If one of the concerns of this space is to consider occasionally what about baseball is exciting, or to explore — as Ken Arneson puts it — the “why we watch” question, then last night’s contest between Los Angeles of Anaheim and New York of the Bronx makes an interesting study of three things we expressly don’t look for in a baseball game.
First, consider this graph:
With the exception of a brief downturn in the fourth inning — a frame which saw the Halos’ WE% improve from 25.4% after Torii Hunter‘s fly-out to all of 34.9% after an RBI single by Kendry Morales — the slope of that line is depressingly even, inching ever upward to an increasingly predictable result: a Yankees victory.
Why? Because CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera allowed only six baserunners between them on the night. Moreover, they allowed only one extra-base hit: a double by Vladimir Guerrero in that same fourth inning. In such a case when one team (in this case, the Yankees) scores early, Win Expectancy is unlikely to change dramatically unless the other team (read: the Angels) either (a) gets guys on and/or (b) moves them over. As L.A. was doing little of either after the fourth inning, the WE% of the game was unlikely to change.
Next, consider Leverage Index (LI). The average LI (aLI) of the game was 0.75 and the peak LI (pkLI) was 1.80 — just before Hideki Matsui‘s fifth inning double with runners on first and second. By comparison, Game 163 between Minnesota and Detroit — what you might call an Instant Classic — had an average LI of 1.94. In other words, we can say roughly that the average plate appearance in Game 163 was more exciting than the most exciting plate appearance in Game One of the ALCS.
Finally, on a more anecdotal note, Hideki Matsui’s first inning “single” — that is, the very catchable pop-up that fell between between hapless Angels infielders Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar — marked a sort of moment that one doesn’t particularly like to see in a game.
In his excellent Man, Play, and Games, Roger Caillois writes that an absolutely necessary component of the successful construction and/or playing of a game, is the impression that all parties involved are absolutely trying to win. It’s for this reason, I’m sure, that we hear color commentators, sports journalists, and whatever Skip Bayless is — it’s for this reason we hear those guys praising players for their competitiveness, or, less fortunately, their “want-to.” Despite the often repetitive and hyper masculine nature of this sort of eulogy, the reason it exists points to Caillois’ observation. That neither Figgins nor Aybar really seemed determined to catch Matsui’s pop-up inevitably left a sour taste in the spectator’s mouth.
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