Game Four and the Randomness of Replacement Gomes

Baseball is about randomness as much as it about probability. That was provenon Saturday when the game ended on an obstruction call. Tonight had its own atypical ending — a pickoff with the tying run at the plate — but it was a more-common unexpected event that decided the outcome.

The Red Sox won 4-2, at Busch Stadium, to draw even with the Cardinals. The hero was Jonny “Replacement” Gomes

Through four games, the 2013 World Series has been all about lapses. Lapses in judgment, lapses in execution, lapses in decision-making. The Red Sox have had more than the Cardinals. Despite coming out on top, that was the case tonight.

St. Louis scored an unearned run in the third inning thanks to an outfield bobble by Jacoby Ellsbury. In the seventh inning, Gomes ensured Shane Robinson would reach second base when he slapped around a ball in the gap. Robinson then scored on a Matt Carpenter single, off Craig Breslow, to draw the Cardinals within two runs.

In hindsight, John Farrell’s decision to pull Felix Doubront and bring in Breslow was a mistake. Doubront was at 32 pitches, and had thrown 25 the night before, but he was also the hot hand. He had retired eight of nine batters on the evening. Breslow had retired one of the five he’d faced in the series. Those numbers were one out of seven by the time Junichi Tazawa bailed him out.

In the eighth inning, Xander Bogaerts committed a throwing error that allowed Yadier Molina to reach second base. John Lackey, pitching in relief for the second time in his career, wild pitched him to third. The Cardinals were unable to score, but as has been the case throughout the series, it wasn’t for a lack of opportunities. The team that hit a record .330 with runners in scoring position during the regular hasn’t been hitting in the clutch.

With the exception of the game-ending pickoff, the Cardinals didn’t really make any mistakes tonight. They played solid defense, pitched well, and put runners on base. They simply didn’t get the big hit when they needed it. As Jon Jay said after the game, “It isn’t any one thing I can point to. We just have to do a better job with runners in scoring position. I had a runner at third with less than two outs and didn’t get him in.”

The Red Sox did get the big hit when they needed it. That it came off the bat of Gomes — a late addition to the lineup — is proof that randomness often trumps probability.

By this point, you’re beating a dead horse by citing Gomes’s replacement-level numbers against right-handed pitching and his struggles in the postseason. The Cardinals had exactly the match-up they wanted when they brought in Seth Maness to face him with two on and two out, in a tie game. The numbers strongly favored the Cardinals.

Gomes hit the ball over the left field fence.

“Probability gives you the best chance of success, but it isn’t absolute,” said Breslow after the game. “There are very few absolutes when it comes to statistics. With a playoff atmosphere, and some pretty-clutch performers, you need to let things play out. Tonight was the perfect example. It’s very difficult to quantify the match-up with Jonny. There’s evidence to support that it may not always work out for us, but tonight it did.”

The play that ended the game — Koji Uehara picking off pinch-runner Kolten Wong — was another example of randomness.

“I think that might be the second one I’ve seen him throw over all year,” said Clay Buchholz, who started the game for Boston. “He just caught him in between steps. That’s sort of the luck of the draw. Throwing over, sometimes you catch them when they’re between strides and it’s hard for them to get back to the bag.”

David Ross had his own perspective.

“I wouldn’t even call that a mistake,” said the Red Sox catcher. “It was probably more just a really quick pickoff. Their pitcher made a mistake to Jonny and it got smashed. That was the game.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

28 Responses to “Game Four and the Randomness of Replacement Gomes”

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  1. Gutbasedonperfomanceandstats says:

    So according to this piece, as a sabermatrician you should retire??

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    • Doug Lampert says:

      Nope, with no effectively random elements you don’t use statistics at all, and Sabermetrics is all about statistics.

      Saying “It’s random” doesn’t actually tell you anything till you say something about the probabilities after all, but probabilities aren’t certainties till after the event happens, so, shit happens.

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  2. Gutbasedonperfomanceandstats says:

    Clutch is not a four-letter word.

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  3. Poor Mans Rick Reed says:

    Certainly mistakes were made, but the play Gomes made on Shane Robinson’s double probably was not one of them. Robinson had 2nd on that hit. Gomes sliding and blocking the ball made sure it didn’t get to the wall for a triple. Just to be a little nit-picky, and not even with the main point.

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  4. Mister says:

    I really disagree with a lot of this article.

    “The Red Sox have had more than the Cardinals.”

    Has anybody counted all the “lapses” to see if this is true? The Cardinals made enough embarrassing mistakes in game 1 to last the entire series. Sure, the Red Sox made huge mistakes in huge spots in games 2 and 3, so those got more attention, but overall the series has been a story of terrible baseball on both sides.

    “With the exception of the game-ending pickoff, the Cardinals didn’t really make any mistakes tonight.”

    Maness’s pitch to Gomes. Not to mention the managerial decisions leading up to that.

    Righty on righty appears to be a good matchup, but actually watching the at bat tells a different story. Maness did not have the stuff to get Gomes out. Gomes laid off the pitches outside the strike zone and fouled off the others. Gomes forced the mistake pitch. Ugh, I hate the fact that right now I’m in a position where the analysis on ESPN is better than Fangraphs.

    “Koji Uehara picking off pinch-runner Kolten Wong — was another example of randomness.”

    Total BS. Wong made a completely bone-headed play. There’s no way around that. And I think the pickoff was obviously a case of good advance scouting by the Red Sox. I’d bet anything that they saw before the series that Wong does that little hop-step when he’s extending his lead, and realized that they could throw over in mid-hop and Wong would be out by a mile. Why else would Napoli even bother to hold him on the bag unless they thought they had some reason to have a good chance at picking him off?

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    • NS says:

      “Terrible baseball” might be a slight overstatement.

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      • Mister says:

        You’re right. Not “terrible baseball” so much as just very poorly executed baseball fundamentals. It has actually been incredibly exciting baseball.

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    • Poor Mans Rick Reed says:

      Great point about scouting Wong’s lead. McCarver was questioning Napoli holding him on in that spot. Spotting Wong’s poor form taking a lead, and the opportunity that creates, could certainly explain that.

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      • Mister says:

        Yeah I noticed that as all. McCarver was baffled by Napoli holding him, and I was too. Then after the pickoff I thought “oh, that’s why.”

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        • james wilson says:

          The Red Sox held Wong, limiting Napoli’s range in the field and risking a crooked number, because Koji hates any part of his ERA that is above zero. Or because Farrell had another brain freeze. Or his gut was speaking to him again. Hard to say.

          Which all apparently rubbed off on Matheny game four.

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  5. Shawn says:

    The phrase “he was due” comes to mind with Gomes. While with randomness you cannot predict the timing of an event, you can generally be assured the event is going to happen again. Letting your guard down is basically losing control of that which you can control, which is an open door to randomness playing a bigger role in things, and thus a less than desired result happening. As a result, a mistake left over the plate (I am pretty sure Maness meant for that pitch to be more up and in) and the pickoff of Wong played big roles in the outcome.

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    • NS says:

      He wouldn’t have been due if Maness kept the ball down like usual. And if you throw belt-high fastballs to Gomes, he’s due all the time.

      I don’t know why you think they wanted to go up & in. Molina set up down and away.

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t think it was just “being due”. Everyone knows the book on Gomes — tons of power, with lots of Ks. If you look at his Pitch Values, its pretty predictable — he crushes fastballs and his biggest weakspot is the curveball. In fact, no one on the Red Sox was worse against the curve in 2013 than Gomes. And if you look at Maness, he’s a fastball/change guy — he can flash a slider or curve, but both appear to be below average (by Pitch Value). So even though Gomes is replacement level, it was as favorable of a matchup as he could have gotten from a RHP.

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      • RC says:


        And this is why looking at Career OPS splits and nothing else to determine the likely outcome of an at-bat is such a damn waste of time.

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  6. Trotter76 says:

    It’s not probability that leads to outcomes, it’s a significant sample size of real outcomes that leads to probability being established. Jonny Gomes has established over a long period of time that while he’s no All-Star, he is a bona fide major leaguer. He’s done that by punishing mistake pitches — like the one Maness threw — 150 times in his non-illustrious career, 92 of those of RHPs. I don’t believe it’s random at all that he went deep, that’s the game!

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    • Travis L says:

      Replace random with unpredictable, or unlikely, if you are arguing the semantics.

      It is true that Gomes has 92 career HR vs. RHP. It is more relevant that he is a career .225/.310/.423 line vs. RHP for a 94 wRC+.

      Versus righties, Johnny Gomes is a below average major league hitter. Sometimes below average MLB hitters hit home runs.

      I’m not sure it’s reasonable to make many conclusions past that. Baseball!

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  7. Shawn says:

    You probably are right, with Maness’s strength as a pitcher, down and away seems logical. The reason I say up and in is because in Boston, the Cards kept throwing high fastballs to Gomes that he was popping up. With that being said, my point was that Maness losing control of that which he can control makes the liklihood of a negative random event happening, which was the result. Basically, you are making the same point as I was.

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    • Anon says:

      Watch the pitch. Molina set up down and away with his body and his glove. Maness missed his spot badly. It was a mistake pitch and Gomes crushed it.

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  8. Anon says:

    Not having the statistics to measure and/or predict something does not make it random (or luck). Ignoring information and using randomness (or luck) as an explaination is lazy and untrue.

    Calling the Gomes HR or Wong pickoff random is ignoring all kinds of relevant information. The more pitches Gomes sees, the higher the probability that he will get a mistake pitch. Holding Wong on first is only useful if the Red Sox believe they can pick him off (his run is worth nothing). As Mister said above, the Red Sox very likely scouted Wong and spotted a flaw to exploit.

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    • Mister says:

      Yeah. You could also say it was “random” that the best offense in baseball had been held to only 7 runs in the previous 23.2 innings before the Gomes home run.

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      • Anon says:

        No, you couldn’t make an intellectually sound statement that it was random.

        You could say it was low probability to have that variance from their talent level. You could say the opponent/weather/health caused some negative variance. You could say a lot of things, random is not one of them (even with quotes).

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        • ian says:

          Sure you could. You’re just defining the universe as deterministic and randomness as impossible. Just the act of using probability accepts the idea that there are some unpredictable (for our purposes, “random” or pseudorandom) elements that make it impossible to predict the outcome.

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        • RC says:

          “You’re just defining the universe as deterministic and randomness as impossible.”

          Hes doing no such thing.

          He’s just not pretending that everything he doesn’t understand is random.


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        • ian says:


          There, I typed condescendingly in all caps, so it must be true!

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        • Mister says:

          @Anon: Ugh. The quotes were there for a reason. I would not say it was random, myself. I’m simply saying that the author could apply his same logic to that fact and call the Red Sox’ non-hitting “random.” I was trying to express agreement with you.

          My point is that the author portrayed the situation as if all series long, everything happened exactly as expected, when all of a sudden Gomes just “randomly” hit a home run. That portrayal is obviously wrong.

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  9. RC says:

    Non-predictive and random are not the same thing.

    Why can’t the authors realize that?

    The Kolten Wong pick off was the culmination of him taking too big leads and being slow back to the bag during the entire playoffs. It was a result of good scouting and good prep-work, and sloppy baserunning on Wong’s part.

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  10. ian says:


    Random error is present in every measurement. It is the amount of inconsistency around a constant value (ie, player talent). Describing a process of random fluctuation around a constant is completely valid use of the term.

    Now describing Wong getting picked off as random I’ll grant is far more colloquial use of the term, but obviously your pedantry doesn’t allow for words to have multiple meanings.

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