FanPost

Inside the brain of a second baseman


I remember watching a game in July of 2008. The Tigers were up 2-1 in the 7th. The Mariners were batting with a man at second and 2 out. The batter hit a ground ball to Polanco's right. It was an easier play to make backhanded. But that would bring a higher risk of the ball getting through and the run scoring. The man who Bill James once deemed the most sure-handed second baseman of all time also had time to get in front of the ball. This would make it a more difficult play but with a lower chance of the ball getting through. Placido got in front of the ball and wound up getting charged with a rare error. But he kept the ball on the infield and the runner never touched home plate.

It seemed to me as if Placido was making an instant calculation based on years of experience that drove his approach to fielding the ball. Quicker than the fastest computer, he had derived the team's win expectancy based on estimating for each of his options the probabilities of getting the out, not getting the out but keeping the ball on the infield, and not getting the out but with the ball rolling through and the run scoring. Things like how spectacular he might look or whether or not he might get charged with an error never seemed to enter into his analysis. I always felt that Polanco was getting the right answer for every play as accurately as a well-versed geek who was supplied with all of the underlying probabilities.

Which brings me to Infante's play in the Oakland third today. The A's trailed 2-0 and had runners at first and second with 1 out. Stephen Drew hit a soft one-hopper which Omar fielded near the bag. After touching second, the situation was strangely similar to the one Polanco faced. He could take his time and make an accurate throw to first which might end the inning but at worst would leave runners at first and third with 2 out. That was the option that the Polanco calculation would have selected. Or Omar could rush an off-balance throw in the direction of first which would give the best chance of completing an inning-ending double play but which came with significant risk. The Infante calculation selected the off-balance throw. In this instance, that throw required retrieval by Prince near the Oakland dugout as a run scored.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.

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