Monday, October 21, 2019

How the Yankees lost

By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)

NOTE: Originally Published at

Judge’s Baserunning Mistake (and John Smoltz’s Errant Analysis);

Lemahieu’s Incredible Homer

Chapman Gives Up the Game Winner

Give the Houston Astros credit.  They beat the Yankees, 6-4, and now move on to the 2019 World Series.  While there is so much to digest in Game 6 and in the entire series, we’ll keep the analysis to one play and two at-bats.

Aaron Judge’s Baserunning Mistake

A five-tool player, Aaron Judge, when healthy, is already a superstar in major league baseball.  But baserunning can be very nuanced -- not always black-and-white -- and sometimes it takes quick thinking to understand what to do on the bases.

By now you’ve probably seen the great catch and throw that Michael Brantley made with one out in the top of the seventh inning.  Judge had singled and Gleyber Torres had made the first out.  Now, Aaron Hicks, on a 3-2 pitch (Judge not running), hits a bloop to short left field. 

Alex Bregman going out, Brantley coming in, it certainly looked like there was a good chance that the ball was going to drop. At the last instant, Brantley dove to make an incredible catch in short left field.

Where was Aaron Judge?

Well, Judge took off with the crack of the bat and actually had his foot on second base when Brantley caught the ball.  Brantley got up and, from short left field, threw a one-hop strike to first base.  Judge was out by about eight feet.

Here’s what John Smoltz said after the play: “Judge was in such an impossible no-man’s land.  When Brantley dove, Judge touched the base and tried to get back.  Brantley made a good one-hop throw.”  While Smoltz is a pretty good analyst, it’s hard for a pitcher to comment on subtle base running plays, which is what this play was (given the circumstances).

Of course, the real question is why was Judge touching second base?  Where, exactly, was he going?  While some called it an “aggressive” play by Judge, to what end was it aggressive?  Judge could not have made it to third on that play.  It was a bloop.  It wasn’t a line drive that was going to roll past Brantley.

The proper way to run the bases in that situation is to give yourself enough room to run to second if the ball drops in for a bloop single.  But also to give yourself enough time to get back to first if somebody (Brantley or Bregman) makes the catch.

In other words, Judge should be about 15 feet from second when the ball is coming down.  If it drops, he runs to second (no chance to get to third).  If a great catch is made, he sprints back to first.  Since he was out by about eight feet, he would have made it back if he didn’t run all the way to second base.  Again, nothing was to be gained (an additional base could not be taken) by being “aggressive.”

Great baserunning, like bunting, is a lost art in major league baseball.  A difficult play to make in this situation?  Absolutely.  But nothing was gained or could have been gained by being on second when the ball was caught.  Nuanced?  Absolutely.  But instead of a base runner on first and two outs, the inning was over.

To Judge’s credit, he made an excellent defensive play to save a run in the very next inning.  But this double play, a huge momentum-builder for the Astros, could have been limited to one out.

DJ Lemahieu’s Incredible Home Run

You’ve probably seen this play a dozen times or so.  Top 9, Astros up 4-2, Roberto Osuna in to close.  Man on first, one out, DJ LeMahieu at the plate.  If you’re into baseball, we’re going to go through the entire 10-pitch at-bat.

·        Pitch 1, fastball away (95 mph), count is 1-0. 

·        Pitch 2, high out of the strike zone (98) but LeMahieu chases, 1-1. 

·        Pitch 3, fastball in the strike zone (down and in) (98), fouled off, 1-2.

·        Pitch 4, breaking ball (90 mph), off the plate outside, great take by LeMahieu, count is 2-2. 

·        Pitch 5, fastball in the lower part of the strike zone (97), fouled weakly down the third base line, still 2-2. 

·        Pitch 6, fastball (98), in the strike zone but towards the outside, fouled hard to right field, still 2-2.

·        Pitch 7, Osuna goes change-up (85 mph), up and in, a ball, but LeMahieu goes after it and fouls it off, count is still 2-2. 

·        Pitch 8, fastball (99), in the middle of the strike zone height-wise but on the outside corner, fouled off, count is still 2-2. 

·        Pitch 9, catcher Martin Maldonado wants it up high, half stands up and gives a target arguably above the top of the strike zone, fastball (98), up and in a little, taken by LeMahieu, count full at 3-2.

·        Pitch 10, fastball (94 mph), in the strike zone, maybe a little down and a little in (Maldonado wanted it more in), DJ LeMahieu homers to right to tie up the game at 4 in the ninth inning.

Here’s Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz’s analysis after pitch 9 (the high fastball that missed up and in, bringing the count to 3-2): “Gotta be real confident if you’re going to go up there that you could make a 3-2 pitch cause the chance of success for getting a strike at the top part of the zone on LeMahieu is not great.”  Smoltz continued, “You have to have in your mind that you know you’re going to throw the 3-2 pitch if you miss with the 2-2.”

Next pitch, home run.

After the home run, Smoltz, still on the 2-2 pitch up and in, said, “Didn’t love the 2-2 pitch; had to come in there with the 3-2 pitch.”  A little later, he said, “Telling you, 2-2 pitch.”

John Smoltz seemed to make the entire at-bat about pitch 9.

But Wait a Minute!

The reality is that pitch 9, with a catcher who clearly wanted it up high, was the FIFTH 2-2 pitch.  Osuna went fastballs (97 and 98 mph) on pitches 5 and 6 (both fouled off), went change-up (85 mph) on pitch 7 (fouled off) and went fastball (99 mph) on the outside corner of the strike zone on pitch 8.

Maldonado or Osuna or manager AJ Hinch must have remembered that, on pitch 2, DJ LeMahieu swung at a pitch about chin high.  The real question is, were they trying to throw a strike or to get LeMahieu to chase again?  The difference in pitch 2 and pitch 9 was that pitch 9 was high and in a little; pitch 2 was high but right down the middle.  Most probably, they wanted a strike at the top of the zone, as Maldonado had tried to frame it as such.

But LeMahieu laid off of it, the count went to 3-2 and, yes, DJ LeMahieu hit one of the greatest post-season clutch home runs in history.

Until the Yankees lost.

LeMahieu’s incredible at-bat/home run reminds this writer a little bit of the incredible sideline catch that Julio Jones made against the Patriots late in Super Bowl 51.  If Atlanta had taken three knees and let Matt Bryant kick a 40-41 yard field goal, they most probably would have won that Super Bowl. 

But, now, it’s pretty much totally forgotten.  As great as it was, that DJ LeMahieu homer will also, eventually, fade from memory.  But an incredible at-bat, nonetheless.

Aroldis Chapman Gives Up the Pennant-Losing Home Run

Star closer Aroldis Chapman came into a tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 6.  Right away, to catcher Martin Maldonado, he threw four fastballs in the strike zone (97, 98, 99 and 101 mph, respectively), so he certainly seemed to have control of his fastball.

He struck out Maldonado on a nasty slider down below the zone.  He then threw three of his first four pitches to lefty Josh Reddick in the 86-87 mph range (all breaking balls).  He then got Reddick to pop up on a 100 mph fastball.

Then lead-off man George Springer came to the plate.  The first three pitches were all breaking balls between 86 and 88 mph.  With two of the three low and the count 2-1, Chapman returned to his blazing fastball.  But he missed wildly on the 2-1 pitch, as catcher Gary Sanchez couldn’t even catch the ball (it missed by so much) at 98 mph.  The next pitch, ball 4, was 97 and was also way up high.

Here Comes Altuve

So when Jose Altuve comes to the plate, he knows that Chapman is using his nasty breaking ball and throwing it for strikes or down below the zone.  He also knows that the last two fastballs to Springer missed very badly.


And here’s what happens:


The first pitch fastball to Altuve is up and away at 99 mph, not even close.  The second pitch fastball to Altuve is up and away at 97, not even close. (And give some credit here to John Smoltz, who suggested you might put Altuve on and had to be careful with him -- Brantley had been pulled for a pinch runner so would not be up next: Jake Marisnick would be next).

So Altuve knows that Chapman has thrown four terrible fastballs in a row and has had command of his slider the whole inning.

Well, the next pitch was Chapman’s worst slider of the day -- in the strike zone but up and a little away.  Altuve crushes it and wins the game and the pennant for the Houston Astros.

Was Altuve Looking for the Breaking Ball?

A fascinating question.  Altuve was interviewed right after the game and after lauding Chapman as one of the greatest closers he’s ever faced, he said the following: “Chapman throws 100.  I wanted to be on time for the fastball but looking for something I can handle and it just happened.”

It says here that Altuve was saying he was looking for the slider but didn’t want to come out and say it.

After all, he may be facing Chapman in the same spot next year.

© Copyright 2019 By Steve Kallas. All Rights Reserved.

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