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Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The World Series is over, a lot sooner than most fans were hoping. We're now stuck in that twilight zone where we can either look forward to the 2013 season, or backward to the season that was. I don't have my glasses with me right now, so five months ahead is just a blur. I'm looking backward, thank you.
Firstly, a couple pieces of unfinished business from WPS Recap. Prime among those is to congratulate the San Francisco Giants on their victory. May that flag fly forever.
Next, Game Four was exciting enough to rescue the World Series from being the least interesting Series of all time, as measured by the WPS Index. I failed to mention where it did end up: fifth least-exciting all-time, better than the 2007 Red Sox sweep, but not quite as thrilling as the 1928 Yankees sweep. I could nudge 2012 ahead on the basis of Pablo Sandoval's three-homer game to begin the Series ... except that Babe Ruth had a three-homer game to end the 1928 Series. Fifth place it is.
Now for the post-mortem that the title promised. The crucial game of the Series, if a sweep can be said to have one, was Game Two. Scoreless through the seventh-inning stretch, it was there for either team to take. Had Detroit done so, the complexion and psychology of the series changes markedly, and who knows what happens. That means it's time for, yep, second-guessing!
(Technically, I did touch on one of these matters in the original WPS Recap. I nearly made a between-game post of the second one, but I thought I had been writing quite enough THT Live articles. There, now you can second-guess me on something: that's The Circle of Life.)
The first turning point came as the Tigers rallied in the top of the second. With a hit-by-pitch Prince Fielder on first, Delmon Young doubled into the left field corner. When the ball ricocheted away from Gregor Blanco, third base coach Gene Lamont waved Fielder home. Blanco's long throw sailed over Brandon Crawford, but Marco Scutaro had trailed the play. He reined it in and threw on to Buster Posey, whose quick sweep tag got Fielder a foot short of the plate.
I reported on Thursday night that the break-even mark for sending Fielder in that situation is 87.2 percent (given the 2012 Run Expectancy numbers). Here's another figure to give you some perspective: The break-even mark this season for stealing third base with two outs was 87.8 percent. One of the archetypal bonehead plays in baseball; something players are coached to avoid and lambasted for forgetting; one of those old saws from the proverbial book that is actually dead-on correct. That play is just a tiny bit worse than sending the runner home on a no-out double.
Now, it is possible to be too hard on Gene Lamont for this snap decision. The factor that made sending Prince Fielder so obviously dubious—that it's Prince Fielder, lugging Prince Fielder's weight around the bases—would have worked against him had he halted at third. He would have had a similarly diminished chance of reaching home on a two-hop grounder or a medium fly ball. We could conceivably be lamenting how Lamont clogged up a rally by holding Prince at third, and how three straight teammates failed to bring him home. (Delmon Young got stranded on second, after all.)
It was still a mistake, but it was a mistake of aggressively going for an early run. Given how Detroit's bats were limp noodles for most of the series, it's easier to forgive, or at least understand, in retrospect. Of course, most of that power outage was in the future when Lamont windmilled Fielder home. It was a bit early to be acting desperate. On the whole, it was a blunder, but not something so stupid that it should haunt Gene Lamont forever. (Given the sweep, it probably won't. Had this happened in a Game Seven, though ...)
The second pivot point came in the bottom of the seventh inning, the game still scoreless. San Francisco loaded the bases on a single, a walk and a sacrifice bunt that turned into a hit when it rolled to an unmolested halt a few inches inside the third-base line. Bases loaded, no outs, tie game: That's a jam.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland had two options: He could play the infield in, hoping to cut off the run while risking a greater chance at a big rally, or set the infielders at double-play depth, trading one run for two outs. He did the latter, and got what he was playing for, a 4-6-3 twin killing that still made it 1-0 Giants. He strongly defended his tactical choice after the game. "We were absolutely thrilled to come out of that inning with one run," he told reporters.
One post-game analysis, by Ben Lindbergh at Baseball Prospectus, supported Leyland's call. He used Run Expectancy to compare the presumed optimum results of the defensive orientations: two out, man on third, one run scored for double-play depth; one out, bases loaded, no runs scored for playing in. The double play dropped the Giants' RE from 2.260 to 1.363, while a force at home would have lowered it from 2.260 only to 1.537. Lindbergh thus advised everyone to put away their pitchforks.
I'm going to keep something pointy at hand, myself.
Run Expectancy is an excellent tool for measuring general situations, especially those early in a ballgame. When the game is late and close, however, its general applicability gets overwhelmed by the specific situation. When that happens, analysis is served better by looking at the more complex but more precise Win Expectancy numbers.
Fortunately, there's an app for that, and it's right here at The Hardball Times. I fed the situations into Dave Studeman's Win Probability Inquirer. I assumed a run environment of 4.0 runs per team per game—the average in the majors this year was 4.32, and AT&T Park is a pitcher's park. These were the results.
Base/Out/Score Situation SF's Win Probability Bases loaded, no outs, 0-0 0.830 Man on third, two outs, 1-0 0.796 Bases loaded, one out, 0-0 0.738
Both optimum results improved Detroit's chances, but the comparison is clear. Getting the force at home gives Detroit a 9.2 percent boost; the run-scoring DP was just 3.4 percent. (I also checked the plays with a 3.5 run environment, and the spread was even wider.) It's difficult to balance the probabilities of getting these optimum results with the risks that both defenses, especially the infield in, offer. If you are hoping for the best, though, the infield in gives you a much superior best to hope for.
There's one other factor in play. Leyland was content to play a run down to San Francisco, a team whose bullpen was one of its greatest strengths. Maybe his team's two-run homer while down seven in the ninth the previous night affected his estimation of the Giants' pen, but one can argue he should have been working to avoid having any deficit to make up against those relievers. As it unfolded, Detroit did not score against the bullpen Giants, in that game or for the rest of the World Series.
That is how Game Two got away from the Detroit Tigers: a little too aggressive in the second, a little too conservative in the seventh. It's tough and kind of unfair to argue perfect causality in a contingent game like baseball, but a run here, a run there, and pretty soon that's the ballgame. And just maybe the whole season.
20,000 days ago, one of the more stunning and depressing accidents in baseball history occurred. It was Jan. 28, 1958, when Dodgers great Roy Campanella became paralyzed in a car accident.
Campanella, like most players back in pre-free agency days, had an offseason job to augment his income. He operated a liquor store in Harlem. On Jan. 28, he closed the store for the night and began driving home. Alas, he hit a patch of ice on the road on curve on the road. Campanella lost control of the car, which hit a telephone pole before overturning.
The accident broke his neck and compressed his spinal cord. He was paralyzed from the neck down. He regained partial use of his arms and hands through physical therapy, but would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Clearly, his playing career was over. This brings up a “what-might-have-been” question about Campanella. He is regarded as one of the best catchers of all time, up there with Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Ivan Rodriguez, and others. Campy is one of the few players with three MVP awards, and joined eight All-Star teams in just 10 years. So its natural to wonder what might have been had the roads been less icy 20,000 days ago.
Well, while his career counting stats would’ve been higher, it doesn’t look like his overall legacy as a player would’ve been much greater than it already was.
The accident came two months after his 36th birthday. That’s getting up there in years for a ballplayer, especially for a catcher, whose miles pile up a lot more quickly. More tellingly, Campanella had clearly passed his prime as a player.
In 1955, Campanella enjoyed his last great season, belting 32 homers while batting .318, winning his third MVP Award while helping lead the Dodgers to their first-ever world title.
The next season marked the beginning of the end for Campanella. His homers dropped to 20—and that was the good news. His doubles collapsed from 20 to six, and his batting fell nearly 100 points, all the way down to .219. From May 24 to July 25, the perennial All-Star batted a feeble .167 with one double and six home runs. He still made the All-Star team that year, but that was solely on reputation.
In 1957, Campanella’s batting average went up to .242, but his power continued to disintegrate; he hit just 13 homers. Though he’d never been a walk machine in his prime, he drew just 34 bases on balls in 380 plate appearances. Campanella wasn’t just 35 years old in 1957, he was an old 35.
Without the accident, Campanella probably would have hung around a few more years, but with diminished skills and playing time. Ultimately his case for the best catcher ever wouldn’t have been much different than it already was.
We’ll never know how Campanella would have aged under normal circumstances because a car accident ended a normal aging curve for him—and that car accident was 20,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.
Click for more...
Monday, October 29, 2012
The 2012 World Series avoids the fate of being judged by WPS as the least exciting World Series ever. As for avoiding the sweep, well, we can't have everything.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 F Giants 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 4 Tigers 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 (Giants win World Series, 4-0) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Giants 5 29 17 13 7 44 21 24 14 59 Tigers 7 14 31 5 11 32 9 24 20 20 WPS Base: 402.7 Best Plays: 87.5 Last Play: 4.7 Grand Total: 494.9
After a drought of excitement that turned the tail end of this postseason into a debatable and desert land, we finally got a really good game at the last possible moment. Not quite a great game—my cutoff there is at 500—but well worth watching.
The WPS line score shows how this contest built up its numbers. Few 1-2-3 innings to depress scores, meaning a lot of innings that had at least one baserunner and, thus, some scoring threat. The top of the ninth saw the Giants go down in order, but it was late and close enough that this still produced excitement, moreso than a couple earlier innings with someone getting aboard. Despite some interesting rallies late, notably in the seventh through ninth, it was still the scoring innings that produced all the highest WPS numbers.
I won't get much into covering the highlights here—you likely know them by now—but I do still have observations on this final game of the season. One is how Bruce Bochy declined to bring closer Sergio Romo into the game in the ninth inning, needing to keep the Tigers off the board to extend the game. Sabermetricians consider this the fallacy of the save situation: in waiting for the closer's standard situation and sending out inferior pitchers in the last half of the ninth (or later), you make it all the less likely that you'll get to that save situation.
It worked perfectly for Bochy, though. Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla handled the ninth, and when Marco Scutaro drove Ryan Theriot home in the visitors' 10th, Romo came in to administer death by slider (and sinker to one lefty). The doctrinaire sabermetricians can perhaps comfort themselves that it was Miguel Cabrera caught looking by the final strike. Mike Trout gets a modicum of preemptive revenge.
Bochy also splashed some cold water on the suggestion I made in yesterday's recap, stating categorically after Game Three that Tim Lincecum will be back in the starting rotation for 2013. I guess my suggestion didn't pass his horse-laugh test.
My Tim-ism of the night came as the top of the ninth led off. I cannot swear to the exact quotation, but Tim McCarver said something along the lines of "If [Hunter] Pence can get on base, it would go a long way toward helping the Giants score in this inning." Correct. Tautologies for $400, Alex. This wasn't as egregious as saying the chance of scoring goes up "dramatically," but it's in the same spirit.
I could almost have forgiven McCarver if he had been a little better with a good line earlier. As a replay of one of the myriad broken bats of this series played, McCarver observed, "Kindling for the winter." That line was a clean single, but "Kindling for the hot stove" would have cleared the fence.
One casualty of the San Francisco sweep is that we won't get to see how far Joe Buck was going to carry his torch for The Who, after getting their music into broadcast intros and between-inning outros. I was actually looking forward to the inevitable dugout interview with Pete Townshend in Game Six.
And I am glad to report that our favorite Marlins jersey-wearing fan was at the game! Laurence Leavy sure does get around, and the World Series was that much more interesting because of him. He even broke out his white panda hood in the eighth inning when Pablo Sandoval came up, but the charm did no good, as Panda grounded into a pickle-licious double play. I have to wonder, though, who he apparently was texting during the game. The one time this series served up a hot dish, and his attention was split.
And that is it for WPS Recap this year. Whether I do this again next season depends on how fast the trauma of actually replicating a sliver of the life of a sports reporter fades. One last time, I would like to acknowledge FanGraphs for its steady flow of real-time game data that made these reports possible.
There may be one sequel to these recaps: I might be doing a slightly deeper analysis of two of Detroit's tactical moves in Game Two that could have cost them greatly. (I nearly wrote this up on Saturday, but I figured two THT Live articles in 24 hours would be trying our readers' patience.) The Series is over, after all: the time is perfect now for all those "what ifs."
Ten years ago today, three teams hired new managers. None of the men had ever managed in the big leagues before, but they’ve all hung around. None has had that much success, but they all managed to find work, even after their first team let them go. Combined, they’ve managed 3,840 games in the last decade, nearly eight percent of all the games in the major leagues.
Thus, while there are no big-name skippers that entered the managerial ranks, it turns out Oct. 29, 2012 is the 10th anniversary of a great day in the history of journeymen managers.
The man hired by the most high-profile team was Ken Macha, as the A’s named him as their new manager. At that time, the A’s were one of the glory franchises in baseball. They were coming off their big Moneyball season during which they won 103 games. Prior to that, they’d won 102 games in 2001. Art Howe managed them in those years, but he didn’t get too much credit. GM Billy Beane got all the accolades and Howe was let go when his contract ran out at the end of the season.
Macha was supposed to have better communications skills than Howe and was much more closely aligned with how Beane approached baseball. That was the word on Oct. 29, 2002.
Macha did have success, too. In his first year, he led the A’s to the AL West crown. Alas, for the fourth consecutive year, Oakland lost the ALDS in five games. In 2004, the A’s just missed the playoff while winning 91 games. They stalled again the next year with 88 wins. In 2006, Oakland finally broke through under Macha. They not only won the division with a 93-69 season, but for the only time in the 21st century they won the ALDS. Then the Tigers promptly swept them in the ALCS.
And that was in for Macha. Strange, isn’t it? Two consecutive managers left Oakland immediately after a playoff season. The A’s wouldn’t have another winning season until 2012.
Macha spent two years not filling out a big league lineup card, but when the call came for him to manage, it was from another seemingly ideal situation. A young Brewers team that had just made the playoffs in 2008 wanted Macha to take charge of its players in 2009. So he took that job&mdas;and Milwaukee promptly fell to 80-82. After a second straight disappointing season, Macha was shown the door. He hasn’t managed in the majors since then. He is the only of the Oct. 29, 2002 trio who didn’t manage in 2012.
The reason Macha could get that Brewers job for 2009 is because in late 2008 Milwaukee fired another man first hired on Oct. 29, 2002: Ned Yost
When Milwaukee named Yost its new skipper on Oct. 29, 2002, it really didn’t seem like a dream gig. Instead of coming off a 103-win season like Macha and the A’s, the Brewers had just concluded a woeful 106-loss season. Yeah, that’s the sort of team you’d expect to be looking for a new manager.
Under Yost, the team gradually improved. They were undergoing a youth movement, and Yost was perfectly willing to give the kids playing top and trust them. They improved, and by 2005 were a respectful .500 team: 81-81.
Things became a bit more frustrating as Yost wore on. It isn’t just the win-loss record, where the Brewers fell backward in 2006 before recovering in 2007 to finish barely over .500 (83-79). Yost’s limitations came to the fore. He had trouble managing his bullpen and seemed to wear out. The Brewers often played worse later in the year as Yost had trouble handling the day-to-day affairs of the club. Making things worse, in 2007 the division was there for the taking, but Milwaukee couldn’t quite grab it.
It looked like a breakthrough year in 2008 with Milwaukee primed for the Wild Card. However, late in the year the team stumbled, and Yost in particular bumbled. In one memorable September week, he was ejected from several games. Instead of firing up the players, they fumbled, making a handful of errors in one game. With the club about to blow the Wild Card, the Brewers fired him with two weeks to go. They claimed the final playoff spot anyway, but that’s why the job was there for Macha in 2009.
Yost missed a year, but then the Royals hired him in May, 2010. Once again, a team with a long series of losing seasons tabbed Yost. To date, things haven’t gone all that great. They have good hitters and a good bullpen but no starting pitching.
Joining Macha and Yost as a new manager debuting on Oct. 29, 2002, was new Indians hire Eric Wedge. He was by far the youngest of the bunch, just 35 years of age when Cleveland introduced him to the media.
As teams went, the 2002-03 Indians were between the A’s and Brewers. Like Milwaukee, Cleveland had a rotten 2002 season, but unlike the Brewers, there was no sustained losing streak for them. In fact, the Cleveland glory run of the 1990s had just ended; 2002 had been their first losing season since 1993. So the young manager Wedge would be overseeing a rebuilding effort.
It quickly looked like the new model Indians were working out under Wedge. In 2005, they were one of baseball’s surprise teams, just missing a playoff slot after a bad last week of the season. Though they fell back in 2006, they went 96-66 in 2007. The Tribe beat the mighty New York Yankees in the ALDS and went up three games to one on the Red Sox in the ALCS.
Then things fell apart. Boston rallied to win the ALCS, but that’s okay because Cleveland was still a great, young, up-and-coming team with many years of success in front of it, right?
Eh, wrong. To date, 2007 is still the Indians' last winning season. They went 81-81 in 2008 and then flopped to 97 losses in 2009. That cost Wedge his job.
Still, many thought Cleveland’s front office was to blame, and despite the team’s underachieving, Wedge still was thought well enough of to get hired again. The Mariners picked him for their 2011 season. To date, the results have been disappointing, with back-to-back losing seasons.
Macha, Yost, and Wedge: none is among the first rank of managers, but it’s an impressive trio of men to join the dugout ranks on the same day. And that day was 10 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim through things.
Click for more...
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Well, things look down for Detroit, don’t they? The Tigers are the 24th team to lose the first three games of the World Series, and down three games to none is a rough spot to be in a best-of-seven series. To figure out what might happen, let’s look at the past to see what happened to the previous 23 teams.
Down three games to none
Twenty of them got swept, and the other three lost in five games. Yeah, that’s kinda bad. A 3-20 record in Game Four is rather impressively bleak. The three teams to pull off the win, if you’re curious, were the 1910 Cubs, 1937 Giants, and 1970 Reds, who all, of course, lost anyway.
Well, then again, the World Series isn’t the only type of best-of-seven. There is also the 1985-onward LCS. In those games, nine times a team has dropped the first three games of the LCS. Six of them, alas, were swept. However, the three teams that all won Game Four, also all won Game Five. That’s kinda neat. But two lost Game Six: the 1998 Braves and 1999 Mets.
Famously, the 2004 Red Sox are the only team to storm back from a three-games-to-none deficit to take the series, but I doubt you needed to read this to find out.
Summing it all up, the 32 previous teams that lost the first three decisions in a best-of-seven:
- Went 6-26 in Game Four.
- The surviving six went 3-3 in Game Five.
- The remaining teams went 1-2 in Game Six.
- And the sole remaining squad 1-0 in Game Seven.
For the Tigers, it’s all about taking it one game at a time. If they win Game Four, they'll have Justin Verlander on the hill in Game Five, and then … well, it’s best to take it one game at a time, right?
Three straight without a lead
Actually, there’s another way of looking at this. The Tigers haven’s just lost all three games, they’ve never even led in any of them. Yeah, that makes it worse.
Of those 32 teams that went down zero games to three, how many never led in any contest?
Just six. And one of those, by the way, just happened: the Yankees versus the Tigers in the 2012 ALCS. Obviously, the Yankees not only got swept, they never led in Game Four, either.
In fact, no team that has lost the first three games without even leading have gone on to win Game Four. Five of them never led in Game Four, either. Aside from this year’s Yankees, there are the 1963 Yankees, 1966 Dodgers, 1989 Giants, and 2004 Cardinals, all of whom lost in the World Series.
The “success” story is the 1976 Yankees. After losing the first three games of the World Series to the Reds while always trailing, the Yankees took an early 1-0 lead in Game Four—and then coughed it up in the fourth inning, losing 7-2. That’s the success story.
So, in news that shouldn’t be shocking to anyone, the precedents sure paint a bleak picture for Detroit.
Detroit and there straight games without a lead
One final note. This is just the third time all year the Tigers have lost three straight games without ever leading. It happened to them on April 24-26 against the Mariners and Sept. 7-9 versus Anaheim. Detroit has not played four straight games without ever leading. However, on both April 27 and Sept. 10, the Tigers lost their next game, which is the important part.