In the first inning of Saturday night’s game, Madison Bumgarner started Manuel Margot with two inside fastballs, both of them good pitcher’s pitches, just off the plate. In a perfect world, for Bumgarner, they either clip the inside corner or induce weak contact. Margot, like a sage veteran, held off on both of them. Here’s their location, via Brooks Baseball:
That’s a Joey Votto-like eye. Okay, we won’t get carried away. But there wasn’t a whole lot Margot could have done with either pitch, so it was smart to lay off, to at least wait for something more juicy. Now, up 2-0, he gets his pitch. It’s another four-seam fastball—the third straight one he’d encountered—out over the plate and about belt high. It’s not the meatiest 2-0 meatball, but given the situation, ahead in the count and expecting more heat, it’s a good pitch for Margot to jump on. He makes solid contact and sends a hard ground ball past Brandon Crawford at short.
What turns a relatively harmless single into a more damaging lead-off double is Margot’s hustle. Sure, he’s got speed to spare, but this is the very definition of a hustle double. Check out how far center fielder Denard Span is from the ball when we first get eyes on him:
That’s a lot of green space.
Span’s never been known for his arm and, at 33 years old with a recent hip surgery under his belt, his speed is almost certainly in decline. Plus, once he does get to the ball, he’s going to have to field it, spin (being a lefty thrower), and deliver an accurate throw to second. Margot, like the experienced baseball player that in many ways he is, senses all of this out of the box, condensing our words and screenshots into a split-second decision. In other words, he just runs.
In the bottom of the second, Margot got another double, this time on a first pitch slider from Bumgarner. Again, the pitch was up, and this time Margot was attacking early. It was more of a conventional double, a grounder pulled down the left field line.
Margot’s probably going to hit for some power this year (did you see his two home runs on Friday night?), and, frankly, we won’t be too surprised if he does. But his first inning at-bat against Bumgarner showed what he can be, without a traditional power display. He got ahead of a good pitcher by laying off two close ones, he made solid contact with a hitter-friendly pitch, and he displayed his much ballyhooed speed and instincts. Not all that many hitters turn that ball-in-play into a double, either because they 1) aren’t thinking about it out of the box or they 2) aren’t fast enough. If Margot can replicate that first AB—patience, contact, hustle—with some consistency, he might turn into a doubles machine.