Last night the Cincinnati Reds fell 5-4 to the Detroit Tigers. In the 9th inning they had the tying run on third base with one out and pinch runner Blake Dunn was 90-feet away when it seems the club called for the “contact” play. With the infield drawn in and on the edge of the grass, Tyler Stephenson hit a grounder to third base and Dunn took off for the plate. He slid in head first and was tagged out by the slimmest of margins.

After the play and after the game I happened to see more than a few people saying the contact play is dumb. There were also some saying that the only player you send on a contact play there is Elly De La Cruz because of how fast he is.

The contact play, in my opinion, is a bit dumb. Where the contact goes matters. And who is on base also matters. This isn’t college baseball – these guys are good fielders far more often than they aren’t.

Getting to the who is on base thing, though, that was Blake Dunn. He’s barely played in the big leagues, so to most, he’s a bit of an unknown. But for those who don’t know – he’s one of the fastest players in baseball. And I’m here to argue that if you are saying that you’d only send Elly De La Cruz in that situation, then it’s because you don’t know enough about Blake Dunn.

Major League Baseball has been tracking player sprint speed for a few years now. And more recently they also began tracking it in Triple-A. Sprint speed is defined as feet/second. When a player averages 30.0 feet per second it’s what is considered elite level speed.

Blake Dunn has topped 30 feet per second in terms of sprint speed 38 times this year between AAA and MLB. Elly De La Cruz has done so 43 times. Dunn, however, has played in 23 fewer games than De La Cruz.

Dunn’s top speed isn’t quite that of De La Cruz. Dunn has topped out at 31.2 feet/second this year, while De La Cruz topped out at 32.0. He’s also reached the 31.0 feet/second mark 20 times, while Dunn has done so just three times.

Elly De La Cruz may truly be the fastest man in baseball. But Blake Dunn isn’t all that far behind him. His 31.2 feet/second that he’s topped out at has only been topped by 18 players in MLB and AAA.

When we look at a players 90th percentile sprint speed, Dunn ranks 13th best in AAA/MLB at 30.9 feet/second. Elly De La Cruz, for the record, tops the list at 31.4.

On Friday night would De La Cruz have been safe on the play? Perhaps. He’s the tiniest of tiny bits faster than Dunn is. And on that very specific play where and extra few inches may have made the difference, it’s possible De La Cruz gets there when no one else in the sport does.

But if you’re going to be a team that’s aggressive on the bases, and if you’re going to essentially give Elly De La Cruz free reign on them, then you probably should be granting Blake Dunn the same thing. He’s got elite level speed that matches up well with just about anyone – even De La Cruz. Sometimes the other team just makes a great play and “the plan” doesn’t work.

56 Responses

  1. kypodman

    “The plan” does not seem to work a lot of times for Bell! Just saying!

    Reply
  2. docproc

    With you entirely about Dunn being a good candidate to run on the contact play. It made good sense in that situation and barely missed.
    I lay greater fault on Stephenson, who weakly rolled over on an outside pitch instead of taking it the opposite way.

    Reply
  3. LDS

    I think it says as much about situational management and hitting as it does about Dunn’s speed. And the coach probably should have held him up given the ball in play. Oh well, it’s the Reds. Low expectations will help get us through the season.

    Reply
    • Grover

      Its a contact play so Dunn is not taking the time to listen to the coach.

      Reply
      • PTBNL

        Exactly. He knew before hand what he was instructed to do and what he was going to do. The 3rd base coach had noting to do with that play.

    • LDS

      At the moment of contact, no doubt. Nonetheless, the play should have been qualified, as in on contact IF. Not every team is confused about where the play is. Some are actually fundamentally sound.

      Reply
      • DaveCT

        Your assumption is they were confused and that is most likely incorrect or, at least, unknown. Either way, it’s an assumption that can’t be made.

        In fact, the opposite is most likely true, both broadly and in this specific instance. The play was likely called with full intent and, broadly, should be made again.

        As with Doug’s question (whether they should have had that full intent (to run on contact, including with balls hit to the left side of the infield), they can be questioned. However, given what observers and info keepers on Blake Dunn know, the answer is still yes: Run on contact to the right and left sides. Elite speed requires a perfect play to be made. It’s a good risk. Further, they probably should make the same call with Friedl, Fairchild, Marte, Fraley, & possibly Steer.

        Another aspect of the play we can evaluate is whether the Reds and Dunn executed it well. Further whether a rookie should be expected to execute that play. The answer to the first is probably yes. We’d need sprint speed on the play along with info on Dunn’s lead, but it looked the part. Second, yes, a rookie in the ML’s should absolutely be expected to make that play.

        Now, as for my assumption that The Bell had that info, used that info, and made an informed decision, as opposed to a rote decision, that’s unknown, too. But even a troglodyte can think: Dunn fast. Dunn really fast. Dunn really, really fast. Big guy hit ball? Run, Dunn, run. Still not confused.

      • LDS

        I’ll give you credit @DaveCT, at least your response gave me a laugh

  4. Redsvol

    You run on contact because the bottom half of the order is incompetent at producing anything.

    The game was lost due to the bottom half of the lineup being incompetent. Not because of one play. Never anyone on base this year. No hits, barely any walks, and too many strikeouts. Stephenson, espinal, benson and Fairchild are not reliable offensive players this year. . Stephenson is ice cold.

    Every team deals with injuries and fatigue. We’ve actually been healthy compared to many teams.

    Sample size is in, time to run with some new players for a few weeks. Not just a one or two game trial.

    Reply
  5. Moon

    Just a thought. But Elly is 6’5. Dunn is 5’10. That is 7 inches. Elly has longer arms that Dunn. So I am thinking you add a few more inches there on an identical situation and play at the plate. If you assume both have the same speed Elly is going to get his hand to the plate with 10 inches to spare in the same elapsed time as Dunn. So I am thinking on that play, since you write Blake was out by a few inches, that Elly would have been safe. I am not sure why that is really relevant except as an intellectual comparison of the two there. On the contact play, the next batter up was Marte who has struggled big at the plate. That may have been a factor on why Bell chose to run Dunn at that point.

    Reply
    • Jim Walker

      The length of arms possibility has occurred to me too.

      Reply
    • Doug Gray

      Out of those 100 times, though, it’s not Elly and Dunn running 100 times. Calling the play when someone else who is not among the fastest people in the sport doesn’t really apply here – which is what was conveyed within the article.

      Reply
      • JB

        I guess what I’m trying to say through my sarcasm is they just keep trying no matter how many times it hadn’t work. Whether it’s Dunn or Elly I say it isn’t working. These guys on defense are not Candelario who bobbles the ball. It just isn’t working and there was only one out but Bell keeps trying.

      • Redlegs1869

        Thanks, Doug, for saying you lean on the side of the contact play being “dumb.” It is. And you made the case why. These aren’t college players. I’ve tried to find what percent of “contact plays” score. Seems as though most do not. I think the play should have some basic guidelines that would certainly depend on who is running. A blanket rule that we’re running no matter what is absolutely “dumb. Maybe Bell knows he cannot depend on the much needed base hit.

  6. Tony Cloninger

    Stephenson inability to go the other way when he was being pitched that way and he’s a better hitter when he does do that is the bigger problem. Besides not being able to hit the ball in the air to the OF. That would have been harder with the way he was being pitched.

    Reply
  7. Kevin H

    I like the call as Dunn is fast and look not that it matters, Dunn to me was safe.

    This team is aggressive on the base paths and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

    Yankees did same thing, does that mean Boone is a terrible manager or 3rd base coach. Reds aren’t the only team that does this

    Reply
  8. Jim Walker

    I had my say on the recap thread. I’m about where Doug says. I don’t like blind on contact in that situation but many teams are using it.

    Tommy Lasorda, Dodgers manager back in the 1970s, often would say there were 10 ways to score a run from 3B with 2 outs besides the batter getting a hit to drive the run home. I’m not going to try and list them all here; but, my point is that the only way to score a run from 1st base with 2 outs is likely an extra base hit,

    Reply
  9. Roger Garrett

    To me its the situation.I doubt if and when he was told to go on contact Dunn heard anything else if anything else was said.The play was right in front of him but based on the fact he said he is fast and can score in that situation well he was going and nothing else came in to play.Now we know if we didn’t before the post game that Dunn is fast and that Bell didn’t know that Marte was going to get a hit and actually said that he didn’t have that information before the contact play.Guess he doesn’t know things.Reds are good and they know they are good and they swept the Yankees and well all is good

    Reply
  10. CFD3000

    Oh man, so many thoughts. The fact that the Reds were even in a position to ask this question after starting the inning down 3 is heartening. But JB makes / implies a good point. Just in the last month this is at least the third time the contact play has ended with an out at the plate. And the one time the Reds tried a safety squeeze they scored TWO runs. (Yes, I know TJ Friedl is the only good bunting Red).

    IMO the problem is not just speed and size, but the lead, the anticipation and the reaction time. And in those matters, Dunn’s inexperience is a negative. But I also lay blame on Stephenson. The Reds seem particularly poor at situational hitting this year. His job is to hit the ball hard, ideally in the air, or on a line. A weak grounder pulled on an outside pitch does not qualify. For a guy who is known for hitting to the opposite field, that’s just not a smart decision. I know hitting is hard, but major league fielders are good and this was a poor choice by Bell and a poor decision by Stephenson. And it stings even more when Marte singled behind him.

    So what’s the answer? No more “contact play”? Maybe. And though the data clearly shows that bunting is rarely the smart play, sometimes it’s really smart. Except… players don’t learn to bunt any more. That shouldn’t be that hard to change.

    In the end, good for the Reds for almost tying a game they probably should have lost anyway. That bodes well. But if in baseball it’s the little things that add up over a season and certainly that make the difference in one run games, the Reds record in those close games shows that Bell strategy and player execution are falling short. Back to fundamentals.

    Now how about two wins on the weekend against a medium level Tigers team?

    Reply
  11. Kevin H

    I have a follow up question. If they didn’t send Dunn and hindsight being what it is and Marte didn’t single and made a out.

    Would the discussion be “why didn’t bell send the runner?”

    Reply
    • Jim Walker

      I don’t think there would have been that much blowback. The ball was almost directly at the 3B. It was a very routine looking play. For me the surprising part was that Dunn actually could have been called safe; and, even though the replay “confirmed” the outcall, I wouldn’t bet against them letting a safe call stand.

      The blowback most likely would have been on Stephenson’s performance

      Reply
      • Doc

        Everything Bell does or doesn’t do has blowback from the core group of Bell haters.

      • LDS

        Sorry @Doc but I doubt too many here actually hate Bell. They just don’t respect his management style/success. And now into the 6th season, he is what he is. He’s not suddenly going to be Sparky Anderson, Lou Pinella, or even Dusty Baker. If it weren’t for nepotism and likely affordability, he’d have been gone years ago. Ask Ray Knight or Bryan Price or any of a number of others. There’s absolutely no legitimate reason for Bell to be approaching the top five in games managed for the Reds.

  12. Hanawi

    I have been as critical as anyone on the board about the managing but I’m perfectly fine with that call in that situation. Just didn’t work out but they still had a chance to tie even after that out.

    Reply
    • Doc

      An almost sidearm throw from a wide open body position from a player on the move away from the direction of the throw. If that throw is two inches more up the first base line rather perfect, Dunn is safe. Sometimes you just have to compliment the fielder who made the play just like you compliment Reds fielders when they make the perfect throw to nail someone at the plate. If you are scared to make an out, you don’t belong in the game.

      Reply
  13. Mark Moore

    I had pulled a Clete by then … my travel day got the best of me.

    From what I’m reading here and on the thread, Dunn is a good candidate to go. But the complete “blind contact” is tricky. Another half a step secondary lead and he’s safe. Slightly longer arms and he’s safe. Ty hitting it just a bit deeper into the hole and he’s safe. Standing pat he scores on Marte’s single.

    Bottom line to me is we failed earlier in the game and it came down to “heroics”. That’s a complete crapshoot. Another one run loss.

    Wipe Friday off the books and Tackle the Tiggers today.

    Reply
  14. Mike Caldwell

    They should trust the runner to make the right decision. It may still fail, but the runner isn’t wasted when the decision is questionable.

    Reply
  15. Dean

    Was Dunn out? I’m watching replay on phone screen trying to pause at just the right time.
    Put it this way … If ruled safe on the field, was replay enough to have overturned it to an out call?
    Soooo many heartbreak losses for this team this year.

    Reply
  16. Mauired

    Alot of theories and hypotheticals here, but let’s look at some facts. There was only one out so there was no need to do it. It didn’t work and it’s not the first time this season that play has blown up in their face. Probably the third or fourth. But the way Bell manages. He will keep doing it until it eventually pays off so he can say, see I am a good manager. The irony is a lot of people are saying it was the right call because the offense stinks and he would have been stuck but ignoring the plain fact that right after the out Marte got a base hit and Dunn could have walked to home scoring the tying run.

    Reply
    • Red Thunder

      Agree, besides I would rather have 2 shots at getting the runner home than one. Tyler could’ve just as well hit a line drive to the shortstop and the game is over. Could have also homer, lol. And I don’t care if it was Dunn or anybody else running. Give me 2 shots instead of one all day long!

      Reply
  17. Brian Rutherford

    For those criticizing Stephenson for not hitting the ball to the right side: You guys do realize Detroit’s closer was throwing 98+mph, right? The amount of hand-eye coordination needed to just make contact is elite (one of the reasons he is on a MLB roster) then to be able to pull your hands inside the ball on a pitch like that to hit it to the right side? Then add the pressure situation? He did the best he could and made contact. It missed being successful by inches. Let’s get ’em back today.

    Reply
    • docproc

      The pitch was outside. He wouldn’t have needed to “pull his hands inside the ball.” Just make contact and hit it where it was pitched–LIKE HE USUALLY DOES. This is a guy who routinely hits oppo. Why change now?

      Reply
  18. Ahimsa

    Off topic good news.

    Just read that Fraley’s daughter (Avery) is fine.

    Reply
  19. Jason Franklin

    This is why I was saying that the Reds don’t play good fundamental baseball. Don’t expect long, extended win streaks against anyone. The teams that are consistently good are solid with baserunning, situational awareness, defense, etc. The Reds are not consistent. Look at the Brewers. They are good fundamentally and play a smarter type of baseball than the Reds and are winners.

    Reply
    • Doc

      The Reds are tied for the fifth longest winning streak in mlb in 2024 thus far.

      Reply
      • Harry Stoner

        The Reds are +10 games out of 1st and -4 games below .500.

        Why hasn’t that sunken in?

  20. Old-school

    Theres no such thing as run on contact! If the pitcher throws an 84 mph off speed and the hitter hits a 2 hopper to the pitcher, you never run on that play

    3b is mostly no if playing 85 feet and right at the fielder

    Judgement by the runner is key

    Reply
    • Andrew Brewer

      This answer is the best I’ve read. The play was only that close because of the catcher’s tag or a good slide by Dunn.

      Reply
  21. RedsGettingBetter

    “The contact play, in my opinion, is a bit dumb. Where the contact goes matters. And who is on base also matters. This isn’t college baseball – these guys are good fielders far more often than they aren’t.”…. I may add the inning and even the score is important too to try a contact play, it isn’t the same to try it in the 9th than other inning. But only considering the first , if you do it in the last inning, literally, the risk of failing is to lose the game . Of course, Bell took the risk since decided to pinch-run Dunn for Martini so it didn’t work and we know the result , despite there was another single later to prolong the frame it wasn’t enough…However, if Dunn stays at 3rd and he is stranded later, it is probably that the complains would have arisen because he should have been running on contact especially being him one of the fastest players, so….. that’s baseball…

    Reply
    • GSF

      This “on contact” call was questionable, especially since Marte had a base hit as the following batter.

      Reply
      • Doug Gray

        You can’t question the call when you already know what happened afterwards. That’s not how decision making works.

  22. Randoxu1

    Although I do not like the contact play, I would have sent him because there was 1out. Marte is on deck and hasn’t made much contact would be my thought. Only Dunn and De La Cruz are going on that play otherwise they stay. If there are no outs I don’t care who’s on third nobody goes on contact and Bell does that alot which I really disagree with.

    Reply
  23. Brian

    So, what happens if he did hit a short fly ball? The runner is part way home and has to come back, tag and get thrown out at home or does he have enough time after sprinting for home to tag and score?

    Reply
  24. Randoxu1

    In other news I see the Nationals have just released Nick Senzel, wow!

    Reply
    • LDS

      What are the odds that the Reds claim him or at least sign him on release?

      Reply
  25. MK

    Looking at the whole picture one thing to decide is who gives the best shot of making the contact to get the run home. Do we have a better shot of positive contact and scoring with one out or trying with .156 hitting Marte with two out. Stephenson probably had the best shot, as Marte works to get up to speed, so the contact play would be in order with Stephenson hitting.

    Reply
  26. Randoxu1

    @lds, I think they will claim him if nobody does before them, they would only owe like 950,000 the rest of the year.

    Reply
  27. DW

    Just as important as the sprint speed is the runner’s lead, reaction time, and quickness to that top speed.

    Reply
  28. Jeremiah

    As my Dad would say, sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you!

    Reply
  29. docmike

    My first reaction was that it was a dumb decision. Then Marte singles afterward, and in the heat of the moment it looks even dumber.

    But now looking back, I don’t think it was as dumb as I (and many others) thought immediately after the play.

    The question that must be asked is this: Which of the two options has a greater chance of success?
    A) Send the runner on contact
    B) Hold him at third and move on to the next batter

    Context is key here. If you have a runner like Elly or Blake Dunn, the chance of success is better than if it’s someone like Stephenson or Candy. As it happened, the play was very close, and the slightest bobble by either fielder would have meant a run. Maybe 30% of the time with Dunn going, he scores?

    Then, you have to look at who is the next hitter. In this case, it was the .156 batting Noelvi Marte. So he only has about a 15% chance of getting a hit. If by some chance he worked a walk (also unlikely, since he has only walked once in 44 at-bats), then you have the equally inept Espinal and his .188 BA coming up. So the chance of scoring by staying put would have been pretty low as well.

    And yes, in real life Marte did get a hit. Even .156 batters get a hit sometimes. But that doesn’t mean that relying on that to happen was the right choice.

    My take is that in this situation, the decision to send him is defensible. I believe that the chance of scoring there was just as good as the chance of scoring by leaving it up to the next batter (Marte).

    Now, if we had a better hitter up next, maybe the decision to hold becomes a little easier. But that’s what happens when you have half a lineup of guys hitting around .200 and below.

    Reply
  30. Fanman

    Absolutely 100% YES! With Reds inability to score runs and fastest player this side of
    Elly! YES

    Reply

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