WPS recap: ALDS, 10/8/2013

The American League had the stage to itself on a day with the potential to end the ALDS. It also had a tough act to follow, coming a day after a flirtation with history and a pair of late-inning homers that produced home-team wins. It fell shy, but not by that much.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
A's        1   0   0   0   2   0   1   0   2    6
Tigers     0   0   0   0   3   0   2   3   X    8  
(Series tied 2-2)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
A's       23  18  12  10  29   8  30  87  13
Tigers     5  14   6   7  45  11  74  17   X
WPS Base: 407.1  Best Plays: 73.9  Last Play: 3.8  Grand Total: 484.8

A game on the cusp of greatness, which you’ll recall from yesterday begins at 500 points on the WPS scale. The Detroit rally in the eighth probably kept the game from hitting that mark, despite the Oakland reply in the ninth. It helps to get the tying run to the plate, but just before Joaquin Benoit struck out Seth Smith to end the game, the A’s had a mere 3.8 percent chance to win. The Detroit eighth took a lot of air out of a game that was humming before that point.

I observed yesterday, and commenters noted with displeasure, how early shutdown performances by the St. Louis and Pittsburgh pitchers suppressed WPS scores. We have an opposite case in the top of the eighth in this game. Oakland piled up 87 WPS points, a huge number, in a scoreless inning. Granted, it was bases loaded, no outs before Max Scherzer came back to get the next three A’s without losing his slim lead. It still shows that there’s a big difference, at least to WPS, between no runs and no action. See the following game for a parallel demonstration.

The controversy that the previous day’s Red Sox-Rays game avoided by luck of irrelevance hit this one harder. Opening the bottom of the seventh, Victor Martinez hit a long shot to right that Josh Reddick leaped for at the wall and had a chance to catch. Two fans reaching past the fencing above the wall interfered with the ball, though they couldn’t catch it. The right field umpire signaled a home run. The crew went to video replay but did not find convincing evidence to overturn the ruling on the field.

There was no escaping the similarity to the Jeffrey Maier game in 1996, when a young Yankees fan interfered with a fly ball about to drop into Tony Tarasco‘s glove to give Derek Jeter a game-tying home run. It was to avoid such controversies that replay has been making its slow inroads into baseball. Yet here, with replay, the result was the same, the play left to stand.

Perhaps it should have been so: Reddick wasn’t sure to make the catch, and had he missed, it would have landed above the yellow line for a home run. Still, it gave Detroit two runs, the one on Martinez’s homer, and a second that inning driven in with two outs that wouldn’t have happened had fan interference been ruled. Those two runs were the difference in the game.

Jhonny Peralta‘s stationing in left field has been an experiment and a risk by manager Jim Leyland, mildly reminiscent of fellow Tiger Mickey Stanley being moved from center field to shortstop during the 1968 World Series. Peralta had his fielding contretemps yesterday and today, the latter coming at the start when Yoenis Cespedes‘ leadoff hit got past him for a triple that helped produce the first run. But it was Peralta’s three-run blast in the fifth, after four no-hit innings by starter Dan Straily, that erased a 3-0 Oakland lead. So far, Leyland is probably satisfied on balance.

TV commentators made note of Torii Hunter‘s superb past performance against Straily: seven for 10, with a 1.700 slugging percentage. This small sample size withered, at least for the length of a smaller sample. Hunter went zero for three against Straily with two strikeouts.

The spectators rounded into playoff form nicely today, though with the high excitement and the happy ending the game provided, it would have been worse than a disappointment had they not. It took until the eighth inning for the fans to muster up some “MVP!” chants for Miguel Cabrera. Perhaps the concept is old hat to them.

Cabrera remains limited by his nagging injuries. He was slow chasing a foul pop and couldn’t reach it, though that proved harmless. A long fly he hit in the first had only warning-track power, a ball that might have gone out were he 100 percent. He’s hurting, and that is hurting his performance, but it’s tough to argue that he’s really harmed his team yet.

The series goes back to Oakland for its conclusion on Thursday. It will be the only game played that day.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Red Sox    0   0   0   0   0   0   2   0   1    3
Rays       0   0   0   0   0   1   0   0   0    1
(Boston wins series 3-1)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Red Sox    4  42  14  17  18   7  67   8  13
Rays       4   5  19  15   6  25  10  26   7
WPS Base: 305.5  Best Plays: 57.3  Last Play: 1.1  Grand Total: 363.9

Another good game, the fourth in a row according to WPS’s lights. It was scoreless through five, which often depresses numbers, but there was enough action to keep things simmering. The top of the seventh benefited from interspersed outs early, then the two-out scores, to post a big number.

For further illustration of how scoreless innings can differ, look at the first two of this game. Three half-innings went in order for tiny scores. The Red Sox second, though, mirrored the Oakland eighth in Detroit. Boston loaded the bases with nobody out, but Tampa Bay smothered the rally with nobody scoring. (The Rays had a double play as part of it, which the A’s didn’t, but that does not affect the score in this case.) The disparity of scores—42 for Boston, 87 for Oakland—comes from the later inning in the Detroit game: a close, late game raises the multiplier on Win Percentage Added.

After his deft maneuvers in Game Three, Rays manager Joe Maddon threw up a clunker at a bad time. Pulling Jeremy Hellickson after packing the sacks in the second was defensible, but he really had to be thinking about getting long stints from subsequent relievers, especially regular starter Matt Moore. Instead, Moore lasted only six outs, nobody else before or after him exceeded that, and Maddon ended up spending his final three relievers in the ninth inning. David Price was warming in the bullpen as the Rays batted in the ninth, his potential Game Five start about to be sacrificed if his team managed to tie.

This was mystifying over-managing. I don’t blame him for pinch-hitting for Game Three hero Jose Lobaton in the eighth. He didn’t let one plate appearance sway his judgment, and that’s the kind of informed move you expect from him and his team. But his revolving door on the mound was begging for catastrophe. Someone needs to send him a disk of Game Six in 1975, so he can watch how Sparky Anderson reached the bottom of his bullpen and helped make Carlton Fisk immortal. Sadly, Maddon will now have extra time to view it.

Boston had showed basepath aggression throughout the series, even if it never made a big impression in these recaps. (When David Ortiz gets into the act, you know it’s serious.) They did it again in Game Four, and it paid nicely. The tying run came across in the seventh on a bunt-and-run that turned instead into a wild pitch, one that got Jacoby Ellsbury from first to third. That put him in position to plate the go-ahead run on Shane Victorino‘s infield single.

(That was one of the few times on the day that Victorino wasn’t wearing Tampa Bay pitches. He got hit twice, making four overall for the four-game series. If he pulls off a mask in the ALCS and reveals himself to be Shin-Soo Choo, the only part that will surprise me will be how he was batting righty all that time.)

In Joel Peralta, the Rays may have found an answer to Clay Buchholz. He pitched an inning and a third, but a couple of geological epochs seemed to pass in that span. I’m just glad Maddon didn’t pick him to go four or five; it would have served me right.

The fans in Tampa made a lot of noise for their team. This counts, however, for the Boston fans as well as the Rays’ backers, as they put up some notable cheers in the ninth for the insurance run. Tropicana Field was the only place this round where I heard significant cheers for the visiting team, and Boston is something like a thousand miles away from the Bay. It reminds me a bit of Camden Yards in Baltimore’s nadir of the 2000s, when Yankees fans sounded like they equaled Orioles rooters in the stands.

So Boston advances, concluding two of the four Division Series. One game tomorrow, one game Thursday, and the LCS round will be set.

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  1. Morgan Conrad said...

    If you read the MLB rules, section 3.16, the “Example” section, which addresses this situation almost exactly, it is irrelevant whether Reddick would have caught the ball.

    “Example: Runner on third base, one out and a batter hits a fly ball deep to the outfield (fair
    or foul). Spectator clearly interferes with the outfielder **attempting** to catch the fly ball. Umpire calls the batter out for spectator interference. Ball is dead at the time of the call”  (umpire may then use judgement about the runner on 3rd, but NOT about the out)

    The spectators plainly interfered with Reddick’s attempt to catch the ball.  It’s irrelevant if he would have caught it.  Abby Sciuto from NCIS can run some video forensics to decide what might have happened, but it doesn’t matter.  Horrible ruling.

  2. Bab said...

    Gotta agree with Morgan. The ump’s job in that situation is not to decide whether the ball is playable. A Gold Glove defender was making a play on a ball within inches of his glove. The logic of the ruling was retrograde at best.

  3. Abby Sciuto said...

    Morgan, you’re lame ass joke about me wasn’t funny the first twelve times you tried it.  Stop it.  And quit bitching about the home run call.  It makes you look pedantic and petty.  The ball had home run distance and it would have landed beyond the outstretched glove of Reddick (and I know, because I ran the data).

    Go beat Verlander and that hapless hitting squad from Detroit in game 5, if you want to move on.

  4. Morgan Conrad said...

    Dear Abby,

    I thought it was a compliment that only you could have run the forensics.  In any case, I have moved on to jokes about the umpires needing PhDs in physics and supercomputers.

    However, since you did not dispute the facts of my argument, that the fan did interfere and that Reddick was attempting a catch, I will declare victory, stop griping, and move on.

  5. Joe Geshel said...

    I watched the replays from every angle shown.  Reddick could not have caught the ball.  Period.  It was out of his reach.  It went over his outreached glove.  As it did so, it was well beyond the yellow railing.  Two feet perhaps.  In addition, the fans missed the ball.  It hit the green barrier first then it was touched.  It was a home run first and then “interfered” with second.  The right call was made.  The right call was confirmed.

  6. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    After looking at the rulebook myself, I have to conclude that the call was correct, though there is some ambiguity.  From the Rule 3.16 Comment:

    “No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope, or into a stand to catch a ball.  He does so at his own risk.  However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.”

    At the point where Reddick attempted the catch, there is a padded wall with a yellow home-run line at its top, then a few feet beyond it is a metal fence in front of the actual stands.  Reddick reached over the wall; the fan reached over the fence; both had their hands in the unoccupied space between.  Reddick reached over the wall, so by the letter of the comment there should be no interference:  it’s akin to the Bartman play in 2003.  But the fan did reach onto the playing field side of the fence, though it wasn’t actually over the field.  One could argue by later letter of the comment that he was thus liable to be called for interference—if he plainly prevented Reddick from catching the ball.

    The two sections of the comment are in conflict with each other, though the former part probably has the stronger case.  Also, the fan plainly prevented the attempt at a catch, but I couldn’t say for sure whether Reddick was going to bring it in.  This may matter or may not, depending how you interpret the semantics of the comment.  The example given, as Morgan noted, does point to the attempt itself being sufficient.  The “Approved Ruling” that is part of 3.16 says that if interference “clearly prevents a fielder from catching,” it shall be called.

    There’s more room for debate here than there ought to be, mainly because there are two barriers between the field and the fans:  the added separation ironically confounds the rulebook.  I think the umpires reached the sensible conclusion that, once the ball is out of the field of play, it’s fair game.

  7. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    And now that I see the play again on replay in today’s game, it’s looking rather different from what I remembered.  The ball was likely not past the padded wall when the interference came.  The analysis kinda loses its importance when the premises under which it is taken prove faulty.

    All I can say is, I am staying up way too late watching these games.

  8. Morgan Conrad said...


    Thanks for looking with (hopefully) less biased eyes than me and Joe.  From what I’ve read on followups on other sites (e.g. http://www.closecallsports.com/2013/10/alds-game-4-oak-det-fan-interference.html) it seems that the unbiased feeling is that spectator interference DID occur – they touched the ball on the “field” side of the imaginary line.

    Then the question is whether Reddick could have caught the ball, and as I have been arguing, whether it matters by the rules.  I suspect that somebody will do some video tape analysis (not my imaginary Abby Sciuto) of the play, and if you hear of any, please put up a post on Hardball Times.

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