Reyes was Wrong

Jose Reyes‘ baserunning gaffe from Friday night’s game was exactly that: a gaffe. Meaning, a blunder, or a foolish mistake.

It doesn’t matter that Bob Ojeda was a former MLBer and he supported this blunder, because there are former MLBers who, if you asked them, would say it was a dumb move.

And it doesn’t matter that Reyes’ own manager Terry Collins publicly supported Reyes’ decision to take a chance in that situation, because Collins, right now, has little choice but to support just about anything Reyes does, no matter how dumb it looks. It’s rare and unusual for a ballplayer to be performing at as high a level as Reyes is playing right now. Think about it: Reyes was just described as “the world’s greatest player” by Alex Rodriguez (who, ironically, many consider to be the world’s greatest player ever). On the heels of that kind of assessment, and the fact that Reyes is singlehandedly keeping the Mets relevant (and in turn helping to put fannies in the seats at Citi Field), can Collins do anything other than support Reyes?

Of course not. Imagine if Collins described Reyes’ decision as a bad one — and take into account we’re in the middle of the “Subway Series”; the press would have a field day and create a negative story out of it — even if the premise was tenuous. Collins is smart enough to know that right now, it doesn’t help anyone to rock the boat.

I guarantee that if Reyes was hitting, say, .275, the Mets were in midst of a losing streak rather than coming off of a winning streak, and were playing against the Astros instead of the Yankees, Collins would have at minimum said that Reyes made a bad decision. Possibly, Collins would have used it as the basis for another public blow-up about the Mets inability to play fundamentally sound baseball — because that baserunning goof was one of several mistakes by the Mets in the game.

I agree with the feeling that Reyes is overly aggressive and that’s part of what makes him who he is. But let’s break down what happened and turn this into a positive thing for young players and their coaches. Collins’ excuse for Reyes was that he was being “instinctive” and “not thinking about Beltran coming up at that moment”. Well, why not? When Jose is playing shortstop, he’s thinking about the game situation before each pitch, and anticipating several different scenarios, isn’t he? Baseball players at every level on down to little league know that one of the keys to playing defense is thinking about what to do with the ball before it is hit to you. You look at what’s happening in the game, consider who’s on base, the outs, the score, etc., and then try to think of all the possible decisions that could be made, so that if the ball IS hit to you, you don’t freeze or make the wrong decision.

Shouldn’t the same kind of thought go into baserunning? It’s not all that difficult to, before each pitch, consider the number of outs, the score, and who is on deck and think, “OK, in this situation it makes sense to take a chance if an opportunity presents itself,” or, “hmm, we have no outs, we’re down by two, Beltran is on deck, it might make sense to think before I leap”.

Because although Reyes could have scored more ways from third base than second base with less than two out, there were several other factors to consider. First, it was the 7th inning, so time and opportunities were running out quickly. Outs become much more precious when there are 8 left as opposed to, say, 18, and your team is down by two runs. And you know Mariano looms in the ‘pen so you could subtract three outs from that total. Beltran has been a hot hitter of late — hitting .370 over the last week and .346 overall with RISP. Maybe Beltran is walked intentionally with Jose on 2B and one out, and if so, that means the go-ahead run comes to the plate. And let’s also consider that with Reyes’ speed, he might have been able to steal third base or get there via wild pitch during Beltran’s at-bat. At minimum he would have been a distraction to the pitcher, possibly causing him to give Beltran a meatball and/or rattling him enough to allow the Mets to rally.

Understand something: I tend to promote overly aggressive play as a coach and enjoy it as a spectator, and I believe very strongly in putting pressure on the defense. But recklessness and aggressiveness are two different things, with a fine line separating them — one abandons thought and ignores the risks while the other is calculated and considers the balance of risk vs. reward. In this particular case, Reyes was reckless and operating without thought. He had already applied his aggressiveness by tagging up on that fly ball, and he could have applied it again from second base (i.e., in the form of a steal). The only reason he “got away with it” is because there is no one playing as well as he is, right now.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Steve S. July 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm
    Exactly right, Joe!
  2. Joe July 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm
    “When Jose is playing shortstop, he’s thinking about the game situation before each pitch, and anticipating several different scenarios, isn’t he?”

    Mid-game scare alert: Reyes removed from game.

    Anyway, you are correct overall, but sometimes fielders actually work on instinct as well, the fielder at times messing up in fact when they have more time to think.

    • Joe Janish July 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm
      Major League fielders who do not mentally prepare themselves before each pitch do not remain Major League infielders very long. Playing at MLB speed, you have to know what to do with the ball the moment it hits your glove, and the only way to know that is to consider at least a few possibilities before the pitch is thrown.
      • Joe July 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm
        I realize this. But, you also will not survive if you have to think through every scenario. You have to also have an instinct for the game. It is a mixture.
  3. George July 2, 2011 at 9:41 pm
    I get your point that there’s things Reyes should consider on the basepaths, but the fact of the matter is this: Reyes has different rules on the basepaths because of his speed. No matter if he’s hitting .400 or .200. If he gets caught stealing 20 times in a year for example. Who cares? He probably stole 60 to cover that up. If he got thrown out at third yesterday. Who cares? He’ll be safe the next 9 times. That’s just the bottom line. Just like a power hitter swinging on a 3-0 count. They just have different rules. If there’s a pitch they like, they’ll have the green light to bury it where ever they want. Collins did the right thing backing his player up, because in the player’s eyes, it was a chance worth taking.
    As for “preparing for every scenario,” Reyes did that my understanding the play and tagging up to go to second, but how many times does someone lose a relay throw like Nunez did? And he still knew enough that Nunez is an unexperienced fielder and Cano is probably one of the laziest second basemen there is. Let me know your opinion, but I’m backing up Reyes’ decision just like Collins did.