The Twins Had the Right Shift vs. Jose Abreu in Wednesday’s Loss to White Sox

Photo credit: Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to blame Jake Odorizzi for being upset in the moment. He had entered a 2-1 game in the sixth, given up a single to the first batter, Yolmer Sanchez, before Jose Abreu hit an infield single on what could have been a double-play ball. Odorizzi, who had thrown 99 pitches, hands the ball to manager Paul Molitor and watches Minnesota’s lead disappear.

Ryan Pressly, who has been one of Minnesota’s most reliable relievers this year, strikes out the first batter he faces — Matt Davidson, the cleanup hitter for the Chicago White Sox — and then chaos ensues. Kevan Smith singles to load the bases. A wild pitch allows all the runner to advance and Sanchez to score. Tim Anderson’s single scores two more. Then he steals third and scores on Adam Engel’s sacrifice bunt.

Charlie Tilson strikes out to end the inning, and the Sox go on to win the game 5-2.

Odorizzi felt he had made the right pitch to Abreu.

I went back and looked at it, it’s in the other batter’s box,” he said. “He chased the first two so I was trying to go just as far as I did. The ball gets hit on the ground and I automatically thought it was a double play.”

You can see from his facial expression that he was disappointed in the moment:

“It’s a soft hit ball right toward the shortstop and we were shifted in the hole,” he added. “In that situation there it just has to be a double play. You made the pitch … it changes everything from that point on, obviously — you know, a chance to get through six, Pressly stays down there (in the bullpen).

“But when you’re playing that far over, it’s a tough play for him to run over and just try to get an out, not even turn a double play. I think it’s just something that really can’t happen in that situation. We have to be able to turn a double play when you have a double play situation.”

Molitor wasn’t certain it was a double-play ball.

“The ground ball that Abreu hit, I’m not sure of a double play because of the lack of speed on the ball,” he said, “but you would think he would get an out on that ball.”

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily explained why the Twins were in the right position, however, in a late afternoon Twitter thread before Thursday’s series finale against Chicago.

Odorizzi said he thought Abreu was trying to hit the ball up the middle with two strikes and a man on.

“I don’t even picture him too much of a pull hitter,” he said. “He’s a .300 hitter; most of the time those guys aren’t dead-pull hitters, they put the ball all over the place. With two strikes, a lot of guys kind of focus on (hitting) back up the middle, whatever it may be. So, I threw the pitch that I wanted, got the result that I wanted; we just were in the right spot for that perfect situation.”

Hageman insists that Abreu almost certainly wasn’t going to hit it up the middle:

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I didn’t know we were shifted so far in the hole. As pitchers, we probably have a responsibility to, if we see that, make an adjustment on our own. So I can partially take the blame for it; I didn’t know he was shaded that far to the left.”

Odorizzi said he would throw the same pitch again in that situation, and Hageman concurs that it was the right approach — just an unfortunate result.

This incident is an interesting microcosm of the conflicts involved in new age, statistics-based approach to baseball and the mores of the old-school community. Years ago, Odorizzi wouldn’t have been removed from the game after 99 pitches — an adherence to the pitch count, which is implemented to prevent injury — and Adrianza would have had an easier time getting to the ball and turning the double play.

But just like the pitch count, which is intended to mitigate long-term injury as much as it’s implemented to protect the pitcher in a specific start, the numbers on the shift bare out in the long run if it is used correctly.

To be sure, it wasn’t the two singles that Odorizzi gave up in the sixth, nor was it Adrianza’s failure to turn the double play that doomed the Twins. Pressly simply had a bad outing and Chicago starter Hector Santiago held Minnesota’s bats at bay.

The potential double play serves as a butterfly effect that illustrates both how the small things matter in baseball, and why the struggle between the analytics crowd and people with old school sentimentalities continues to fester 15 years after Moneyball was published.

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