Anatomy of a Web Gem: Breaking Down Sean Rodriguez’s Defensive Masterpiece


Yesterday was not a day that Rays fans could hang their hat on. But Sean Rodriguez‘s defensive play in the 9th inning to rob Brandon Inge was. Let’s break down this play that we’re calling the defensive play of the year for the Rays thus far this season.

With the play fresh in our minds, let’s break down the various parts of the play that resulted in it looking like it did. (We’ll utilize screenshots of the play from the video.)

1. Positioning

If the Rays with their crazy shifts based on spray charts aren’t playing Rodriguez more towards third than usual, Rodriguez wouldn’t have even come close to making that play. Look how far over he is by the time the ball arrives.

Keep in the mind that Inge hit a legitimate line drive on this play. The Rays just knew that Inge tended to hit line drive and groundballs right to that area of the field. Looking at Inge’s spray chart from the last five seasons, it’s pretty clear that the Rays knew what they were talking about.

Look at the huge mass of outs (red) in between second and third base, including a bunch to the spot on the field where Rodriguez made his play. It was up to Rodriguez to make this play happen. But Joe Maddon and the Rays have to get credit for knowing Inge’s spray chart and identifying correctly where Rodriguez should be positioned.

2. The Hop/Lateral Movement

Right off the bat, Rodriguez has to make a decision. Inge hits a sinker liner and Rodriguez has to decide quickly whether to charge the play and dive or move laterally, let the ball bounce, and then field the ball already in the outfield.Rodriguez chose the latter, knowing that it was going to be tough for him to get there in time to make the catch, and if he missed it, the ball would go into the outfield and possibly for an extra-base hit.

3. Pre-Dive

Rodriguez was able to track the trajectory of the ball and anticipate (to some extent) the way the ball would hop. He stops at a certain point because he knows that even if he gloves the ball, if his momentum is going away from first base and he’ll have no chance of getting Inge at first base. He waits until the ball is about to hop before getting leverage in his lower body and preparing to dive.

4. Dive

Rodriguez did all the preparation correctly. But then he had to actually make the dive and glove the ball. He extended fully and made that happen.

5. Sticking the Landing

Following his dive, Rodriguez lands on his hands and knees, which definitely hurt but also gave him the opportunity to get up quickly.

6. Getting Up

Rodriguez manages to get up lightning-fast thanks to the way he landed and then immediately gathers himself and gets leverage in his lower body to prepare for the throw.

7. The Throw

Rodriguez knows he has to hurry so he releases quickly with a downward motion, bouncing the ball off the grass because he knows that with a good runner in Inge running down the line his only chance is to make the throw on a bounce.

8. The Catch, The Call, and The Reactions

The play at first base was too close to call. I saw one angle that seemingly showed that Inge was “conclusively” safe and another one that he was “lucidly” out. The one below looks like he’s out by a solid thousandth of a second.

The next shot is priceless. You have the umpire emphatically making the out call contrasted with Inge raising his arms up in disbelief- 1/3 at the umpire, 1/3 at Rodriguez for making that play and 1/3 at bad luck doing him in again.

And then, after the crowd cheered, Rodriguez first had a kind of indifferent look on his face, not really comprehending exactly what he did and what had just happened, but after applause from the crowd, he finally smiled.

Overall, it was an outstanding play for Rodriguez and a play we’ll remember for a while. I’ve always questioned Rodriguez defensively at shortstop, but if this play and his body of work at short in 2012 is any indication, he’s finally found his way. Nice job, Sean, and we’re looking forward to what you’ll give us next.