Welcome to Everyone’s Having Fun Without Us: An Occasional Postseason Diary. The Sox are done, but baseball isn’t and, on most nights — when we’re not too bitter to watch the Yankees, or too tired for the West Coast games, or when the people we live with don’t tell us “enough with the goddamn baseball, already! This has been going on for six months!” — we’ll be here, providing some quick thoughts about the postseason.
Defense Rocks . . . And It Should Be Just A Little Bit Harder
An Englishman in India once shook the foundations of my baseball fandom. We were sitting at a hotel bar in Delhi, discussing cricket, on account of the fact that the captain of England’s Twenty20 cricket team was presently downing a beer in the corner. (The foreign contingent of the Indian Premier League’s Delhi Daredevils was living in the hotel during the season, and every evening they would gather in the bar with their fashion model wives, speaking various dialects of Australian, Welsh, and South African English that was completely incomprehensible to me but wonderful to listen to.)
Cricket is inescapable in India — I’ve never been to another country that loves any single sport more than Indians love cricket. And I’d already been there a week, so I’d seen a lot of it and was trying to learn the rules and nature of the game. Of course, I was constantly comparing it to baseball, and, at the bar on this night, I was somewhat loudly and obnoxiously proclaiming baseball’s obvious superiority. The Englishman wasn’t having it. Baseball, to him, looked like a complete joke. And the worst thing about the game in his eyes, the one thing that he absolutely could not wrap his mind around, was the gloves. “They’re wearing fookin’ oven gloves! Where’s the skill in catching a ball with that thing on yer hand?”
As much as I tried to explain that, well, see, if they didn’t wear gloves, someone would break their hand every other inning, and each game would finish in about six hours with a final score of 32-26, he wouldn’t relent. And here’s the thing: he had a point. Defensive cricket highlights are cool as shit:
Ever since that night, I’ve been dogged by a persistent thought: defense in baseball is just a little too easy.
Of the 54 outs recorded in every baseball game, what percentage of them are completely, boringly routine? How often, when you’re watching a game while also working or looking at your phone, do you find yourself turning away from the screen shortly after the pitch, not even watching the out because you know from the hitter’s swing that it’s a weak grounder to the second baseman, or a harmless pop-up in shallow center? The worse defensive team in Major League Baseball still converted a whopping 98% of its defensive chances into outs this year — it’s extremely rare for a defensive play to be anything other than routine, and there’s not a lot of fun in routine.
I am NOT suggesting that I want to see more scoring, or that I want the cadence and fundamental nature of the game to change in any way. I’m just suggesting that, aesthetically, baseball would be better if there was a little bit more suspense on the average ball-in-play.
This is to say that the middle innings of last night’s Dodgers-Padres tilt were, to me, perhaps the platonic ideal of baseball. Let’s take a small snapshot of the game, starting in the bottom of the fifth.
- Mookie led off the inning with a walk, then tried to steal second. Austin Nola made as perfect a throw as is possible for any catcher and just barely nabbed him:
Austin Nola guns Mookie Betts at 2nd to help ensure the game remains tied.— MLB Caught Stealing (@MLB_CS) October 13, 2022
October 12, 2022 pic.twitter.com/AWhlNp5nEW
- Trea Turner came up next and hit a screamer to third. Manny Machado pounced like a cat, gloved it, and threw out one of the fastest men in baseball with plenty of time:
- Freddie Freeman then flew-out to Trent Grisham in center. It was extremely routine, but that’s fine in this case. A routine play accounted for only one of the three outs and gave us a chance to catch our breaths.
- Brandon Drury led off the top of the 6th for the Padres and singled to center.
- Jake Cronenworth then hit a soft grounder to first. Not a difficult play to field, but it was a difficult play to turn into two outs, and the Dodgers couldn’t do it, as Cronenworth beat the the throw after the turn at second.
- Then, an error! The only one of the game. Wil Myers grounded to short. It wasn’t hard hit, but Turner had to range to his right, and he didn’t field it cleanly, owing to the fact that he was trying to scoop it up quickly to start the double play.
This Trea Turner error proved costly in that inning pic.twitter.com/DgYwCDv5bW— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 13, 2022
- Jurickson Profar singled to right next, scoring Cronenworth. Defense matters!
- Then, with Myers at third, we get one of the best defensive plays you’ll ever see a pitcher make. The Padres tried to squeeze the runner home, but Brusdar Graterol sprang off the mound, grabbed it with his bare hand (big cricket fan, our Brusdar is) and threw it to home in one motion, just barely getting the diving Myers:
- It was arguably the play of the game, but unlike with Machado’s play the inning before, we didn’t get a chance to catch our breaths this time, because the very next hitter forced Cody Bellinger to do this:
Cody Bellinger’s defense remains incredible pic.twitter.com/BBmD1LXzkm— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 13, 2022
That’s six outs over two half-innings, and only two of them were routine. No strikeouts! No lazy pop-ups! Both offensive teams playing small ball! It was, to me, almost a perfect 20 minutes of baseball. You couldn’t take your eyes off the game.
The game on the other coast wasn’t quite so aesthetically majestic, but it, too, turned on defense. With Kyle Wright and Zack Wheeler both cruising, there wasn’t a lot of margin for error on either side. When the Braves finally did break through, it was because Rhys Hoskins couldn’t handle a sharply hit grounder:
Matt Olson hits a hard hit grounder that gets by Hoskins giving the Braves a 1-0 lead in the 6th! pic.twitter.com/9OJGdl8wKU— Daily MLB (@daily__mlb__) October 13, 2022
The Phillies had a chance to get back in the game in the 8th, with a runner on first with 1 out and the top of the order waiting in the on-deck circle. But Austin Riley put the clamps on any potential comeback with this outstanding glove work:
Again, we’re watching the complete opposite of routine.
So the question is, are there any structural changes we could implement to take some of the routine out of defense? Unfortunately, I’m not sure there are. Going back to 19th century-style barehand ball would certainly be interesting, but as I said, I do not want to fundamentally alter the nature of the game, nor do I want to watch sloppy fielding. Would shrinking gloves and requiring that they all be about an inch shorter have a positive effect on the game? It’s hard to say, and the players would throw a fit.
Maybe our only hope is just to get more balls in play, period. The share of routine defensive plays wouldn't change, but the increase in action would at least guarantee more frequent defensive excitement. Get it done, Theo.
About That Goose
Until I see video of that goose taking off from its watering hole, flying over the freeways of LA, waddling around the Chavez Ravine parking lots, and then coasting into the stadium, I am going to steadfastly believe that someone actually brought it to the game and then released it from the stands.
I’ve been to LA. It’s a hellhole of parking lots, anti-human highways, and trash-strewn concrete pits. It’s as if LA sent its city planner to Boston to take notes on all the finely grained urbanism intertwined with greenery in the South End, Beacon Hill, and Harvard Square, but then he bumped his head on the plane on the way back and forgot absolutely everything he saw except for Route 9. There are no majestic, wild birds in LA, and you cannot convince me otherwise.