Lost in the 9th, unusual defensive positioning
After the Lorenzo Cain walk and stolen base in the ninth inning of Game 5 on Sunday, Eric Hosmer strolled to the plate with his team trailing 2-0.
Cain’s run means nothing. Hosmer’s does. Hosmer cannot get into scoring position and conceding Cain to make sure that doesn’t happen is OK. That’s also when teams usually deploy their "no doubles" defense.
No doubles means just that. In order for this to happen, you play your outfielders deep, almost near the warning track, and your corner infielders near the foul lines. Nothing gets over an outfielder’s head and nothing gets down the line for extra bases.
The Mets did not do that. As you saw Hosmer drive Harvey’s 0-and-1 location fastball, you could tell it was going to get over Michael Conforto’s head. I was shocked. Why would Conforto be playing so shallow? Or at least standard positioning in left field?
If you’re thinking Hosmer is left-handed and the odds of him driving the ball over the left fielder’s head are low you’d be wrong. Hosmer actually has more extra base hits versus right-handed pitching to deep left field than he does to right field. Check out this spray chart from FanGraphs:
You notice significantly more extra-base hits to deep left than to right. When I get in touch with a few ex-players who have also scouted and are now executives, that I respect and trust, here’s what I got back:
"I was there, he was too shallow for the situation."
"You’re not throwing out Cain anyway, so play the odds and keep the double play in order."
"You cannot allow an extra-base hit there. Anything over an outfielder’s head better be a home run."
"No reason to allow a double when the spray chart tells you exactly what he has done."
"Hosmer is a classic ‘play him pull on the ground, opposite field in the air’ hitter."
Would it have mattered? Maybe. The Moustakas groundball to Lucas Duda is probably not a double play. But at the same time Moustakas would have had a completely different approach at the plate with a runner at first base and no outs as opposed to a runner at second base and no outs. Moustakas’s job was to get Hosmer to third base and he did. Salvador Perez’s ground ball to David Wright would certainly have been a double play to end the game if there were a runner at first base.
A lot of speculation on what would have happened, but there is no question about the defensive positioning in that ninth inning. Conforto should have been playing deeper; the score and the data on the hitter tell you that. For some reason, though, that didn’t happen. Hosmer doubled and was in scoring position with no outs. He later scored the tying run sending the game to extra innings. The rest is history.