On Wednesday night against the Orioles, Torii Hunter made one of the worst baserunning blunders of the season, cutting short what might have been an epic comeback. With the Angels trailing 9-7 with no outs in the 9th, Torii Hunter stood on second base after an RBI double. The Angels had battled back from a 9-1 deficit, and now had the heart of their order set to face a struggling Alfredo Simon. Then, for some reason, Hunter attempted to steal third base during Howie Kendrick's at bat. Hunter was easily thrown out, clearing the bases and giving the Orioles a free out.
From just about any perspective, it was an unconscionably bad decision by Hunter. For one, there's the old baseball adage, "you don't make the first or third out at third base," which generally applies to any inning. In this case, it was the 9th, and the Angels had three cracks to tie the game with a home run. Representing the 8th run, Hunter meant nothing. His job was to stand there and score on a homer.
According to Fangraph's Win Probability data, with Hunter standing on second, the Angels had a 18.5% chance of winning the game. A 9-7 game, with a runner on second and no outs, is manageable. When Hunter was thrown out, that figure dropped to 4.1%.
In short then, Hunter's play, which again gave the Angels nothing if it was successful, dropped the Angels' chance of winning from just under one-in-five to around one-in-twenty-five. Sure enough, those percentages played out. Howie Kendick popped out, and after a two out single by Juan Rivera, a Mike Napoli flyball ended the game. The Angels are now 8.5 games out of first place.
Hunter's decision was horrendous, but the point here isn't to pile on. Rather, it's a reminder that baseball is a game of failure, and everyone makes mistakes. Including mental mistakes. Including fundamental mistakes. Even Angels and even veterans like Torii Hunter. Hunter is praised constantly by the baseball media as a team leader, a smart player, and a fundamental player. So are the Angels, for whom we endlessly hear about their ability to "do the little things" and "play the game the right way." Great baserunning, is supposedly a part of that package. A Google Search of "Angels great baserunning" returns over 1.3 million results. Baseball broadcasters talk non-stop about how the Angels are an aggressive team that puts the pressure on their opponent by taking the extra base. This is supposedly a purer form of baseball.
Well, on Wednesday night, being aggressive hurt them badly in a game they needed. Of course, like with reputations for being clutch, the failures will soon be forgotten. The Angels and Twins both made a number of fundamental mistakes last year in the playoffs, yet this year we still hear the same memes repeated when they play our home teams. The truth is, the entire concept is over-played at the Major League level. Fans of bad teams always think their team is really fundamentally unsound. They aren't. They're just bad teams and on bad teams, so the mistakes seem worse. Good teams and good players make mistakes too, the season's endless and the game is hard.