Lidge vs. Pujols: I was in the wrong spot

What’s My Point?

David Eckstein’s hit in the “5–6″ hole was the difference in the game.  I was not positioned properly at third base.

Why Does it Matter?

If Eckstein gets on base, Brad Lidge has to face Jim Edmonds, a power-hitting lefty veteran. In 2004 and 2005, Edmonds hit 4 home runs into the left field Crawford Boxes.   Behind Edmonds is Albert Pujols, the best hitter the game has ever seen.

Positioning of Fielders

Position is vital in baseball.  The key is to align your fielders according to the spray chart.  A Spray Chart is a sheet that marks down every location of a ball hit in play or caught foul.   This is a spray chart from 2005 (enter 2005 and Minute Maid Park to see what our coach was looking at when he put me into position.) showing every location where Eckstein hit a baseball when he played at Minute Maid Park.  If the pitcher’s plan does not line up with the defense, the batter has a greater chance to get a hit in that vacated spot.  The pitcher has a plan for every batter, that plan is between he and the catcher and the manager. The manager bases his defensive plan on the spray chart. If the pitcher’s plan doesn’t line up with the manger’s interpretation of that spray chart, there is a good chance the batter will “hit it where the defense ain’t.”

With the Cardinals down 2 runs, we are certain that he will take a strike, in this case a walk is as good as a hit, because even if he hits a HR, the Cardinals are still down by 1 run.  Sometimes power hitters are allowed to “swing away” if a hr can tie a game. If Eckstein is given the green light to swing away at the first pitch and misses, he will be working with just 2 strikes against a closer throwing close to 100 mph. Knowing this, his swing will be shorter, simply trying to make contact which lessens his chances of pulling a ball down the line.

Viewpoint

But you should know that there is an optical illusion at Minute Maid Park. Phil Garner (manager) sits in the first chair of the dugout protected by the handicap elevator in the first base dugout. From his vantage point, it looks like the third baseman is directly in line with him.  However, the view from the third baseman’s vantage point is off to the left by about 5 feet. This is a problem.

Garner is lining me up according to the spray chart, but I am not where he thinks he is moving me.  I am actually closer to the third base line then he would want me to be, due to the illusion. But there is nothing that can be done.  From his view, I am in the exact spot where Ecksetin will most likely hit a ground ball based on the statistics of the spray chart.

Why Didn’t You Move Closer to the Hole Then?

You do what the manager says. He has the spray chart in front of him.   Managers use that information as a starting point and move players according to the pitcher’s plan against the batter.  With that said, I believe he is adjusting me according to Lidge’s plan against Eckstein.

How Do You Know You Were Positioned Incorrectly?

If a ball was hit where the chart says, then the positioning would have been wrong.  Garner knew where Eckstein usually hit the ball and knew how Lidge would pitch to Eckstein.  Garner took those 2 points into consideration and moved me towards the  third base line as an adjustment.

Conclusion

Now that I am positioned, we can look back at the match up.  Lidge is a power pitcher who was touching 100 mph and throwing a slider that came close to 92 mph.  At those speeds, hitters can’t help but hit the ball up the middle or the other way (opposite field).  Garner moved me off the line but he stopped me a couple feet short of his intended target.  Lidge threw a fast ball that Eckstein hit in the “5-6″ hole for a base hit. If Garner’s view wasn’t offset, I could have made the play and the game would have been over.

Two batters later, Pujols made history and there was no optical illusion involved there at all.

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84 Comments on “Lidge vs. Pujols: I was in the wrong spot”

  1. mrimperial says:

    Dang. I had no idea all of that was involved. I just remember thinking “Lidge screwed the pooch”. Of course, I was younger in those days and understood much less about baseball…

    Excellent post!

  2. Rick Grau says:

    But wasn’t Garner aware of this optical illusion, too? After all, it was his home park. I would think that in the preceding 6 seasons of baseball being played there that someone would have figured it out.
    Basically, I totally get that since he’s the one that knows how Lidge is to attack the batter, you have no choice than to go where he says while believing he knows what he’s doing. But it sounds like he should have been making an adjustment to account for the 5 foot difference and that the adjustment wasn’t made…

  3. Cardinal70 says:

    Very interesting. It’s always said that baseball is a game of inches, and one minor thing can lead to a huge result.

    From a Cardinal perspective, I’m glad that there was that illusion there!

  4. Jacob says:

    Morgan, is there any way you can make sure that Brad Mills knows about the optical illusion? Did you ever tell Gar?

  5. tideturns says:

    This is the best post yet, Mo.
    How did you know this but Garner didn’t?
    Or was there a point a while later in which you realized it?

    This post completely re-wrote the history of that game in my mind.
    fascinating.

    • I tried as best I could to explain that it is an after the fact revelation. By Eckstein hitting the ball in the exact spot that the spray chart tells us, I know that Phil really wanted me another step to my left (in the hole). THere is nothing that can be done here.

      Morgan

  6. Gary says:

    That is very fascinating and something that’s new to me – and I assume pretty much all of us. However, going back to the win expectancy charts I used commenting on the prior post, even after Eckstein singled the Astros had a 97.5% chance of winning (based on data from 1977-2006). With Edmunds and Pujols up that might get knocked down a little, but it was still highly unlikely that the Cards would win. But that’s the “beauty” of baseball – sometimes you just never know.

  7. CJ in Austin says:

    If I recall correctly, Morgan, you made a terrific play to cut down Albert Pujols at the plate in the 9th inning of a previous game of the NLCS, thereby saving a win. Maybe these things even out.

    • CJ you are right, but think about the hitter Pujols is. With 2 strikes he protects the ball out in front of the plate causing him to pull the ball more often. The point is that there is less infield positioning at third base when Pujols is at the plate with 2 strikes.
      There is so much cool stuff in baseball and there is always something behind what we see! I love this game!

      Morgan

  8. JN says:

    Wow just wow!!!

    What are your thoughts on some of the advanced fielding metrics(UZR)????

    Here’s a primer for those interested:

    http://www.southsidesox.com/2010/3/4/1335408/metaprimer-uzr

  9. Dustin says:

    Great post, Mo! I’m going to start my campaign for Uncle Drayton to open his wallet (I know, fat chance) so we can have a 3 man TV crew calling the game: Brownie, JD, and you. Between the baseball knowledge and the personalities (I’m thinking twice the amount of Sienfield references) ratings would go sky high. As a result Uncle-D would make enough money so that he wouldn’t have to raise hot dog prices to justify the expense.

    Brownie, JD, and Mo…The “champions” of baseball broadcasting. Profits + Champions = happy uncle D!

    • I would love to do that! It is obviously important to me to teach the game. I really do believe that if we can teach fans more about the game, it will become more enjoyable. As for Drayton, I always like to remind people that baseball is business that is built around making money. I love the game of baseball, but I only pursued it because I could make a huge amount of money. If MLB players made $10,000 I would have gone out and found another job. Remember, I was a walk–on at USC anyway.

      People respect the truth and the truth is that baseball is about money. If you don’t want to hear that then you don’t want the truth.

      Morgan

      • Dustin says:

        Agreed! Uncle D is a businessman who I would say has spent plenty of money. I just personally don’t think it was all spent in the right places. That said, it would take a very skilled and stubborn person to convince me to spend millions of my dollars somewhere other than where I think I should spend it. It’s just fun to pick on Uncle D a little because, well, he’s Uncle D! :)

        All that aside, I still vote for you, Brownie, and JD to broadcast together. You three would keep it real and make learning more about the game fun!

        Keep on keepin’ on!

      • Susan says:

        Keep teaching! Everyone in my office knew I was crazy/happy today because tomorrow I’m leaving for my annual trek to Astros Spring Training. But several people admitted to me that they think baseball is boring, that they just sit there waiting for the guy to throw the ball. I told them all the amusing things that one can look at besides the guy getting ready to throw the ball – how the players are moving in the infield as the count changes, the gesticulations of the third base coach when there’s a runner on, guys adjusting their various articles of undergarments, the batter’s ritual dance at the plate, etc. There’s always something going on! Or just watch the pitcher getting ready – have you seen anyone do a weirder routine than Gervacio? (If you don’t know what I mean, go check the mlb.tv archive for the Astros vs Mets game on Mar 9 – Gervacio pitched the last inning, and the broadcasters were keeling over.) Anyway, keep teaching – it just makes a great game greater! Any inclination to do coaching?

        • I love teaching baseball either on the field or in a booth. My biggest concerns though have to do with communication. Communication is how you get guys to produce.

          My generation is the beginning of the question “why”? Prior to that, managers said “do this because I told you so”. Well today’s kids don’t believe that. They want to truly understand and believe that there is a reason you are telling them to do something. They want to be able to trust you and that is how they check.

          Morgan

  10. Wells says:

    Incredibly post man. How do we get you on MLB Network / ESPN? This is gold.

  11. David says:

    Ensberg couldn’t call time out to make sure everyone was on the same page if he had doubts?

    • David you wouldn’t do that because Phil knows where he wants me. Both Phil and I look at the spray chart so I agree with his positioning. It isn’t until after the fact that I realize that Phil thinks I am in a different spot. Does that make sense?

      Morgan

  12. Wells says:

    Also, Q: when you say there’s an optical illusion at Minute Maid, is that something germane to that particular park’s configuration, or just generally seeing the playing field from the different perspective of the dugout? If the former, what’s the deal specifically w/ the configuration?

  13. lisa gray says:

    several comments

    1 – the black background is AWFUL. makes it incredibly hard to read, and the font is tiny. it was fine the way it was before

    2 – about the positioning: seeing as how phil is the manager and had been the manager, he SHOULD know if you are positioned where he thinks you are positioned. if you are 5 feet off, he SHOULD know that. that is on phil AND on the 3B coach

    3 – eckstein is NOT gonna take a strike. he takes the first pitch whether or not is a ball or strike at least 9 of 10 times. he took the second strike, which was a good, unhittable FB. eck almost never takes a called 3rd strike – especially in 05, he had the best BA in baseball with 2 strikes. AND the 3rd pitch was a SLIDER, not a FB, which caught enough of the plate for eck, trying to make contact, to hit.

    lidge had considerably more trouble with leftys, even in 05, than he did with rightys, so especially with edmonds, who hit him pretty well, it was riskier than pujols.

    and as for pujols being the best hitters the game has EVER seen, i think that rogers hornsby and tris speaker and willie mays and ted williams and barry lamar and mr ruth have very good reasons to protest that belief.

    as i said before, lidge had previously shut pujols DOWN – no extra bases, lots of groundouts and Ks. and at 27 pitches, IBB him to pitch to reggie most likely was not the best idea, in spite of reggie being hurt at that point (he had strained something or other when he slipped and fell at that wet OF in busch)

  14. [...] of the cap to Baseball Think Factory, former Houston Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg tells us why he was partially responsible for the go-ahead, three-run home run Brad Lidge served up to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 [...]

  15. Juan says:

    That was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever read about baseball.

    Expanding on the idea of the view from the dugout, do you think that this could also affect how managers and pitching coaches evaluate when a pitcher is struggling? Lets say your dugout out is on the 3rd baseline and you have a lefty on the mound. It would be hard for the bench to see if his arm slot is dropping are how his plant foot it landing. It seems that the catcher would be the only guy in the park to really have the right view. If you have a young inexperience catcher, maybe he doesn’t see it right away?

    I ask because it seems like sometimes we watch on TV we notice a pitcher “running out of gas” well before anyone in dugout. The guys in the booth always pick up on these things much earlier than the coaching staff.

    • I am not certain that is true Juan. Major League managers are more in tune with how their guys are doing because they know them. A pitcher may be tired, but the manager knows that the match-up favors “his guy”.

      Morgan

  16. Jarred M says:

    intellegent and interesting piece..i dont know Dustin, but sounds like hes got a good idea for the three of you. The truth is addicting..they will come if you speak it.

  17. Ruben says:

    Mo,

    The perspecive/insight of these articles are amazing! You show us a side that most fans rarely see… Thank you for that!

    -ruben

  18. [...] his own blog Morgan Ensberg recounts why he was partially responsible for the monstrous go-ahead, three-run home run Brad Lidge … – fascinating, to say the least [via Crashburn Alley] Tagged: albert pujols, Baseball, brad [...]

  19. mike says:

    nice job morgan, really enjoy the blog. Any chance we are lucky enough to have you announce some more UH games this year?

  20. This has to be the most fascinating thing I’ve read today.

    • Glad you like it. Is there something else you would like to see or read about on the site?

      Morgan

      • Sean says:

        Morgan,

        I just found this site, got linked here from my favorite St. Louis Cardinals blog, vivaelbirdos.com. You’re getting a bit of praise over there regarding your blog, and it’s definitely well deserved. This insider look into some of the more complex behind-the-scenes stuff is just amazing! I’ll definitely be coming back.

        A commenter above asked about you doing the commentating for UH games. Is that the University of Houston baseball team? If so, and you do get a chance to get back in the booth, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the team. College baseball in general is tough enough to keep up with from here (South Korea), but solid analysis of my favorite team is almost impossible to find. I don’t know if you’re interested in doing something like this, but I’d enjoy hearing your take on college ball: how college strategy may differ from that in the big leagues, the draft process from a player’s perspective, whether you hate the metal bats as much as I do…

        Either way, good luck in your burgeoning broadcast career and keep up the excellent work here on the blog.

        Sean

        • Sean….South Korea!!!! WOW! I feel like you I should write you a letter. Great idea with college baseball. I think I might write something like that down the road. Stay in touch!

          Morgan

  21. Hey Morgan,

    Love the blog and I’m loving the inside you are giving. I am the morning show producer for John Granato and Lance on 1560 The Game in Houston. I wanted to see if you had time to join us as a guest sometime to talk about your website and also your inside on the game. Please shoot me an e-mail when you get a chance.

    Raheel

  22. Mo, thanks for doing this, will be fun for the season. are you still living in Houston?

  23. Steelman says:

    You say you were a step too close to the line. I can accept that. However, doesn’t mean Eckstein would necessarily have hit the ball there had you been in proper position. Maybe Eckstein saw the hole and exploited it. He is a major league hitter and they do have quite good bat control as you well know. Also, if you knew you were a step off, why didn’t you try to cheat a little toward the place you thought you should be?

    • Batters are good, but Eckstein can’t try and hit a ball in the “5-6″ hole on a 98 mph fast ball. He just reacted. My point is that the “spray chart” show us that he hits the ball in the “5-6″ alley. With Lidge throwing so hard it is even less likely that David will pull the ball. As for cheating in the hole, I will not go against what a manager says ever. Phil’s style was to move me in half-step increments. Phil thought from his view that I would be able to cover that space. That is the point of the illusion.

      Morgan

  24. Luke says:

    Don’t you think Morgan that you should have thought about the illusion when Garner told you to move? and just didn’t move? When you know about the problem you can’t blame it on the problem.

    • I did think about it and Phi did also. Remember, I would only need one more step into the hole to make a play. We are not talking about huge increments of space.

      Morgan

  25. [...] Lidge vs. Pujols: I was in the wrong spot What’s My Point? Eckstein’s hit in the “5–6″ hole was the difference in the game.  I was not [...] [...]

  26. rlprice says:

    morgan, your blog is great! it’s getting a big buzz too now with Neyer (ESPN), Calcaterra (NBC), and BTF (one of the owners writes for ESPN too) talkign about it. you should definitely be writing for ESPN or CNNSI or FoxSports if not replacing Kruk completely.

  27. Melissa says:

    This is a fantastic site so far. I love the insight.

    As a horribly obsessed Cardinal fan I have to ask…were the reports true? What was said on the flight back to STL after Pujols shot off Lidge?

    Also, did the whole untucking the brewer jersey schtick bother you or any of you teammates?

    Great job so far.

  28. Melissa says:

    Also, were you in the hotel room with Aaron Miles when he wrestled a robber to the ground?

  29. Barry says:

    Morgan- this blog is WONDERFUL! I’m a lifelong baseball fan and this is some of the most fascinating insight into in-game strategy and current issues in the game that I’ve ever seen. If only more ballplayers would go “off script” in the way you do. Kudos. I’ll be a constant reader here.

  30. Randall says:

    Hey Morgan,

    Thanks for taking the time to give insight into the game!
    I can’t remember the year exactly, but there was a game against the Braves. Sorry to bring up bad memories, but I think it was the year you hurt your soldier (2007 maybe?). It might have even been that game. Anyway, for that game I had best seats I’ve ever had at Minute Maid, behind the Braves dugout. There was a ball you went after in foul territory and it seems like you landed on your shoulder trying to make the play. I never have forgotten that effort you put out.
    You’re a class act and I’m glad I was able to see you play in person in Houston. I know some (a lot) of the fans here were not kind to you in the end, but please know there are those of us that enjoyed watching you play.

  31. richard koehler says:

    Excellent post Morgan. Thanks for the link to the spray chart at mlb.com. Of course, now I have another productivity killer as I look up all of my favorite players.

    I wonder if the Minute Maid stadium tour puts you in a position to see the optical illusion first hand?

  32. James says:

    Mo- Great blog post! One of the more insightful ones I’ve read recently. I also appreciate the fact that your engage your readers in the comments. You mentioned the Pilot said if you look out the window you’ll see the ball, but if I recall everyone was saying that Ausmus was the one that said it… On a side note, my wife and I were sad to see you go. She became a big fan of yours after she heard your wife on a KSBJ radio show.

    Looking forward to more posts.

    • Hey James! Well who do you believe? Do you think it was Ausmus who said it or do you think the Pilot said it over the loud-speaker? The reason that I ask that is because I have no way to prove it. You are saying it was Brad and I am saying that it was the pilot. Oh what to do!

      Morgan

      • James says:

        I didn’t mean to come off as though I were questioning or doubting what you said and was only repeating what I thought I’d heard… I think the reason I thought Ausmus said it was because I heard him talking about it in an interview once.

  33. nic says:

    Sort of off-topic question: Do managers position players using the spray charts and how the pitcher is going to approach the atbat for each and every hitter in the game, or just certain situations?

    • Some use spray charts some don’t. Remember, you can look at a bunch of information but it is how you interpret that information. So some times you are moved every batter, and sometimes you are moved once there are 2 strikes.

      Morgan

  34. tasaro says:

    Little Known Fact: I do believe T Gwynn called that the “Five-And-A-Half Hole”. In his last year in The League (2001), the Pads groundscrew wet-dry marked a big “5.5” on the skin just to your left for every game (or Phil Nevin’s left, as it was), which i saw for myself on my birthday that year, the first and only baseball game i ever took-in at Qualcomm (who would ever have guessed that Richie Aurillia could hit 35 in a season!?)

    http://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=200109230SDN

    Cool, huh :) Also, it’s worth noting that the fine people of San Diego didn’t even give me so much as a dirty look that day, Giants jersey and all, jumping up and down in exultation as the home team took a massive pounding. Compared to receptions i’ve gotten in Oakland or Anaheim or (needless to say) Dodger Stadium, that’s all kinds of refreshing. So, you know . . bonus points San Diego. You stay classy.

  35. [...] Lidge vs. Pujols: I was in the wrong spot (Morgan Ensberg’s Baseball IQ). Former Padres infielder Morgan Ensberg has a blog. This entry deals with the 2005 playoffs and involves current Padres infielder David Eckstein. Pretty cool to hear the player’s perspective on some of this stuff. [h/t Hardball Times] [...]

  36. pillage says:

    Way to blame the coach Ensberg. If your knowledge on the spray chart was so insightful why didn’t you just go ahead and take the few extra steps in the appropriate direction? Don’t tell me that coach is gospel because Garner said he started pulling his hair out when you took the steps towards third base for that triple play.

    • Pillage I don’t think you understand what I was saying. I am not blaming Garner. My point was to inform you that a lot of factors that you aren’t able to see are taken into account as you are watching the game. Phil didn’t do anything wrong. He looked at the spray chart….he knew what type of hitter Eckstein was…..he knew how Lidge was going to throw Eckstein….he placed me in the exact spot he wanted me. My point was that his eyes deceived him. There is no way to estimate accurately something that comes up once every 10 years. That was a unique situation that probably won’t happen again.

      As for Garner pulling his hair out on the triple play. Gary Gaetti was our hitting coach. Ironically we had been talking about the only possible way to turn a triple play is to have a man on first and second and an extremely slow runner at the plate who hits that ball one step towards the line. Before the pitch was made I ran through the scenario in my head like I always do. I remember saying if the ball is at me or to my left then I am throwing the ball home to get 1 out and keep a run from scoring while still having the double play in order. When the ball was hit, it was a step to my right which allowed my momentum to keep moving in that direction and step on third base. If you remember it was the Phillies catcher Todd Pratt who hit that ball and he is considered a slow runner. If the ball had been hit directly at me I was going to throw the ball home.

      Phil said that he was pulling his hair because I went toward third base after I caught the ball. I didn’t dare go against his positioning prior to the pitch just like I did with the Lidge pitch.

      I hadn’t thought about that play until you mentioned it and it goes to show you how many factors go into turning a triple play. Pratt was the only batter in the Phillies lineup that fit the criteria perfectly. What are the chances that he is up with nobody out and bases loaded?

      Did you think he meant that I moved before the pitch? I am confused. Managers position us before the pitch is made.

      Morgan

  37. caltex says:

    Morgan, this is my first post to you since I became aware of your web site. I just want to tell you how much as a fan I enjoyed watching you play for Houston. It was always apparent that you gave your best every game.

    As a lifetime Astro fan for 40+ years, thanks for your contribution in bringing to Houston our first World Series, it was a long wait. You were a big part of that.

    Good luck in the furure.

  38. Sommersby says:

    Congratulations and thanks for these truly enjoyable and informative posts. I just found a link here from a post on Chip Bailey’s blog and I look forward to more of your insights.

    • S- I am happy that you have found this site. My goal is to teach the game and answer questions. I will be getting into more fundamental topics as the season begins. Enjoy.

      Morgan

  39. gualetar says:

    The subject is fully clear but why does the text lack clarity? But in general your blog is great.

  40. longbeachmike says:

    this blog amazes me. im blown away that you actually take the time to replay to almost every comment. good on you, morgan ensberg

  41. Thanks for the mention Dave. Great post btw. Lots of interesting research covered. You might want to link to this blog

  42. Tom Hall says:

    It appears that the chart can be useful but the success of the chart depends on where the ball goes over the plate. Against Pujols the chart was incorrect but because of the location of the pitch. the ball didn’t get to the plate. A manager as La Russa has “a chart” in his head. Every manager worth his salt should know the position he wants his defensive players no matter who is pitching and who is hitting. Knowing where a batter is likely to hit is great but still the pitcher must execute correctly


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