Jose Bautista and the 9-3 Putout

To begin:

infante1

Wow. That’s a pretty boring GIF, huh? J.A. Happ threw that pitch and Omar Infante fouled it off. Nothing to see here.

Unless, that is, you already know what happened in this at bat. The Omar Infante in this GIF doesn’t know it quite yet, but something terrible is about to happen to him.

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Now he knows.

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The dreaded right field to first base putout. The 9-3. A hitter’s nightmare. A scorer’s dream. It probably happened to you in Little League. It definitely happened to me in Little League. It’s so bad that you pray it never happens again. Especially if you make it to the majors and it’s broadcast on national television. What could be more embarrassing than hitting a ball cleanly to the outfield, in what would be a hit 99% of the time, only to have your lack of speed exposed for all to see by getting gunned at first base?

Except Omar Infante isn’t slow, which makes this perhaps even more embarrassing. Infante has hit thousands of foul balls in his career and even more that stayed fair. He should have a pretty good grasp of what’s going to be fair or foul off the bat. But here, for some reason, Infante assumed incorrectly immediately upon making contact that the ball he hit was going foul, despite the fact that it really wasn’t even close to being foul. Jose Bautista knew better, made a great sliding stop and came up firing to first without hesitation. Unlike Omar Infante, Bautista knew exactly what he was doing. It’s almost like he has experience making 9-3 putouts…

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This happened the night before to Infante’s teammate Billy Butler. And Butler was trying. This is the less unusual way for one of the more unusual events in baseball to occur. This is Billy Butler, a very slow man, hitting a hard line drive to a right fielder with a very good arm. The strong-armed man understood the limitations of the slow-footed man and exploited and embarrassed him in the process.

To the naked eye, this appears to be the more traditional way for a 9-3 putout to occur. But that doesn’t stop it from being absolutely remarkable for a couple of reasons.

First, just look how deep Bautista is playing. He had to come in, like, six steps before he even fielded the ball. Next, remember that the same player – Jose Bautista – recorded a 9-3 putout in consecutive nights. To put that into context, there have only been 29 instances of a 9-3 putout occurring since 1990, according to research done by Baseball Prospectus. Since 2000, it has only happened 19 times, according to research done by me. This is something that happens, on average, about once per year. The same guy did it on back-to-back nights to the same team. What makes it even more remarkable is that they were both done to position players.

Consider this table of 9-3 putouts that have occurred since the year 2000:

Year Fielder Runner Position
2014 Jose Bautista Omar Infante 2B
2014 Jose Bautista Billy Butler DH
2014 Gerardo Parra Dan Haren P
2012 Carlos Beltran Josh Beckett P
2011 Jayson Werth Edward Mujica P
2011 Jeff Francoeur Michael Taylor OF
2010 Ryan Sweeney Mike Redmond C
2010 Roger Bernadina Roy Oswalt P
2010 Hunter Pence Mike Minor P
2010 Angel Pagan Kyle Kendrick P
2007 Luke Scott Derek Lowe P
2003 Rene Reyes Jimmy Haynes P
2002 Gabe Kapler John Patterson P
2002 B.J. Surhoff Jeff D’Amico P
2000 Brian Jordan Garrett Stephenson P
2000 Mark Kotsay Elmer Dessens P
2000 Brian Jordan Francisco Cordova P
2000 Brian Jordan Clayton Andrews P
2000 Lance Berkman Luis Ordaz SS

Notice anything about this table?

Well, first, if FanGraphs and MLB.TV and Photoshop CS6 were around 14 years ago, this post would totally be about Brian Jordan because what the hell was going on with him in the year 2000.

But notice anything else about this table?

Position players don’t really get thrown out from right field. It’s almost exclusively pitchers. This makes sense. Pitchers just need to be able to throw a ball. They don’t need to be able to run the bases, jump, dive or cover ground in the field. The percentage of pitchers who are speedy, athletic specimens is much lower than the percentage of position players who are speedy, athletic specimens. The even bigger reason, though, is that pitchers just can’t hit, so outfielders play closer to the infield, making 9-3 putouts all the more likely.

In 2011, Michael Taylor, an outfielder, got thrown out at first by Jeff Francoeur, who is known for his strong arm. In 2010, Mike Redmond, a really slow catcher, was thrown out at first by Ryan Sweeney. After that, you have to go back a full decade to Luis Ordaz, a shortstop, being gunned by Lance Berkman in 2000 to find another position player being thrown out at first base from right field. Again: Jose Bautista did this twice in consecutive days.

And even Redmond’s was more the result of defensive positioning than it was just getting gunned:

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Not only were the bases loaded, but in Mike Redmond’s 13-year career, he hit exactly 13 home runs, so the outfield probably wasn’t too worried about a ball going over their heads. The defensive alignment Redmond saw from the outfield is not too different from the one most pitchers see, so this example barely even counts as a position player being thrown out.

As for the Michael Taylor one, I’m still not totally sure how this happened:

taylor

I guess you can just chalk it up to Jeff Francoeur having a really great arm and Michael Taylor hitting the ball too hard. Francoeur doesn’t seem to be playing too shallow, which makes sense because Michael Taylor is pretty fast and has some pop in his bat. Taylor maybe gets out of the box a little slow, but this is just a great play by Jeff Francoeur. (Yes you did just read that sentence on FanGraphs).

So, before Thursday night, you could go back 14 years and find exactly three examples of a position player being thrown out at first base from right field. It happened to Mike Redmond because the bases were loaded, he’s really slow and can’t hit, so he was being played like a pitcher. It happened to Michael Taylor because he took a second to get out of the box and Jeff Francoeur has a really strong arm. And it happened to Luis Ordaz, though I can’t say exactly how because there’s no video footage of it.

On Thursday night, Bautista just straight up gunned Billy Butler and the following night, capitalized on a mental error by Omar Infante to record two 9-3 putouts on non-pitchers in two games. Jose Bautista himself did in two nights what only three players have done in the last 14 years.

As if the Royals offense wasn’t sad enough already, now they can’t even hit a ball cleanly to the outfield without Jose Bautista making them feel like little leaguers again.



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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.


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