The Byrd/Ortiz Play

It wasn’t the most important play of the game, but I’m willing to bet that the play that generates the most talk around the baseball world will be this play, from the bottom of the 9th.

(Jonathan Broxton pitching) John Buck reached on fielder’s choice to right (Fly). David Ortiz out at second.

In case you didn’t see it, you can watch it here. Ortiz was waiting to see if Buck’s short fly ball would drop. It did, and Byrd managed to field the ball on a hop and fire to second in time for the force out. A player with any sort of speed would have easily been safe, but Ortiz was out by a slim margin.

Instead of two runners on base and one out, the AL was in the undesirable situation of two men out with a two run deficit against possibly the best pitcher in baseball. Let’s examine the impact that this play had on the All-Star Game.

According to Table 8 of The Book, with an average pitcher on the mound, the home team will score 2 runs and tie the game 11.1% of the time with runners on 1st and 2nd and one out. They will score 3+ and win 16% of the time, for a total win expectancy of 16% + 5.5% (they will win half the time in extra innings), which comes out to 21.5%. With a runner on first and two out, this number falls to 4.9% (5% tie, 2.4% chance win in 9 innings),which means that the difference in Ortiz making it safely to second and making the first out at second is 16.6% of a win – quite significant.

The numbers here differ slightly from what you’ll see in the Game Graph as The Book is based on the 1999-2002 run environment, but since it”s a difference of only about .4% of a win, it doesn’t make much difference

It’s key to note that this is if the AL All-Stars were facing an average pitcher, which they were not: CHONE projects Broxton for a 2.69 ERA, or 2.92 RA per 9 innings. (ZiPS projects a much lower FIP, but, for the purposes of the exercise, this works better. You can mentally adjust the numbers down if you want.) The Book also presents a run expectancy table for a team which would allow 3.2 runs per game, which is reasonably close to what Broxton and the NL All-Stars would probably allow, although a little high.

With runners on first and second and one out, the AL would be expected to win 16.3% (10.6% extras, 11.0% win) of the time, about 5.2% less than with the average pitcher on the mound. With a runner on first and two outs, that number falls to only 2.9% (3.4% extras, 1.2% win), or 13.4% worse than if Ortiz reaches second safely.

Broxton’s presence on the mound actually makes the impact of the play, purely in terms of the WE difference, lower than with an average pitcher, as it’s more likely that an out is made with Broxton on the hill. With an average pitcher, however, the AL would still be left with about a 1 in 20 chance of winning the game. Against Broxton, that falls to only 1 in 34.5.

Obviously, the biggest play in last night’s game was Brian McCann’s three RBI double, but this play will certainly be remembered as well. Against Broxton, a gaffe of the sort made by David Ortiz on the basepaths will almost certainly doom your team. Of course, Marlon Byrd deserves heaps of praise for coming up strong with the baseball and firing a near-perfect throw to second base, and there will certainly be much made of the decision by Joe Girardi to leave Alex Rodriguez on his bench as Ortiz plodded on the basepaths. But even somebody with Ortiz’s speed should have been able to reach second in that situation; with a proper read, we may not even be having this discussion.

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43 Responses to “The Byrd/Ortiz Play”

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  1. tpain says:

    I don’t know. Looked like a tough read for Ortiz. With his speed, there wasn’t much he could do. And I don’t think you can use ARod there, because he’s not even the tying run.

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    • B N says:

      Yah, the only solution is to pinch run for him if you want to avoid that. Which makes one wonder why Girardi wouldn’t keep one or two guys on the bench in case they were staging a comeback. But I guess he’s really not that sold on the importance of home field advantage in the WS? (shrug)

      By that point though, there are little options. It’s not like A-Rod is tearing it up on the bases now either, though he’s a step up. But he’s probably more valuable at the plate. Just an example of painting yourself into a corner with substitutions.

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  2. Andy S says:

    I think you forgot to link on “You can watch it here.”

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  3. Visnovsky says:

    If the managers pick a farce of a team, shouldn’t they manage the game as a farce as well.

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  4. Michael says:

    Jack, you accounted for the fact that Broxton is not an average pitcher, but did not mention the AL All-Stars are not an average offense. You’d expect a higher run scoring environment than average going up against them, so really the number is somewhere in between.

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  5. Eddie says:

    Fitting that a designated hitter on the base paths may have doomed the American League.

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  6. Chair says:

    Why do they win 50% of the time in extra innings? Wouldn’t it be a bit more due to home field advantage?

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  7. Disco says:

    In Joe G’s defense, he said he was saving him to run for Beltre who is hurting.

    But if that’s the case, just bat A-Rod for him. Beltre looked foolish up there.

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    • chuckb says:

      Then doesn’t Joe G deserve some criticism for running through his entire lineup, thus leaving no one on his bench to run for Ortiz?

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      • hank says:

        Ortiz was not even the tying run… if he had a couple of extra players on the bench you run for him, but if you had a pinch runner type that player would likely have been saved for the potential tying or winning run.

        It’s easy for folks to say he should have run for Ortiz, but unless Girardi was going to want to steal second (which is unlikely given they were trailing by two), the incremental value of running for Ortiz down too is rather small.

        The real issue is carrying 13 and 14 pitchers to cover 9 innings (especially when at least 1 or 2 will go 2 innings). I know there is concern about extra innings, but go with 11 or 12 pitchers and having someone like a Gardner (or Elsbery if he was healthy) would seem to add more value to the team (and a 3rd catcher)

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    • Jonathan says:

      What chuckb said times infinite. If Girardi had the sense to save someone who can run (Yeah, Ortiz is one of the slowest guys in the MLB, but putting in A-Rod to run for him with his bad hip isn’t exactly a brilliant manuever either), this wouldn’t be a discussion.

      That said, if that’s the best defense for Girardi, his move is essentially indefensible. Beltre batted right after Ortiz. Why not lift Ortiz for a pinch runner after Beltre’s strikeout renders the idea of lifting him for A-Rod a moot point?

      Given that Ortiz made a baserunning gaffe in reading the hit poorly, but I’d have to say the blame falls squarely at Girardi’s feet on this one. It’s not like he doesn’t realize Ortiz is a terrible baserunner, he faces him eighteen times a season. His first mistake was not having a truly viable pinch runner available on his bench, his second mistake was sticking with Ortiz after the guy he planned to run A-Rod for became a non-factor.

      Then again, things also could’ve gone very differently had Girardi had the common sense to go with Youkilis over A-Rod with his managerial pick.

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      I think it’s tough to argue too vehemently against Girardi’s moves, considering the many constrictions on the roster.

      Since they lost, it’s fine to criticize him for not keeping more players (ie, a pinch-runner) on the bench. But All Star managers are expected to sub in as many of their players as they can, to make sure everyone (or almost everyone) gets some play-time. Because this is Little League, apparently.

      So who was Girardi going to hold back for something like this? The only position he subbed more than once was 3rd. So he should have kept Swisher out as a potential pinch runner? Wigginton? I’m assuming we can all agree that Beltre wasn’t a good option. To keep anyone else out would have meant keeping a starter in the whole game, which just isn’t done in the ASG.

      I just have a hard time blaming much that happens in the All Star Game on the manager. It’s such a strange combination of exhibition and real game that most of their decisions are absurdly hamstrung. The AL lost this game because Hughes and Thornton couldn’t get outs in the 7th, and because the AL’s best hitters couldn’t get anything going against some amazing NL pitchers. Girardi had very little to do with it.

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      • Jonathan says:

        “I think it’s tough to argue too vehemently against Girardi’s moves, considering the many constrictions on the roster.”

        A roster he helped build. If he’d opted for Youkilis over A-Rod and then Gardner over Konerko, he’d have a guy who could play either A-Rod OR Konerko’s position in a late game situation while leaving a guy with speed on the basepaths who has a higher WAR than either Konerko or A-Rod this year anyway. That makes the team a little bit outfielder heavy, but Youk’s versatility renders that a moot point (Regardless, there were a total of four guys capable of playing 1B on the roster, replacing Morneau with Konerko was moronic) and there was a 34 man roster anyway.

        Having written that blurb, even more sensible: Youkilis and Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez leads AL short stops in WAR and having him on the bench gives you the ability to hold Andrus as a late inning speed threat without having to leave Jeter out there for the whole nine.

        The bulk of the blame falls on Hughes and Thornton, but this Girardi very clearly dropped the ball in both roster finalization and actual in-game managing of said roster. Bluntly speaking, he did a poor job.

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  8. Matt says:

    “…A gaffe of the sort made by David Ortiz on the basepaths will almost certainly doom your team.” “Gaffe” implies that Ortiz made a mental mistake on the basepaths. In truth, he made the right decision; the out was due to his lack of speed and the quality of Byrd’s throw. Would you prefer that Ortiz commit to second and risk being doubled up at first if Byrd makes that catch? Girardi should have pinch ran with Rodriguez. I read that Girardi had planned to pinch run Rodriguez for Beltre because of his hamstring if he had gotten on base. Why wouldn’t he shift gears and pinch run Rodriguez for Ortiz after Beltre instead struck out?

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    • chuckb says:

      Ortiz is slow, to be sure, but he also misread that play. He started going back to 1st base when it was clear that Byrd was going to play that ball on the hop. Would he have been safe if he had read the ball correctly? We’ll never know but his foot speed (or lack thereof) isn’t the only reason he was out at 2nd base.

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    • Random Guy says:

      The only way Byrd was going to catch that ball was by diving for it, in which case Ortiz would have had ample time to get back to first. He should have been turned towards second and ready to go. It still might not have been a full-fledged “gaffe” though, since it might have been difficult to gauge where the ball was going from Ortiz’s vantage point.

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    • P. says:

      Ortiz did not make a baserunning “gaffe”. Bad news, for the AL, was that one out was made last night due to his swiftness, or lack thereof. The “good” news is that Ortiz didn’t make a true gaffe and end the game on a double play because he tried to cheat towards second. He played it safe, as he should have, considering he wasn’t even the tying run. Blame Girardi, and Girardi alone.

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      • Nick says:

        Truly a gaffe, and I can’t think that it can be described any other way. True, Ortiz played it safe, and held close to first base (nothing bone-headed yet). But when you’re practically standing on the bag at first like he was, why is your first move back to first base when the ball is not caught? This is absolutely a gaffe, not to mention terribly ability to read the ball.

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      • B N says:

        It’s not a gaffe because Byrd made it LOOK like he was going to take a stab at the ball. If you look at the replays (see clip:, here’s the sequence of events:

        1. Ortiz starts off towards 2B.
        2. Byrd takes off towards the ball, looking like he’s going to catch it (see the frames between 4 and 5 seconds):
        – He keeps his glove hand forward as if he’s going to get under it.
        – Byrd puts his head down, as if he might dive.
        – Byrd leans his weight forward as if he might push off with his foot to dive.
        – He then gets his other foot under him, but keeps his glove outstretched as if he’s going to catch it snowcone style.
        3. Ortiz, watching Byrd, starts to turn back to 1B (though he doesn’t actually start running, he just holds up).
        4. After the 5 second mark, Byrd suddenly retracts his glove and goes into a motion to catch it on the hop with a fairly impressive spin move.
        5. Ortiz has to quickly reverse his momentum and start running hard towards 2B.
        6. Ortiz makes it close at 2B, but is out. He slides to try to break up the play, if possible.

        So no, that’s not a baserunning gaffe. That’s called a deke. Byrd purposefully approached the ball making it look like he was going to catch it to keep Ortiz hung up. This allowed him to make an easier play.

        Ortiz didn’t turn back to 1B after the ball hadn’t been caught. He started his momentum towards it when it looked like the ball might be caught. Then it took a fraction of a second to reverse this momentum. That’s called physics. The only way Ortiz could have beat out this play was to trade bodies with a speedier, lighter player or to guess that Byrd was trying to deke him.

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      • GGear says:

        that would be a good recap of events if you were not inferring what YOU think you saw during the play. my turn at inference. Byrd initially goes after the ball in a low stance, hoping he could get under it, true, but the moment he tries to get his legs under him, it is obvious he isnt going to dive or snow cone the catch. no one snow cones a catch on purpose, they do it because they can’t get under the ball but also can’t dive because the ball isnt THAT far in front of them. when he tries to get his feet under him, that could only mean 2 things, either he was so fast that he could get under the ball and catch it relatively easily or he is going to play it on a hop. and the fact that he kept his glove down (it wasnt ‘outstretched’, just down at his side) showed he wasnt going to catch it at all.

        there was no reason for Ortiz to take a step back to first anyway. you HAVE to be able to read that even if Byrd were to somehow make the catch, it wasnt going to be an easy one (either a dive or a snow cone catch while falling forward) and since Ortiz wasnt exactly taking a big lead, he would have been able to make it back if need be. i am not saying it was an easy thing for Ortiz to do, exactly, but you expect some semblance of competent base running from an MLB player.

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      • chuckb says:

        @BN –

        if Ortiz was “deked”, as you say, he made a gaffe. He was fooled by Byrd’s actions which made Ortiz think he might catch the ball. That’s a mistake, by definition. A synonym for the word “mistake”…a gaffe.

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  9. dskirsa says:

    How is a team more likely to score 3+ runs than 2 runs? Is it simply a matter of adding together the probabilities of scoring 3 runs, 4 runs, 5 runs, etc. to derive 16% chance of scoring 3+? However the game would end if the team scored 3 runs (it being the bottom of the 9th).

    Can someone clarify this for me? It’s rattling around my head and I can’t seem to get myself straight on it…

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  10. maestro876 says:

    Broxton is the best pitcher in baseball?

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  11. Rick says:

    I’m not sure you can call this a gaffe. Byrd was a step away from catching it and even then, made a very good play to get him at 2B, making a hard, accurate throw while falling away from 2B. Had Ortiz not held up and Byrd caught it, that would’ve been a double play and ended the game. I’d say he made the right call. He’s just really slow.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    I did not see the play as I was coaching a double-header, but this morning my 9yo asked me if Byrd let it drop on purpose. He’s figured out that sometimes ML fielders act like they’re going to catch balls they can’t (middle IF’s) and act like they’re not going to catch balls that they do (pop ups on hit and run plays for example).

    Now, Byrd didn’t let the ball drop intentionally, but having Ortiz as runner (even if he did everything right) does not compell Byrd to attempt a diving catch (he has a lot this year), and allowed him to play it on a hop and still get the out.

    If Ortiz had been close to 2B, then maybe Byrd does lay out for it, knowing that back-up keeps Ortiz at 2nd and the trail runner not advancing … Or going for the diving catch and possible double play. ML fielders are that smart and talented to check runners as they make their approach… Or at least fake it.

    The problem is Ortiz as runner, he limits you in so many ways. ARod on the other hand is faster and a better base runner, so his speed would likely have prevented the out as well as allowed him to get closer to 2B

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  13. Rhodes73 says:

    Did Furcal actually get ORtiz out? He was stretched off 2nd before the ball reached his glove then he leans farther to catch it. Look how he looks back at the ref. Did anyone slow this down to see it?

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    • B N says:

      He got him, but it was pretty close. I initially thought he was safe (bad camera angle on the first take), but on the replay you can see that the ball arrives just before.

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  14. Stephen says:

    I don’t understand why Buck wasn’t awarded a hit (single) on that play. It did not seem that Byrd had a play at first.

    Do I not understand the scoringkeeping rule or did I not see this correctly?

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  15. baycommuter says:

    A force play cannot be a hit.

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  16. nota bene says:

    I’d say that was about 50% slow as molasses, 10% bad read, and 40% great throw from Byrd. I think that would have been a tough ball to read for anybody; I thought Byrd was going to dive the whole way.

    Byrd made a terrific throw, and I think it was Furcal made the nice first-baseman-like stretch for the force. Even then, it was still a close play.

    As much as I want to bash a Red Sock, I think that was mostly just a tough break for the AL and some hellacious defense from the NL. (If the catcher hadn’t come to the plate when he did, ARod could have pinch hit there and it might have turned out differently….)

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  17. BosoxBob says:

    I think Ortiz read the play about as well as he could have under the circumstances, and I think some of the criticism in the comments above is unfounded. Ortiz did not have the higher vantage point that TV viewers had on that play. Being on the field fairly close to where the ball dropped, there was no way for him to see the ball until the last minute, so he had to judge the play entirely from Byrd’s actions. Byrd was charging hard on the play, and it appeared that he had a chance to catch the ball waist to knee high. He then would have had momentum toward first and could have made a quick throw to double up Ortiz. Once Ortiz saw Byrd start to pull up, he headed toward second.

    Ortiz also had to consider how slow a runner he himself is. A faster runner could have played it halfway, and made it to second, or back to first on a catch, in time. Ortiz could only go a third of the way (not “practically standing on the bag at first” as Nick stated above) to ensure that he couldn’t be doubled-up at first – by far the worse outcome.

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  18. Jon says:

    Ortiz did not read the play poorly at all. Byrd got close enough to the ball to have a reasonable shot at a diving catch–I’ve seen him make tougher catches than that one–at which point he can double Ortiz off second. If Ortiz commits to second, Byrd dives for the ball. Be skeptical if you like, but Byrd implied as much when he was interviewed after the game.

    I’m not a fan of David Ortiz or the Red Sox. There’s a tendency to assume someone made a mistake whenever something goes wrong, but it’s not always true. Ortiz was right about where he should have been on that play. He needed to be close enough to first to retreat in case of a catch (and it’s not clear that he was). Even with his total lack of footspeed and Byrd’s brilliantly sudden spin from shallow right field, the play was quite close.

    As for Girardi’s strange managing moves in the ninth, it seems clear that he must have been protecting A-Rod from injury. The mere fact that he hadn’t used him yet, coupled with the fact that he gave Kinsler a second plate appearance as the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when he could have pinch-hit with A-Rod and then brought Wigginton back in to play second–well, it’s pretty telling.

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  19. Jon says:

    *Second* sentence. It just got funny.

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  20. neuter_your_dogma says:

    I chalk it up as a fluke play and no fault of Ortiz. Similar to an infield line drive that may one-hop the infielder. What is the runner on first to do? Better to be tossed out at second than doubled up at first.

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    • oompaloopma says:

      I agree its a in-betweener, Byrd look liked he planned the play last second. He probably would have dove if the game was not on the line. I however dont get how Ortiz is even running, use a pitcher to run!

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  21. Diet Bacon says:

    Perhaps something else is not being considered. A-Rod could not be found when Girardi began looking for him (possibly in anticipation of Beltre’s AB). He was later shown stretching by the dugout steps as Beltre was at the plate. Once Beltre struck out there was an opportunity to replace Ortiz on the base paths (Buck has 15 doubles on the saeson, had already hit one during the game and Broxton has allowed 19 hits in 19 IP to RH batters this year) in hopes of getting on the board. Is it possible, Girardi simply chose not to risk his $300 M player? Is it possible A-Rod was not ready to run? Ultimately, Girardi lost the game but I was just thinking that it might have been a forced error.

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