The Rays Chances and Postseason Swing Rates

Looking at it from a glass-is-half-full perspective, the Rays have the Red Sox right where they want them. Following last night’s 7-4 loss, Tampa Bay is one game away from elimination. Again.

Joe Maddon’s team has been thriving under pressure. In a string of win-or-go-home games leading up to the ALDS, the resilient Rays repeatedly won and went on.

Tomorrow, they do go home — to Tropicana Field — needing to do it again. It will be a tall task. Not only do they have to win three straight to stay alive, their gas tank is nearing empty. As much as Maddon denies his team is tired, they just crisscrossed the country to play 10 adrenaline-fueled games in five different cities. The Rays are gutsy, but they’re close to running on fumes.

Alex Cobb, who will take the mound in Game 3, admitted the travel and high-stakes environment are taking their toll. He also owned up to not knowing where he was when he woke up following his outstanding performance against Cleveland in Wednesday’s wildcard game.

“It’s not only been a long road, it’s been taxing mentally and physically,” said Cobb prior to Game 1. “We’re up for it. It’s that time of year where everything in the tank needs to be left out on the field.

“It took a second for it to register what had happened [on Wednesday]. We got in at 5 [a.m.] so I was kind of in a daze a little bit. Then I saw there was a Budweiser can on my night stand with ‘Indians’ on it, that I took from the post-game celebration, and it started sinking in. It put a smile on my face. I realized I was waking up in Boston, and it was a great feeling.”

Cobb is hoping to relive that feeling on Thursday, which is when the series would shift to Fenway Park for a deciding Game 5. The Rays will have pull two more Houdini acts for that to happen, which is exactly what Maddon anticipates.

“Boston is lovely this time of year,” said Maddon after last night’s game. “I’m looking forward to coming back in a few days.”

——

POSTGAME QUOTE BOOK

Sam Fuld: “This seems to be the way we operate best. We’ve got a lot of fight and we stay positive, no matter the circumstances. Even after losing the first two, we’re going to stay positive. We don’t seem to get rattled.”

Wil Myers: “We’ve done it all year and we’ve got our backs up against the wall yet again. We’re familiar with this situation. We have to come out Monday and get a win.

“You just have to shake it off. You can’t let it affect you, because if you do, you’re not going to do anything. Regardless of the at bats I had today, I’m going to be OK.”

Jake Peavy: “There’s nobody in here who thinks this series is over, by any means. Everybody who follows baseball saw what happened last year to a great team in Cincinnati. They won the first two on the road, then went home and [lost] to the eventual World Champions. The San Francisco Giants won the Division Series after being down 0-2. So we’re not taking anything for granted. I’m sure we’ll talk about that on the plane tomorrow.

“You don’t expect to hit Price around like we hit him around. If [facing him in a Game 5] was to happen, we’ll take our chances and try to execute, and hopefully get big hits like we did tonight. But right now, all of our focus is on Game 3. I’m getting ready for Game 4, although it would be awfully nice not to have pitch Game 4.”

Craig Breslow: “We’ll be running out our third consecutive ace. We have all the confidence in the world with Buch [Clay Buchholz] going out there on Monday.”

——

GAME-2 NOTEBOOK

Going into the game, the Red Sox were 14-0 in John Lackey starts where they scored four-or-more runs. They were 0-15 in Lackey starts where they scored fewer than four runs.

When Jacoby Ellsbury swiped second base in the first inning, it was the 42nd consecutive successful steal for the Red Sox. Their last caught stealing came on August 9, when Ellsbury was thrown out by Royals catcher George Kottaras.

David Ortiz’s first inning home run was his 13th in the postseason, extending his franchise record. It was the first home run Price had given up to a left-handed hitter since Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall took him deep on April 7.

In one of the best Tweets of the night, Jeremy Lundblad of ESPN noted that Ortiz has more post-season extra-base hits than Reggie Jackson, in fewer at bats. His second home run of the game, in the eighth inning off Price, was his 35th extra-base hit. Jackson had 33.

It was Ortiz’s first multi-homer game in the postseason, and the second time in his career he hit two home runs off left-handed pitching in the same game. He also did so on April 30, 2012 off Oakland’s Tommy Millone.

Price had never allowed two home runs to a left-handed hitter in the same game.

According to ESPN’s Mark Simon, the last pitcher before Price to throw at least seven innings and allow seven runs or more in a postseason game was Randy Johnson in 1999 versus the Mets.

——

SWING RATES AND THE POSTSEASON

Plate discipline played a big role in the success of both teams during the regular season. As noted in Friday night’s game story, the Rays swung at the lowest percentage of pitches out of the strike zone of any team in baseball. Right behind them were the Indians and Red Sox.

The perception is that hitters become less disciplined in the postseason. With higher stakes and a frenzied environment, they are more apt to be overaggressive. As Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves put it, “A lot of guys want to be the hero, so you’ll see some more swings during the postseason.”

Based on 2008-2013 data compiled by Jeff Zimmerman, that is less true than you might expect. Swing rates are only marginally higher in the postseason than they are in the regular season:

Regular season swing% overall: 45.5%
Postseason swing% overall: 45.7%

Regular season swing% pitches in zone: 61.1%
Postseason swing% pitches in zone: 61.7%

Regular season swing% pitches out of zone: 30.7%
Postseason swing% pitches out of zone: 31.1%

Despite the statistically-insignificant difference, pitchers can, and do, use hitters’ postseason adrenaline to their advantage. Boston’s Ryan Dempster and Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb were asked for their perspective:

ALEX COBB

“I think the crowd can definitely be a contributing factor. For a team being at home, it’s a much different vantage point. They can use the crowd to their advantage, so as a pitcher they’re working against me. I have to realize that and combat that. I need to put that into my mentality as I get ready for my next pitch. The louder the crowd got [in Cleveland], the more I had to slow things down.

“The Indians are a very-well-disciplined team. They’re also very good low-ball hitters, and I’m a low-ball pitcher. They’re very disciplined in the strike zone, so Jose [Molina] had to find a way around that. Not only that, we had to battle fans, which wasn’t an easy task. But Jose is such a veteran leader that I just needed to execute.

“You can (throw a 3-2 pitch out of the strike zone} but it depends on the pitch you throw. Obviously, a bad pitch out of the zone, to a major league post-season team — the batter isn’t going to chase that. It has to be a challenging pitch; it has to be a tough pitch out of the zone that starts in it. But if you’re down 3-0, like [the Indians] were, they’re pressing a little harder. It’s human instinct to do that. Jose recognized that, and I recognized that, and we were able to expand the zone a little bit. It wasn’t much, because of how disciplined they are at the plate, but when they were aggressive, I was able to get them to chase a couple of times.”

RYAN DEMPSTER

“When the crowd gets going, loud, you need to continue to do what you’ve been doing. You need to take a deep breath and try to slow it down. You also evaluate who is swinging. Is this a guy who might be excited because the crowd is getting to him? He might chase pitches out of the zone he might not normally chase. Or maybe it’s a guy who has been in this situation before. He has the experience and his swing rate is going to be just the same, no matter if there are 100,000 people cheering, or there is nobody in the stands.

“There are guys who, on 3-1, don’t swing outside the zone, but on 3-2 they do all the time. There are lots of guys around the league who do that. You have to trust in your read. It’s just like playing poker. Do I believe in this? Looking at the percentages, throwing [a pitch out of the strike zone] gives me the best chance of success. Then you have to execute.”




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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 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


17 Responses to “The Rays Chances and Postseason Swing Rates”

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  1. Patrick says:

    In baseball the home team wins about 54% of the time.

    The Rays need to win three straight (.54 x .54 x .46 = 13.5%)

    The Red Sox are obviously the better team — they won the division easily and had a run differential of almost 150 more than the Rays. But even if we could account for the difference in the two teams, it would only change this equation by one or two percent at most.

    There is about an 87 or maybe 88% the Red Sox will win this series, just enough to allow Rays’ fans to hope and Red Sox fans to worry.

    And that’s why baseball is so much (at times painful) fun in October.

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    • Swfcdan says:

      Good stats on paper but in the playoffs it doesnt work like that. I’d say there is a much lesser chance than .54 of the Rays winning tonight, the pressure is all on them at home to keep the series alive, and the pressure can tend to get to you.

      Alternatively if the Rays do win both home games then the pressure is all on Boston at home not to blow a 2-0 series lead, so id say the Rays would be favourites if it came to that.

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    • Pat G says:

      you’re also taking league wide rates for home and away games and applying them to two playoff teams (by definition better than the average team).

      There’s a lot more that goes into figuring out the rays chances of winning three straight than where they play.

      It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but you’re leaving a ton out, a full fangraphs article could be written to figure it out.

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      • Patrick says:

        Agreed. The post wasn’t meant to be taken that literally.

        The basic point was that Rays’ chances of winning the next three games aren’t significantly different from their chances of winning three straight games against an equal opponent. The fact that four of the twenty-two teams facing an 0-2 deficit have come back to win bears that out.

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  2. pft says:

    Rays are not going to beat the Red Sox unless they score runs, especially given their bullpen which makes Maddon tend to keep his starters in too long.
    Their bats need to wake up, and they have to get runs against the starters before Farrell can get to the pen.

    Best they can hope for is a game 5 at Fenway. The way Lester is pitching, especially at home, I don’t see them winning that one. Of course, baseball is not very predictable.

    For a team with a 60 million dollar payroll, going 5 games against a team who spent more than this in the offseason with a bunch of 30+ yo players having career years, that’s pretty good.

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  3. Swfcdan says:

    Thought the whole Price situation was very strange the other night. Not only was Price throwing much softer than he’s used to (91-93) why the hell did he stay in until the 8th inning? I owned him this year and despite the much resurgent 2nd half, his K rate showed that he really wasn’t that dominant guy of the past all year.

    Reckon he gets a big contract? I think so, but if I was the Rays no way would I pay it. Just way too much pitching around to make a massive multiyear deal commitment on Price, who may be in decline already.

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  4. baseballbaseball says:

    i think Cobb’s problem has more to do with the budweisers in his room, and less to do with the first class air travel. just saying

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  5. Mike G says:

    The Rays aren’t beating Buchholz tonight. This series is over.

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    • Mike Green says:

      You couldn’t choose an original name, sir? Do you mind if I call you Lawrence Peter B instead? The original might have had something to say about premature proclamations (which I admit does sound nasty).

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  6. james wilson says:

    Game three is not going to be a home game for the Rays.

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    • Mikerays3 says:

      35,000 strong, we also decided to show up before the third inning unlike those sox fans in the first game. Buchholz will have nightmares of the trop tonight.

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