So, as The Greatest Baseball Writer on the Planet describes in his ESPN story today, unless something crazy happens over the next three days, the 2009 World Series’s signature moment may have been The Damon Play last night in Game Four. For those of you who didn’t see it (what the hell else could you have been doing?), Johnny Damon stole second and third on the same pitch. The Phillies incorporated “The Shift” against left-handed hitting Mark Teixeira, which meant that Pedro Feliz was the only guy on the left-side of the infield, so when Damon, who had reached on a base-hit after an epic battle with Brad Lidge, tried to steal second, it was Feliz there to cover…and no one to cover third base. So, when Damon slid past Feliz, he simply got up and start running towards third, knowing that the only way he would be out is if Feliz ran him down–no chance of that, even at 35 years old, because Damon can still run.
Now, I see the great baserunning ability. Trust me, I really appreciate good baserunning, and Damon has always been very intelligent on the bases. And, unlike seemingly every over-intelligent announcer, I do not fault the Damon Play for the hits to Rodriguez or Posada. Lidge has total confidence in Ruiz to block the slider, he just made two bad pitches to two good hitters. I also don’t blame Pedro Feliz or Jimmy Rollins, at all, on the play. The only one who made a bad defensive play was Lidge, but, trust me, you can’t trust pitchers to do anything other than throw the ball. This play just opened up, on the grandest of stages, one thing that I Just Don’t Get about the strategic choices of managers surrounding The Shift. Maybe someone out there smarter than me (which is not difficult to be) can explain it to me.
When incorporating The Shift (and, let us leave the “to or not to shift” debate out of this for the time being), WHY do managers put the shortstop on the right-side of the infield and not the thirdbaseman???
In fact, I have only seen one manager that does what I am suggesting, in moving the thirdbaseman over and keeping the shortstop on the left-side by himself, and that manager is Fredi Gonzalez (I’m sure there are others, but he is the only I that I have seen do it consistently). When the “shift-worthy” lefties come to the plate against the Marlins, Gonzalez keeps Hanley Ramirez on the left side and sends the thirdbaseman (be it Jorge Cantu or whomever) over to the right side to play just to the right of the secondbase bag–where Charlie plays Rollins.
This strategy seems to make a lot of sense to me because the shortstop is usually the better athlete and there is a lot more ground to cover when you’re the only one on the left side. Plus, this move keeps the SS in his regular position on the diamond, where he is presumably most comfortable. You only have to have one guy (the 3B) out of position, instead of two. BUT…it seems to make EVEN MORE sense to do when there is a guy on first, because otherwise, you have your 3B covering second on a steal attempt (which is exactly what happened Sunday).
Now, I’m not ripping Charlie Manuel here, at all because it seems like 28 other managers in the league would have done the same thing, but I am saying that if Jimmy Rollins had taken that throw, he would have (a) known more what to do on a steal attempt of second and (b) would have had the athleticism/footspeed to run down Damon if he tried to head for third.
Honestly, I just don’t get it.