Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Defensive indifference put Jerry Meals on the spot, so eliminate the stat

The bad call that ended Tuesday's 19-inning Braves-Pirates game.

Back in 2009, I called defensive indifference the "most-unfair baseball stat." Tuesday night's Pirates-Braves game, which ended in a controversial fashion, cemented my hate of the statistic.

In the bottom of the 19th inning, with one out and runners and second and third, the Braves' Scott Proctor hit a grounder to third, which Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez handled well and threw home, seemingly putting out Atlanta runner Julio Lugo by a mile. But umpire Jerry Meals controversially called Lugo "safe," ending the game with what some writers are calling the "worst call ever" because it ended an amazing baseball game (although I still think Don Dekinger's call in the 1985 World Series will have more of a longterm impact). The call here was so bad that the Pirates have filed a formal complaint with the MLB offices.

Where "defensive indifference" comes into play here was the fact that there were runners on second and third only because Atlanta's Jordan Schafer, who had singled, ran to second base a few pitches after his hit. The scorekeeper ruled Schafer's advance as "defensive indifference" because the Pirates made no effort to put him out.

But if Schafer had not advanced to second, it would have been a different game altogether because the advance eliminated the possibility of a double play. Proctor's grounder was hard enough that Alvarez could have gotten the runner at second and also the runner at first. If there'd been a double play, the inning would have been over. Therefore, Schafer's advance was critical to the Braves' win and I think simply labeling it as "defensive indifference" is a disservice.

Even the Pirates' announcers agreed as the play happened. "If a guy takes second base," one said, "give him a stolen base regardless."

I concur. Advancing is important. As I wrote earlier, "A runner stealing second -- or advancing on "defensive indifference" -- (...) reduces the potential options for a force play by 50 percent. ... A defense may indeed chose to concentrate on a batter rather than a runner, but any runner that advances makes the defense's job all that much harder."

Therefore, I am forced once again to state that "defensive indifference" is a horrible statistic that needs to be eliminated. Call them stolen bases, because every advance can change the game.


Claire said...

Just read your blog post, but I have a question. Are you saying the defense indifference call was linked to the bad call at the plate? If so, explain further because I don't understand. Or are you just saying that defensive indifference is a bad way to call a play?

John C. Baker said...

What I'm saying is that swiping second fundamentally changed the nature of the game. Now, there's no double play possibility and the defense HAS to come home on a grounder. The runner who took second should be rewarded statistically, instead of his achievement dismissed as "indifference."

Even if there'd been two outs, taking the base would be important because it reduces by 50 percent the bases at which the defense could get a force out.