As anyone who has followed the Red Sox this season knows, the Sox have not been good on defense – especially at third base (has someone put an actual curse on the 5 hole?) – and rank near the bottom of MLB with 26 errors. And before anyone says that errors are a poor way to judge defensive prowess because errors don’t measure range and many other factors that go into defense, I’m very aware of that and agree with you. Besides, I’m not here to talk about physical errors. I’m here to talk about mental errors. The mind game, if you will.
There are many types of mental errors, both on offense and defense. On offense they usually involve baserunning – hello Hanley Ramirez – and missed signs. Some examples include not taking the extra base, not paying attention to the third base coach, and getting picked off due to inattention. All can and do cost runs. But to me, the worst mental errors happen on defense, because many times they are compounded by physical errors that often lead to big innings for the other guys. In other words, unearned runs really do suck.
Let’s look at some recent examples to see how many runs these mental errors cost the Sox:
Saturday 4/29 vs. Cubs
Ben Taylor entered the game in relief of Robby Scott in the middle of the seventh with the Cubs leading 5-4 and Kyle Schwarber on first with one out. Taylor walked Kris Bryant, moving Schwarber to second. Anthony Rizzo hit a grounder to Mitch Moreland who threw to Xander Bogaerts covering second for the out on Bryant. This is where the play should have ended. With two outs and Schwarber on third and Rizzo on first. But it didn’t…
Bogaerts looked to throw to Taylor covering first for the double play, but he was not there yet as he broke late (mental error #1). Bogaerts double pumped until he saw Taylor closing on the base just as Rizzo also closed on the base and decided to throw (mental error #2). Throwing from just off second base to a moving target is not a routine throw. The much more common throw to the pitcher covering comes from either the second or first baseman from much closer to first. These guys aren’t quarterbacks and trying to lead a moving target is not something the shortstop does very often. If Taylor had broken when he should have, he probably would have beaten Rizzo to the bag by a step or two and Bogaerts could have thrown to the bag, but he didn’t.
This is where Bogaerts should have said to himself, “Eat the ball.” Instead, he unleashed the throw to Taylor and threw it behind him (physical error #1). The ball went into foul territory. Seeing this, Schwarber raced home from third and Rizzo took off toward second. 6-4 Cubs.
Then this happened:
Moreland raced to pick up the wayward throw as Rizzo neared the bag and decided to try to throw him out – even though Rizzo was very close to second and Bogaerts was standing a few steps in front of the base, not expecting a throw (mental error #3). Another case where the fielder should have said to himself, “Eat the ball.”
Moreland airmailed the ball into left-center (physical error #2) and Rizzo took off for third. By the time Jackie Bradley Jr. arrived at the ball, Rizzo was very close to the bag and Bradley decided to end the madness and threw to home.
So instead of having two outs and a man on first with the score 5-4, there is a man on third, taking away the force at second and first. Luckily, Boston got out of the inning without Rizzo scoring.
The final tally is three mental errors and two physical errors, a run that shouldn’t have scored and two extra bases for Rizzo. Cubs up 6-4.
Sunday 4/30 vs. Cubs
Joe Kelly entered the game in the top of the seventh to relieve Eduardo Rodriguez with the Red Sox ahead 2-1. After an Albert Almora fly out, Kelly proceeded to walk John Jay (who is very fast for an ex-Chief Justice) and Schwarber. So far, a perfectly normal game for Kelly. He then uncorked a wild pitch that made its way to the third base dugout side of the wall behind home. What normally happens here is that each runner will advance one base, but that’s not what happened this time. In situations like this, the pitcher has two jobs.
The first is to help the catcher locate the ball, because he has no idea where a fast pitch with tons of spin will end up. The pitcher’s second job is to cover home. Both can be accomplished at the same time.
Let’s go to the videotape to see what happened:
As you can see, Christian Vazquez needed help finding the ball and looked to Kelly for that assistance. Kelly does nothing but jog towards home for a few precious seconds (mental error #1). Seconds that Jay used to assess the situation, saw that Vazquez couldn’t locate the ball, and then never hesitated and started toward home, which Kelly wasn’t covering yet (mental error #2).
Kelly finally remembered that he’s in the middle of a baseball game and directed Vazquez to the ball. Vazquez sprinted to retrieve the ball, and in a great play, tossed it to Kelly, who finally made it to home. The resulting play was close, but alas, Jay scored to tie the game at two apiece.
Because the mistake was of the mental variety – and you could easily give Kelly two on this play – no error is entered in the box score – only a wild pitch, even though a run scored all the way from second. In the end, the lapse didn’t hurt the Sox, who went on to win 6-2. But with the way the Sox offense has played this season, every run saved is precious.