Sunday, July 8, 2007

There's No Running in Baseball

Jose Reyes getting benched the other night for not running out a tapper to third prompted me to think a bit about running in baseball. On the play in question, Reyes hit a dribbler to third which the third baseman picked up and then jogged halfway across the infield before he flipped it to first. Reyes, with an incredulous look on his face, never left the batter's box. He was promptly benched by manager Willie Randolph for the remainder of the game (one inning, in a game the Mets were losing 4-0).

Living here in Cincinnati, I have heard over and over again about Ken Griffey Jr.'s "lack of hustle," especially when Ryan Freel plays like he had a keg of Starbucks for breakfast. Barry Bonds has the same reputation. In fact, I think Bonds is the poster child for this sort of thing. I have seen Bonds hit balls which the opposing team could have thrown around the horn before getting the easy putout at first.

The typical defense for players emulating spectators - other than the fact that it is problematic to bench a guy making $10 mil a year - is that it is a "long season" and running out every routine grounder would be akin to letting your two-year-old cook dinner every night; you can do it, but one of these days they are going to burn the house down.

But unlike your toddler, who isn't competing on "Iron Chef," a player running out ground balls, or even fly balls, can put pressure on the defense. If I can time you with a sundial on your way to first, I'm probably not to worried about bobbling the ball or throwing it away in a rush to get you out. Ironically, Reyes is just the type of player who puts this pressure on the defense. Usually.

Let's look at Bonds, Griffey, and Reyes' seasons so far. While they are definitely not your typical players, they are the ones we are discussing here.

Bonds has 294 plate appearances. Of those 294, he has walked 89 times, been hit by a pitch twice, and hit a home run 17 times. He has struck out 33 times. That brings us down to 153 times Bonds has had an opportunity to run when the ball is put in play. Bonds has played in 76 games, so...that gives us just over two times a game (2.01) where Bonds might be asked to carry his fat head at a brisk pace down to first. Too much to ask? I think not.

I won't break down the others all the way, but the numbers for Griffey work out to 2.65 times a game and 3.58 for Reyes. I have both played and watched baseball most of my life and can tell you that the majority of your time on the baseball field is spent standing around. Or sitting on the bench. When the time comes to actually do something when one is playing baseball, I don't think it is being unreasonable to ask the players to get their rear end in motion.

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