There are somewhere between tens and thousands of factors that go into a third base coach’s calculations when deciding whether to send a runner home. How fast is he? Whose arm is he walking on? Does the outfielder have his momentum? Does the baserunner have his? What’s up? Which inning? What is the probability of a successful record appearance afterwards? Does the weather help or hurt?
A third base coach has to endure these and other elements – does he do well? Did he have a big meal? – and prioritize them correctly while tracking three moving objects over the course of three seconds. It’s no easy task, so hapless calls deserve no little mercy.
But the White Sox ran in their 13th out at home Thursday night, a total that leads the league and doubles the league average with a free out. For comparison, the average team hits about 14 or 15 outs at plate-in a whole seasonso the White Sox are forgiving a deficit right now.
In McEwing’s defense, you shouldn’t boil down a third base coach’s approach to the job to a single number. Back when the White Sox hired Jeff Cox as their third base coach, he had the same job with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had just seven players sacked at home in the 2007 season and none by Cox. While that sounds great, Cox was instead criticized for being overly cautious and leaving runs on the board. A third base coach does not do a good job if he avoids all risks.
This is especially true with two outs when odds are working against the team at the plate. Unless McEwing gets a guy on a 50/50 call — or even a 40/60 call — with two downs, he’s relying on the batter on deck to come through with a productive plate performance. However, the odds are not in the offense’s favor, so some coaches should be encouraged to take charge of their destiny.
But with the body count piling up, McEwing should probably be discouraged. His recent unsuccessful broadcasts are not the result of minor errors in complicated rapid-fire calculations. Instead, they’re more like decisions predetermined by a Computer Science 101 student who lacks the sophistication to consider variables other than the number of outs.
IF number=2 THEN "send"
Because outs are highly leveraged and emotionally charged at home, I reviewed all eight of McEwing’s unsuccessful sends this year (the other five outs were infield plays) and ranked them on a scale of 1 to 5.
While the higher number is usually better, this is a scale from least to most objectionable:
- 1st Class: Totally justifiable decision
- Grade 2: Calculated risk of loss/default elsewhere
- 3rd grade: Looked bad but consider other factors.
- Class 4: Bad gambling, required an error.
- Class 5: Saying “Oh no” when the camera shows the runner’s progress.
I put them in this order because I always take a moment to remember if a Class 3 strain is worse than a Class 1 strain, and knowing that is critical to covering the White Sox in 2022 .
April 20 against Cleveland
Location: Nobody out, runners in first and second and the White Sox trail 2-0 in fifth.
To play: Danny Mendick smashes a grounder inside the third base line and he gently smashes off the tarp into foul territory. Reese McGuire scores easily from second, but Steven Kwan throws Adam Engel about 20 feet.
class 4 It’s bad to finish first at home, especially at this distance as Kwan has a good left fielder arm. That game ended 2-1 is worse. But this was the game where Tony La Russa issued a lineup card that saw Josh Harrison batting first, Adam Haseley second, and Leury García third. So when Harrison and Haseley followed, striking seven squares between them, you could understand what influenced McEwing’s thinking.
April 21 against Cleveland
Location: The White Sox are 2-0 down but have Luis Robert in second and Leury García in first to start the top of fourth.
To play: Jose Abreu hits a deep right fly that goes off Franmil Reyes’ glove. Robert is in second place and counting on a tag while García is hanging 20ft from second should the ball not be caught. Reyes actually fails to make the catch, leading to a situation where García is 20 feet behind Robert and runs for the third and rounds so someone would be out there somewhere. Robert was pinned at home by a wide margin but McEwing may have been lucky in stopping García from making it a doubles game.
grade 2 This was a disaster for the players, but it reflected poorly on everyone in the uniform.
April 24 vs. Minnesota
Location: Bases loaded, two outs and the White Sox leading 1-0 in the third inning.
To play: Andrew Vaughn laces a single to the left. A run scores but José Abreu’s attempt to score from the second goal is thwarted by a throw from Trevor Larnach.
1st Class. Two outs, Abreu was only a few steps away and Leury García appeared on deck. It only stung because it keeps happening.
May 6 against Boston
Location: The White Sox lead 4-2, nobody at the top of ninth place, AJ Pollock in third place and José Abreu at the plate.
To play: Abreu hits a deep fly ball to the right for an apparent sac fly, but Jackie Bradley Jr. knocks Pollock down.
1st Class. If you treat flyball distance like a high/low game, I don’t know if you’ll do better than 287 feet. Bradley has a great arm, and Adam Engel scored an inning earlier with a little room to save on a 309-foot fly, so it was worth a try.
May 16 against Kansas City
Location: The White Sox are trailing 2-1 with two outs in the eighth inning, runners in first and second and Yoán Moncada at plate.
To play: Moncada hits a single to the left and McEwing waves home Josh Harrison despite finishing third at the same time Andrew Benintendi got the ball. Benintendi throws at the target to pass Harrison.
3rd grade. That decision looks terrible in isolation, but the last time McEwing had a chance to wave Harrison home on a fly to Benintendi, the resulting throw could best be described as Johnny Damon-esque. Maybe McEwing fell for the long scam.
May 28 vs. Cubs
Location: The White Sox Trail 3-0 with two outs and runners in first and second place, with leading runner Yasmani Grandal.
To play: Jake Burger shoots a single through the right side, and Rafael Ortega has to cover some ground to charge the reel. Grandal is just touching third place when Ortega picks up the ball, and Ortega does a relaxed three-hop throw to get Grandal without a slide.
grade: 5 This is one of those true Joe McEwing auto-sends.
June 17 vs. Houston
Location: The White Sox and Astros are third with Leury García in second with two outs and Seby Zavala on the plate against Framber Valdez.
To play: Zavala singles left to Yordan Alvarez, who plays flat because the Crawford Boxes tower behind him at Minute Maid Park. He gets the ball with two bounces before García touches the third, and Alvarez makes a quick 93.9-mph throw at Martin Maldonado, who marks García in a standing position.
grade: 5 Another auto send. This probably reckoned with Alvarez looking like a DH playing on left field, but the ball’s path required no athleticism in catching. The White Sox are held scoreless the rest of the way as the Astros run up to 13-3.
June 23 against Baltimore
Location: The White Sox trail the Orioles 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Gavin Sheets is second with two outs and Leury García is on the plate.
To play: García lines a single-to-right field at 104.3 mph. Austin Hays catches it with a short second hop, does a massive crow hop himself, and then makes a purposeful one-hop toss to Adleyrutschman, who hits the Attach tag to a sliding sheet well in front of home plate.
class 4 It’s the most defensible of the recent auto sends because Hays seemed to lose some of the time he gained charging the ball with the awkward way he charged for the throw home. On the other hand, the aggressiveness of the send gave Hays room for error when stealing the out.
The only mistake is that one cannot simply tabulate all of McEwing’s successful coin tossing decisions. On the send side, it doesn’t take nearly as long to look at 13 outs as it does to filter 287 runs. I’ve tagged a few in the Sox Machine game recaps, like McEwing sending José Abreu to score from the start on May 2nd…
…and McEwing waved Luis Robert home six days later with a two-out double from the first to the left corner of Fenway Park:
There’s also no easy way to track intelligent McEwing holds, since databases like Baseball-Reference.com’s game index or MLB.com’s video archive aren’t designed to capture a lack of action.
Since any examination of McEwing’s activities lends itself to dwelling on the outs, it makes sense to apply such a scale to the results. When McEwing’s scorecard was all ones and twos, it usually deserves a shrug or a frown that he can’t take a break. If he has a streak of 4 and 5, maybe it’s time to acknowledge a problem to force the problem.
There’s also some debate over the idea that McEwing has served on the coaching staff of three different White Sox managers for 11 years and Daryl Boston can claim the same for nine years, but that’s not because of the Teams , infield and outfield play. But considering Tony La Russa requested a pair of McEwing spikes to remember him when McEwing jumped from the Cardinals to the Mets in the late ’90s, he said any major discussion would still be brief .