Friday, October 28, 2011

World Series 2011, Game 6: Three Good, Three Bad

by Jason Wojciechowski

A few quick notes before I get to the actual game. First, a bad: I missed everything that happened from 9:00 pm to 9:20 pm Pacific. What that covers is Elvis Andrus's tenth inning single through the beginning of Lance Berkman's at-bat in the bottom of the tenth. What the play-by-play indicates is that I did not see Josh Hamilton with a big homer to put Texas in a position, again, to take the trophy, nor did I see Darren Oliver allow singles to Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay, of all people, leading off the bottom of the tenth, nor did I see Kyle Lohse laying down a pinch-sacrifice, nor did I see Ryan Theriot hit an RBI groundout, nor did I see Albert Pujols being intentionally walked. If any of those plays involved some sort of major good or bad that is omitted below, now you know why. (Hamilton's homer seems like a very likely Good that I cannot in good faith write about. Sorry, Josh.)


Second, another bad: I have no idea when I'm going to get to watch Game Seven. I'm committed to a housewarming party tomorrow night, and then I have to be in bed early so I can run a 5K (a benefit for Homeboy Enterprises) on Saturday morning. I will do a Three Good, Three Bad about the game, but it'll be quite late, and I'm not sure whether I'll read the score or try to keep myself pure for the delayed watching on Saturday afternoon.

Third, a good: GAME SEVEN!


First. David Freese hits a walk-off homer to keep his team's season alive. The ball looked good off the bat, the outfielders read it as a homer, and the dogpile commenced. For some reason, Freese's teammates felt it would be appropriate to tear his jersey completely from his body in the course of celebrating. I'm not sure what that was about, but hey, you get your kicks where you can. Then again, maybe it was justified because ...

Second. ... Freese was the hero in the bottom of the ninth as well, hitting a triple just beyond the reach of Nelson Cruz in right, driving in two to tie the game. This game will be in bold typeface in the history books. Not only did Freese tie things up in the ninth and win the game in the eleventh, but the Cardinals were down to their last strike when Freese hit his triple. The Rangers were one pitch from rings and Freese turned it all around. Remarkable.

Third. Allen Craig hit a majestic homer to left in the bottom of the eighth, cutting a three-run lead to two (setting up, in some sense, Freese's heroics). The main reason this is worth mentioning is because Craig wasn't even supposed to be in the game. He was only batting because ...


First. ... Matt Holliday injured his finger diving back to third base on his TOOTBLAN in the bottom of the sixth. It's one thing to get picked off. It's another thing to get picked off of third base. It's yet another thing to get picked off of third base by the catcher. It's yet another thing entirely to get picked off of third base by Mike Napoli. It's the ultimate other thing to get picked off of third base by Mike Napoli with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the sixth inning of a tied elimination World Series game in which Alexi Ogando has just walked in a run.

What's worse is that the reason Holliday was both out and hurt is because Adrian Beltre stuck his leg right into the base path to block Holliday's easiest path back. I don't know what the rules, the written ones, say about this. I don't particularly care what they say. I know that umpires, whether on their own or pursuant to writing, do not consider this to be interference. I, to use a word I shouldn't on a family blog, think this is bologna. Beltre did not, to my eyes, put his foot in the baseline because that's where the ball was arriving. He put his foot there in order to impede Holliday. I simply do not understand why, on plays at the plate, on plays at other bases, on beanball wars, on takeout slides, the players insist on creating a contact sport out of thin air, and why the Powers That Be are fine with this. (Easy answer: the fans like it. Well, pardoning my French again, the fans can eat it. Us civilized people want to watch baseball. Those of you who like your sports with a side of irreversible brain damage can go back to the NFL and leave baseball to me.)

(This doesn't really deserve its own Bad, so I'll just tack it on as a note here: Matt Holliday's takeout slide in the bottom of the fourth that upended Elvis Andrus should be outlawed. He not only went in high and late and did not, I think, actually touch second base, but he pushed his arm up into Andrus's body as he completed the play, toppling the Ranger shortstop in a way that seemed highly unnecessary. Call Holliday's finger injury karma, then.)

Second. Errors and misplays and out and out sloppiness. I don't know which to pick as the worst. David Freese flat-out dropping a popup in the top of the fifth was awful because major leaguers simply do not drop popups that they call and camp under (i.e. exclude miscommunication plays like the Holliday/Furcal ugliness in the top of the fourth). On the other hand, Fernando Salas's terrible throw into center field on Colby Lewis's bunt, also in the top of the fourth, was not just a physical error but a mental one as well. On the replay, it was clear that the play was going to be far too close at second to risk the throw that Salas made, and him airmailing the ball into center shows exactly what the risk is.

If Major League Baseball had any interest at all in seeing fumbling, bumbling defense in the World Series, they would not have conspired to cause the A's to lose in the fifth game of the Division Series three years running in the early 00's.

Third. Pitchers hitting. There's a ton of blame to go around for what transpired in Colby Lewis's at-bats. To recap: Lewis bunted into a 564 (third and first) double play in the second, very nearly bunted into a 364 (second and first) double play in the fourth (the ball went foul just before Albert Pujols could pounce on it), and struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth.

First, Lewis should be a better bunter and also at least semi-plausibly not be bunting when he's bunting. The corner infielders, as Tim McCarver pointed out, could practically shake Lewis's hand as he laid his bunts down. They had no fear at all that he might swing away or be able to place his bunt past them as they aggressively charged in. They were right.

Second, Ron Washington simply cannot let Lewis bat in the fifth inning, up by just one, of a game that could win you a trophy, when the bases are loaded. Crooked-number situations just don't happen often enough to squander them for the sake of Lewis throwing another inning and a half.

Third, just use the DH already. Granted, this just gives the Ron Washingtons of the world a free pass, but that's hardly a good reason not to create a better product by allowing players to do the things they're most capable of doing.

See you all again on Saturday.


David said...

The Lewis bunt in the second had me SCREAMING at the TV. I don't care if it's the pitcher. There's just no reason not to swing away with no outs and runners on first and second. If you don't want him to mess anything up, you tell him to go up there, put the bat on his shoulder, and don't swing it. Anyone who can read a run expectancy chart can tell you your COSTING yourself runs, anyway, going from 12_ to _23. I'd just as soon have even the pitcher swing away there. And if you don't want that, just have him stand there and take a strikeout. Yikes.

Also, I think, had you been watching, you would have put the intentional walk to Pujols on your list of Bads. I was really excited about the World Series coming down to an Albert Pujols AB with a runner on second and down a run. Not really shocking as far as what they did, but it was a little disappointing not to get to see it. Great article, and good luck watching game 7!!!

Bill said...

Wow, I could not disagree more with your first point. I hate the bunt, but first and second, no outs is one of the only even arguably good times to bunt, and with the pitcher up, it's an absolute no-brainer.

Let's look at that run expectancy matrix. Yeah, if you go from 12_ (0 outs) to _23 (1 out), your expectancy has gone down a trivial amount (1.573 to 1.467 -- you can look at other charts and get other data, but the difference seems always to be around 0.01). But obviously that's not the choice you're looking at, because you can't just have the pitcher say "pass" and move on to your leadoff hitter with 12_ and 0 outs.

Taking the strikeout, on the other hand, costs about half a run. And even if you have him swing away, the strikeout is the most likely possibility, and a GIDP is also a significant risk. Of course there's also a chance of a walk or a hit, the only results better than a successful sac bunt in that instance, but it's a very slight chance. You'd have to figure out the exact odds of every possible outcome and everything, but I don't think there's any way a bunt isn't the right call there.

Bill said...

I meant to put a "David" in there. His first point, of course, not Jason's.

Bill said...

and it should say .1, not .01. Winner all around there.

Jason Wojciechowski said...

Bill, I was all excited to see that I had four comments already on this. Thanks for inflating the count!

For the sake of argument (paradoxically), I won't even take a position on whether it's right or wrong. Having the pitcher bunt in that situation is so standard that I couldn't get upset at the call. Every manager in baseball would have done the same thing, and half of them would even have a lot of their position players bunting, so it's hard for me to get frustrated about it.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

I agree with about 93.24 percent of this post but am too incoherent after last night's game to talk about them rationally.

Alan said...

How about taking out Feldman to let German hit in the 11th? I mean, German isn't that terrible, but there's always the axiom of "if you're going to lose, lose with a better pitcher on the mound." Probably, Feldman > Lowe recently. Plus, what was Wash planning on doing if it went 14?

Douglas said...

Article on "the Shredder" which is why Freese had his jersey torn off of him:

Charles Simone said...

You didn't ask for it, but you're going to get the explanation on Beltre blocking the base.

Blocking the base without the ball is illegal, and is considered obstruction (you obstruct a runner, you interfere with a fielder). Blocking the base with the ball is legal. The gray area that seems to be accepted as OK is blocking the base while receiving the throw.

Of course, the gray area doesn't come into play in the example, because Holliday doesn't make contact with Beltre's foot until after Beltre catches the ball. So, Beltre's actions are completely legal.

I honestly don't get why you're so bothered by this. When fielders other than the catcher block a base, they're doing so with their foot. You can't block a runner's entire path to the base with your foot.

It's not like this type of action is turning baseball into a contact sport (there's no actual collision involved), and it's not like there wasn't plenty of room for Holliday, in this instance, to reach around Beltre's foot to touch the base.

Jason Wojciechowski said...

Matt Holliday might not be able to play tonight because Adrian Beltre put his foot in the baseline. For me, that's reason enough to want a different rule.

I don't see the downside to reducing collision-based injuries by creating a harder obstruction rule. A few more runners end up safe. That doesn't seem so bad.

Given that I'd include in the package the elimination of takeout slides, thus creating a few additional double plays over the course of a year, the net effect might even end up being negligible.

Charles Simone said...

OK, I get your point, but here's where it's a little unrealistic, at least with respect to plays like Beltre made last night.

When the fielder has the ball in hand, he has the right to be in the baseline. You can't really dispute that, can you?

So, in effect, what you're calling for is to create another situation where an umpire makes a judgment that Beltre intentionally moved his foot there to block the base. Was it that obvious that's what he did? Even if you think the answer is yes, isn't it entirely possible that he, or someone else in a similar situation, could have moved his foot there in the process of catching the ball?

I just don't think you can dictate where a fielder is allowed to position himself when moving to catch a thrown ball and apply a tag on a runner proceeding to his base. I also don't think you can add another rule that requires an umpire to determine intent. That's a really difficult judgment call to make.

Jason Wojciechowski said...

Yeah, in the end, you're probably right that it's too hard to realistically expect to be able to eliminate the Beltre play without giving umpires the kind of discretion that causes "EVERYONE GET MAD" calls in important situations.

I had dreamed up something about a sort of safe area around the bag in which a fielder could not be unless he had to move there to receive a throw, but that just begs the question on the "unless" -- you're still asking an umpire to judge whether it was necessary to move into the area. Or on a low throw to second on a steal, does the shortstop drop his knee in front of the bag to put himself in a position to make the catch, or was he just blocking? Not to mention the fact that the real answer on these things is likely "mixed motives."

Argh, I guess you're right. Brain implants that can read motive + robot umpires now!

Charles Simone said...

Well, I admire your idealism and appreciate the discussion.

Oh, and this has been a really great series of posts.


CannonballTitcomb said...

I know im a day or two late, but the IBB to pujols was one of the most frustrating thing to me of the entire playoffs. Baseball is first and foremost a form of entertainment. It is not entertaining to have the opportunity to watch one of the greatest hitters ever taken away from you. Esepcially in the world series! I was screaming at my tv that ron washington was ruining my night. I wish there was a way to ban intentional walks, but even then i suppose there would just be an increase in "unintentional-intentional walks. Any ideas gentlemen??

Anonymous said...

I agree with Cannonball's point about IBB and could not have said it as well as Joe Posnanski's post did. (He takes a while to get around to IBB, but he does get there.) See