Analyzing Domonic Brown’s Base Running Gaffe
The Phillies swept the Washington Nationals out of Philadelphia with an easy 8-4 victory last night, making them winners of six of their last seven games. Though the Phillies pounded out 15 hits, three of which were home runs, the game wasn’t without mistakes.
One of those mistakes occurred in the bottom of the sixth inning. Domonic Brown had doubled in a run, reducing the Phillies’ deficit to 4-3. In the next at-bat, Wil Nieves went ahead 2-0, then fouled off three consecutive pitches. On Nats starter Doug Fister‘s sixth pitch of the at-bat, Wil Nieves hit a ground ball to shortstop Ian Desmond. Brown went on contact and was easily thrown out at third base for the first out of the inning.
Thankfully, the base running mistake didn’t end up costing the Phillies, as Grady Sizemore eventually put the Phillies ahead 5-4 with a two-run home run later in the inning, and the Phillies would tack on three more runs before the night was over. For Brown, however, it was the latest mistake in a season that has been littered with them. Despite his athleticism, FanGraphs rates Brown as a negative-value base runner in a virtual tie with catcher Carlos Ruiz. Baseball Prospectus rates Brown as an equivalent base runner to a handful of Phillies pitchers: Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, A.J. Burnett.
Here’s what happened in .gif form:
Notice how Brown isn’t taking account of the defenders as the pitcher gets ready to deliver the pitch to home plate. (He swivels his head but isn’t looking at anything in particular.) Brown could have been using this time to observe the defensive positioning of the Nationals’ middle infielders, which would have allowed him to better gauge his decision to advance to third base.
In fairness to Brown, this is a ground ball hit behind him. Runners are taught to advance to the next base on this type of hit. However, this ball was sharply hit right at the shortstop; it’s not a seven-hopper where the shortstop’s momentum is taking him away from third base. All Desmond has to do is turn and make an accurate throw to third baseman Anthony Rendon to complete the play. Brown should have been able to guess how easy of a play it was going to be for Desmond if he had recognized his positioning prior to the pitch.
You can see Utley observing the positioning of all of the Mets’ infielders and outfielders, even spinning around to do so quickly.
You’ll see Utley do this every single time he’s on second base, regardless of the situation. It’s a habit and it’s part of the reason why Utley consistently rates as an above-average base runner year after year. Not only does analyzing the positioning of the defense allow Utley to make the correct split-second decision, it allows him to get a good jump to take an extra base if necessary.
Brown is not the only player who fails to consistently analyze the game state. Most players rely on their instincts and athleticism. Utley, however, was never blessed with blazing speed and had to utilize other tools to put himself ahead. Brown can avoid base running gaffes in the future by taking a page out of Utley’s book and being a more observant runner on the bases.