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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Defensive Indifference

In the Braves/Astros game last night there were several instances of defensive indifference. David Smith at Retrosheet included the following numbers in a post on SABR-L that categorize how often DI's occur. In the last 15 seasons (1990-2004) there were 2,005 occurrences:

Defensive Indifference by year:
2004 247
2003 219
2002 201
2001 213
2000 199
1999 166
1998 54
1997 122
1996 124
1995 88
1994 82
1993 85
1992 85
1991 78
1990 42

Defensive Indifference by base:
2nd base 1940
3rd base 65

Defensive Indifference by inning:
1st 1
2nd 1
3rd 1
4th 3
5th 12
6th 36
7th 69
8th 212
9th 1498
extra 172

As you might expect the vast majority come in the 8th, 9th, and extra innings when the value of the run represented is minimal. Why there are so many more in the most recent years I'm not sure. One possibility is that historically managers just didn't recognize the value in taking the free base in order to make a putout on a groundball harder. Most DI's occur with 2 outs (especially if the batter is right-handed) since the defensive team often wants the keep the double play in order with 0 or 1 outs. In fact, its still the case that teams don't take full advantage of indifference as I've seen Steve Stone criticize many teams for not taking the free base.

It is interesting the DI's are described in the rule book as "undefended steals" but not included by the official scorer. Instead the scorer scores it as a fielder's choice:

"FIELDER'S CHOICE is the act of a fielder who handles a fair grounder and, instead of throwing to first base to put out the batter runner, throws to another base in an attempt to put out a preceding runner. The term is also used by scorers (a) to account for the advance of the batter runner who takes one or more extra bases when the fielder who handles his safe hit attempts to put out a preceding runner; (b) to account for the advance of a runner (other than by stolen base or error) while a fielder is attempting to put out another runner; and (c) to account for the advance of a runner made solely because of the defensive team's indifference (undefended steal)."

I've always argued that DI's should be recorded as stolen bases since the runner did actually take an extra base for which he is not getting credit and which has some value, and because it does take a modicum of running ability to take the base.

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