DETROIT – Dallas Keuchel knows he didn’t pitch his finest game, and he didn’t fault center fielder Billy Hamilton for his risky attempt on Eric Haase’s liner that skipped past him for a three-run inside the park homer in the Tigers’ 11-5 win over the White Sox Saturday.
But the play scratched at a scab that has been annoying Keuchel for years – that outfielders play too deep, even in a ballpark such as Comerica Park where it’s 420 feet to the center field wall.
“Billy is out there looking out for us as pitchers and trying to make plays not only for himself but the team,” said Keuchel, whose 2-0 lead in the third disappeared as he watched Hamilton sprint to the wall, in vain, retrieving the ball. “I don’t have any problems with what happened on the play. That’s a big league play. I just have a concern because you don’t let your best athletes play anymore.”
Keuchel would rather see outfielders play shallow and cut off bloops, flares and low liners.
“But it’s a [statistical] numbers game,” he said. “You play at the wall here, but in Detroit anything over your head is going to be a [home run].
Statistical analysis says outfielders should play deeper, though.
“You have so much field to lose, everybody is concerned about giving up slugging percentage now,” he said. “I’m a ground ball pitcher, so even if I give up a hard-hit ball, it’s usually going to fall in front of somebody. Or if not, it’s going to go over the fence. So I don’t understand how some of these numbers translate to playing deep, and I’ve been having a problem with that for years. Just overall, watching the game and watching guys.”
Keuchel walked two batters before the inside the park homer, so he was asking for trouble. But the former Cy Young winner raised an interesting point.
“I mean, you could probably go back and look how many players did the outfielders have to go back on or that were close to the wall,” he said. “It’s kind of dumbfounding that night in and night out, year after year the last seven or eight years, especially in the outfield, you are willing to play deeper and let balls fall in than playing at a normal clip depending on the pitcher on the mound. It’s just, it’s very confusing to me.
“I can shift the infielders. I have free reign on that. If I shift a guy or get beat on my account, then that’s a tip of the tip. It’s disheartening when you guys giving full effort on the mound and we see bleeders in there or hard hit balls kind of go to the wall and we aren’t supposed to be playing at that wall.”