Sox vs. Sox: Game 1

So, now can we stop talking about “small ball?” Please? Rick Sutcliffe, I’m talking to you!

The White Sox cruised past their more colorful foes yesterday, 14-2. Ten of the ChiSox’s 14 runs scored on home runs: two by A.J. Pierzynski, and one each byPaul Konerko, Juan Uribe and Scott Podsednik. Yeah, Scott Podsednik, who hit zero home runs during the year. I followed the game on TV and on my laptop, logging the Win Probability impact of each play.

How useful is Win Probability? Well, when watching the Cardinals-Padres game, I knew that even when the Padres had the bases loaded with two out in the ninth, trailing 8-5, their Win Probability was only 8%. It was a great moment, a home run would have been huge, but the odds were pretty clear. So I thought I would use it while watching the White Sox attempt to win their first postseason game in 12 years.

Win Probability even made it easy to write this article. Why? Because when Pierzynski hit a home run in the first inning to put the Sox up 5-0, Chicago had an 88% Win Probability. I pretty much knew what I was going to write about. The home run and those ESPN announcers.

If you’ve been reading The Hardball Times regularly, you probably know that the White Sox actually out-homered the Red Sox this year. You also hopefully know that US Cellular Field has the highest home run park factor in the league. So how hard was it to predict that this game would turn on the home run?

To their credit, ESPN broadcasters Chris Berman, Rick Sutcliffe and Mike Piazza acknowledged Chicago’s home run record. But they couldn’t admit the obvious. They had to keep saying that Scott Podsednik was critical to Chicago’s success, and that the key to the White Sox’s offense was small ball.

The game started out with the pitcher’s mound in the sun, home plate in the shade, and I thought the batters would have a tough time picking up pitches in the first inning or two. Maybe they did; neither Podsednik nor Jermaine Dye could get out of the way of Matt Clement’s wild offerings, and both wound up on base after being hit by pitches.

After Podsednik reached, manager Ozzie Guillen had Tadahito Iguchi sacrifice him to second base. This is a waste of an out in my book. Iguchi is a fine hitter, but the sacrifice took the bat out of his hands and gave an out to the Red Sox. In fact, the bunt lowered Chicago’s Win Probability from .580 to .564. Incredibly, Sutcliffe would later state that this was the key play of the game!

The next batter, Paul Konerko, gave an indication of what was to come by hitting a huge fly ball that landed just foul in the left field seats. Podsednik had stolen third and then scored when Konerko hit into a force out. But the steal proved unnecessary as Carl Everett and then Aaron Rowand singled, making the score 2-0. Chicago’s Win Probability was already 72% even though the Sox had wasted an out.

Pierzynski added his first home run next, making the score 5-0 and the probability of a White Sox win 88%. Jose Contreras was on the mound for Chicago and in late-season form (he was the AL Pitcher of the Month in September), so the game was pretty much never in doubt again. Contreras faltered a bit in the fourth inning but the Pale Hose’s Win Probability never fell below 80%. Otherwise, Contreras was in control and the White Sox bats went crazy in the Cell, leading to the 14-2 win.

Here’s a graph of the Win Probability for the White Sox throughout the game. You can see how quickly it became one-sided:

image

It wasn’t until late in the game, when Berman yelled “Pitching, Defense and Three-Run Homers” that I felt eyes were finally opening in the booth at the ballpark. Let’s see what they say about the Sox offense tomorrow.

Pierzynski was, of course, the WPA leader of the game, as you can see from this leaderboard. You’ll notice that the Red Sox leader was “No One,” because two of the biggest plays for the Red Sox’s offense were miscues (an error by Joe Crede, and then a wild pitch by Contreras) which weren’t credited to any specific player on the Boston team.

Team        Player         Off   Pitch   Field     WPA
White Sox   Pierzynski   0.183   0.000   0.000   0.183
            Contreras    0.000   0.107   0.000   0.107
            Rowand       0.087   0.000   0.001   0.088
            Podsednik    0.050   0.000   0.001   0.051
            Uribe        0.048   0.000   0.000   0.048
            Konerko      0.039   0.000   0.006   0.044
            Everett      0.013   0.000   0.000   0.013
            Dye          0.010   0.000  -0.001   0.008
            Politte      0.000   0.001   0.000   0.001
            Cotts        0.000   0.000   0.000   0.000
            Harris       0.000   0.000   0.000   0.000
            Blum         0.000   0.000   0.000   0.000
            Perez        0.000   0.000   0.000   0.000
            Iguchi      -0.021   0.000   0.013  -0.007
            Crede       -0.020   0.000  -0.016  -0.036
White Sox Total          0.390   0.108   0.002   0.500

Red Sox     No one       0.029   0.000   0.000   0.029
            Millar       0.028   0.000   0.000   0.028
            Nixon        0.026   0.000   0.001   0.027
            Bradford     0.000   0.008   0.000   0.008
            Graffanino   0.005   0.000   0.001   0.006
            Renteria     0.006   0.000  -0.001   0.005
            Arroyo       0.000   0.000   0.000   0.000
            Olerud       0.000   0.000   0.000   0.000
            Varitek      0.001   0.000  -0.004  -0.003
            Gonzalez     0.000  -0.008   0.000  -0.008
            Ortiz       -0.028   0.000   0.000  -0.028
            Mueller     -0.053   0.000  -0.001  -0.054
            Ramirez     -0.060   0.000   0.001  -0.059
            Damon       -0.064   0.000   0.001  -0.063
            Clement      0.000  -0.387   0.000  -0.387
Red Sox Total           -0.110  -0.387  -0.003  -0.500

The ESPN announcers gave their Player of the Game award to Jose Contreras, and I have to say that I actually agree with them on that call. This game was a good example of how WPA is useful for tracking a game but not as useful for measuring player contributions.

Pierzynski had the biggest WPA impact by homering early in the game, but that home run was only one of five. If he hadn’t put the Sox up early, someone else would have. Contreras, on the other hand, was dominant on the mound and deserved the ESPN recognition. Let’s hope they recognize a few other things before this series is over.

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