Tagging Up on a Foul Pop Out: Good Decisions?

It’s not a play you see very often. When it happens twice in a day, then, it certainly garners a bit more attention. That is, if a star player didn’t get hurt on the first instance, and the second instance doesn’t occur in a West Coast game that is of little interest to the non-diehard observer. Yesterday we saw two players tag up and try to score on pop-ups to infielders. Josh Hamilton infamously gave it a go in an afternoon game, while Corey Patterson made his attempt many hours later out in Seattle. Both failed. Still, the process is the thing to consider. Did Hamilton or Patterson make the right call in dashing for home?

Hamilton’s Gambit

Sometimes you have to take advantage of the other team’s mental lapses. Hamilton tripled home a run in the bottom of the first, and was raring to score a run of his own. Adrian Beltre, unfortunately, popped one into foul territory on the left side. As is standard, both the third baseman, Brandon Inge, and the catcher, Victor Martinez, went out to chase it. Brad Penny made the mistake here by loafing on the mound and not covering home. Third base coach Dave Anderson noticed it, and made sure Hamilton was aware.

Since it’s easier to catch a pop up when you’re facing home instead of facing the outfield, Inge made the catch. It took a second for Martinez to notice Hamilton dashing for the plate, so he took off, too. Inge tossed to Martinez, who reached out and tagged Hamilton just before he slid into the plate. And there was Penny, as you can see in the image, barely halfway to the plate. It was a lucky break for the Tigers, though not so lucky for Hamilton.

After the game, Hamilton tried to rationalize the situation by saying he predicted the injury. “I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to do this. Something’s going to happen.’” Excuse me for a moment if I don’t believe that this is what he said to Anderson. I’m having a hard time finding any fault with Anderson, really. He had Hamilton, a fairly speedy runner, at third. He had Penny, who I imagine doesn’t win races, loafing on the mound, and he had the catcher with his back turned to the play. It was a footrace at that point, and if they replayed that 100 times I bet Hamilton would be safe far more often than not.

Anderson made the right call. The Tigers were not in a position to make the play. But, because someone got hurt, the focus is taken off the process and placed on the result. That’s nice for a quick media reaction, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the merits of the play itself. This one was a winner. It’s a shame that Anderson’s reward is petulance from Hamilton.

Patterson’s Gambit

Down 3-0 for most of the game, the Blue Jays mounted a comeback in the eighth. Patterson singled home two runs, putting himself on first with one out. Then he stole second, advancing to third when the throw went into center field. So there the Jays were, runner on third with one out, and Jose Bautista’s prodigious power at the plate. It was easy to envision a sac fly to tie the game. Apparently, Patterson envisioned it too vividly.

Bautista fouled off a pitch well into foul territory behind first base, and Justin Smoak had enough room to haul it in. That’s when Patterson broke for home. Smoak anticipated it, or was alerted by his fielders. His throw brought Miguel Olivo to the first-base side of home, but he had plenty of time to get in front of Patterson and tag him out. As the image above shows, Patterson was out by such a stretch that he didn’t even bother to slide .

Juxtaposing these two plays makes me believe even more firmly that Anderson was right to send Hamilton. The Tigers were caught off-guard. That’s the perfect time for an aggressive move to steal a run. With Patterson, I’m not sure what the hell he was thinking. Maybe he thought Smoak wouldn’t realize the play fast enough. Maybe he thought that the suddenness of it would force him to make a bad throw. Or maybe he just overestimated his own speed. Whatever the case, it was an ill-advised tag-up that ended a potential game-tying rally. It was, without a doubt, a bad decision.

Both plays ended in outs, but only one involved a commendable process. Ironically, it was the one that ended up sidelining the perpetrator for six to eight weeks. Regardless of the result, though, it was the right call. Patterson’s, on the other hand, was the wrong one. He cost his team a chance to tie the game in the eighth. Instead they went into the ninth down a run, which is where they finished. Most unfortunately, the play involving the right call has undergone the most scrutiny. I’m just glad the Rangers’ staff and front office have Anderson’s back. I hope he makes the same call again given the opportunity.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

50 Responses to “Tagging Up on a Foul Pop Out: Good Decisions?”

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  1. Derek says:

    I’m not so sure. Nelson Cruz was about to come to the plate. Why take the bat out of the hands of one of your best hitters? Not a good play, IMO. And definitely not a good play by Hamilton to throw blame at the third base coach.

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    • hunterfan says:

      There were two outs. To oversimply a bit, the only way Cruz was getting Hamilton home was via a base hit. Even a very good hitter is only going to succeed about 30% of the time. If you think Hamilton’s chance of scoring a run there was > 30%, it’s entirely defensible and even smart.

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      • homebrewed says:

        i’m not trying to be overly negative, but what would make anyone think they have a >30% chance of scoring when the guy holding the ball is half as far from home plate as he is? there’s a reason the popout to 3b isn’t a rbi in the majors, and hamilton should have known that. he’d have had a better chance trying to steal home on the next pitch.

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  2. Geoff says:

    Send Patterson all day on that play. I thought he would have made it no problem. Smoak made a good play, simple as that.

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    • Spiggy says:

      Agreed. After the play, the third base coach said (and I’m obviously paraphrasing) that Patterson makes it unless Smoak makes a really good play/throw. I think Patterson flubbing a slide makes it look worse than it was.

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      • SC2GG says:

        I watched the game too, and I thought Patterson was a fool for going at the time, and I still think so. It wasn’t anywhere close, in fact, it was so not close that I thought Patterson could have turned around and ran back to third to attempt to get out of a rundown.

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      • Triandos says:

        Patterson may have “flubbed the slide” but he didn’t go on the DL. These head-first slides are not always the best decisions. Hamilton was in a position to score one run. Now he won’t score any runs for a considerable length of time. We all like players who put out significant effort but it’s good, too, to have your best player available every day.

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    • M.Twain says:

      This is absolutely right. The runner makes the decision based on how the fielder plays the ball. Smoak had his back to the play and needed a quick, accurate throw to get him. Patterson should have slid, though.

      It seems, Joe, that you’re judging the wisdom of his decision by the outcome of the play. Didn’t you just say that not how decisions should be judged?

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      • Joe Pawlikowski says:

        I’m sorry if it seems that way. I called it a bad decision because it would have taken both a slow reaction and a poor throw for Patterson to be safe. As it was, a quick reaction and so-so throw had him by a lot. With a good throw Olivo would have been chasing Patterson up the line.

        I guess, then, I’m using the outcome to work backwards. As in, we know what happened, so what would it have taken for the play to work? Once I worked that out, and determined that it would take two misplays in order to work, I decided it was a bad play.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        But you need an inexperienced first baseman to make the mistakes. In general, a first baseman doesn’t have a great throwing arm.

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        I think Joe has it right. Patterson, a speedy runner, was nowhere close to being safe. Firstbaseman aren’t known for their arms, but he wasn’t that far from the plate, making it a fairly routine throw. You can take the position that baserunners should put the pressure on the defense to make plays, but if you play that to a T, you’re going to get a lot of baserunners thrown out. That was not a good percentage play by the Jays.

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      • Davor says:

        Tigers needed great play to get Hamilton (barely) out. Mariners needed solid play to get Patterson out with time to spare.
        When great play is needed, runners should usually go, break-even point is rarely high enough not to go. But when merely solid play gets an out, runner should go only when break-even point is really low. Interestingly, Patterson’s move might have been right if he was in 2-out situation, if you think there is around 30% chance Smoak doesn’t make that throw.

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  3. AK707 says:

    “West Coast game that is of little interest to the non-diehard observer”

    You, fascist East-cost elitist bastard, we matter out here too!

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  4. MB says:

    “if they replayed that 100 times I bet Hamilton would be safe far more often than not.”

    Isn’t this quintessentially the situation where simple algebra could tell us how frequently he would need to be safe for the attempt to score to be the right move?

    In other words, could you quantify “far more often than not” — 80%? 90%?

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  5. Brad says:

    @Derek: The odds of Cruz coming through with a hit are roughly 30%. The author is claiming that Hamilton had a better than 50% chance of scoring, so that is a risk worth taking. I am not sure if the probability is correct, but if they are then this play is a winner as the author claims.

    @MB: The play is a winner if it beats all other probabilities. The run value of a runner on third and two outs is .387 runs whereas the run value of the bases empty and two outs is .117 plus the run scored if it successful so 1.117. From these numbers we can calculate the probability necessary for the play to work so as to decide if we should send the runner. The play only needs to work roughly 1/3 of the time for the play to be a winner. (X% of 1.117 = .387 is roughly 35%)

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    • Dave says:

      You may have just blown my mind. Like… created a big hole in the closed door of understanding through which knowledge immediately poured through. I can now quantify my gut feelings with real, numbers-based evidence. I feel instantly smarter having just read your post. I’m being totally serious, the light finally came on. If this sounds sarcastic I apologize. For reals. Thank you. I truly mean it. An epiphany!

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  6. Dave says:

    Yeah pretty poor job by Hamilton to throw his coach under the bus like that. I’ve read his book and watched a little special on him and he seems like a really nice guy and a great PR story, but he never struck me as very cerebral so I can understand if he was disappointed that he got injured and blurted out an emotional response when asked about it, but his own reasoning for and defense of his statement, in my mind, take away the benefit of the doubt I want to give him.

    The crazy thing is the slide itself looked totally innocent. I’ve watched it a handful of times and still can’t see where or how he broke his arm (a crack near the head of the humerus). Makes me wonder if all those years of drug abuse lend themselves to him now having a body held together by tattoos, prayers, and bubble-gum.

    As for Patterson, if he was playing a level of baseball other than professional he probably would have scored. Unfortunately for him and the Jays the Mariners are a professional team (I know, who would have thought, not Patterson apparently) and are pretty good at defense. If Smoak had thrown it away I think Smoak would have been a huge goat and people still might have looked at Patterson and wondered why he went.

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  7. JohnOrpheus says:

    Hamilton wasn’t just being emotional after the game, as he restated today that Anderson’s move was a dumb one. Nice of you to say Hamilton’s not very cerebral though, basically calling him stupid.

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    • hunterfan says:

      Well there are definitely some stupid folks in this world. Why can’t Hamilton be one of them?

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    • adohaj says:

      He is stupid as soon as he throws his coach under the bus. Regardless of the play.

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      • JohnOrpheus says:

        Don’t see how those correlate. And his coach made a bonehead decision. Hamilton did what his coach told him too. What is the job of the third base coach? to tell the player whether to stop or go home. Period. That’s how he makes a living. And given Hamilton’s injury history and the likelihood of a collision concening that play, Anderson made a very stupid decision to send him. He deserves to be thrown under the bus, because he has one simple job to do as the third base coach, and he failed miserably at it.

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      • hunterfan says:

        Evidently a bunch of reasonable people think it was an entirely defensible decision to send Hamilton (see: the author of this article, many of the commentators). So the decision was not a consensus unintelligent one.

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  8. Joe says:

    It was probably wrong in both cases. But borderline, I’m going by my memmory that this seems to not work out no matter how it looks in forsight. Just a memmory of one person can be flawed though.

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  9. Brad says:

    I think I figured it out incorrectly before (run figures from The Book).

    Runner on third and two outs is .387 run expectancy.
    If the runner tags up and does not make it is -.387 run expectancy.
    If the runner tags up and makes it it s 1.117 run expectancy (.117 for no one on and two out plus one run scored).

    So, the question is what is the percentage chance that he scores for this to be a winning play?

    Suppose that we had the situation ten times. If the runner never goes then we would have a total run expectancy of 3.87 runs in those ten chances. At what success rate does the run expectancy of sending the runner eclipse the expected 3.87 runs if we never sent him?

    Success Fail Run Expectancy Total
    0 10 -3.87
    1 9 -2.37
    2 8 -.862
    3 7 .642
    4 6 2.146
    5 5 3.65
    6 4 5.154

    So, if it works six out of ten times we would expect to score 5.154 runs which would be more than the 3.87 runs if the runner is never sent. So, the success rate would need to be slightly better than 50% to make tagging up worthwhile.

    The same logic would apply to any tag up on a fly ball where the second out is created, so we would need a 60% chance for the runner on third to beat the throw to make sending the runner the right choice.

    I am sure that there is a simpler way to figure this out, so my apologies for making this more convoluted than need be.

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    • Brad(2) says:


      Excellent calculations. Very helpful, and I echo Dave’s “blown mind” sentiments above.

      However, this whole incident has made me wonder if there also needs to be some accounting for risk of injury along value of the player. For example, while it may be the right move to send Hamilton, the risk of injury at a play at the plate has to be one of the highest in baseball. Combine this risk with the potential loss of Hamilton’s runs throughout the season and the successfulness of the play would likely need to be higher. Obviously, in situation involving a replacement-type player like Patterson, the risks of lost future runs is lot lower.

      Anyways, I guess the point is don’t put your best player and run-producer in risky positions (obviously, Hamilton made the ultimate decision).

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      • Davor says:

        Hamilton wasn’t running into catcher, so there is less than normal injury risk. Catcher needs to touch him with ball, not block the plate, so there is very low collision risk.

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    • Al says:

      You had it right the first time. The run expectancy would be 0 if the runner is out. Making the run expectancy of the failed play -.387 double-counts the penalty for being tagged out (e.g. one could never expect to score negative runs).

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      • Brad says:

        Maybe I am wrong, but don’t you lose the .387 run expectancy if the runner would have stayed at third? So, to calculate the cost-benefit of trying to take the extra base you need to calculate the cost of failing to score the run.

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      • Justin says:

        @Brad: You already count the cost of failing to score the run by using a run expectancy of zero for failing. Take the simple case of 0% chance of scoring on the play and you’ll see what I mean.

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      • Eric says:

        I was going to do this earlier but didn’t have the energy to calculate the last piece of it – how many runs do the rangers lose by having Hamilton on the DL for 8 weeks, and what probability of getting injured creates another break-even point for sending him?

        Because that’s really the question – since we are talking about a player who’s not playing CF solely because they’re worried about him injuring himself, AND it’s a player who the coaches know is likely to slide head-first into the catcher (whether it’s a stupid thing to do or not, they have to know by this point whether he’s going to do it instinctively), you also have to add in the weight for losing him for 8 weeks if he breaks his arm, which (obviously) has a non-zero probability.

        Now, that probability may be very low… but we’re only talking about .1-.2 run advantages here in the decision, and so if there’s even a 1/100 chance of him getting injured on that play, the downside risk makes the possible .2 run benefit not really worthwhile

        (incidentally, this is why I cringe at Reyes stealing 2nd as a Mets fan – he’s injured himself with headfirst slides before, and I know that the odds of another injury are relatively high, so at some point you have to consider the number of runs lost going from him to a replacement level SS for 2 months if he breaks a finger again)

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  10. bureaucratist says:

    I just read all of Hamilton’s quotes. I work in substance abuse rehabilitation, and given his vehemence and how out of character it is for him to criticize his coach like that, I would not be a bit surprised if he is using again. That really smacks of addiction to me.

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    • JohnOrpheus says:

      This takes the cake for stupid comment of the day. Are you really saying Hamilton got high after the game and proceeded to make those comments because of it? What a dumb attempt to correlate something to substance abuse. You shouldn’t be working anywhere, much less in rehabilitation.

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      • bureaucratist says:

        No, I’m not saying that he was high at the time. I’m saying that that type of emotional, unjustified outburst against a co-worker–especially in the case of Hamilton, who has been generally taciturn in his sobriety–is highly characteristic of how addicts act when they’re using. It’s textbook.

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      • Brad(2) says:

        It’s also highly characteristic of someone who is probably pretty competitive and just lost a third of his season. Not saying it was the best decision, but I appreciate the honesty about why he decided to go instead of the usual “well, we thought it was good call…so, I went…sometimes those are the breaks” line.

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    • rageon says:

      I believe Hamilton’s standard reply to such a statement would be, “I get tested 3 times a week; if I was using again, you would hear about.”

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  11. Brad says:

    The point being that if it takes an average play to get the out then it is a toss up, but if it takes a very good play then you should send the runner in both cases.

    The Hamilton decision seems correct as the author suggests. Hamilton has good speed and it took a very good play to get Hamilton out at home. The out amounted to a foot race plus an on target throw, catch and tag.

    The Patterson decision was extremely questionable because it did not and would not take a great play on the part of the infielder to make the out. You are merely counting on Smoak being asleep at the wheel which is far too unlikely.

    We might compare it to the case where a baserunner walks and takes second while no one is paying attention. If the second baseman is standing near second, it is a terrible decision since you do not need a great throw and only a moment’s worth of recognition to get the out. On the other hand, if it involves a foot race towards second plus a good throw and catch then trying to catch the defense asleep makes more sense.

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  12. Jake says:

    If possible, please link to the videos when you do a feature like this.

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  13. david says:

    personally, i’m a fan of any baserunning play that alfredo griffin would make. both are winners in my book.

    baseball needs more of this. ditto with cleveland over boston: walk, steal, sac bunt, squeeze FTW.

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  14. Keith_Allen says:

    I’ve watched the Hamilton tag about a dozen times. I think Hamilton is out 99% of the time on that play and it was very bad decision to send him. It was fairly obvious to me that Hamilton wasn’t fast enough. He was out by a good 4 to 5 feet.

    Think about it, 3rd base is 90 ft, while Inge and VMart were probably only 45 feet away. The Tigers suckered them into it. Sorry, but even Ichiro or Juan Pierre wouldn’t score on that play. Hamilton might have left 3rdbase too early also, so even if he was called safe, he might have been called out if the Tigers appealed the play.

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    • Davor says:

      If either: Martinez doesn’t start immediately; Inge makes less than perfect throw; Martinez doesn’t transfer the ball cleanly; Hamilton is safe.

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  15. dinordi says:

    Hamilton is the same guy the Rangers front office refuse to play in CF for fear of colliding with a padded wall. Instead, their 3rd base coach intentionally runs 240 lb Hamilton to meet 210 lb Martinez or 230 lb Penny at home plate.

    Then GM Jon Daniels essentially slights his MVP while defending Dave Anderson. “We play an aggressive style of baseball,” he said. “The chances of getting hurt on that play are minimal.”

    Rather than calculating the odds of scoring on the play, why not gauge the chances of a collision and resulting injury from tagging up on a foul pop up?

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  16. pft says:

    Your team is 9-1. It’s the first inning against Brad penny who has gotten hammered in his first 2 starts. Your MVP is on 3rd base with 1 run in, and he has a history of injuries. . A foul pop up makes it 2 outs, and the catcher is obviously close enough to home to make it a close play if he recognizes the situation and presumably you have players who will be yelling to him. Close plays the the plate always carry some risk. Also, your hottest hitter (Nelson Cruz) is due up next

    This is a dumb call. Maybe if Verlander was on the mound or it was later in the game it could be justified, but not the 1st inning with Penny on the mound. In that situation, Hamilton should be sent only if getting home safely was a slam dunk, and obviously, this was not the case.

    Going head first might be dumb as well, but there looks to be a bat lying on the basepaths, and the catcher is in front of you, so to evade the catcher and fly over the bat, going head first looks to be the only way to go unless you run out of the basepath and concede the 3rd out.

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  17. pft says:

    Pattersons play actually made sense. Their best hitter just made an out and that was 2 outs, it was the 8th inning and he represented the tying run. Adam Lind and his 255 OBP due up next.

    If he slid he might have been called safe as it looks as if he could have slid under the tag. This play was actually closer than Hamiltons.

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    • pft says:

      If Hamilton was on 3B, and the 3B coach sent him in that situation, I would not call it dumb, even if Hamilton got injured.

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  18. Tiger says:

    The “Patterson’s Gambit” photo makes the play look much closer than it actually was. Patterson had pulled up 2-3 steps before that, around the edge of the home plate cutout. Olivo had plenty of time to block the plate if he had to.

    As Mr. Pawlikowski suggested, Patterson might have been better off getting into a rundown, especially given the Jays’ luck in wiggling out a few already this season.

    As a Jays fan, I would have been p-o’d if Patterson had wrecked himself on a hopeless play this early in the season and being the only experienced CF they have at the moment.

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