The Dodgers and Brewers were locked in a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth inning in Game 2 of the NLCS on Saturday. Manny Machado came to the plate with the bases empty and two outs, working the count to 3-0 against Wade Miley. Machado then grounded a 3-0 change-up into the hole between third base and shortstop. Fans watching at home saw Arcia take his time, crow hop, and fire to first base. Then it became obvious why he took his time: Machado wasn’t running hard.
Machado, unsurprisingly, was pilloried for the infraction. Manager Dave Roberts, however, doesn’t see any reason to punish his star player while his team attempts to get back to the World Series, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick and Todd Zolecki report. Roberts said, “I know that he’s doing a lot of things to help us win games. I don’t feel a need to have to address it. Some guys do that and take it, ‘I’m going to run so hard because I’m so mad.’ He’s guilty of going the other way. I don’t think it’s a disrespect to his teammates.” Roberts added, “There’s no perfect player. A guy that posts every inning is hard to come by these days. For me, the net, it’s not even close.”
In part thanks to Machado, who walked and scored his team’s second run in the seventh inning, the Dodgers went on to win 4-3 over the Brewers in Game 2. Machado had two hits — a solo home run and a two-run single — in Game 1 and has overall posted a .909 OPS in six games this postseason.
Hustling is a huge issue for old school players and fans, but Roberts is showing that the newer school doesn’t value hustling nearly as highly. And for good reason — almost all of the time, hustling won’t make a difference. To use a poker term, hustling on every play is negative EV (expected value). Sure, one percent of the time Machado runs hard, he puts pressure on the defender who misplays the ball and/or makes a poor throw. Sometimes the variables align just right — batted ball speed and placement, for instance — and he beats the throw without any defensive misplay. For the other 99 percent of the time, however, hustling has no impact and risks Machado suffering an injury like a pulled hamstring, a torn ACL, or a ruptured Achilles tendon.
We don’t know exactly what Machado’s thought process was, but he might have also been considering the fact that he’s an upcoming free agent once the postseason is over. If he tweaks his hammy running out a routine grounder, he could cost himself millions of dollars. It’s easy for us to budget money we’ll never have and say, “You already have millions, what’s $20 million more?” but if I had the realization that a torn ACL or Achilles could shave millions of dollars off of my next contract, I’d jog real slow to first base, too. Even in the playoffs.