Tuesday, April 03, 2012
When are game seven wins inevitable?Posted by Dave Studeman
Someone interrupted my presentation at the SABR Analytic Conference to tell me that he literally "knew" that the Cardinals were going to win the seventh game of the World Series last year after they broke Texas' heart in Game Six. Someone else (at least, I think it was someone else) commented on my recent critical at-bats article to say that the Mets' win in Game Seven of the 1986 World Series was "inevitable" given that they had burned the Red Sox so badly the day before. I have to admit, I admire their sense of certainty.
On the other hand, I'm a skeptic. It's easy to say that you "know" something when you haven't studied it in detail. You're more likely to pick examples that support your point. You're more likely to interpret everything that happens through your perspective. If you see a Game Six comeback that doesn't lead to a Game Seven win, you're likely to say that the game just didn't have the same impact for some reason. You rationalize it away.
So, I wondered, is there a way to study this issue dispassionately? Can we quantify, in an objective way, how likely a game is to break the heart of the losing team? Why yes, I said to myself, I think there is.
Tense moments in games are measured by Leverage Index. The more high-LI at-bats there are in a game, the more intense it is. Theoretically, these are the games that should break the losing team's heart. So, following is a list of the most intense Game Sixes in World Series history, along with a description of what happened next.
The most intense Game Six ever was last year's. You probably remember the game, and you probably remember how Texas didn't seem to really compete the next day. Score one for the "inevitable" school.
The second-most intense Game Six ever occurred in 1992, the Joe Carter home run game. There was no Game Seven.
The Cubs won an whirlwind 8-7 12-inning game against the Tigers in 1945. The Tigers had scored four in the eighth to tie the game, but couldn't pull off the win. That was the third-most intense Gave Six ever. The next day, with Hal Newhouser on the mound, they won easily. Score one for the "momentum is only as good as tomorrow's pitcher" camp.
Next on our Intense-O-Meter is 1986, Mets over Red Sox. The Red Sox actually had a three-run lead in the sixth inning of the final game, but the Boston bullpen was spent and the Mets took the seventh. I've never quite understood how a team that doesn't have momentum can take a three-run lead (most typical response is "It was the Red Sox. They always toy with us.") but I'll give this one to the Momentum Knowers.
Game Six of the 1975 World Series is virtually tied with the 1986 game, but the Red Sox won this one on Carlton Fisk's famous ability to guide the path of baseballs in the air. Still, the Reds weren't deterred and won the seventh game on a single by Joe Morgan in the ninth. At this point, seems to me the record is 50/50.
Next we've got the 1971 10-inning Game Six squeaker by the Orioles over the Pirates. The Buccos won a 2-1 squeaker in Game Seven. No loss of momentum there.
Then there's the 1991 Kirby Puckett game, extra innings with a Puckett home run finally winning it for the Twins. The next day, Jack Morris spun a 1-0 win over John Smoltz, giving up the winning run in the 10th. I find this one really hard to swallow, given that this game could have gone to either team, but let's say the Momentum Believers saw something here.
A couple more? In 1985, Don Denkinger made a boneheaded call and the Royals pulled a 2-1 win out of the hat with two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Evidently dispirited, the Cardinals lost 11-0 the next day. Definitely an argument for momentum.
We'll finish by citing the 1956 Game Six between the Dodgers and Yankees, a 1-0 win in 10 innings for the boys from Flatbush. The Yankees shrugged it off with a 9-0 win the next day.
So, we've got an even record here. Based on this list, teams that lose dramatic Game Sixes, the types of games that break hearts, are no more or less likely to lose the seventh game. This obviously isn't the last word on the subject, and I'm sure I'll get a hate email or two. But this little survey ought to at least introduce a little bit of doubt for those who believe that Game Seven wins are inevitable after a Game Six heartbreak.
Dave was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Comments about this article can be sent to him through the miracle of e-mail.