On The Damon Steal

  • It was a very heads-up play. Not a lot of guys would've been paying attention to third base in that situation, but Damon was thinking the whole time, and earned himself a free 90 feet. There was no risk - he saw that the base was uncovered and knew he could outrun Feliz to the bag, so he helped his team without putting their odds of winning jeopardy.

  • Advancing to third base with two outs provides a boost, but a small one, as runners will generally score from second on any hit. The win probability added of the first steal was +4%, as Damon got himself into scoring position. The win probability added of the second steal was +1.6%. The steal of third did not dramatically improve the Yankees' odds of winning.

  • Damon's steal is being celebrated because it supposedly took away Brad Lidge's low slider, as throwing a low slider with a man on third runs the risk of allowing him to score on a wild pitch or passed ball. The very next pitch after Damon's steal was a low slider to Mark Teixeira. Lidge has thrown just 15 wild pitches the last three seasons, and this year Carlos Ruiz allowed only one passed ball. The low slider was still in play, and even if Lidge's chances of throwing it are lower with Damon on third than with Damon on second, it's not off the board, and as such, the hitter still needs to watch for it. Neither Teixeira nor Alex Rodriguez could go up to the plate certain that Lidge wouldn't throw a low slider, and because of that neither at bat would've been significantly changed.

  • If Lidge wouldn't want to throw a low slider with Damon on third, he also in theory wouldn't want to throw a low slider with Damon on first, since a WP or PB would put a runner in scoring position. Of course, Lidge did throw a low slider with Damon on first, but if people believe in the former, they also have to believe in the latter, meaning Damon's biggest accomplishment in the inning was not stealing third, but rather reaching first.

  • In the same quote, Yankees third base coach Rob Thomson describes the steal as "completely instinctive" while later explaining that it was something the team worked on in spring training. If it's something people practiced and something people learned, then by definition it can't be instinctive.

  • Had Alex Rodriguez gotten out instead of hitting a double, Damon's steal would be seen as more a curiosity and less a grand achievement. Damon, of course, would've scored from second on a double, and probably from first.

Far too often, it isn't sufficient for a play to be clever or helpful or intelligent. It has to be A Play, something dramatic, something legendary and worthy of celebration. The tendency to make something grand from something small may be the result of a landscape in which often only the loudest voices stand out, but it's misguided at best and misleading at worst, and the inclination to make too much of too little in order to draw attention ("Ruiz will be the x factor!") frequently only serves to shed light on something other than what is truly significant. Johnny Damon made a heads-up play, an unusual play that slightly improved the Yankees' chances of winning the game. Shouldn't that be enough?

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