Letting Bartman off the hook

ESPN – Alou says he wouldn’t have caught Bartman ball in 2003 NLCS – MLB

“Everywhere I play, even now, people still yell, ‘Bartman! Bartman!’ I feel really bad for the kid,” Alou told Associated Press columnist Jim Litke.

“You know what the funny thing is?” he added a moment later. “I wouldn’t have caught it, anyway.”

I’ve always thought that anyway. Moises Alou was a good hitter, but not really known for his defense at that point of his career. It would have been a great catch, but I doubt he would have caught it. (See the video here, and the boxscore and play-by-play here.)

Besides, Baseball Prospectus (I think) analyzed the expected run probability of that inning and found the “killer” moment wasn’t the Bartman incident, but rather the error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez later in the inning that turned a possible double play end of inning into a bases-loaded, one out situation. (My search of the Prospectus archives failed to turn up the article, so I can’t provide a link, but I’d swear I read it online.) Even had only one out been made, two runners on with two outs is a far less dangerous situation than bases-loaded, one out. The following chart shows the expected number of runs based off runner on base and number of outs. (Source). It’s a decade out of for the time span we’re looking at, but it’ll show the general picture.

AL         0        1        2      NL        0        1        2
---     .498     .266     .099     ---     .455     .239     .090
x--     .877     .522     .224     x--     .820     .490     .210
-x-    1.147     .693     .330     -x-    1.054     .650     .314
xx-    1.504     .922     .446     xx-    1.402     .863     .407
--x    1.373     .967     .385     --x    1.285     .907     .358
x-x    1.758    1.187     .507     x-x    1.650    1.123     .466
-xx    2.009    1.410     .592     -xx    1.864    1.320     .566
xxx    2.345    1.568     .775     xxx    2.188    1.487     .715

With the bases loaded and one out, the Marlins could expect to score about 1.5 runs. Had Gonzalez turned the double play, the inning would have been over. Had he gotten the out at second, leaving runners at first and third with two outs, the Marlins run potential would have been about 25% lower. Had he gotten the batter-runner at first, it would have been about 10% lower. And that’s before we mention the awful performance by Kyle Farnsworth relieving Mark Prior. Farnsworth allowed one hit, walked two and allowed both of his inherited runners to score. Similarly, Mark prior just collapsed in that inning, having pitched a great game until that point. After six innings of shut-out ball, Prior allowed a single, two doubles, a walk and threw a wild pitch.

With those facts in mind, it’s clear that the blame for the Cubs failure to make the World Series in 2003 rests not with one fan in the stands, but with some poor defense and awful pitching. Bartman should never have been subjected to the blame and abuse he received.