Short answer: No.
Slightly longer answer: No idiot – they won the World Series.
Much longer answer: No. But he may have cost them a game. And with one more win the team would have tied the franchise record for wins. Which, in light of winning the World Series, probably doesn’t matter at all. But, as an exploration, let’s pretend this game really, really mattered.
It was just more than one year ago, on a night just like tonight. July 17 in Houston, Texas. Astros hosting the Mariners. Bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Score tied. Bases loaded. Alex Bregman at the plate. He smacks a hard-hit ground ball to the left side that gets past a diving Kyle Seager at third, but shortstop Jean Segura snags the ball in the hole and his strong throw just beats a sliding Brian McCann for the force out at second. (Seager would lead off the 10th with a long ball, and the Mariners would win in 10.)
Slick-fielding play by Segura, bang bang result. So why put the blame on McCann? Let’s go to the tape.
The throw beats McCann in by a split second. But, revolutionary suggestion alert, what if instead of slowing down to slide, McCann had simply sprinted right through second base? Without slowing down to slide, he would have beaten the ball to the bag, avoiding the force out. Sure, he’d get tagged out soon after, but the game-winning run already would have scored from third. GAME OVER – ASTROS WIN! Running through second base sounds counterintuitive to baseball logic, but, had McCann beaten the force out, Yuli Gurriel would already have scored the game winning run and McCann getting tagged out would be irrelevant. Instead of a -.16 WPA play, the outcome would be a .34 WPA play that ended with a W.
Which begs the larger question – why don’t we ever see runners run through second base? Turns out, it’s because this is a very situational opportunity. For running through second to make sense, a team would need a runner on third, a runner on first, (an optional runner on second), two outs, a ground ball, and a close force out at second base. In the 2017 regular season, a Baseball Savant search reveals that there were only 252 ground balls in that situation that ended with an out at second or third.
So, in theory, 252 potential chances for a runner to overrun the bag at second (or third), to get an extra run out of the inning. Granted, there is an increased risk of collision with a middle infielder covering the bag, or even injury from the unfamiliar act of straight-line sprinting past second before hitting the brakes. So maybe this base running maneuver is only worth it to bring home the tying or go-ahead run. Which brings us to roughly 54 chances in the season. Of those, Baseball Savant has video for 20. And of those 20, it turns out that on only three of those plays (all in July) were close enough that the runner would have potentially benefited from running through second base to allow the tying or go-ahead run to score.
Once again, let’s head to the tape:
These examples have two things in common: Both are early in the game (third and first inning, respectively) and both would involve the baserunner colliding with the second baseman at full speed. Neither seems worth the chance of injury to score an early run. And it’s unclear on how an umpire would call that type of collision.
That leaves us with one example from the 2017 season, where running through the bag would have won the game while reasonably avoided a collision. Let’s watch it again.
The ball beats McCann to the bag by a fraction of a second. It’s a fraction of a second he could have avoided had he just kept running.
In conclusion: at times, running through second base instead of slowing down to slide would be a smart move. These times just appear to be very rare. Out of 188,074 plate appearances in the 2017 regular season, only 1,979 (or just over 1%) had the necessary requirements for a base runner on first to be thinking of running through second base on a ground ball. Only 252 (or .13%) resulted in a ground ball force out to second or third. And only 1 (.0005%) would have materially changed the game.
So, for everyone else in the big leagues, you probably don’t have to think about running through second. But for Brian McCann, by not being alert to the situation, you cost your team from tying the franchise record in wins. (Since he did catch every inning in October while helping bring home the Astros first World Series title, I guess we can give McCann a pass on this one).
Jeff is an advertising copywriter, board game enthusiast, Sunday School teacher, soccer player and doting husband. He could never hit a curveball, but has always rooted for the Astros.