You might have learned in your years as a schoolboy or schoolgirl that the earth’s tilted rotation around the sun causes seasonal changes in weather. Scientifically that might be true, but any baseball fan will tell you that the seasons follow the sport. As the winter frost thaws we’re instilled with a sense of hope — a feeling that this year could be the year. The warmer the weather gets the more drawn we are to even-keeled analysis. Why isn’t this player performing well? How did this move work out for that team? But when the weather starts its progression back toward winter, we shed our analytical hats and immerse ourselves in the drama that is the MLB postseason. For one month, what happened in the previous six don’t matter.
In the first half of 2010, Yankees fans found an easy whipping boy in Curtis Granderson. The team traded a top prospect to get him, and when that top prospect got off to a torrid start the criticism heightened. Granderson was not only a bum because he wasn’t producing, but because the player they traded for him, Austin Jackson, was off to one of the finest Aprils in the game. It took a few days off in August and a change in approach before fans even remotely warmed to Granderson. But in Game 1 of the ALDS all was forgotten. Granderson hit a go-ahead triple. Even if the Yankees get bounced before the World Series, the fans will remember that more than they do the regular season.
Granderson’s August resurgence left a void in Yankee fandom. Who would they criticize mercilessly? Who would represent the differences between the 2009 and the 2010 teams — the foil to Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui? The answer was soon clear. Lance Berkman had a horrible start to his pinstriped tenure, and fans wasted no time in calling him a terrible acquisition. Even his explosive production upon returning from the DL, there was still a vocal sect of fans who proclaimed Berkman the worst acquisition ever. But in Game 2, all ill will was forgotten. It’s his big moments that we’ll remember.
The first came in the fifth inning, while the Yankees were still having problems hitting Carl Pavano. Alex Rodriguez tied the game with a sac fly in the previous inning, but that actually subtracted from the Yankees’ Win Expectancy. Making outs, even when it results in a run, just isn’t that productive. But an inning later Berkman got a hold of a Pavano sinker and sent it over the bullpen for the Yankees’ second run. Two innings later he again laid into a Pavano pitch, though this one didn’t quite have the distance. But it still went over Denard Span‘s head and then caused more trouble when Span overpursued it. Jorge Posada scored all the way from first, which again gave the Yankees a lead- a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Berkman’s WPA on those two plays was .327, and even with his outs he ended with a .292 WPA, easily the best of the game. With a 3 for 4 day, tainted only by a sac bunt, Granderson added 11.8 percent to the WE. Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira also ended in the positives.
On the pitching end, the Yankees had everything going for them. Despite a tighter strike zone (see below), Andy Pettitte held the Twins in check through seven innings. He made a mistake with a breaking ball to Orlando Hudson, but other than that he was settled into a zone by the third inning. The Twins had a few chances early, when Pettitte left pitches up in the zone, but later on it was too late. Everything was down, and it led to 11 straight outs before the Hudson homer. He then retired five of the next six batters before exiting the game. Kerry Wood then came on to strike out two in a flat-out dominant performance. Mariano Rivera did what he’s done for the past 15 years.
The Yankees leave Minnesota in the best of positions. They head home with a chance for a sweep; if that doesn’t work out on Saturday, they then have their ace ready for a potential Game 4 on Sunday.
Complaining about the umps is usually the territory of the losing team. Just look at the past few Yanks-Twins ALDS threads. Apparently the Yankees are running a scheme that makes the Black Sox Scandal look like amateur hour. They’re paying the umps to give them favorable calls, especially when it comes to the strike zone. It make perfect economic sense. They’ll make more money by winning the World Series than they’ll be paying out to the umps — they’d be stupid not to bribe them. It’s clear to anyone paying attention that’s what’s going on…
Back to reality, the strike zone was particularly horrible tonight. Yes, I noticed it because I root for the Yankees and noticed that Andy Pettitte wasn’t getting the same calls as Pavano. It was clear on the TBS Pitch Trax, and it was clear on PitchFX (though I’m not sure if the two are related). Here’s the strike zone Hunter Wendelstedt called for Pavano:
And here’s the one called for Pettitte:
It’s clear that some pitches called strikes for Pavano weren’t given the same benefit for Pettitte. This advantage didn’t end up helping the Twins, but on a different night it might have. This isn’t so much a complaint about the specific game as it is about the future. If Wendelstedt is allowed to call balls and strikes in future postseason games he’s apt to make the same mistakes. Apparently he has trouble discerning pitch location relative to pitcher handedness. This is what we’ve seen touted as the human element, but it’s nothing more than inaccuracy. I’m not sure what to do about it, but at the very least MLB shouldn’t allow Wendelstedt to continue umpiring postseason games. His zone was objectively inconsistent.