No matter what happens in the NLCS, “The Daniel Murphy” play is destined to go down in Mets lore.
You’ve no doubt seen it by now: New York trailing 2-1 in the fourth inning, Murphy on first base and a shift to the right on for Lucas Duda. Duda walks, Murhpy strolls to second and, when he gets there, no Dodgers fielder calls “time” and no one moves to cover third. Murphy sprints to third base:
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Right after that, Murphy scored on a Travis d'Arnaud sac fly to tie things up. The momentum changed and, later, Murphy’s home run off of Zack Greinke proves to be the winning run rather than the merely tying run. Just a back breaker for the Dodgers. Losing is bad enough. But losing with a large assist to a brain fart is even worse.
And — while we should all first and foremost give Murphy credit for a supremely heads-up play in a game he almost single-handedly won for the Mets — it still was a brain fart, right? A failure of execution by the defense? Because that play shouldn’t happen, right? Don Mattingly said so after the game, at least, and it’s hard to take issue with what he says here:
“That’s probably [shortstop] Corey [Seager] there, whoever is on that side. We don’t shift a ton, but that’s probably his responsibility there. That’s probably all of our responsibility there on the field, talking about it and making sure that we know. With the walk, that guy’s going and Corey has to stay there, but we all should be communicating, ‘Get to third! Get to third!’ We all have to take responsibility.”
Someone needs to either call time out while the defense realigns itself or else the defense needs to realign itself a lot faster. Seems pretty straightforward. Of course, not everyone thinks it was so straightforwardly a matter of execution. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times thinks it’s a matter of philosophy:
Mattingly blamed the naked base caper on rookie Corey Seager, but, in a broader sense, the blame will be felt by new Dodgers baseball boss Andrew Friedman. This was a case of old-fashioned hustle beating the sort of new-age baseball shift that has been implemented here by the Friedman regime. It is a shift that has sometimes succeeded but still requires more work, especially on a team with a rookie shortstop.
And here . . . we . . . go.
Though it should be unnecessary to note such a thing by now, let us humor Mr. Plaschke and remind everyone that there is nothing “new-age” about defensive shifts in baseball. As Joe Posnanski wrote two years ago when discussing Lou Boudreau shifting against Ted Williams in 1946, managers at the time noted that such shifts were employed at least 25 years before that, which means shifting for pull hitters, though rare until recently, is a nearly century-old phenomenon.
Let us also note that a base runner taking an extra base thanks to the shift, though itself rare, is not unheard of. As the TBS broadcasters noted last night, Johnny Damon famously did it in the 2009 World Series against the Phillies. Dustin Pedroia did it two years ago. Mookie Betts did it this very season. It probably happens more often than that. Those were just the examples I found quickly Googling.
The victims of those plays were Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel’s Phillies, Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia’s Angels and Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams’ Nationals. If you can find three examples of less-New-Agey baseball brain trusts, be my guest, because I can’t think of any. Which is to say that last night’s play — or those other examples — was not a matter of front office philosophy. It was a matter of execution, pure and simple. Baseball players not doing their jobs and keeping their heads in the game.
And it certainly was not a matter of too much shifting. Indeed, as Mark Simon of ESPN noted over the summer, the Dodgers are one of the least-shifting teams around:
As written in Plaschke’s own Los Angeles Times in July, shifting has been highly effective for teams which employ it (i.e. every team). By one measure cited in that article, shifting saved nearly 200 runs for MLB defenses in the first half of the season alone. Rather than look askance at Andrew Freidman’s allegedly “new-age” shifting, the Dodgers should actually be shifting more. Maybe if they did it more, their defenders would be more in the habit of covering third base in situations like the one that burned them last night.
I assume Plaschke actually knows that, however. His calculatedly understated “sometimes effective” disclaimer aside, he knows that shifts are effective and that there’s nothing crazy about them in this day and age. Or an older day and age either. No, what this is all about is the creation of a new hobby horse for the venerable Los Angeles Times columnist. Or the resurrection of an old one. You see, Plaschke simply hates today’s stock of younger, educated and analytically-bent baseball executives.
Back when the Dodgers hired Billy Beane acolyte Paul DePodesta (now a member of the triumphant Mets’ front office!) as their general manager in 2004, Los Angeles Times columnists — Plaschke included — decided that he was a no good sabermetric nerd and, as a group, decided that it was their business and duty to run him out of his job. Which, eventually, they did. Plaschke was probably the least vehement about going after DePodesta — it was more T.J. Simers’ beat — but he certainly was an accomplice. And though he claims to evolved on the matter of analytics in baseball, he showed last December that he will not let that evolution get in the way of a good nerd bashing. Nerd bashing sells papers and sounds good on those annoying shout-fest TV shows on which he appears over at ESPN.
There’s a lot to bash about this Dodgers team. Plaschke correctly notes that Don Mattingly likely has to go. And the front office is certainly not blameless here as, if you’re gonna spend $300 million on payroll, you sure as hell better have a deeper pitching staff and a few better hitters than the Dodgers have at the moment. There is some serious roster restructuring in store for L.A. this offseason and, I suspect, a new manager will be in place in relatively short order.
But the Dodgers didn’t lose last night’s game because of front office philosophy, new-age or otherwise. They lost last night’s game because they failed to execute. They failed to take advantage of copious opportunities with runners on base and they failed to play heads-up baseball when Daniel Murphy was trotting from first to second.
Put differently: they just got beat.