The Giants won Sunday’s game against the Braves because of the sweet, sweet dingers. If you ever doubted the importance of hitting the ball over the fence, note that the Giants played a three-game series on the road against the team with the best record in baseball, went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, and still swept the series. They didn’t have to mess around with clutch singles and small ball. They just hit the snot out of the ball several times.
However, dingers are a fickle mistress, and there’s no guarantee the Giants are going to keep this up. Actually, considering how surprised most of us are with this power, I think the safe money would be on the Giants regressing just a bit. Bruce Bochy certainly isn’t going to sit around, waiting for home runs. He’ll still work for runs, and he’ll still assume the Braves pitchers aren’t going to give many up. Which brings us to a curious managerial decision on Sunday.
The scenario: with a runner on third and one out, Buster Posey’s bat nicked Evan Gattis’s glove on a grounder to first. It was catcher’s interference, which is usually a dead ball, with the runner being awarded first base. Except — and I’ll admit being ignorant about this until yesterday — the manager has a choice of declining the catcher’s interference call and accepting the outcome on the field. Here were Bochy’s choices:
1. Accept the CI call and have runners on first and third with one out
2. Decline the CI call and have the bases empty, two outs, and a 1-0 lead
Numbers! According to Baseball Prospectus, the average team should have expected to score 1.14 runs with runners on first and third and one out last year. On average, the manager selecting the first option will score more runs than the manager selecting the second option. So the numbers suggest Bochy made a mistake.
However, the numbers don’t have to watch the Giants hit into double plays. They’re just one behind the league lead, and the lumbering Michael Morse was coming up. Not only is Morse a double-play threat, but he’s also strikeout-prone, which lowers the chances of him getting Hunter Pence home from third by putting the ball in play.
Now imagine if the expected happened — catcher’s interference call accepted and a double play five seconds later. The team would have tensed up. You would have freaked out. You never get a chance to take runs off the board in baseball. It's not like the NFL, where penalties on made field goals give coaches the opportunity with some regularity. This is kind of a new subject for us.
My feeling at the time: forget the numbers. My feeling after the win: forget the numbers. It's easy with the benefit of hindsight. But if the Giants lost by a run, would I still feel like that? Probably not, considering in the alternate reality of accepting the CI call, the Giants could still win. The numbers would have looked more seductive, then.
So here's a poll. Whatever we decide on is legally binding for the next time something like this happens. Which is probably "never." Should Bochy have accepted the catcher's interference call? In a way, it's like knowing with 100-percent certainty that a suicide squeeze is going to work. Do you take that outcome every time there's a runner on third with one out? If you do, you'll probably lose runs. You'll also save yourself from all sorts of frustration, too.
All I know is I retain the right to second-guess Bruce Bochy in perpetuity, especially with the unfair benefit of hindsight.