We’re two days removed from the dramatic Game 7 of the World Series, but we still aren’t removed from the critical Game 7 decisions that had an impact on the San Francisco Giants winning by one run over the Kansas City Royals to take the crown.
One very critical in-the-heat-of-the-moment decision during Game 7 was Eric Hosmer’s decision to slide head first into first base on a ground ball in the third inning. What happened on Eric Hosmer’s first base slide?
Hosmer was originally called safe by the umpire, but for the first time in World Series history a call was overturned through use of instant replay and Hosmer was declared out.
Bear in mind this is the very last game of the season, where 27 outs are the last bits of currency for two teams to decide the championship – every single out matters and every out expended by your hitters leaves you less room for error. Just like in Lean, we must be mindful of resources invested and maximize the return on those investments and minimize waste. We talk a lot of the value of resources like money and people in continuous improvement, but in baseball the constraining resource is outs available.
We’ve already covered why sliding head first into first base is a poor decision (except when trying to avoid a tag) because of loss of thrust from running (legs leaving the ground), friction between runner and ground slowing the runner down, and the safety risks of a runner’s hand getting cleated.
Many experts have weighed in with their own findings about head-first-vs-feet-first slides and whether sliding into first base is advantageous – in rare occasions and with extreme precision does the benefit outweigh the risks.
But Hosmer’s slide…should he have done it? Let’s look at some of the data.
As the narrator and the game announcers noted, had Hosmer kept running he likely would have been safe at first if the play was evaluated by instant replay. Just because one CAN be faster sliding into first, the likelihood is that they won’t be. From Deadspin:
It doesn’t actually matter if sliding is theoretically faster than running through if the sliding proposition requires precise timing and mechanics that no major leaguer employs—Hosmer certainly didn’t.
In a setting where players haven’t been trained for the physics-approved sliding method and, more crucially, don’t have mental clocks calibrated finely enough to fire the dive at the exact hundredth of a second necessary, the blackboard ideal of a slide being faster than running is exactly as relevant as saying something like, “If you play the lottery, you can absolutely win more money than you’d get at a 9-to-5.”
And who else should weigh in but Bill Nye the Science Guy:
World Series Science: don’t dive into 1st base. Instant a runner leaves his feet, he slows down. May have cost Royals a run and the game.
— Bill Nye (@TheScienceGuy) October 30, 2014
At the time of Hosmer’s slide and out, the Royals still had 19 outs to work with (his double play started with 0 outs in the 3rd inning). His slide may have cost the Royals an out, but how did it directly impact the results of the game?
Hosmer was batting fourth in the Royal’s lineup, right behind Lorenzo Cain and in front of slugger Billy Butler. If Hosmer had been safe, Billy Butler would have come up to hit with one out and a runner on first base.
Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt would have been pitching from the stretch position on the mound with runners on base instead of the full windup. While the speed of a pitch from the windup vs. from the stretch position is minimal, the way a hitter sees the pitcher’s mechanics is different because their mechanics are different.
And with Jeremy Affeldt, those differences are pronounced. With the bases empty, hitters had a .158 batting average against him with a .449 OPS. With runners on base, though? Batting average of .329 and OPS of .798.
With two outs, Billy Butler grounded out to end the inning. Even if he saw the pitches the same as he would have if Hosmer was on base, that ground ball Butler hit could very easily have been a double play ball too as Butler is not fleet of foot (and grounded into 21 double plays in the regular season).
So, in the end, there very well could have been a double play that inning anyway and nothing would have changed but with the split stats on Affeldt, Butler really could have done some damage and brought Hosmer home with a double. In fact, he almost did it in the 9th inning to tie the game up (Hosmer stopped at 3rd base – another in-game decision that might have made a difference).
And if Butler couldn’t hit him in? The hitter right behind Butler, Alex Gordon, is a bit of a masher too.
So should Hosmer have slid? The conclusion is no. Would his out have mattered? Very possibly – Billy Butler was a solid candidate to cause some offensive damage. The Royals lost by one run, and creating an extra out when you have players on base is not a recipe for success.