Here’s a quick summary. Johnathan Sanchez and Tim Hudson threw gems, with the only run of the first seven frames coming off a Braves error. The Atlanta offense sputtered until Eric Hinske dumped a two-run home run just over the right field fence. The Giants offense rallied with two outs to tie the game off fill-in Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel, but it looked like the game would only be tied heading into the Braves’ half of the ninth. Instead, a grounder off the bat of Buster Posey found it’s way through the legs of Brooks Conrad – the second baseman’s third error of the day (videos here) – and the Giants took a 3-2 lead. They would not relinquish it, as Brian Wilson worked around a two out single to finish the game.
As much as the pitching performances and the clutch home run by Hinske are stories in themselves, the real story will be the terrible performance by Brooks Conrad. Conrad was 0-3 at the plate for a -.116 WPA, including a failed bunt attempt in the top of th 8th inning down by one run. His fielding performance, however will go down as historically bad, as two of his three errors were at least partially responsible for two of the three runs scored by San Francisco tonight.
The first error came in the first inning, as Conrad couldn’t handle a ball off the bat of Freddy Sanchez, resulting in two on and nobody out. We can’t assume the double play here, particularly because the runner on first, Andres Torres, was off with the pitch, but recording the out at first would’ve resulted on only the runner on second and one out instead. According to the WPA Inquirer – a tool that will be used throughout this post – that error cost the Braves 7.3% in terms of win expectancy, or a -.073 WPA for Conrad.
The second one wasn’t significantly more costly, but it did directly result in the first Giants run. In the second inning with none out and a runner on third, Conrad dropped a fly ball off the bat of Cody Ross, allowing Mike Fontenot to score and Ross to reach first base. According to the announcing crew, Fontenot hadn’t tagged up on the play, which would mean that the result of a catch would’ve been a runner on third, one out, and a tie game. That difference comes out to an 8.4% drop in win expectancy for the Braves – at third base and with only one out, there’s still a high probability that Fontenot would have scored. That puts Conrad’s total defensive WPA to this point at -.157, already an impressive total for a whole game, much less two innings.
The third one is the one that will stick in the minds of Braves fans and all others who watched this game unfold. The grounder off the bat of Posey found its way under Conrad, scoring Sanchez from second and allowing Aubrey Huff to go from first to third. If Conrad makes the play, then the inning is over and the game moves to the bottom of the ninth tied at two. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this play. If the out is made, the Braves carry a 62.6% win expectancy into the last half-inning. Instead, the Braves were down to a mere 14.7% win expectancy as Sanchez crossed the plate and with more threats on the bases. That expectancy, in reality, should be even lower due to the presence of Brian Wilson in the San Francisco bullpen. Lowering the run environment to three runs per nine innings results in an 11.8% win expectancy for Atlanta. Effectively, Conrad’s error lowered the Braves chances of winning from 5 in 8 to somewhere between 1 in 7 and 1 in 9.
Conrad’s total defensive WPA in this game comes in at a staggering -.635. That number, combined with his -.116 batting total, comes out to a total WPA of -.751. Brooks Conrad cost the Braves 75% of a postseason victory, one which would have put them one victory away from the next round of the playoffs. Conrad’s play tonight, particularly if the Braves don’t come back to win this series, will go down as one of the worst playoff performances of all time.