July 24, 2014

Carpenter out at home but strategy acceptable

In Wednesday night's 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, in the bottom of the sixth inning, Matt Carpenter was thrown at home plate on an infield ground ball. Though Carpenter was thrown out by a healthy margin, the strategy for the situation was common, and acceptable in this case.

Carpenter has doubled to lead off the Cardinals' half of the sixth and was then bunted over to third base by Kolten Wong.

The Cards were behind 1-0 at that point, and the bunting strategy got Carpenter a better chance of scoring, via past ball, wild pitch, balk, sacrifice fly, squeeze bunt, or base hit, for instance. With only one out, the Cards also had two chances to get Carpenter as the potential tying run home.

Commonly, a base runner at third base with no outs will hold until sure the ball clears the infield, as there will be a couple more at-bats to bring him home. That same base runner, with one out, however, is commonly instructed to break for the plate on any ground ball as there are less chances to score him. Although he may be easily thrown out at home, the thinking is that the batter-runner will reach.

Obvious, the trade-off for a batter-runner to reach first base for a base runner on third is not exactly equitable, but consider a ground ball to be fielded with a throw to the plate with the catcher not just having to make a reception but to apply a tag not only requires a defense to be perfect, but that they have added pressure due to the fact that a run is at stake.

As for Carpenter, he was thrown out by several feet, a ground ball by Matt Holliday requiring Rays' third baseman, Evan Longoria, to scramble to field the ball, and to make things more difficult, Longoria was headed toward the third base line, forcing him to hurry a throw home that had to arch over Carpenter as he strode toward the plate.

Throws within the infield, if at all possible, are made via a clear lane, usually to the inside of the diamond, whereby both the fielder/thrower and receiver ensure a clear throwing lane by moving to such a position. The Rays' catcher, Jose Molina, had to step into the base path because Longoria had no other choice but to throw over the top of the base runner (due to his momentum in fielding and with no time to stop and step to create a clear throwing lane). Molina scurried back a few steps and applied a successful tag on Carpenter.

The risk of a base runner heading for home on an infield ground ball with one out almost paid off. It was the excellent play of the Rays that prevented the tying run from crossing home plate.

One additional factor on this particular play was that the ground ball brought Longoria immediately toward the third base line, whereby there was a good chance Carpenter had no path back to the base off his secondary lead. If anything, Carpenter realized he may as well take off for the plate and force the Rays to make the pressure defensive play.

Of course, there are those that would never have a base runner on third base break for the plate unless he was absolutely sure he could make it. Even the play-it-safe types, however, might have to think on this one a minute, as the Cardinals had not yet scored, and versus the shutdown pitching of the Rays' Alex Cobb, there might not have been any more opportunities to get that close.

Remember that game situations and myriad factors can play into this, and many other strategies, including, but not limited to, how your offense is doing against the opposing pitching, how good is the base runner, who is due up that has a good chance of a successful RBI, are the bases behind the base runner at third base open, so that the pitcher doesn't have to give anything good to hit to those following batters, and, you get the idea.

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