It's time for some very intense baseball blogging

Here's something that's just unbelievably dumb. I was watching the Mets-Braves game the other day. With two outs in the top of the sixth and the Mets up 1-0, Xavier Nady, hitting seventh for the Mets, singled. Then, with the number 8 hitter Kaz Matsui at the plate, Nady stole second. Now that first base was open, the Braves, sensibly, chose to intentionally walk Matsui so as to pitch to the Mets pitcher, Tom Glavine. Fine. Whereupon, both TBS announcers agreed that having Nady steal second had turned out to be a negative for the Mets, since it ended up meaning Glavine had to hit. The obvious implication was that the Mets should not have had Nady steal second.

Supposedly knowledgeable baseball people say variants of this frequently, and it just doesn't make sense. The announcers are arguing that for the Mets, Situation A, in which Matsui hits with a guy on first, is preferable to Situation B, in which Glavine hits with men on first and second. That means that for the Braves, Situation B must be preferable, what with baseball being a zero-sum game and everything. But if the Braves truly preferred Situation B, they could have gotten it by intentionally walking Matsui as soon as he came to plate, while Nady was still on first. The fact that they chose not to do that suggests they in fact preferred Situation A. And the fact that the Braves did what almost every team in that situation in the history of baseball has ever done suggests that they're right.

To be clear, if the announcers wanted to boldly challenge conventional wisdom -- and in this case the Braves decision -- by arguing that it really is better for the pitching team to concede putting men on first and second for the reward of getting to face the pitcher, I'd be interested to hear their argument. I think a case could even be made for it, at least in situations where the pitcher was a less experienced hitter than the veteran Glavine, or where the number 8 hitter had more power than the weak-hitting Matsui. But the point is, it hadn't even occurred to these guys that the Braves' decision not to walk Matsui immediately, with Nady still on first -- and the similar decision of just about every other team that's ever been faced with that situation -- suggested they were wrong.

If anyone's still with me after that, I'd like to go a bit further. There are two related factors that are confusing the announcers here, I think. The main one is the fact that Situation B (Glavine hitting with men on first and second), while not being preferable for the Braves to Situation A (Matsui hitting with a guy on first) IS in fact preferable to Situation C: Matsui hitting with a guy on second. Everyone agrees that Situation C is the worst situation of the three for the pitching team. That's why once Nady steals second, it's a no-brainer to walk Matsui. But the fact that it makes sense to walk Matsui in that situation leads the announcers to the perverse and self-evidently wrong conclusion that it would have been better for the Mets had Nady never stolen second at all.

The other reason this is hard for them to get their heads around is that it involves thinking about (not actually departing from, but at least thinking about) one of Baseball's Golden Rules of Strategy. If you are a baseball announcer or pundit of any kind, thinking critically about BGRS's is absolutely off-limits, and may make your head explode, hence the unwillingness to do it. In this case, the particualr BGRS at issue is the BGRS that says you don't intentionally walk someone if there's already a guy on first, since the walk will advance not just the guy being walked, but also the guy on first. So you're in effect conceding two bases, and putting a guy into scoring position, by moving him from first to second. This BGRS, like most BGRS's, almost always makes sense, and it makes sense in the Mets-Braves example too. But because it's a BGRS, it doesn't even occur to the announcers that you're legally allowed to intentionally walk someone when there's a guy on first. It's just not on their radar screen as something that could ever happen. If it were on their radar screen, they would play it out in their heads, and say: "hmm, the Braves could have chosen to intentionally walk Matsui even while Nady was still on first. Maybe the fact they didn't suggests that they've concluded they're actually worse off having men on first and second, even with the pitcher at the plate." This is why the BGRS's are problematic: Not, interestingly, because they can't always be applied. Everyone kind of understands that, and managers are often surprisingly good about breaking with BGRS's when it makes sense. (One brave manager even intentionally walked someone with the bases loaded, forcing in a run, because his team was up by 2 runs with 2 outs in the 9th inning, and he wanted to face the next hitter, rather than give the current hitter a chance to drive in both runs and tie the game. It worked.) But because even when BGRS's can be applied -- as in this case -- they discourage the critical thinking that allows you to actually understand what's going on.