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About Last Night(s): the five alTOOTBLANves, ranked

Nincompoop, n. (informal): a stupid or silly person

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Internet has been a mixed bag for society. So it’s nice when it can give us something so universally beloved as the term TOOTBLAN. Originally coined by Tony Jewell in 2008 at his Cubs blog, Wrigleyville23, it’s an acronym for Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop, and in the years since, the term has become a staple of the Baseball Internet. We needed a special term for it, one that captures the embarrassment of an unforced error. There’s a lightheartedness to using the word nincompoop in the phrase. It signifies, “Hey, been there, dude.” The relatability of it causes us to delight in it—so long as it’s not happening to your team in a high-leverage situation.

It’s also delightful because it’s a rarity. Entire games, entire series, will go by without a single occurrence. But not the Mariners’ last series. José Altuve managed to get caught up five—five—times in a single series, including at least once in each game. Kate already broke down the first two with a focus on Dylan Moore’s defense (for which I am very grateful). And as great as DMo’s defense was on those plays, I think we’ve all earned delighting in Altuve’s whoopsies. As with the Angels’ losing streak, we Mariner fans need to take joy wherever we can find it. The Astros have been such a menace for so long that I don’t even feel bad about laughing.

I’ll be using three criteria, each on a ten-point scale, to rank Altuve’s five boners:

  • Fielding Quotient—How important was good defensive play to recording the out? A higher score is worse for Altuve, meaning even Albert Pujols could have pulled it off.
  • Decision Precision—How bad of a decision was it to try to take the extra base? Included in this metric is Altuve’s degree of culpability compared to the base coaches.
  • Nincompoopiness—How embarrassing did it look? This is a bit more ethereal and could be considered anti-style points.

With rubric in hand, may I present Altuve’s five boners, ranked from least-boneheaded (forgetting your wallet on a date) to most (forgetting your date is a wallet):

5. Toro catches Altuve in a pickle (Game 3, 1st Inning)

Fielding Quotient: 7
Decision Precision: 1
Nincompoopiness: 2
Total score: 10

This one looks bad on first glance, but given the game situation, how big of a lead Altuve had, and how quickly he took off, it strongly suggests that this was the contact play. So a lot of the blame can lie with management for this one. Altuve was just doing what he was told. What’s more, he obeyed the first law of pickles, which is that he kept the play alive long enough to let Bregman get to second base. Abraham Toro (Our Beloved)’s play isn’t exactly a web gem, but the ball did come off the bat at 104 MPH, with an xBA of .490. This also required four defenders, including a pitcher, and although pros need to make this work, the higher number of throws, the higher the probability that something will go wrong. Still, on the whole, if this was his only TOOTBLAN of the series, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.

4. DMo nails Altuve at second (Game 1, 2nd Inning)

Fielding Quotient: 2
Decision Precision: 6
Nincompoopiness: 4
Total score: 12

Kate covered this pretty extensively in her ALN, as it was the better of Moore’s two plays: the distance he covers, the angle he takes, the decision-making to go to second; all are outstanding, lessening Altuve’s responsibility for his failure. He did run by a base coach, but there’s no evidence that Omar Lopez was doing anything emphatic. This is mostly on Altuve, but it was a reasonable-ish choice. He just got caught because he’s not the speedster he once was and Moore made a great play. It’s also hard to be too embarrassed on a play where you record the game-tying RBI.

3. DMo cuts down Altuve at the plate (Game 1, 4th Inning)

Fielding Quotient: 4
Decision Precision: 7
Nincompoopiness: 6
Total score: 17

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Altuve, baby, the cutoff man already has the ball by the time you even reach third base. Mariners fans have seen enough bad play behind the plate over the past few years to know that Cal’s catch is not a given, but I mean, come on. Altuve might have had better luck trying to get into another pickle here. Unfortunately, the camera cuts away just before we’d see Gary Pettis coaching third base, but considering how high a gear Altuve is in the whole time, it seems like he was determined to go no matter what. As a flourish to underline the indignity of the moment, I love his meek little touch of the plate, you know, just in case.

2. Winker catches Altuve at home (Game 3, 3rd Inning)

Fielding Quotient: 9
Decision Precision: 8
Nincompoopiness: 7
Total score: 24

In his career, Jesse Winker has ranked in the fourth, fifth, and ninth percentile in OAA. He is not what we would call a “good” defender. Here, he catches Altuve so badly he stunts on him afterwards, shadowboxing with the bullpen. Pettis looks like he barely made a call here. This one’s on Altuve, doing his own thing like Katy Perry’s Left Shark. And I sort of get it. Altuve was never expected to be the star he became, and he managed to get to MLB on his speed and athleticism. As recently as 2019, he was in the 86th percentile in sprint speed. But time comes for us all, and he’s now down to the 51st. Maybe he’s having trouble letting go of his old vision of himself. Having been TOOTBLANed four times already in this series, he still doesn’t see himself as he exists in reality. So while there’s not a ton of physical embarrassment on display (though he is awfully slow to get up, like his knees ache from the effort), he gave us a window into his psyche, and what was in there was hard to look at.

1. Altuve quits (Game 2, 5th Inning)

Fielding Quotient: 10
Decision Precision: 10
Nincompoopiness: 10
Total score: 30

LO, and I cannot stress this enough, L. When I watched this live, I thought Altuve had hurt himself. I think Trammell thought so too, and that’s why he delayed picking up the ball. But then Altuve just ... gets up? Falling down on TV would be mortifying for any of us, but when you’re supposed to be an athlete, it’s gotta really hurt your pride. I’ve watched this dozens of times and I still don’t understand why he doesn’t even try to get up and get back to the bag. He’s got so much time! I almost feel worse for France who has no choice but do the unsporting thing and actually make the tag rather than just saying to the ump, “So we’re done here, right?” That was way harsh, Ty. Altuve’s inability to laugh at himself afterwards only compounds the second-hand humiliation. This whole thing is more awkward than a Franzen-penned sex scene.

In the end, I don’t know that I’m going to beat Jacob’s joke for this.

As annoying as Altuve has been over the years, we’ve always held a grudging (or not so grudging) admiration for him as a site. And as much as we have venerated the undersized player who refused to take no for an answer to his dream, there’s also something nakedly human and a little embarrassing in the hubris in not recognizing one isn’t as fast as he used to be. But not as embarrassing as that last TOOTBLAN, though, seriously José what were you thinking.