Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead

When Is Stealing With A Big Lead In The Fourth Inning Acceptable? Pretty Much Always

There was some discussion this morning about Pirates broadcasters Greg Brown and Bob Walk lambasting the Cardinals’ decision to steal two bases yesterday—both by Yairo Munoz, in the span of two pitches—while holding an 11-4 lead. Suffice it to say that the Bucs’ broadcasters were not impressed.

Brown and Walk are unequivocally old-school, going so far as to initially misidentify the ensuing boos as being directed at the Cardinals’ perceived breach of etiquette rather than at the home team’s sloppy play. Walk even alluded to retaliation, saying, “I know exactly what would happen now, in a different era.”

Holy hell, guys—it was the fourth inning. Under even the kindest reading of the code—even the code from Walk’s era (he pitched from 1980 to 1993)— that’s way too early to expect behavior modification. In The Baseball Codes, we broke the idea down via a series of quotes intended to convey the diversity of opinion on the subject about when a team should take its foot off the gas in a blowout game:

* “It used to be that [running with] anything more than a four-run lead was wrong, and you’ve got to be careful with that.”—Tony La Russa

* “When I was playing, if you had a four-run lead it was a courtesy not to run. But you can do that now.”—Ozzie Guillen

* “Once I had you by five runs and you couldn’t tie me with a grand slam, that was it.”—Sparky Anderson

* “I was always taught you shut it down at five runs after six.”—Dusty Baker

* “Five runs in the sixth, I’m not stopping there. We get into the sev­enth inning, then I’ll start chilling a little bit.”—Ron Washington

* “We play [to shut it down] if you’re up seven runs in the seventh inning.”—Jim Slaton

“From the seventh inning on, if one swing of the bat can tie you up, it’s game on,” said ex–first baseman Mark Grace in 2006. “If it’s 4–0, you have Jason Schmidt on the mound, and he’s only given up one hit, you still go for it if Ray Durham gets on base in the eighth inning. Now, if it’s 6–0, you’re in territory where you might get a player hit in the brain in response.”

The first three bullet points fail to mention timing, but the other four take care of that. In the homer-happy, run-barrage landscape of modern baseball, in which comebacks are more likely than ever, is it weird to think that a seven-run lead in the fourth inning is safe? Of course not. Hell, even the Pirates thought so, having first baseman Josh Bell hold Munoz on first base prior to his initial steal (despite the insistence of pitcher Luis Escobar to steadfastly ignore him).

And why wouldn’t they? It was the fourth inning for crying out loud.

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