Sending Gordon


I’ve got a bigger piece on the World Series on SportsWorld here … but let’s take a minute to tackle the Alex Gordon hold. There has been a lot of talk about the Royals holding up Gordon with two outs in the ninth inning after the Giants chased and booted the ball around for a while. That’s what you do when a team comes so close. You argue about stuff like holding Alex Gordon at third on a two-base error.

There’s this thing about hindsight, and it probably has a scientific name that I should know but I don’t. When looking back at something that didn’t work— anything that didn’t work — you can eliminate one of the possibilities because, well, you KNOW that didn’t work.

I think of the famous “Let’s Make A Deal” puzzle (I guess it’s officially called The Monty Hall Problem . Remember that one? In a Let’s Make A Deal game, you are given the choice of three curtains. Behind one is a huge prize, like a new car. Let’s say you choose curtain No. 1. Monty Hall then says to you — OK, let’s look and see what’s behind curtain No. 3, and there is a goat chewing some grass or whatever booby prize they have. Then the host gives you a chance to stay with your original window or switch to curtain No. 2.

The math shows that you should switch in this situation. Why? Marilyn vos Savant famously tackled that back in 1990, and I wrote a post about that few years ago too, the short answer is that when you took No. 1 you had only a 33% chance of being right, and that percentage hasn’t changed. That means there’s a 66.6% percent chance the grand prize is behind No. 2.

But my point is this: You don’t get a second choice in real life. You choose once and that’s it. And the reveal — you chose poorly — becomes the reality. And so when you look back at something that didn’t work, you now know that anything else, even the stupidest possible choice, MIGHT have worked. The only thing we know for an absolute fact is that the choice made failed.

In this case, we know how the World Series ended. It ended with Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner entirely overmatching Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who hit a foul pop-up to end the game. That’s what happened, and it is unchangeable and, so, in the end, unjustifiable. If given the option to go back in time, the one thing you KNOW WILL NOT WORK is to let Perez hit.

It always entertains me when some coach or manager makes a move that doesn’t work and then grumps, “if I was given that exact same situation again, I’d do it again.” No you wouldn’t. It didn’t work. You’re telling me if time was reversed, and another chance was given, that Grady Little wouldn’t pull Pedro? Don Denkinger wouldn’t call Jorge Orta out? The Portland Trailblazers wouldn’t take Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant?

Of course they would, And if the Royals could go back in time, they would send Alex Gordon or insert Terrance Gore and ask him to steal home or pinch-hit Josh Willingham or do anything else because the only thing that is certain is that that they let Salvy hit and he chased high fastballs and popped up harmlessly.*

*MIke Moustakas was on deck. I wonder — really wonder — if Salvy had held up on those high pitches and walked, if Ned Yost would have let Moustakas hit against the lefty. I’m pretty confident that he would have.

But now, for a moment, let's think about the alternative. Let’s think about what happens if the Royals send Gordon. Remember the play: Gordon flared a ball to left field. When he hit the ball, the question was not whether or not it was a triple or inside-the-park home run — it was whether the ball would actually drop in front of the outfielders. You can blame him for not tearing out of the box but this generally is how hitters run when they hit balls they are not sure will land for singles.

Then, the ball skipped by Gregor Blanco and Gordon took off for second. He saw the ball kicked around out and headed for third. Then he was held up by third base coach Mike Jirschele just as the ball was coming back to the infield.

Look at the above picture. Gordon is chugging into third, and Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford has the ball in his glove and is looking home. Now, I do think that this photo is A LITTLE deceptive because Gordon was slowing down, but it isn’t THAT deceiving. A major league shortstop had the baseball in throwing position when Gordon reached third base. To me: That’s an out. And it’s not a close out. It’s not a play at the plate. It’s a flat out.

What if Gordon had run full speed ...

What if that had been Jarrod Dyson ...

What if ...

Nate Silver took a look at this and determined that if Gordon was even a 2-1 underdog to score, he should have tried. I concur. I think of it in Strat-o-Matic terms — on such plays you roll the 20-sided die. If the cards said he scored on a 1-6 roll with 7-20 being an out (that’s roughly 2-1 odds — 1-7 is also close) I send him.

Now, here’s where we come to how we view the game: To me there’s no way Alex Gordon scores on 1-6 on that play. No way. That would mean if that play happened nine times, Gordon would score on three of them. I don’t buy that all. A good throw gets him by so much he might have to stop and get in a rundown. A BAD throw gets him by enough that, from my viewpoint, it’s still not a very close play. From my perspective, it would have taken a crazy terrible throw or a complete meltdown by one of the sturdiest catchers in the game, Buster Posey, for that to be anything but a clear-cut out.

Now, you may disagree with that, you might say that from your angle the play would have been reasonably close, or you might say that you are not second-guessing because you KNEW Salvy was going to make an out before it happened so sending Gordon was clearly the only choice, or you might say that desperate times (like the Royals were in) demand desperate measures (like sending Alex Gordon to the plate even if he would only score 15 or 20 percent of the time.

And I’m not saying you’re wrong because you CANNOT be wrong. That’s the wonder of looking back. If anyone argues against sending Gordon, they are arguing for Salvy hitting, and we know that did not work. It’s like arguing for for Excite’s decision to not buy Google — maybe it was the sensible thing at the time but, you know, it’s kind of hard to argue for now.

I will say this, though: If the Jirsch HAD sent Gordon home and Gordon HAD been thrown out by something comical like 30 or 40 feet, that would have created one hundred times the second-guessing that’s going on now. It would have been one of the greatest blunders in sports history. And people would still be wondering what was behind those other curtains, the ones that would never be opened.