Rajai Davis Made a Rare Base Running Blunder… What Happened?
On Wednesday night, the Indians fell to the White Sox by a final score of 3-2. Of all the moments that stood out over the course of the evening, perhaps none was more significant than Yonder Alonso‘s 8th RBI inning double. It pulled the Indians to within one run, but was clearly a missed opportunity to tie the game, 3-3.
Rajai Davis, the normally sure-footed base running specialist, made a rare mistake that, in hindsight, may have cost the Indians the game.
So what happened exactly?
On a 1-1 breaking ball over the inner half of the plate, Yonder Alonso yanked a double over the first base bag and down the right field line. Michael Brantley walked home to plate the Indians second run of the evening. Meanwhile, Rajai Davis, who entered the game to pinch run for Edwin Encarnacion, took off on the pitch.
Because the ball was hit behind Davis, he hesitated and then came to a complete stop as he hit second base. Upon realizing the ball was both fair and headed for the right field corner, Davis broke for third. Because of the brief pause at second, Davis was unable to score, or at least attempt to score, on the play.
Here’s how it all unfolded live.
And here’s how it looked from the wide-angle behind home plate on replay.
Both angles, both the live and wide-angle replay, paint a pretty clear picture of what happened, what went wrong, and how the mistake impacted the play.
First, because Davis took off on the pitch and the ball hit behind him, he was blind to what was happening. For Davis, any number of things may have occurred. In addition to being pulled down the line, the ball may also have been hit in the air, it may have been fielded by Jose Abreu at first, it may even have gone foul. Any of these outcomes may have been possible in the mind of Rajai Davis, thus the brief pause at second to determine what happened and where the ball was.
Important edit: Rajai erring on the side of caution is not the worst mistake he could have made. Being doubled up on a lazy fly ball or by making to wide a turn around second on a ball hit in the infield would have been much worse.
Nothing about this is uncommon. It’s not rare to see players, especially on hit and runs, be confused by a ball put in play or fouled off. Where Davis went wrong comes down to the simplest of base running fundamentals. On a ball hit behind you, pick up the third base coach. He is your eyes and will tell you what to do.
In the still frame above, this is the exact moment in which Davis, circled red, should have begun picking up Mike Sarbaugh, circled blue. If he looks up in the direction of third base, he would have seen Sarbaugh begin the universal hand sign for “RUN!” Instead, Davis turns and looks back, stops at second, realizes the ball is headed for the corner and heads to third. By this point the damage had been done. Davis was forced to hold up at third. With runners now on second and third with one out, both Melky Cabrera and Jason Kipnis struck out to end the inning and strand the tying run at third.
But could Rajai Davis have scored?
Now that we understand what went wrong, we can try to answer a second and more important question. Could Rajai Davis have scored from first on the play? Based on the video evidence, it’s fair to assume Davis probably would have scored had he not stopped at second. At the very worst, it would have been an incredibly close play at the plate.
From the screen shots below we can ascertain where Rajai Davis was in relation to both Michael Brantley and the ball. In the top photo, Brantley prepares to cross the plate. The instant he touches, the camera cuts to the bottom photo, where we see White Sox right fielder Trayce Thompson scooping the ball up on the line 10 to 15 feet from the corner.
Looking again at the wide-angle replay and freezing at the instant Brantley crosses the plate, we can see that Rajai Davis was roughly two-thirds of the way to third. This means that even with his full stop at second base, Davis was nearly to third at the exact moment Thompson touched the ball out in right field.
Now, there is no way to know for certain whether or not Davis would have scored on the play had he not stopped for roughly 1.5 seconds at second base. The delay is even longer, upwards of close to 3.0 seconds, when taking into account his deceleration into second and acceleration back to top speed after the pause. With an additional three seconds of top end speed could Davis have scored on a double into the right field corner? The answer is likely yes.
The moment also proved to be as critical as it felt at the time based on win expectancy. From the Fan Graph win expectancy graph below, it is clear just how much this one play swung the potential outcome. Prior to the Alonso double, the White Sox had a 76.1% win expectancy leading 3-1. After the double, which cut the score to 3-2 and put the tying run at third, the White Sox win expectancy plummeted to 53.3%. By the time the inning had ended, the White Sox once again were in control and possessed a win expectancy of 86.7%.
Of course, it’s easy to sit here and say that Rajai Davis should have scored on the play. There is no way to know for certain. While his pause at second likely cost himself a scoring opportunity, he could have tripped rounding third. It’s also possible Thompson delivers a perfect throw to the relay man who then delivers a strike to home plate, nailing Davis. It’s even possible the umpire blows the call in the White Sox favor. Even if Davis scores, maybe the Indians still find a way to lose. There’s just no way to know what the outcome would have been,
What we can say for certain is that Rajai Davis’ mistake on the base paths robbed himself of the best possible opportunity to score the game tying run.