With the final game of the 2010 season wrapped up, it’s easy for fans to be caught up in remembering a few highlight moments. World Series games tend to live on by showing one brief moment. Usually, the more dramatic, the longer the series stays with us.
So much about the game of baseball is built on repetition; everything seems cyclical as it builds from a high to a ho-hum point only to be reset again. It’s only natural that we have a need to condense everything into one exciting swing or unexpected error. (Although, one can find it curious that Johnny Damon outrunning Pedro Feliz in Game Four of last year’s World Series stands as a high point, but maybe that was due to a lack of surprises.)
But in keeping with tradition, it must be said that Edgar Renteria’s seventh-inning home run in Game Five was pretty dramatic and should go down as the defining moment.
It also, again, reminded us of Cliff Lee’s mortality during this World Series.
Cliff Lee: What went wrong?
Besides the obvious answer—what beat the Rangers was a rush of excellent Giants pitching—one would be foolish to ignore San Francisco’s timely offense as the Giants took advantage of mistakes made by Cliff Lee.
To see Lee lose both of his starts came as a complete surprise. Looking over his line during the series: 11.2 IP, 14 H, 1 BB, 13 K, everything seems to be Cliff Lee-esque except for those 14 hits allowed. During Game One it became obvious Lee had trouble getting his curveball over for strikes and his change-up seemed to be worthless, making him a two-pitch starter (fastball/cutter). In that first game, Michael Young’s error in the third inning and Lee’s shaky command that resulted in a Andres Torres hit-by-pitch on an 0-2 fastball began a bad chain of events.
Another bad spot for Lee was his pitch selection against Pat Burrell in the fifth inning (especially that unnecessary curve he threw on a 2-2 count; the delivery was off and the pitch was so far out of the zone that no one would have swung). Lee had no business walking Burrell and with two outs that was an important at-bat.
Lee also missed his spots as many fastballs drifted over the fat part of the plate. Joe Pawlikowski at Fangraphs recently ran a few charts showing the location of Lee’s pitches and compared his Game One start to his last outing against the Yankees in the ALCS.
In Game 5, Lee seemed to be in much better command of all of his pitches… except for one.
How did the Rangers’ pitching staff attack the Giants’ one through five hitters?
With apologies to Giants heroes like Renteria and Juan Uribe, it seemed best to look at the overall strategy the Rangers may have had against the top of the Giants’ lineup.
Torres saw a total of 90 pitches in 23 plate appearances, which equals about 3.9 pitches per plate appearance. As a switch-hitter, Torres has seen more right-handed pitching in his caree,r but is essentially the same hitter on both sides of the plate (.251/.320/.432 vs LHP in 354 PA; .250/.320/.431 vs. RHP in 671 PA).
Overall, Torres saw 38.9 percent four-seam fastballs, while curveballs and two-seamers came in at exactly 16.7 percent each. With the four-seamers, Torres whiffed only 2.9 percent of the time while he was able to put that pitch into play at a 25.7 percent rate. The pitches that gave Torres the most trouble were curveballs and cut fastballs. In Game One, Torres was thrown a total of four cut fastballs and swung at three of them (most tailed down and away). He was able to get a hit from one. Torres wasn’t thrown a single curveball in Game One.
Freddy Sanchez is a career .324/.358/.453 vs. left-handed pitching in 997 plate appearances. In 22 plate appearances during the series he saw 82 pitches: 41 percent were four-seam fastballs, 18.3 percent sliders, 13.4 percent two-seamers. The pitches that gave him the most trouble: curveballs (8.5 percent thrown) and change-ups (7.3 percent).
Buster Posey had 21 plate appearances this series and hit .300/.333/.450. He saw 96 pitches. Four-seamers and sliders were thrown the most, with sliders giving him the most trouble by missing his bat 21.7 percent of the time.
Cody Ross had problems putting curveballs into play all season, and judging by this chart, he seems very likely to swing at one below the strike zone.
After failing to convert any of the 10 thrown this series into play, Ross saw just 10.5 percent of that pitch overall. This series Ross saw a total of 95 pitches in 21 plate appearances and hit .235/.381/.471.
Aubrey Huff finished with a .294/.368/.588 in 19 PA. He saw only 54 pitches, but he made contact with most of them. Huff hit ground balls 35 percent of the time but his two home runs do elevate his numbers. Four-seam fastballs and curveballs were the pitches of choice; however, two seamers, cut fastballs and sliders accounted for 39 percent and Huff was able to put them into play at a high frequency.
Why did the three-four-five hitters for the Rangers struggle?
In 56 combined plate appearances, they struck out 13 times, giving them a 23 percent overall strikeout rate. Over the season, Hamilton came in at 18.3 percent, Guerrero 10.1 percent and Cruz at 20.3 percent. Guerrero struck out in five of his 15 plate appearances and seemed uncomfortable throughout the series, but how do we account for Hamilton and Cruz?
Individually, Hamilton hit .100/.143/.250 with 20 AB, two hits, one home run, one walk and three strikeouts. Cruz came in at .200/.200/.450 with 20 AB, four hits, two doubles, one home run, no walks and five strikeouts.
Among the 76 pitches thrown to Hamilton, 12 were change-ups. According to the invaluable website texasleaguers.com, Hamilton had the most trouble with this pitch; he whiffed at a rate of 16.7 percent. On the other pitches, Hamilton was able to make contact. However the Giants were successful (for the most part) in inducing weak contact.
Looking at other pitches that Hamilton swung at during the series, we see that he chased quite a few sliders and change-ups down and away.
Among the 70 pitches Cruz saw, 31.4 percent were sliders while 20 percent were change-ups. In Game Five, Cruz was able to take one of Lincecum’s sliders over the left field fence. In terms of whiff rate, a lot of these sliders and change-ups did work to miss his bat at about 30 percent of the time.
Another factor that did Cruz in was his inability to handle many of the four-seam fastballs thrown down the middle of the plate. Looking at those 70 pitches Cruz saw, 42.9 percent qualified as four-seam fastballs. Below is a chart showing the four-seamers that Cruz swung at:
That’s quite a bit of white cowhide thrown down the middle; however, the above graph translates into this:
Looking at the managers:
What about the aspect many fans and commentators love, second-guessing lineups and bullpen moves. For the most part, Giants manager Bruce Bochy managed a good series. He wasn’t afraid to fiddle around with the lineup and use his bullpen match-ups to gain an advantage.
The problem with Ron Washington (besides the decision to start Guerrero in the outfield, which has been discussed ad nauseum) was his inability to get one of his better relievers in high-leverage situations. During this series, Alexi Ogando was used mostly in garbage situations, probably not the best use of a resource that was able to strike out six opposing batters in 3.2 innings of work (without walking anyone). I’m sure Ogando will have plenty more opportunities to prove himself.
It’s staggering to think how patched-together both of these teams looked at the beginning of the season. By December 2009, Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman looked like the only two pitchers guaranteed a rotation spot in Texas. Millwood would eventually be traded and Rich Harden and Colby Lewis would be brought in as bargain rotation-fillers. Both Harden and Lewis were seen as minor gambles with many expecting the former to pay off. The rise of Lewis along with the noble experiment to return C.J. Wilson to the starting rotation did pay off, and then they traded for one of the best pitchers in baseball, Lee.
Of course, San Francisco had pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to depend upon as well as a bullpen that was quietly effective in 2009. Yet, no one knew what to make of the Giants’ dreadful offense.
Pablo Sandoval was seen as a certified offensive cornerstone while last-minute free-agent acquisitions like Huff were brought in to help score runs. What happened? Sandoval slowly faded as his production was cut in half and Bengie Molina was traded to make room for a promising rookie backstop. Toward the end of the summer, the Giants pick up a few discards in Burrell and Ross and a 21-year-old rookie named Madison Bumgarner seemingly overcame his velocity woes and—we have a championship team.
Can it really be that easy?