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Debate: Was Jimmy Rollins’ steal against Baseball’s “Unwritten Rules?”

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Jimmy Rollins steals lots of bases: did he steal one too many vs the Giants friday night? Photo: Thearon Henderson/Getty Images

(editor’s note: this post started with an email conversation amongst friends, where the Phillies fan amongst us didn’t think Rollin’s steal was “bad baseball.”)

The Giants and Phillies mixed it up in Friday 8/5’s game, a 9-2 victory (box/gamer) for Philadelphia that featured some “unwritten rule” discussion over the actions of Jimmy Rollins and subsequently Giant’s reliever Ramon Ramirez.

Here was the situation: the Phillies had just scored 2 runs to extend their lead to 8-2 in the top of the 6th inning.  The Giant’s starter Jonathan Sanchez had been knocked out of the game, and reliever Ramirez gave up a 2-run scoring single to Rollins.  Rollins promptly stole second base, and the next pitch plunked batter Shane Victorino.

Honestly, I believe it was a deserving retaliation by Ramirez and/or the Giants.  Stealing with a lead is a sliding scale; had Rollins done it in the 2nd inning with a 3-run lead it wouldn’t have gone punished, but the 6th is iffy with a 6 run lead.  Essentially, when the game appears to be out of reach, major leaguers have a tendency to just “play out the string” and expect this “conceding behavior” to be matched by the winning team.  Having been on both sides of many blowouts, there’s definitively a list of things you don’t do with a massive lead.  Steals and bunts are definitely out.  Curtailing aggressive play (taking extra bases, take-out slides, etc), swinging at 3-0 pitches and swinging out of your ass trying to hit homers are all examples of no-nos.  Certainly admiring homers and showing up a pitcher is a no-no, at nearly any point in the game (the Weaver incident earlier this week).

My Phillies friend apologist countered that the game was still close enough, that the Giants still had 4 at-bats, and the steal (though borderline) was justified.

Here’s some stats on the Giant’s offense and their capabilities of coming back, courtesy of baseball-reference.com:

  • The Giants are 0-8 when giving up 8 or more runs in a game.
  • They’re 12-26 when trailing after the 5th, no matter how many runs they’re down.  And,
  • The largest comeback they’ve had all season in being behind 4 runs.

I’d like to find some stats on how often baseball teams make up X-run leads, but my google skills are failing me.  I’m pretty certain though that the likelihood of making up 6 run deficits is pretty slim.  Tom Boswell has done research that shows that about half of all baseball victories feature more runs scored by the winning team in ONE inning than the loser scores the entire game (his “Big Bang” theory, based on his own research).  Sure enough, the Phillies scored more runs in the 5th inning (four) than the Giants did the entire game (two).

For me, the play was bush league, broke the unwritten rules of showing up your competitors and/or running up the score, and the retaliation was not only deserved but expected.

What do you think?

Written by Todd Boss

August 7th, 2011 at 9:56 am

8 Responses to 'Debate: Was Jimmy Rollins’ steal against Baseball’s “Unwritten Rules?”'

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  1. One of the most compelling things about baseball, to me, is that if there is an out left, there’s a possibility of a game-winning rally. The idea that a barely 1/2 completed game should be conceded, by either side, actually angers me. I’ve never played organized ball, after grade school, but I’ve always thought that complaining about the score being run up on you, at this level, is just whining…. Score some runs, already…problem solved. These guys are competititirs, right…?

    Unkyd

    7 Aug 11 at 1:51 pm

  2. Oh, and “plunking” anyone over a breach of etiquette, just compounds the silliness, to me.

    Have I proven myself ignorant enough, yet? ;)

    Unkyd

    7 Aug 11 at 1:56 pm

  3. What you say is certainly true; there are plenty of examples of teams with miracle comebacks against fantastic odds. But, in a game where 70-75% of the time your best players make an out, the odds eventually become stacked against teams that are down large amounts of runs. Going back to this Giants-Phillies game, the Phillies were throwing Worley, not exactly their ace but no slouch. The Giants had squeaked 2 runs through 5. Even if they got to Worley in the 6th, the Phillies were ready to roll out a litany of hard-throwing relievers who each have a sub .300 batting average against. They have 3 closer-quality relievers in the pen right now (Lidge, Madson, Bastardo) who are all really difficult to hit.

    What i’m saying is … the odds are so astronomically stacked against the Giants of scoring 6 more runs, that yeah they end up “coasting” and playing out the string. It may anger you as a fan, but you have to remember that these guys play 162 of these games. Its better to save your energy and try to beat the guys the next night than it is to kill yourself to try to get back into a game in the middle of August. (Playoffs? totally different story).

    By the way .. i’m not saying that teams “give up” necessarily. Hitters still want to hit, and guys still get their at bats. But the sense of urgency goes away when you’re down by an insurmountable amount of runs. Even in amateur or adult leagues you feel it.

    As far as hitting someone; how else are these breaches handled in baseball? In the Nfl you have penalties and “unsportsmanlike conduct.” In the NBA you have fouls, flagrant fouls and technical fouls. In baseball? Nothing. Its an old-school game with old-school mentalities that course through its veins. If you don’t retaliate against players being unprofessional to you, then you run the risk of having that be the norm. Do you think Rollins is going to steal a base like that again? I doubt it; its going to be pretty easy to throw a pitch right at his temple to send a message. That’s the way issues like this are handled in baseball; always has been, always will be. 5 game suspensions don’t mean jack to these players in comparison to maintaining the integrity of the game.

    Todd Boss

    7 Aug 11 at 5:08 pm

  4. So I’m the Phils fan that didn’t think J-Roll’s steal was completely out of bounds. Not enough for Victorino to get hit anyway. Not just being biased as most attributed to my opinion.

    Another thing I noted — this was a game in SF, the same team the Phils have had to hear over and over that this team has their number, they knocked them out of the NLCS last season, and then took 2 of 3 in Philly the week before, etc… All this talk.

    So maybe the Phils were also trying to send their own message going out there after hearing all the BS the week prior? Don’t know. Maybe it was the wrong message but I like it. The Giants are the World Series champs. F- em! In the end maybe there was something behind Rollins’ actions. I’d be willing to bet, however, that he probably didn’t realize they were up six runs after getting the hit. But we’ll never know.

    I just don’t know if J-Roll was over the line stealing the bag in that situation. I personally think it was borderline. Okay, you want to send a message as a pitcher then? Throw one behind Victorino. Don’t just plunk him on the back. I didn’t think it warranted a hit batsman.

    Like I said, SF still had 4 MORE AT BATS to hit. Worley’s been solid but he’s a rookie. And another thing — leads like that may not evaporate in SF, but in Citizen’s Bank ballpark six runs leads aren’t safe. I know they were in SF but still.

    Droopy

    8 Aug 11 at 11:41 am

  5. My dad thought it was borderline as well. One inning later or a couple more runs of a lead and it would have clearly been a violation.

    Rollins sent his message, and the Giants sent one back. That’s baseball. I don’t think Rollins will be stealing a base against the Giants in a similar situation again, I’ll say that. Not unless he wants one off the helmet the next time he gets up.

    Todd Boss

    8 Aug 11 at 11:50 am

  6. Your hatred for the Phillies is evident. :-) I don’t think anyone on the Phils (as far as I could tell) was all up in arms about Victorino getting plunked. He came out and let the pitcher know he didn’t like it and the benches cleared.

    Droopy

    8 Aug 11 at 1:47 pm

  7. Here’s an interesting article on the resulting suspension (only Victorino, now sure how that’s possible) along with some other things that may have led to the Phils “running it up” on SF.

    http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/127284648.html

    Droopy

    9 Aug 11 at 12:27 pm

  8. Agree the suspensions should have been for both the reliever (Ramirez?) and Victorino. The author says that the Rollins steal was overkill, but then blames the Giants because they were holding him on? I don’t follow his logic. If the Giants didn’t hold him on then the implication is that they don’t care if he steals second or not. Clearly that’s not what they were thinking.

    Todd Boss

    9 Aug 11 at 12:56 pm

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