The Old-School Leverage Play

In the afternoon of Saturday, October 10th, 1931, the Cardinals took on the Philadelphia Athletics at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. This would be the seventh and final matchup of these teams in that year’s World Series. Philadelphia had gone 107-45 that season (beating their Pythagorean record by 10 games), behind the one-two-three punch of catcher Mickey Cochrane, a young Jimmie Foxx, and outfielder Al Simmons. They also boasted a pitching staff including the likes of Lefty Grove and Waite Hoyt. Though they had won six less games, the Cardinals were no slouches, either. Hall-of-Famers Jim Bottemley and Frankie Frisch manned the infield, with Pepper Martin in the outfield in his first full season. Paul Derringer and the fantastically-named (and HOF spitballer) Burleigh Grimes anchored the rotation for St. Louis. The Athletics were favored to win the series somewhat heavily, as Connie Mack‘s club was coming of two consecutive world titles, and had beaten the (more-or-less) same Cardinals team the previous year. It was a fairly evenly-matched series all-in-all, save for Game 6 when the Athletics kicked around the Cardinals to the tune of 8 – 1. Al Simmons was hitting out of his mind that series, and would eventually end up with a 1.030 OPS for the fall classic, while Pepper Martin posted a 1.330 OPS with the Cardinals. Grimes was dealing, allowing only one run over 18 innings, while Grove and George Earnshaw were racking up the strikeouts for the Philly (well, as much as you could rack up strikeouts back then.)

Earnshaw and Grimes would start Game 7. Earnshaw struggled early, giving up two runs in the first, and a two-run homer to George Watkins in the third. He wouldn’t give up any more runs, but the damage was already done. Grimes would hold the Athletics scoreless through eight innings, allowing six hits. In the top of the ninth, manager Gabby Street called on Grimes to finish the game. He started off by walking Simmons. He got Foxx to fly out and Bing Miller to ground out, but then Jimmy Dykes reached on a walk, and Dib Williams singled to load the bases. Outfielder Doc Creamer came to bat as a pinch hitter, and singled to center, scoring two. Philadelphia had a mini rally on their hands in their last inning of the last game of the World Series. Second baseman Max Bishop came to bat with his team down by two with two men on and two outs. Deuces wild, as Vin Scully might say.

Bishop wasn’t known as a world beater, but was quite a good hitter for an infielder. He had a 122 wRC+ in 1931, a year when all the second basemen in the league combined for an 89 wRC+. He got on base at a good clip, and slugged .400 that year. He didn’t carry the clout of a Foxx or Cochrane, but he was formidable enough that Cardinals had to have been worried. So Street went to the bullpen, turning to a young Bill Hallahan. Wild Bill Hallahan (named for his penchant to log wild pitches) was coming off perhaps the strongest season of his career, having led the league in strikeouts (and walks), and wins. His ERA was 21% better than the league that year. He had had a strong postseason as well, pitching 18 innings and allowing only one run over two games. He continued his success, getting Bishop to fly to center, and winning the game for the Cardinals. St. Louis had won one of the most exciting World Series in history, a few months after Ban Johnson, the creator the event, died.

Hallahan was the hero, but why? Why was he asked to pitch? He had started Game 5, and calling on him meant asking him to pitch on only two days rest. Yes, this was during a time when pitch counts and rest days had less of an impact. Yes, Hallahan was perhaps the “hot hand” choice at the time. But the Cardinals had relief pitchers available. Flint Rhem was fresh, having only pitched one inning the entire series. Syl Johnson had started one game on Oct 4th, and theoretically had more in the tank than Hallahan. Jim Lindsey, pretty much the only true reliever on the staff, had only pitched three innings all series. Street had better options, it seems, so his choice is confusing. It really only makes sense in one facet; Bishop was a lefty, and so was Hallahan. And he got the one out he needed, making him the very first Left-handed One Out GuY, or LOOGY, in postseason history. I couldn’t find any newspaper articles explaining Street’s decision, and my hypothesis about handedness matchup is strictly conjecture. But it’s not crazy. If you look back at the early lefties who were brought in to face only one batter, a good amount of the batters were left handed. (Friendly reminder that the Internet is the greatest). Were managers privy to handedness matchups even back then? It’s tough to know without having manager interviews readily available, but this has SABR project written all over it. Either way, it’s fun to speculate.

We are all now used to things like this, it’s second nature really. The game has evolved so much, that seeing ten or eleven or twelve pitchers come into a game isn’t surprising. It may be annoying, but it’s not surprising. We know more about leverages now. Teams have more matchup data to persuade them. Heck, the relief pitchers are way better than they were way back when.

loogypostseason

This is a graph of every LOOGY appearance in the postseason, broken down by decade. I didn’t include the 2010s. It isn’t the perfect snapshot of the import placed on late-inning matchups, but it’s still fairly indicative of how far we’ve come. So tonight, when you roll your eyes at yet another break for a commercial you’ve already seen so Mike Matheny can bring in Randy Choate again, you can shake your fist at the heavens and curse the names of Gabby Street and Wild Bill Hallahan, forefathers of the four-hour game. I wouldn’t, since it seems silly and shortsighted, but you can, certainly.



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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.


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Joyce
Guest
Joyce

It would help to take into account that there have been considerably more postseason games in recent decades. I would assume that the overall trend toward more relief appearances would persist, however.

Glorpo
Member
Glorpo

It would indeed. Roughly, the 70s and 80s should each have about 3x as many games due to the introduction of two more best of seven series. The 00s should be roughly doubled of top of that for the addition of four best of five series, with the 90s being in between on account of the switch in format + missing a postseason.

Using those multipliers to get a more standardized list in accordance with the number of games in the pre-LCS era results in the following:

70s: 9
80s: 9
90s: 18
00s: 22

Still a decent enough trend.

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