October Moment: Rangers catch Blue Jays off guard
One of the most notable changes in baseball over the last few years has been the increased emphasis on defensive positioning. The rise of data has helped coaches identify where the ball is likely going before it goes there, and teams have put a lot of effort into making sure they have a defender in the right place at the right time.
This is why the Rangers’ first run against David Price in the third inning of Texas’ 5-3 win in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday was a little jarring. The play, which resulted in a Delino Deshields RBI single, is in the video below.
Ryan Goins — one of the best defensive second baseman in baseball — is left standing helplessly near the second-base bag as the ball hit by Deshields rolls into the outfield, right past the area where a second baseman is normally positioned.
According to John Lott of the National Post, the Blue Jays were running a "back-pick" on this play, in which Goins would sneak over to the second-base bag after the pitch was delivered in order to receive a throw from catcher Russell Martin, hoping to catch the runner — Rougned Odor in this case — off the bag for an out. There is some merit to trying to take advantage of Odor’s baserunning, because in his brief major-league career, he’s been terrible at it.
Since making his debut last season, the 21-year-old is a miserable 10 for 24 in stolen-base attempts, suggesting that he doesn’t exactly have the right balance of aggressiveness and wisdom on the bases just yet. If looking to catch a guy in a baserunning mistake, Odor is a good player to target, so it’s probably not a coincidence that the Blue Jays ran this play when he was on base; these are the kinds of small advantages teams are constantly looking for.
Except, there were a few problems with this idea. For starters, the Blue Jays ran this play in a 2-1 count, meaning that Deshields was going to be hunting for a pitch to hit. To maximize the effectiveness of the back-pick play, it should be run in a count where the batter is likely to be taking, or the pitcher is going to throw a pitch not close to the strike zone. Instead, Toronto starter Price threw a belt-high changeup on the outside corner, in a count where Deshields is more likely to swing if he gets a strike.
Price’s changeup had been excellent all day, getting a lot of swinging strikes from right-handed hitters, so perhaps the Blue Jays were counting on Price simply locating the pitch more effectively and Deshields swinging through it. But given that it was an elevated changeup, Deshields was able to take it to the right side of the infield.
Had the back-pick play not been on, this would have been a routine 4-3 groundout, as the ball went right to where Goins would normally be standing. It should have been the second out of the inning, leaving Shin-Soo Choo to try and get a hit off an elite left-handed pitcher, which isn’t Choo’s strong suit. Had Price still induced Choo to ground out — as he did after Deshields’ RBI single — the inning would have been over with the game still locked in a scoreless tie.
But the back-pick was on, and Deshields’ grounder to second turned into a single to right field. After Choo made the second out instead of the final out, Adrian Beltre scorched a line drive to center, scoring Deshields from second base for the Rangers second run of the inning. Both the RBI single, and the fact that there was a runner on base for Beltre to drive in, were direct results of the Blue Jays running a play to try and pick off Odor, except they never even got to try it.
Most likely, Price missed his spot with that changeup, where a better located pitch may have drawn a swing-and-miss that allowed Martin to throw behind Odor. And who knows, maybe they would have caught Odor too far off the base. But Deshields didn’t miss Price’s mistake, and two runs later, the Rangers had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The home runs they would hit off Price in the next few innings certainly helped too. Plus, the job the Rangers pitchers did in mostly shutting down Toronto’s potent offense can’t be ignored. But it all started when Deshields took advantage of the Blue Jays putting their second baseman in the wrong spot.