St. Louis Cardinals: An egregious play in centerfield

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Dexter Fowler /

The St. Louis Cardinals took a bad loss in Saturday’s game. However, there was one play in the first inning that crushed any hopes of the team coming back.

By the time the Pittsburgh Pirates were done batting in the bottom half of the first inning, the only thing I could think of was, “Really?” After taking a two-run lead on a Tommy Pham home run, the St. Louis Cardinals found themselves in prime position to take the rest of the night against the Pirates’ best pitcher, Gerrit Cole. Shockingly, Lance Lynn was not his usual self.

While he certainly didn’t help himself out, there was one play that set me ablaze on Twitter. After Lance Lynn imploded to give up three runs, the Pirates still had the bases loaded when Jordy Mercer stepped to the plate.

On the first pitch of the at-bat, Mercer softly lined the ball to center fielder Dexter Fowler. In what looked to be a normal, routine play, the ball found its way under a diving Fowler’s glove and further into center field. Stephen Piscotty finally got to the ball, and Mercer wound up with a triple scoring all three runs to push the Pirates’ lead from just one run to four in a matter of seconds.

It was such a crucial play in the game that any hopes of coming back against the Pirates were instantly gone by the time third out was recorded in the bottom-half of the first inning.

If you missed the play, check it out here.

Fowler had no business diving for that ball for two reason. The first is that the ball was not catchable. The second is the situation surrounding the play in general. While the video above shows Fowler getting somewhat close to the ball, he still missed it.

Fowler’s position when the ball was hit relative to how hard it was hit should have told him he was not going to catch the ball. According to Baseball Savant, Mercer’s exit velocity on his triple was 84.9 MPH. Balls hit that hard have a batting average of .224 and wOBA of .215. Doesn’t scream triple worthy does it?

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Further calculations show the ball had an approximate hang time right around four seconds while travelling 262 feet.

Again, Baseball Savant says the catch probability of Mercer’s at-bat was a mere ZERO PERCENT.

Now there is no way for Fowler to know that in-game, but it does question Fowler’s perception of the ball initially when it was hit.

Not only do most batted balls at the velocity have a twenty percent chance of being a hit, none of the batted balls calculated at the velocity have ever turned into a triple…unless you miss a dive, but I digress.

My point is the ball was not going to be caught. Of course we don’t have access to this data beforehand, but that’s where the situation aspect of this plays a part.

Think about the situation that was unfurling in the game. The Pirates had just taken the lead against a struggling pitcher. It was very evident Lynn did not have his best stuff. The pitcher now has the bases loaded with one out, and the pitcher is struggling. The last thing your team wants to do is get too far behind in the game.

Knowing all of that, the only question I can ask is, “Why would you attempt to dive on a ball that 1. you weren’t going to catch, and 2. could blow the game wide open if you miss?” If you are asking yourself, “Well, you didn’t know he was going to miss?”, then you miss the point. My point is he shouldn’t have dove considering what was at stake in the game. Is a two run lead easier to overcome than four run lead?

Seriously, look at the consequences of both outcomes. If he doesn’t dive, the most that score would be two. If he played it right, he could have deked Starling Marte on second and possibly save another run. Because of his dive however, Fowler allows three runs and knocks Lynn completely out of this game. If he doesn’t dive, Lynn potentially gets out of that inning with just three or four runs on the board instead.

If anything, this should also speak to Fowler’s habit of playing deeper in the outfield than normal. Perhaps, and probably so, if he was playing in a normal outfield depth he gets to the ball. He wasn’t too far off from making the catch, but he didn’t. Sadly once you make the effort, there is no turning back once you miss. You are at the mercy of your fellow outfielders if they are backing you up.

I never turn the game off in the first inning because it’s the first inning, but this particular play by Fowler just left me so frustrated and upset that I had to turn the TV off. I was as frustrated when Carlos Martinez didn’t throw the ball home properly against the Cubs two weeks ago.

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Look, I can’t blame Fowler for thinking he could get to that ball. Maybe he genuinely thought he could. However, I think there is another aspect of the game he should have taken into account before making the decision to dive.