September 23, 2009

"Achievement is not a gift.": A player takes an unchallenged lead off first base, dashes to second and makes it safely without a throw. The runner has advanced, but because there was no attempt to thwart him, he does not receive a stolen base. Instead, an official scorer bellows "defensive indifference" in the press box.

posted by BoKnows to baseball at 01:52 PM - 18 comments

Really not sure I see the story here. Why should they be credited with a steal if they didn't, in fact, engage in any risk to take it? I mean if the pitcher doesn't give a damn, it's hardly fair the player gets credited a steal when nothing differentiates between "He hauled ass and just squeaked into second" and "He slowly ambled to second and nobody gave a shit."

posted by Drood at 02:50 PM on September 23

How can the runner not recieve a stolen base if there were no attempts to stop him? Is it the runners fault that the "pitcher doesn't give a damn" and doesn't even try to pick the runner off? I can understand not crediting the runner with a steal if an error is made but to not give a stolen base credit to someone who did in fact steal a base is just not cool, IMO.

posted by BornIcon at 03:00 PM on September 23

Then can he get credit for a double?

If the point is that there this instance is the only way to advance that isn't statistically recorded, then it is a gap in the stats. In some way, being on 2nd instead of 1st (or 3rd, not 2nd) has to make a difference.

However, baseball's (and baseball fans') addiction to stats is something I have no business in even entering the discussion about.

What I can say though, is that just because this is the way it has been for almost a century, doesn't mean it couldn't or shouldn't change now.

Perhaps like the NHL's Plus-Minus, it could be a stat worthy of an award at some point?

posted by Spitztengle at 03:14 PM on September 23

How can the runner not recieve a stolen base if there were no attempts to stop him?

If I leave an item out on my front lawn with a sign that says, "FREE"*, could I have you charged with robbery for taking it?

* This activity represents 43% of the state of New Hampshire's GDP.

posted by yerfatma at 03:16 PM on September 23

If I leave an item out on my front lawn with a sign that says, "FREE"*, could I have you charged with robbery for taking it?

That sounds like a scam I can get behind.

posted by jmd82 at 03:34 PM on September 23

Interesting discrepancy here between the steal and the base on balls (which is warranted, IMO). Intentional bases on balls count towards the batter's overall base on balls totals, but are also kept as a separate stat. While many (most?) IBBs are a clearly a sign of respect/fear and are in some respect "earned" by the batter (no surprise that Albert Pujols leads the majors in IBB with 43, more than the next two guys (Adrian Gonzalez and Manny Ramirez) combined), there are also a fair number of IBBs that are given up because a batter is in the 8-hole ahead of the pitcher or for match-up/platoon reasons. But the scoresheet does not distinguish between the "we fear you" type of IBB vs. the "the dude behind you sucks/is an easier out" type of IBB.

posted by holden at 03:58 PM on September 23

"Defensive indifference is a sleepy but established rule that has been in Major League Baseball for 89 years."

posted by billsaysthis at 04:15 PM on September 23

The major determinant in the defensive indifference rule is an "attempt to stop the runner". This includes a number of things, to wit: Is the first baseman playing near the base in order to receive a pick-off attempt; Does the pitcher look at the runner, step off the pitcher's plate, or otherwise attempt to reduce the runner's lead; Does the catcher attempt a throw after the runner has attempted to advance. If none of these elements is in place, then defensive indifference is the correct call.

posted by Howard_T at 05:50 PM on September 23

Maybe a new stat should then be kept. Ex: SB# (DI)#

In hockey, empty net goals are counted as a goal in the overall season stats, but in the boxscore they are labeled as an ENG. I don't see any harm in adding the DI rulings into the overall season total as long as they can be differentiated.

The defense was never indifferent about Rickey Henderson. -Rickey Henderson

posted by BoKnows at 05:58 PM on September 23

If I leave an item out on my front lawn with a sign that says, "FREE"*, could I have you charged with robbery for taking it?

Heh. In L.A. you don't even need the sign. Just leave it in front of the house and it's gone. Chairs, tables, used sneakers, busted cribs, Kardashians (though I strongly advise against picking up a used Kardashian).

posted by cjets at 07:13 PM on September 23

Ok, just for fun, let's take this one step further. The runner on first takes second base, (notice I didn't say steals). This is called "defensive indifference" and no stolen base is awarded. Now a subsequent batter hits a single and the runner then scores from second base. Should that hitter be credited with an RBI? If this runner had still been on first base, he would not have scored on a single. Just mixing the pot. How can you give one player credit for an RBI, when you are not giving credit for the stolen base?

posted by T.H.E.Cat at 08:44 PM on September 23

If I leave an item out on my front lawn with a sign that says, "FREE"*, could I have you charged with robbery for taking it?

The sign isn't really out for defensive indifference, is it? It's more like seeing something on the front lawn, heading across the lawn to grab it (risking trespassing as well as theft), and only then being informed by the owner that you can go ahead and have it. Also, it is a lawn from which things are often stolen against the owner's wishes.

Baseball ought also to have an "Offensive Indifference" for certain situations that are otherwise called a "Save."

posted by EnglishSpin at 11:06 PM on September 23

Sorry for the length, but there's a story I want to tell.

See, I've always hated the defensive indifference rule, because it's in that class of rules and baseball "tradition" that ignore what I think is the single best part of baseball: there is no clock.

Here's what I mean: in baseball, unlike other sports, you keep playing till it's done. Rules- both official, such as "defensive indifference", and unofficial such as "you don't steal/swing away with a huge lead"- that suggest there is a point when a team has won the game before the final out is recorded stand in stark contrast to this magical element of baseball: hope.

You can't run out the clock, so even if you're up by 8 runs in the bottom of the 9th... a team can come back and win it. Such comebacks have in fact happened, and not even against only weak teams. To a person who loves the game of baseball, no out should be seen as "indifferent". Earlier this year I saw a defensive indifference call in a 2-run game in the top of the ninth. Excuse me? That's not indifference, that's just stupidity. If the defense has lapses in judgment- including choosing to give up a base with no effort- then the offense should be rewarded for their effort.

Alongside that is the class of "rules" that say you shouldn't swing away on 3-0 in a blowout. None other than normally sane Rob Neyer praised Mike Cameron for not swinging away in a blowout game when he had a 3-0 count in his 5th at bat. This at-bat was particularly significant as he'd already had four at-bats in this game, and hit a solo homerun in each one- all before the 6th inning (including an amazing feat where he and Bret Boone both went back-to-back... twice... in the first inning alone). He walked in that 5th at bat to a chorus of boos, and in his 6th at-bat hit a deep fly ball to the warning track.

It can't be stressed enough how much immortality Mike Cameron would have had with a 5th homerun. To make it worse, that 3-0 pitch was a meatball down the heart of the plate, and Cameron didn't even flinch. It's a stupid notion to say it would "show up the team" to swing away, but I'd argue vehemently that not playing every out to your fullest is what's showing up a team. Wouldn't it be just as insulting to run out on the field with one arm tied behind your back once you're up 10 runs?

And there's another very good reason to play every out. Mike Cameron was on the 2002 Mariners when he hit his 4HR in one game, and some of you may recall the 2001 Mariners won an incredible, record-tying 116 wins. Yet they did not even get past the ALCS that year, to the heartbreak of Seattle fans. Let me tell you about a regular season game that I think prevented Seattle from reaching the World Series.

On August 5, 2001, the Mariners were demolishing the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field. The Mariners were 80-30 entering the game, an absolute juggernaut in the AL that year. After 3 innings, they were up 12-0. After 6 innings, the Mariners were up 14-2. For all intents and purposes, this game was purely a formality.

Except... it wasn't. See, the Indians stunned the Mariners by scoring 3, 4, then 5 runs in their last 3 innings, with those last 5 runs in the ninth all coming with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th. Improbably, impossibly, the Indians had tied the game by racking up 12 runs in the last 3 innings against the best team in the majors with one of the best bullpens. The Indians would go on to win in 11 on an RBI single.

It can be taken as an absolute baseball truth that when the inarguable best team that year- probably the best team of the last couple of decades- is up 12 runs after 6, they're going to win. When they're even up 5 runs with one out left in the bottom of the 9th, they're going to win.

But not always- and that need to play the game because there's never a guarantee is part of what makes baseball amazing. And that Mariners team would end up facing those very same Indians in the opening ALDS that year, and the scrappy Indians- no doubt emboldened by that astonishing comeback a couple of months prior- did not flinch and pushed the Mariners to the full 5 games. Tired and with their rotation completely out of whack, the Mariners would put up little fight against the rested Yankees and would fold in 5 games.

I can't say for sure, but who knows if a Mariners batter watched a fat hanging curve go by with a 3-0 count in that 2001 game. Who knows if one more run early on from a hard-earned steal when the game seemed "out of reach" would have let the Mariners squeak it out, 15-14 in regulation. Who knows if, with a record breaking 117 wins for the Mariners and no historic collapse that the Indians can use for inspiration, the Mariners don't trounce an Indians team that knows in the back of their head that they can't possibly win- and goes into the New York series rested with the rotation set up properly. Who knows what happens then?

If I were commissioner of baseball, there'd be no such thing as "defensive indifference", and anyone who disagreed should be made to watch that August 5th, 2001 game in its heartbreaking entirety.

posted by hincandenza at 01:30 AM on September 24

If I leave an item out on my front lawn with a sign that says, "FREE"*, could I have you charged with robbery for taking it?

That's a brutal analogy considering that nothing is free in baseball and just because a pitcher doesn't attempt to stop the runner from stealing second, third or home why would that not count as a steal?

Better yet, let's go with your analogy: If what you have is free and on your lawn but you're standing at the doorway with a shotgun ready to blast away whoever attempts to take the bait but you don't shoot, would you consider that stealing or just call it a loss considering you didn't shoot?

posted by BornIcon at 12:17 PM on September 24

... but you don't shoot, would you consider that stealing or just call it a loss considering you didn't shoot?

What a bad addition to the analogy. The mere existence of a gun in your analogy is the same as the mere existence of a P, 1B, C on the diamond. That doesn't translate to any actual action. Defensive indifference involves none of those players paying slightest bit of attention to the runner ... that is equivalent to you having your gun on your porch but locked in a gun case, the barrel propped open showing that there was nothing in the chamber and inviting me up to the porch to let me know "this gun doesn't even work, go ahead and take what's under that sign". So, to answer your question, I don't think either of us would consider that stealing, and I doubt you'd even consider that a "loss", since you're essentially inviting me to take it - which is exactly what a defensive team is inviting you to do to second base when they play off the runner.

And to hal's point, the outcome of the situation has absolutely nothing to do with the ruling of the steal/indifference. In fact, many "defensive indifference" calls come into play in the exact opposite of your thrilling Mariners/Indians situation ... most "defensive indifference" is when the team that is leading is in the field and is leading by such an amount that they aren't at all concerned with a single baserunner. So, the losing team takes the opportunity to "have" an extra base, but because of the defensive/leading team's indifference, that is certainly not a "steal" in my book. So, the rulebook isn't attempting to get at how important that extra base might've been, it's providing a provision to look at that exact, fleeting moment in time and how did the players account for that situation.

posted by littleLebowski at 12:38 PM on September 24

That's a brutal analogy

You'll pardon me for not putting a ton of effort into an argument in support of something that's been a baseball rule for longer than either of us have been alive. And for not defending my analogy from someone who willfully misconstrues anything that he disagrees with.

posted by yerfatma at 01:56 PM on September 24

As LL points out, the possibility of a late-inning comeback has nothing to do with the defensive indifference call. If by allowing a runner to get into scoring position by DI, a team loses a ball game, then it is a bad decision, not a stolen base. Most managers believe it is more important to have the pitcher focused on pitch location and velocity, rather than trying to hold a runner and thus negatively affect his control.

For BI, if you are standing there with a shotgun, then you are placing yourself in a position to defend against someone stealing your property. If it is marked as free, it is likely not advisable to use the shotgun. In other words, placing an object on your lawn with a "free" sign is analogous to not holding the runner close to the base. If you don't hold the runner, then unless he is painfully slow or falls down, using the shotgun (in this case a throw from the catcher) is futile, and may result in further damage.

For yerfatma, the DI rule doesn't predate me by all that much.

posted by Howard_T at 04:44 PM on September 24

And here I thought only Dragon Poker had rules that made it ridiculously complicated.

posted by irunfromclones at 05:38 PM on September 24

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