December 11, 2013
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Thursday, October 10, 2013
We often speak of "baseball immortals," but of course they aren't. Former major league players are mortal, just like the rest of us. When we read that one has died, we may say to ourselves, "Oh, I remember him," perhaps picturing a baseball card we had as a kid.
Sometimes, for some reason, we identify more strongly.
On the desk next to me at this moment is a baseball glove, which I moved this morning from a shelf otherwise occupied by baseball books. It measures just over seven inches, top of the middle finger to the bottom, just slightly bigger than my hand. It lies flat, as unlike today's snap-jaw gloves as a wood-shafted mashie is to what Tiger Woods swings.
The glove was a gift, some years ago. When I hold it angled just right under the light, I can see the name Andy Pafko etched in neat cursive along the side.
Andy Pafko died this week, at 92. For me, that news fell into the category of "identify strongly."
My first heartbreak as a Cubs fan (count 'em) involved Pafko. I swear to you that I didn't have to look this up: In June of 1951, the Cubs traded him, along with Wayne Terwilliger, Johnny Schmitz and Rube Walker, to the Dodgers for Gene Hermanski, Eddie Miksis, Joe Hatten and Bruce Edwards. Not Brock for Broglio, but in the ballpark.
They'd peddled Handy Andy, the slugger who'd finished second in the league in homers (to Ralph Kiner) the year before. The Boy from Boyceville (in nearby Wisconsin), a member of the Cubs' then-and-now last World Series team, was gone as the Cubs rebuilt. Ha!
That's just half the memory.
Sharing that bookshelf with the glove is a slim novella describing a radio broadcast I listened to four months later. From the book:
Russ says, "There's a long drive."
On the front of the book's dust jacket is a photo of Pafko indeed looking up, standing next to a sign that says "315 FT," dwarfed by a wall whose top is unseen. On the back we see Bobby Thomson's swing, the ball, and a dotted line showing where it will go.
Pafko at the Wall became the prologue to Dom DeLillo's wonderful novel, Underworld. Andy Pafko will live long in those pages.
Brent Strom, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals, has been hired as the Houston Astros big league pitching coach. I first heard the story through the SB Nation blog The Crawfish Boxes, where there's a great bunch of comments about the hiring.
A poster questioned whether Strom was a good pitching coach (in an inquisitive—not derisive—tone), and I responded with:
First and foremost, he is open-minded and seeks knowledge from tons and tons of domains. He is not “above” anyone—he has attended many pitching seminars run by people who were previously unknown (Ron Wolforth, Paul Nyman, etc) and now routinely speaks and assists at these camps/seminars, passing on his vast knowledge. Aside from playing professional baseball (a credential that I don’t put a lot of weight on), he is a crazy student of the game and one who highly values work ethic, experimentation, and pushing the envelope.
Here are Strom and I sharing a stage at the Ultimate Pitchers' Bootcamp in 2012 in Houston.
Trevor Bauer, Fred Corral, Kyle Boddy, Doug White, Ken Knutson, Brent Strom, Ron Wolforth (rear), Eric Binder
I stand by what I said over at The Crawfish Boxes—Strom is an outstanding hire, one who has a lot of knowledge but also a tireless approach to understanding the game. The results he's had in St. Louis (alongside the partnership with former co-workers in Jeff Luhnow and Sig Mejdal) should give any Astros fan increased hope and optimism for the future.
With Strom reuniting with the usual suspects—along with former colleagues Craig Bjornson and Doug White—I would be absolutely thrilled if I was an Astros fan, knowing that the development of the young pitching talent in the organization is under the command of one incredibly hard-working, intelligent, and open-minded man.
Saturday, October 05, 2013
As busy a day of October baseball as we can have. Opening ceremonies will be cut short so we can move straight to the game action.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Pirates 0 1 2 0 2 0 1 1 0 7 Cardinals 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 (Series tied 1-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Pirates 7 31 28 3 14 5 3 1 0 Cardinals 13 4 5 5 8 8 7 1 1 WPS Base: 143.6 Best Plays: 36.6 Last Play: 0.1 Grand Total: 180.3
These aren't just getting boring as baseball games. These are getting boring as examples of what makes a boring baseball game. One team gets ahead early, and never lets the other one get close again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The most interesting thing about this game may have been the wind. It was fooling fielders all day. Deceptively mild-mannered fly balls suddenly took off like Superman and leaped tall fences in a single bound, or sometimes without bounding at all. The final insult was the infield pop that somehow carried past David Freese, letting Marlon Byrd take two bases on his hustle. (He'd score on two productive outs.)
The vaunted St. Louis performance with runners in scoring position deserted the Cardinals today. Pittsburgh shut them down, zero for five. The bigger part of the story was that the Pirates allowed them so few RISP opportunities.
With three other games to cover, I won't burn many more bits on this one. It does put Pittsburgh squarely back in the series, which puts the legions of Pirates fans squarely into the action for Game Three on Sunday. From what we heard from them in the Wild Card knockout game last Tuesday, that should be worth our attention.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Rays 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 Red Sox 0 0 0 5 3 0 0 4 X 12 (Red Sox lead series 1-0) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Rays 5 15 5 24 5 2 1 4 0 Red Sox 12 11 6 76 14 0 0 0 X WPS Base: 181.1 Best Plays: 38.7 Last Play: 0.0 Grand Total: 219.8
This game had some actual juice, at least for an inning, because it had something the previous six in this series did not: a lead change. A bizarre lead change, but a thorough one that turned the spigot of excitement right back off by the next inning. I will get to the original inning in a bit.
Once again, we see how deceptive early impressions can be. Jon Lester strikes out the side to open the game—he actually struck out his first four batters—but gave up a home run in the second, and another in the fourth, to pop the bubble of invincibility. His counterpart Matt Moore didn't allow a hit through three, sparking that idle hope in the bosoms of myriad baseball fans. And then the fourth inning happened to him.
The Tampa Bay Rays are known these days as a smart team, smart in the front office, in the dugout, and on the field. But their defense in the fourth inning wound up two steps behind on every big play. Wil Myers let David Ortiz's deep fly ball drop for a ground-rule double. With the score tied, they let Jonny Gomes score from second on Stephen Drew's dribbler to first base. Then Sean Rodriguez overran Will Middlebrooks' ball hitting off the Green Monster and had it ricochet behind him, letting Drew score. Then catcher Jose Lobaton's dropped third strike kept the inning alive long enough for a fifth Boston run.
It was almost like midnight had struck, and they had turned back into the Devil Rays. It was also time for the big trend of the playoffs to resume, as Fenway fans began the derisive chant of Myyyyy-errrrrs! What hath Pirates fans wrought!
There was immediate suspicion that the Boston bullpen had coached Myers off the fly ball that he had lined up, then pulled away to watch bounce over the fence. Myers said otherwise: "I saw Des [Desmond Jennings] out of the corner of my eye and backed off. It was totally my fault." I'll take him at his word, that he's not covering by obeying the unwritten baseball rule that you don't talk about your opponents disobeying the unwritten rules (it makes you look whiny).
Then there's that other unwritten rule: Don't show up the other team by stealing in the late innings with a big lead. Jacoby Ellsbury did that in the eighth, his Red Sox up 8-2, on the way to piling on four more runs. That's something else the Rays may just have to shrug off.
But if David Ortiz takes a heater off his elbow tomorrow, we may have seen a reason or two why today.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Dodgers 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 3 Braves 0 1 0 1 0 0 2 0 X 4 (Series tied 1-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Dodgers 22 13 14 15 7 27 43 29 40 Braves 5 25 5 31 5 4 30 3 X WPS Base: 317.1 Best Plays: 49.9 Last Play: 7.5 Grand Total: 374.5
Yes! Finally! Thank you! It may not have been a great game, but it was a good game. It stayed close all the way through the middle innings; when one team finally leaped out to a multi-run lead, the other came back immediately to close the gap; even scoreless innings had enough action to hold a spectator's interest. The highest Win Percentage Added play of the game, in fact, was the double play that got Atlanta out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh.
The pivotal play that most may remember is Atlanta substitute catcher Gerald Laird throwing out pinch-runner Dee Gordon on a ninth-inning steal attempt that quelled an L.A. rally. The play was awfully close: Shortstop Andrelton Simmons had his glove on Gordon's back as the ball was arriving, but it came off about the time the ball went into the glove. To my eyes, he had the ball and contact; to others, it wasn't clear-cut at all. That one could be picked over for a long time, depending on whether the Dodgers wish they had this game back.
After the Myyyyy-errrrrs! affair in Boston, it was good to hear a brief positive chant in Atlanta. Freddie Freeman, being talked up by the announcers as an MVP candidate, got a nice Fred-die! from the hometown folks early in the game, though it wasn't repeated, as Mr. Myers' chant was.
Craig Kimbrel came on for a four-out save, his first ever in the postseason, which gives me a chance to make an observation about him. In his three-plus seasons with the Braves, Kimbrel has recorded 139 regular-season saves, with 50 this year. If he stays healthy, there is every reason to believe he will have over 40 next year and put his career total past 180.
And at the end of the 2014 season when he does that, he will still be younger than Mariano Rivera was when he got his first major-league save. At 652 lifetime saves, Mariano is the king, but it may be that the heir is already among us. A lot of things have to go right for Kimbrel, but it would be tough to get off to a better start on the long chase.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Tigers 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 A's 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 2 (Detroit leads series 1-0) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Tigers 38 2 4 5 4 6 2 9 3 A's 4 16 8 4 4 10 33 26 17 WPS Base: 195.8 Best Plays: 39.3 Last Play: 3.9 Grand Total: 239.0
And we go right back to the old pattern, with a moderate variation near the end. If you watched the Dodgers and Braves to the final pitch, took a quick bathroom break, then tuned into the Tigers and A's, you missed the Detroit offense. They jumped on Bartolo Colon early, then fizzled out as though exhausted by the effort. Oakland closed the gap in the seventh on Yoenis Cespedes' home run, so the last few innings were less of a WPS drought. The damage was done, though, and could have been undone only by a stirring comeback. The A's didn't have that in them.
Max Scherzer broke the recent pattern of pitchers dominating in the first inning, then coming unwound soon after. He compiled nine strikeouts through five innings, 11 for all seven that he pitched, and was one-hitting the A's after six. Colon did settle down after the first, holding Detroit scoreless the next five innings, so he completely reversed the pattern.
An idle thought crossed my mind as I watched Colon face Prince Fielder: Is this the greatest combined weight of pitcher and batter ever to face each other in the majors? Probably not. I think CC Sabathia has the edge in mass on Colon, or at least did at one time. CC, though, looks big and solid, but Bartolo is just sloppy fat.
There was a weak "MVP!" chant for Josh Donaldson when he first came to bat. Given the presence of Cabrera on the same field, the weakness can be understood.
Miguel Cabrera is obviously hurting. A ball he hit in the eighth inning went off Donaldson's glove at third. For most batters, this would have meant reaching on an error, but Donaldson calmly tracked down the ball, threw to first, and still got Cabrera by a couple of steps. If his hitting is as badly affected—and the announcers watching his plate technique believed so—he may actually be an impediment to the Tigers right now.
Jhonny Peralta, back from his Biogenesis suspension, pinch-hit in the ninth inning. The Oakland fans gave him a lusty round of boos. The same Oakland fans whose starting pitcher that night had been one-time suspended PED user Bartolo Colon. I reserve further comment.
So it took four games today, but we finally got a pretty good one. One hopes it won't take another quadruple-header to produce a fun one, but if we need it, we've got it. Pittsburgh and Atlanta evened up their series today, meaning all four series will be playing on Monday. So we get to do this again in three days!
Sleep? What's that? You can sleep in November.
Friday, October 04, 2013
The playoffs move into high gear, beginning with the National League.
Wednesday night's win by the Rays punctured a potential bit of trivia. Had Cleveland taken the game, it would have meant that all eight teams remaining in the playoffs were "original" teams, ones that had been around since the American League became a major league in 1901. Tampa Bay was the only expansion team to make it into the postseason. (The tiebreaker against Texas technically does not count.) They have their work cut out against the Old Guard, but that begins Friday.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Pirates 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 Cardinals 0 0 7 0 1 1 0 0 X 9 (Cardinals lead series 1-0) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Pirates 5 5 5 3 3 1 0 0 0 Cardinals 7 24 49 0 1 0 0 0 X WPS Base: 98.1 Best Plays: 37.6 Last Play: 0.0 Grand Total: 135.7
There isn't too much to say about a game that is effectively over before the 16th out is recorded. Unless, of course, you have a rooting interest, but then the things you'll say are pretty obvious and, in the case of Pirates' fans, obscene. I'll find another direction, such as making this a lesson on how the WPS Index functions.
The Cardinals' third inning is exactly the most boring way to score seven runs, at least according to WPS. All the runs came in on eight players reaching base consecutively, from Adam Wainwright's leadoff walk to David Freese's three-run single-plus-error.
WPS likes outs interspersed with its baserunners, to keep expectations swinging and produce a "sawtooth" pattern on a Win Expectancy graph. There was virtually no suspense in A.J. Burnett's meltdown, no point at which you could think he was in position to squeeze free. It was an efficient way to kill a ballgame.
And it did kill this game. Pedro Alvarez's home run to open the fifth inning earned a WPS score of 1.4. That's a hair below what the second out of the game netted (1.5). When a home run is more ho-hum than a top-of-the-first grounder to the pitcher, things have gotten out of hand. As a further, and final, example, 14 of the last 15 plate appearances in the game produced a score of 0.0.
Desperate Pittsburgh boosters could point to the Cardinals' batting average with runners in scoring position as a ray of light. St. Louis went 2 for 10, a far cry from the incredible .330 they put up in the regular season.
Ah, but we know better than to stop looking there. The season triple-slash line for Cards' RISP was .330/.402/.463. With a homer, two walks, and a hit batter pitching in, they went .200/.385/.500 on this afternoon. Their OPS was better than the season average. No solace there, Buccos fans.
There was some suggestion by the broadcast crew that Carlos Martinez would have been wiser to eat the ball rather than throw to first on his eighth-inning play that amazingly nipped Russell Martin. They feared the ball getting away, giving him a free base, setting up a big inning.
Really? With an eight-run margin, the difference between a runner on first or on second is minuscule compared to that between a runner on first and a runner out. You want the outs, and you should be taking a chance like that. Don't listen to 'em, Carlos!
One final tactical quibble was manager Mike Matheny sending in late-season closer Trevor Rosenthal to pitch the ninth with an eight-run cushion. In his defense, I note that Rosenthal had last pitched six days earlier, and he might have needed a little work to prevent rust. Of course, St. Louis knew they wouldn't be playing until Thursday, so maybe they could have set up an intrasquad scrimmage, as Boston reportedly did, and given Rosenthal his maintenance work on Tuesday.
Just a thought to fill the cavernous vacuum of interest left by this game after the third inning.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Dodgers 0 2 2 1 0 1 0 0 0 6 Braves 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 (Dodgers lead series 1-0) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Dodgers 5 27 22 10 7 6 1 0 0 Braves 5 13 13 17 4 2 5 3 3 WPS Base: 142.5 Best Plays: 31.5 Last Play: 0.6 Grand Total: 174.6
This one toyed with us a little more but still ended up the fifth postseason/tiebreaker game in a row below average excitement. Had the Braves not been making some threats in the second through fourth innings, this game could have been almost as low on the WPS Index as the Pirates and Cardinals.
Baseball does not reveal its patterns quickly. How many of us, after watching Kris Medlen strike out the side in the first, were thinking he'd be knocked around for five runs in the next three innings? Clayton Kershaw, on the other hand, while doing almost as well in the first on less dominant stuff, had the horses for the long haul, with a dozen strikeouts in his seven frames.
If the game had been closer, Evan Gattis could well have been remembered as the goat. Missing a diving attempt at a fly ball in the top of the second inning to let Los Angeles' second run across was forgivable. Getting hung out far, far off first on a fly to right and doubled off by Yasiel Puig in the bottom half was inexplicable. But if you're going to have a bad night, have it when it doesn't matter so much. We'll see how Gattis shakes off the experience.
The Dodgers tacked on a run in the sixth, which I wouldn't mention except for the Braves reliever who gave up that run, Jordan Walden. I did not recognize the name, but I recognized the delivery. I saw him at PNC Park earlier this year during a baseball tour that I wrote up here at THT. He had the same odd crow-hop off the rubber just before releasing the ball. Good to see that: April connects to October, the season ties itself into a bow for me.
There's no way I wouldn't mention Brian Wilson's stint in the eighth because, good Lord, that beard. If he were blond, he already would have joined ZZ Top.
Don Mattingly followed Matheny's lead and sent his closer to the mound with a large, non-save lead. It had been four days since Kenley Jansen's last appearance, so the rust argument holds less water. If it was just to keep him sharp, it may have backfired, as Jansen had to throw 25 pitches to finish the game.
Join us tomorrow as we run down all four playoff games across both leagues. One of them's going to be an exciting one. Law of averages, right? Right?
Thursday, October 03, 2013
Another October day, another baseball playoff game. I hope you have enjoyed the gentle pace so far, because it is about to move into a brisk trot, with a break-neck gallop on Friday and quite possibly Monday. I will be providing my WPS analysis throughout, however many games get hurled at us. It can't get much crazier than last year's divisional round.
Yes, I'm just waiting to see how I get proven wrong on that one, now that I've offered myself up as a target. Should be interesting.
The Win Percentage Added numbers that go into building the WPS Index come from FanGraphs, for this game and all the playoffs this year. You'll note that inning-by-inning scores are in whole numbers, but final totals go to a decimal point. I'm rounding down the inning scores for ease of reading: the tenths don't matter that much, except when I'm being persnickety about adding everything up at the end.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Rays 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 1 4 Indians 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 (Tampa Bay advances to ALDS) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Rays 5 5 16 33 6 2 5 6 4 Indians 5 10 12 34 36 5 22 11 1 WPS Base: 217.0 Best Plays: 47.1 Last Play: 0.1 Grand Total: 264.2
For the third straight day, we had a game below the mean in excitement (that mean being a little over 300), though it was the most exciting game of the string. At least, if you don't count the spectators being taken out of it fairly early, and the three hours, 40 minutes needed to score four runs and record 54 outs. WPS does have its blind spots, I confess.
What moved this game ahead of its two predecessors was the same thing that made it so frustrating for Cleveland fans. The Indians put together a few big threats after Tampa Bay got ahead 3-0, threats that with one hung breaking ball and one good swing could have turned the game right around. Instead, Alex Cobb in the fourth and fifth, and Joel Peralta in the seventh, squeezed their team out of the messes without damage. This built some suspense—you can see that the Indians' fourth and fifth beat any of the Rays' innings for excitement—but didn't build the foundation of a tight game that would have brought greater excitement further on.
There were a few points of interest in the game beyond the scope of bald statistics. We got to see an umpire crew conference in the first on whether Nick Swisher's foul tip was caught by Jose Molina, which I think was a first for me. It was time well spent, as they changed Gerry Davis' mind and got the correct call that it was a K.
This was not remotely the most interesting thing Molina did that evening. In case you didn't see the game, sit down and brace yourself. Jose Molina attempted to steal a base. Granted, it was with two outs and (if I recall correctly) an 0-2 count on James Loney. Failure—and Molina did fail—would just erase Loney's bad count and let him lead off next inning with a clean slate. Sabermetrically, this probably wasn't a terrible time to try such a seemingly ludicrous thing.
As I was composing this, I went and looked up Jose Molina's lifetime steal numbers. Holy cow: 17 steals, caught seven times. He's actually decent at this. My faith in the folly of pudgy catchers trying to steal bases has been shattered. Maybe he should have been going on 0-1 instead.
The crowd at Progressive Field made a valiant early attempt to match the incredible volume of noise and support the Pirates faithful at PNC Park delivered the previous night. With the early scoring going against them, and no tempting target like Cueeeee-tooooo! available, they could not keep it up. By the ninth they were pretty silent, and after a pair of ricochets off corner infielders' gloves to bring across the fourth Tampa run, there was a sprinkling of boos. A rough way for them to end the season.
One final comment. A shot in the eighth inning showed Cleveland's Jason Giambi standing at the dugout rail. With his filled-out, graying beard, he looked oddly like Ernest Hemingway. There's been talk for some time about Giambi's prospects of getting a managing job in the majors. Whether a GM would want Ernest Hemingway running his team is an open question. As I recall, though, Hemingway had one of his characters muse about his wish to take Joe DiMaggio fishing. Maybe that style of handling players would work well for Giambi.
Or maybe I'm just writing this too late at night. Three hours, 40 minutes for a 4-0 game. Really.
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
The actual playoffs have begun, after yesterday's tiebreaker teaser. Whether you consider the WPS recap for the Rays and Rangers a warm-up or not, I have to hit the ground running now.
The regular season may be compared to a marathon, but the postseason can be a pretty long distance, too, especially if you're watching four games a day, as we will be at least once in the next week. That journey begins with this step.
(Let me note here, as I did several times during the WPS recaps last year, that I have a predecessor in the use of Win Percentage Added to calculate an index for the excitement of games. THT's Dave Studeman beat me to it, writing up his version in the 2007 Hardball Times Annual. Yes, it's still available on sale. Yes, go get it.)
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Reds 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 6 Pirates 0 2 1 2 0 0 1 0 X 2 (Pittsburgh advances to NLDS) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Reds 4 5 5 34 8 7 6 5 1 Pirates 7 30 13 16 2 2 1 0 X WPS Base: 146.4 Best Plays: 31.4 Last Play: 0.1 Grand Total: 177.9
Definitely an underwhelming night from the WPS point of view. The Pirates got the game in a headlock by the fourth inning, and by the time the Reds could even slightly loosen the grip, it was too late to build any suspense. I cannot convince myself, however, that any of the attendees at PNC Park felt disappointed.
The first sign of what we could expect from the fans was The Blackout, the predominance of black worn in the stands that I would estimate somewhere around 75 percent, on pretty short notice. The real demonstration, though, came pouring down on Reds starter Johnny Cueto's head after the second-inning home run he surrendered to Marlon Byrd (in his first ever playoff plate appearance.)
The TBS commentators had to go back to the 1986 World Series to recall anything like it, the Fenway Park chant of Darrrrr-rylllll! directed at Darryl Strawberry. (Ron Darling seemed to forget the retaliatory Rooooo-gerrrrr! hurled at Clemens in Game Six.) There have been a couple similar instances more recently, but none that I can think of that didn't involve Boston and New York in some combination.
Pittsburgh fans had been waiting 21 years for this opportunity, and rarely have I ever witnessed a baseball stadium full of spectators so aggressively engaged in a game as I saw at PNC Park last night from the second through about the fifth inning. That was good for baseball. And if it sparks and sustains a real rivalry between these two clubs, all the better. (Then again, with all the hit batters in their 20 games against each other this season, it might not be entirely all for the better.)
Battered by spectators' chants and some hits, Cueto left in the fourth inning. And then it was Marrrrr-shallll! for reliever Sean Marshall. And then Hooooo-verrrrr! for J.J. Hoover, Siiiii-monnnn! for Alfredo Simon, and Parrrrr-raaaaa for Manny Parra, though the force of it dwindled with each new arm and the progressive solidifying of their lead. Then came Logan Ondrusek, who defied the two-syllable pattern and brought an end to the barrage.
Have I mentioned yet how impressed I was with the crowd at PNC Park?
Buc starter Francisco Liriano was expected to be murder on the Reds' three good lefty hitters: Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce. He delivered there, holding them to a combined 1-for-8 with four strikeouts, plus a hit batter (Choo, naturally). He wasn't much easier on the rest of the lineup, almost exactly matching his season home ERA of 1.47 for his seven innings of work.
If there is any sign that the Pirates truly have turned the corner, it was Choo's home run off Tony Watson in the eighth. A fan reached over the railing in right field to try to catch the ball, only to have it clank off and drop onto the field. An umpire review confirmed the original call of a homer, and a brief vision of Steve Bartman danced through my mind. The opportunity for an epic choke passed untouched, though, and I will never learn the name of that fan. A fact for which he is no doubt most grateful.
The Pirates move on to St. Louis, where their Division Series with the Cardinals begins on Thursday. We'll see how well the Pirates hold up with a different color dominating the stands.
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
It's playoff season again, and like last year, I'm doing reviews of all the postseason fun here at THT Live. Also like last year, I'm using my Win Percentage Sum (WPS) system, built to measure game excitement, as a foundation for my own comments. For a short refresher on how WPS works, check the start of my homepage article today. For a long refresher, check the two articles I wrote last year explaining how it works, here and here (but mainly the first one).
Unlike for my other article today, Win Percentage Added data used to calculate WPS comes from FanGraphs, not Baseball-Reference. B-R is great when researching things that go back a ways, but for events happening right now, as I write, FanGraphs is tops. The final index is calculated to tenths of a point, but inning-by-inning numbers are given as rounded whole numbers for easier scanning.
I had expected to begin this work tomorrow for publication on Wednesday. Tampa Bay and Texas had other ideas. Technically this is a regular-season game, but I'm kicking off my playoff coverage with it, because a win-or-go-home game deserves no less.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Rays 1 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 1 5 Rangers 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 X 2 WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Rays 19 5 28 5 5 22 11 5 6 Rangers 10 18 20 7 15 29 9 25 X WPS Base: 242.1 Best Plays: 36.8 Last Play: 0.6 Grand Total: 279.5
A somewhat below-average game in excitement overall. The Rays got a multi-run lead fairly early and never let their edge get below two. The Rangers came back promptly twice after scoring innings for Tampa Bay, which helped recover some excitement, but they never quite got back into it.
Pre-game analysis noted that Rays starter David Price had a poor career record against Texas. The more sophisticated analysis concluded that this was a small sample size and not indicative of what would transpire in the game. Post-game analysis concludes that that was some good sophisticated pre-game analysis.
Other pre-game analysis noted that Rangers starter Martin Perez, still being a rookie, might be rattled by the pressure and could be on a short leash. The first inning argued for the former proposition. Perez yielded three singles and a walk to the first four batters, and only Desmond Jennings' balky hamstring getting him thrown out stretching for two prevented the Rays from taking the lead on those four baserunners. But Perez bore down, limiting the damage to one.
The leash wasn't as short as anticipated. Even after Evan Longoria's two-run homer, Perez stayed in, and he justified the move by setting down eight straight Rays. Ron Washington then lifted him to get Alexi Ogando against Longoria—who promptly started a two-double rally that notched a fresh run.
Baserunning escapades dotted the game. On top of Jennings' leadoff not-quite-double, there were two pickoffs by Price. The first one against Elvis Andrus in the first was classic. As first baseman James Loney received the throw, he turned to move his right foot across the bag, blocking Andrus off completely. It wasn't long ago that I finally got to read Weaver on Strategy, and the Earl of Baltimore wrote about that being the very way you had to play a pickoff attempt. His wisdom lives on.
Beyond that, there was also Sam Fuld's steal of third base in the top of the ninth, trying to exploit Tanner Scheppers' wide-set stance. Scheppers' throw to third flew into left field, and Fuld tallied some insurance that the Rays didn't really need.
The umpires were a bigger part of the story than one might like, though thankfully not as big as they could have been. Home plate arbiter Jeff Kellogg was calling a wide strike zone on the third-base side. By the fourth inning, Texas fans were giving him derisory calls on his balls and strikes, with a notably sarcastic cheer when he called one strike right down the pipe.
More worrisome was Leonys Martin's play on a Craig Gentry fly in the seventh. Replay clearly showed he trapped the ball, but left-field umpire Bruce Dreckman called it a catch for the third out, taking away at least one run from Tampa Bay. Had there been a Texas comeback, this would have been a huge controversy. Instead, we'll just cross our fingers a little harder that we get through October without one of these turning a crucial game before expanded replay comes next year.
Nelson Cruz, his Biogenesis suspension having elapsed with the end of Game 162, was Texas' designated hitter for Game 163, and he received a huge ovation from the home fans his first time up. PED grouches got the last laugh as Cruz went 0-for-4, hitting into the final out of the game and the Rangers' season.
Thus, the regular season ends with a game that felt like the beginning of the playoffs. Or maybe it's the other way around. I'll be glad for tomorrow's Reds-Pirates game, which has absolutely no identity confusion.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Marlins 1, Tigers 0: It's not often a 100-loss team ends the year with a beer shower celebration. But it's not often a guy on a 100-loss team -- or any team for that matter -- throws a no-hitter on the final day while winning via a walkoff wild pitch. Congratulations Henderson Alvarez. Sorry about having to get that hug from Jeff Loria afterward. Oh, also weird: the Tigers shut the Marlins out until the eighth using three starting pitchers: Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello. So no, not your typical Game 162.
Rays 7, Blue Jays 6: The Rays almost woofed away a playoff spot completely. Now, thanks to the stumble at the end, they are still stuck with a Game 163 and potentially two one-and-done games rather than just one. Oh, well, that's what baseball wants, that's what baseball gets.
Rangers 6, Angels 2: Way to finish strong against a team that hasn't been playing bad baseball of late. Texas has seven straight wins. But if the Rangers don't win an eighth and then a ninth in a row, it's all over.
Pirates 4, Reds 2: And they'll meet again on Tuesday, this time up the river in Pittsburgh. A three-game sweep for the Pirates. Now we get to see if momentum means anything. Hint: it doesn't, historically speaking. But if the Pirates win, people will still say it's a thing.
Indians 5, Twins 1: The Indians finish hot. And now they hope that Texas and Tampa Bay go 19 innings and use every single pitcher tonight.
Braves 12, Phillies 5: Big offense for the Braves, and no one fought with anyone, which is nice. Although really, between yelling at the opposition over home run trots and coaches fighting with players, the Braves are giving me a 1970s A's-Yankees vibe. Maybe they'll dysfunction themselves all the way to the World Series title. As for the Phillies: thank god this year is over.
Orioles 7, Red Sox 6: A loss, yes, even though they were up early, but the Sox finish at 97-65, tied for the best record in baseball. This was basically a spring training game for Boston. For the Orioles: a good season. And an abject lesson in the difference between the ball bouncing one way in one year and the other way the next.
Royals 4, White Sox 1: An 86-win year makes it the best since 1989 for the Royals. They finished the month 17-10, making it their best month of the year. Gonna be a trendy pick next season. For the White Sox? Well, the didn't lose 100. I guess that's something.
Mets 3, Brewers 2: The Mets rallied with two in the eight. Eric Young Jr. took the stolen base crown. Otherwise, a pretty forgettable season for both clubs this year. At least the Mets, unlike the Brewers, had some things to grow on in the form of young pitching. Fans of both clubs are probably both happy for winter.
Yankees 5, Astros 1: Fourteen-inning game, 15th straight loss for the Astros. But it may be the Yankees who have the more uncertain future. Nowhere to go but up for Houston. The Yankees could be on the verge of a rebuild, a reload, a rebound year or a total cratering. Gonna be an interesting offseason for Brian Cashman.
Cardinals 4, Cubs 0: The Cards finish with a tie for the best record in baseball, home-field advantage in the NL playoffs and a date with the Wild Card winner rather than a series with the Dodgers. Not a bad way to roll into the playoffs.
Diamondbacks 3, Nationals 2: Farewell, Davey Johnson, who ends his managerial career his career with a record of 1,372-1,071. Farewell, Nationals, most experts' pick to win the NL East this year. For the D-backs, grit wasn't good enough.
Athletics 9, Mariners 0: Bang meets whimper. Six pitchers combine for the shutout, and now the A's look forward to a playoff rematch with the Tigers. Some starters sat, others left the game early; either way it didn't matter. The M's now will look for a new manager. It should totally be Ozzie Guillen, right?
Giants 7, Padres 6: Two runs in the ninth for the come-from-behind win. It was Hunter Pence, the Giants' new $90 million man, who did the honors. Three RBI overall.
Rockies 2, Dodgers 1: Todd Helton's career comes to an end. With a strikeout, alas, but he'll remember the better stuff. Nice ovation from the Dodgers fans for Helton at the end. L.A. now heads to Atlanta. God, I hope Brian McCann doesn't kill Yasiel Puig for not playing the game the right way at some point, but it could very well happen.
And with that, And That Happen bids you adieu for the year. Yes, we have a Game 163 to go, but ATH is a creature of the regular season.
And it's been a good season. But we now shift into a different gear -- the playoff gear -- which is wonderful for its own purposes but which is just ... something else. For me, baseball is about the day-in-day-out of the regular season, and its lack of pitched drama is what makes it a true pastime. I like the playoffs fine, but there's nothing like April-September baseball. And every year at this time, I feel a bit sad about its passing, even if the next month will be exciting and memorable.
Oh, well. Thanks for reading every morning. This feature will see you again next year.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Rangers 6, Angels 5: They were up then down then bang! Jurickson Profar with the walkoff blast. This one would've been way easier, however, if Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre all hadn't committed errors in the second inning, allowing three unearned runs. But it was a must-win game and the Rangers won.
Indians 6, Twins 5: A win, sure, but the way Chris Perez nearly coughed up a 6-1 lead the day after getting a vote of confidence from Terry Francona has to make Cleveland nervous. Apart from mop-up duty or innings eating in games where the Tribe has, like, a 12-run lead, he'll likely be watching the rest of this series from the bullpen bench.
Rays 4, Yankees 0: The Rays finish off a sweep of the Yankees with ease -- they outscored New York 17-3 -- but the real story here was the farewell of Mariano Rivera. It wasn't a save situation, but his final home game was pretty familiar stuff: zeros across the board apart from the innings pitched and pitch count. And the way he was taken out of the game was as touching as can be.
Braves 7, Phillies 1: Jason Heyward was 5-for-5 and David Hale allowed only one run over six innings. See, Brian McCann? That's how you keep the opposition from crossing home plate.
Padres 3, Diamondbacks 2: Alexi Amarista hit an RBI single in the 11th inning, ending the home portion of the Padres season. They were 45-36 at home this year. Not bad for a team that, overall, has won only 75 games. Since I got back late Monday I've been trying to convince my bosses at NBC that I'd perform better in San Diego too, but they're not buying it.
Orioles 3, Blue Jays 2: Miguel Gonzalez pitched seven innings of two-hit ball. Matt Wieters homered. After the game Wieters said "that was vintage Miggy" of Gonzalez's performance. Gonzalez has one and a half years experience.
Brewers 4, Mets 2: Johnny Hellweg beaned David Wright in the head. Wright is OK, but damn, I hope these final meaningless games are worth it for Wright. The beaning wasn't intentional. Afterward Hellweg said "That's the last guy on the team I want to hit." I'd be curious to see his list of priorities.
Giants 3, Dodgers 2: This could've been the final game for Tim Lincecum in a Giants uniform. If so, not too bad: seven innings, eight hits, two runs and a no-decision. Angel Pagan's homer in the eighth broke a 2-2- tie.
Royals 3, White Sox 2: David Lough hit a two-run homer and Jeremy Guthrie pitched well. It was the Royals' 84th win, which is their best total since 1993.
10 years ago today, the worst season any team has had in the last 50 years had its greatest moment of joy. 10 years ago today, the 2003 Tigers made a tremendous comeback to ensure they wouldn’t set a new modern record for losses in a season.
120 losses is the modern barrier no team wants the cross. That’s how many games the 1962 Mets lost: 120 loses versus just 40 wins. That’s the most by any team since 1900. (If you go back earlier the 1899 Cleveland Spiders went 20-134, but they hardly count because their owners bought the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1898-99 off-season and put all the talent there. 120 losses are the most for a real team.)
For most of the season, it looked like the Tigers would break the Mets record. As June neared its end, they had a record of 18-61, on pace. They’d alternate death spirals with brief gurgles of hope. But their last hope to avoid infamy seemed to come to an end in September, when they dropped 16 of 17 decisions, giving them a record of 38-118.
To avoid tying the Mets mark, the Tigers would need to win five of their last six, something they hadn’t done all year. Hell, they hadn’t done that in the last two months of 2002, either.
But the Tigers took it one game at a time. On Sept. 23, they clobbered the Royals, 15-6. The next day Detroit won their last road game of the year, 4-3. Now sporting a 40-118 record, the Tigers just needed to win three of their last four games to avoid tying the Mets.
Now came a four-game series to end the year against the visiting Twins in the home confines of Comerica Park. The first game was a joyful 5-4 win in 11 innings. But the next day turned it around, an 11-inning heartbreaking loss (also by a 5-4 score). The team had no more margin for error.
With a record of 41-119, the Tigers were still in the hunt for a new record of 121 losses.
That set the stage for Sept. 27, 2003: the next to last game of the year. If they won this, the worst the Tigers could do is tie the Mets' mark.
Early on, it looked like a complete disaster for the Tigers, as the Twins scored in the first and then padded their lead in the middle frames. As the game entered the middle of the fifth it was 8-0 Minnesota, and you don’t have to be a baseball genius to figure out that the best team in baseball wasn’t likely to comeback from that big a deficit, let alone the worst team in baseball.
But the Tigers weren’t fully down yet. And they had one advantage. While Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled almost all of his starters to rest them (Minnesota was gearing up for the playoffs, after all), Tiger skipper Alan Trammell left his entire starting lineup in. He may as well – this game meant a lot for Detroit.
In the fifth, Craig Monroe, singled in a run against Twins ace Brad Radke. Well, at least it wouldn’t be a shutout. But it was just 8-1 and that was the score at the seventh inning stretch.
In the bottom of the seventh, though, the Tigers really began to rally. They combined a double, two singles, and a well-time Minnesota fielding error into three runs. Now it was 8-4, and the Tigers were halfway there. Then again, they only had six outs left to work with. WPA gave them just a four percent chance to win.
After the Tigers bullpen shutout the Twins for the third straight inning, the Detroit bats made the game genuinely interesting in the bottom of the eighth.
Shortstop Ramon Santiago led off with a walk. OK, that’s nice. But he was immediately gobbled up on a fielder's choice grounder by center fielder Alex Sanchez. Now they had five outs to play with and were still down by four. But this is when things really began to turn around.
First Sanchez stole second. WPA readjusted Detroit’s winning odds up to five percent. Hey, baby steps people, it’s baby steps. Next, second baseman Warren Morris drew a walk. That makes it an eight percent chance to win. Anything that moves the odds up is appreciated.
Well, Twins reliever Juan Rincon didn’t have it, so time for a new pitcher: hurler J.C. Romero. In 2002, Romero was a bullpen star, posting a 1.89 ERA in 81 innings, but 2003 had proved to be a rough go of it for him. Romero would end the season with an ERA of 5.00, and never was he rougher than in this game.
Facing Tigers star Bobby Higginson, Romero issued a walk to load the bases. Now it’s a 14 percent chance to win. Mind you, that still sucks, but it sounds so much better than four percent. And Romero still couldn’t find the plate. He walked Dmitri Young to drive in a run, making it 8-5. Oh, and that put the tying run on first, with still just one out. Suddenly, the Tigers had a 24 percent chance of winning. Heck, the odds have skyrocketed from sucky to lousy.
Up next was Craig Monroe, the man who drove in their first run back in the fifth. And he worked his magic again, with a sharply hit ball to center. Runners were only able to advance one base, but it’s now 8-6 with the bases still loaded with one out. Don’t look now folks, but the Tigers have a 37 percent chance to win the game.
And up came first baseman Carlos Pena. The future AL home run champ was still just a young player, barely more than a prospect, but he still had plenty of talent. More importantly, his aim was true—he laced a single that brought home Higginson and Young, with Monroe scampering all the way to third.
Guess what? The game was now tied, 8-8. Incredibly, the worst team in decades had fought their way back from this huge hole. And with one out, they now had a 75 percent chance to win the game. Suddenly things looked bleak for the Twins.
Incredibly, Gardenhire left Romero in the game. With a chance to be the big hero, Shane Halter came to the plate hoping to drive home the leading run. Instead, he struck out looking. Apparently, Gardenhire knew what he was doing when he left Romero in. Finally, Brandon Inge grounded out. The Tigers had batted a round and tied the game, but they still didn’t have the lead. They just might lose 121 games on the year yet.
In the top of the ninth, the Twins wasted a leadoff double by young Justin Monreau, and it was 8-8 heading into the bottom of the ninth. At this point, the Twins got rid of Romero and replaced him with a steely veteran presence, ancient pitcher Jesse Orosco. Seemingly around since the 19th century, Orosco was the oldest player in baseball at age 46. Every time he stepped on the field, he broke his own career record for games pitched.
This would be appearance No. 1,252 for Orosco, still more than any other pitcher ever.
Leading off, Santiago flew out against Orosco. One away. But Alex Sanchez drew a walk. This was interesting because the Tigers needed just one more run, and as the team’s best base stealing threat, Sanchez could put himself into scoring position with a swipe. But then again, crafty Orosco was a lefty, and hence it should be harder to run on him. Sure enough, Orosco threw to first as often as he threw to home. He wanted Sanchez close to the bag.
But for Alan Trammell, this was no time to manage scared. He gave Sanchez the green light—and Sanchez delivered, swiping second for his 43rd steal of the year.
At the plate, all eyes were on second baseman Warren Morris. A wash out from the Pirates, he was no one’s idea of a big bat, but if he could just deliver here. He fouled one off to fall behind on the count, 1-2, and then Alan Trammell showed just how fearless he was going to manage this inning—he sent Sanchez to third.
If Sanchez is out and the Tigers lose, Trammell will never hear the end of it. But Sanchez wasn’t out—he was safe at third. Now the Tigers didn’t even need a single, just a nicely hit fly ball would do.
It was up to Morris. He took one for a ball to even it up, 2-2. Then Orosco threw another pitch and Morris swung—and missed for strike three.
But wait! Morris wasn’t the only one who missed. So did Twins catcher Rob Bowen. Orosco’s pitch was wild (Morris was swinging wildly at this one apparently) and the ball went all the way to the backstop.
Well, you don’t have to ask Sanchez to do anything else. He tore lose for the plate and scored easily. The Tigers had done it, come back from the dead to win, 9-8. Rather fittingly, the Tigers won the next game, too, ending with 119 losses, just under the 1962 Mets.
Oh, and as for Orosco, this 1,252nd game would prove to be his last. Thus the man with the all-time record for games pitched in saw his career end on a walk-off wild pitch. That sure was some ending to some game—and it was 10 years ago today.