast, as a late signal doesn't do much for a base runner barreling toward the bag.

Still, I have no problem with the fact that Ludwick was aggressive, and in fact, I do like that strategy, especially on a team-wide basis. And Ludwick may well have made about the best decision on the slide that a base runner could. So I put in my alternative strategy, with solution attached, because I don't like sports writing and sports blogging that gripes, but with no real understanding of what they're griping about, or worse, how to fix it, or at least try. With that said, I submit this hook sliding technique. No biggie, because in this blog, I'm 4thebirds.