Over the weekend, the Boston Red Sox advanced to the World Series after defeating the Detroit Tigers in six games in the American League Championship Series. In that sixth game, the Red Sox won primarily because of this play:
But, truth be told, another key moment in the game came in the top of the sixth inning, when the Tigers had runners on first and third with no one out and had just taken a 2-1 leave. A ground ball was hit to the Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia. Now, ordinarily, on such a play the runner on third base (in this case, Prince Fielder) would likely break for home on contact. Even if he's thrown out, it prevents what would otherwise be an easy double play.
In Saturday's game, however, Fielder hesitated, going only halfway down the baseline. This allowed Pedroia to tag out the runner going from first and then fire the ball to the catcher, leaving Fielder in a rundown.
Then this happened:
Over at SBNation, Grant Brisbee provided some context:
Prince Fielder is bad at fielding, and for the last three weeks, he's been bad at hitting. That leaves baserunning. Welp ...
With the bases loaded and no outs, the contact play was on. Or was it? Fielder came halfway, just long enough for the runner at first to be tagged out. That left Fielder in a rundown.
It was spectacular. Think tanks couldn't come up with situational baserunning that bad. (emphasis added)
Now, this got me to thinking that Brisbee is underestimating the ability of think tanks to screw things up. I jokingly tweeted at the time:
— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) October 20, 2013
The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that I was being terribly unfair to Heritage, which has been taking a bit of a beating as of late. What this play required by Fielder was total commitment to his course of action. If Fielder had run on contact -- let's call this the Heritage course of action -- he would have been out, but there still would have been two runners on with only one out. If he had refrained from aggressive baserunning and stayed at third base -- let's call this the Cato course of action -- Pedroia would have converted a normal double play, but at least there would still be a runner in scoring position. [What about AEI?--ed. As someone tweeted at me last night, AEI would have urged Fielder to walk home, on the premise that the catcher would treat Fielder as a true liberator of home plate.]
Nope, when you consider how policy options papers are crafted by mainstream think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, RAND, Brookings, or the Council on Foreign Relations, you realize that most think tanks would have crafted Fielder's actual baserunning strategy. Such a memo would have likely concluded:
In conclusion, Mr. Fielder, we strongly believe that the "stay at third" option is too risk-averse and could lead to a deteriorating probability of runs being scored in the inning. The "run on contact" option, however, is too reckless; it would either lead to an automatic out or a collision with the catcher, causing needless casualties that would only inspire resentment among the populace of Red Sox Nation.
We therefore strongly urge you to reject both the baserunning hawks and doves and pursue the "go halfway in a hesitating manner" option as a prudent middle course of action that preserves alternatives for any possible fielding contingency. Going halfway to home signals a credible resolve to score a run. At the same time, it is restrained enough to allow time for you to identify moderate elements among the Red Sox infielders amenable to a compromise solution during a later at-bat.
Oh -- and go Red Sox!!!!
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.