One of the memorable plays from NLCS Game 1 came in the top of the tenth inning. With one out, A.J. Ellis hit a line drive to right-center — a single if center fielder Jon Jay played it correctly. Jay, however, mistakenly dove after the ball and missed it completely. Ellis motored to third base as the ball made its way back to the infield. Hanley Ramirez was intentionally walked, bringing up Michael Young with runners on the corners and one out.
Young hit a lazy fly ball to right fielder Carlos Beltran. Beltran camped under it, then fired the ball home. Catcher Yadier Molina corralled the ball just before Ellis crashed into him. Home plate umpire Gerry Davis called Ellis out, ending the inning, keeping the Cardinals’ hopes alive. Replays shown on the TBS broadcast called into question the veracity of the call.
After the game, Ellis said that Davis made the correct call, even if Molina didn’t actually apply the tag. Via Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times:
“In the history of baseball, no one has ever been called safe on that play because they didn’t tag them,” A.J. Ellis said Saturday.
Ellis said he understood such a play would be subject to a replay challenge next year.
“That would be a shame for a great defensive play like that, the great throw by Carlos, and great play by Yadier at the plate to be overturned because of a technicality that he didn’t graze him with the glove,” Ellis said.
As a fellow catcher, it’s not surprising to see Ellis take Molina’s side. It is surprising to expect a defender to be given credit for an action without actually having to make it. Middle infielders are still expected to touch the second base bag and apply tags even when they have runners stampeding towards them from first base. What reason is there to treat catchers separately?
If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.
While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.
The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.
A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.
A great read and a great history lesson.