Archive for Astros

The Worst Called Strike of the Season

The worst called strike of this season was thrown in the eighth inning of a game between the Astros and the Tigers on the second-to-last day of July. I measure these things by the distance between the location of the pitch and the nearest part of the rule-book strike zone, and, here, we have a called strike on a pitch that missed the zone by 9.8 inches. It’s not a pitch that’s out there on an island — there are always a bunch of called strikes on pitches that miss by six or seven or eight inches — but 9.8 inches is a hell of a distance. I’m holding up two fingers in front of me. Are they separated by 9.8 inches? I don’t know, but they’re separated by what my eyes estimate would be about 9.8 inches. Big miss, considering the umpire is *right there*. We’ve got the season’s worst called strike identified. And maybe the most amazing thing about it: no one cared. You couldn’t even bring yourself to care today. It’s impossible. You’ll see what I mean. But first, a brief statement.

I hate SunTrust Park. I’ve never been there. It’s brand new. I’m sure a lot of thought went into its design, and I’m sure it has its perks. All the new ballparks have their perks. I don’t care about the SunTrust Park design or amenities. I care about the SunTrust Park technology. And the pitch-tracking data from SunTrust Park is garbage. It’s horribly calibrated, and it makes a project like this super annoying. I looked at dozens and dozens of potential worst called strikes. The bulk of the candidates were thrown in Atlanta, and all of them were off. By, like, several inches, in different directions. That’s been aggravating for me, today, but there are also some broader implications.

Pitch locations feed into a lot of the data we like to use. And if you can’t trust the pitch locations, you can’t trust the data. Incorrect locations would affect, say, zone rates. They’d affect chase rates. They’d affect framing metrics. I hope that people smarter than me are aware of this. I hope they’re working to fix this, if they haven’t already. There’s no excuse. In its initial year of existence, SunTrust Park was messed up. Not in a way many people would ever notice, but *I* noticed, and right now I’m the one writing.

Okay, now back to the worst called strike. We’re not going to Atlanta. We’re going to Detroit!

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The Worst Called Ball of the Season

Every year, around this time, I look forward to this post. I look forward to it because it checks the two boxes most important to me as a writer: the post is always popular, and I don’t have to try to come up with a new idea. It’s always the same idea, and it’s always the same basic research. What changes are the names and the dates and the numbers. It’s not that the research and prep are easy, but finding an idea is usually the challenge. That’s not a concern when you have a recurring series.

That being said, I get nervous. I always want to write about the worst called ball of the season, but, around the All-Star break, I tend to write about the worst called ball of the first half. Here’s this year’s. If that stands up as the worst called ball overall, then I’d have to decide if I want to write a second time about the same event. It’s preferable, to me, that the second half contain a ball that’s objectively even worse. The odds of that aren’t great; the second half is shorter than the first. They’re not actually halves at all.

Excitement and nervousness. My fingers are always crossed. This year, I got lucky again. The worst called ball of the first half was thrown on June 18. The worst called ball of the whole season was thrown on August 20. It was worse by a fraction of a fraction of one inch. The pitch-tracking technology isn’t truly that precise, to begin with. And this all depends on the upper and lower strike-zone boundaries, which are subjective, since they change for every hitter. I don’t have 100% confidence that the ball on August 20 was worse. But my confidence level is at least, I don’t know, 51%. That’s good enough to proceed.

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Strong Ratings for Series Despite Lack of Drama in Game 7

Since 2000, there have been 101 World Series games played. On average, one out of every eight of those games has gone to extra innings. The most recent World Series produced two such contests. On average, about 60% of World Series games have produced final scores within three runs. For the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, it was five out of seven. Only about one-third of World Series matchups reach a Game 7, but the 2017 edition provided one of those, as well. The Astros and Dodgers both scored 34 runs. It’s hard to ask for more than we received — and the television ratings from the World Series reflect the appeal of the games.

The only piece really missing from this season’s championship was some real drama in the final game — and we almost got that, as well. Yes, the Astros quickly took a 5-0 lead and conceded just a single run over nine total innings. In five of those first six innings, though, their opponents recorded a run expectancy of at least .86 runs. While they scored a single run in the sixth inning, probability suggests that it “should” have been more. By the numbers, the Dodgers possessed greater than an 80% chance of scoring at least twice and a 50% chance of coming through three times. A 5-3 or 5-4 lead heading into the ninth would have made for some compelling baseball.

As it happened, the Dodgers didn’t live up to their probabilities over the first six innings, and the game lacked the sort of tension that would have drawn a few more eyeballs. Regardless, the World Series performed strongly in the television ratings for the second straight season. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals and recorded a very high 15.8 rating That figure probably actually understated interest in the series: had it produced a couple elimination games, the ratings would have been even higher.

In the 11 seasons after the Cardinals-Red Sox contest, the World Series averaged a 9.4 rating, failing to hit double-digits after 2009, when the Yankees won their last championship. Last season reversed the trend, accruing a 12.9. This season followed suit with a strong 10.6, lacking the advantage of a Cubs teams looking to end its 100-plus-year drought.

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What If More Teams Follow the Astros’ Extreme Roadmap?

Astros baseball didn’t always inspire this variety of joy. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Following one of the most remarkable World Series of all time, in the wake of a matchup defined by historically wild swings in win probability, the Houston Astros engaged in a relatively subdued title celebration on the infield turf of Dodger Stadium. Given that Game 7 was one of the few four-hour stretches in the series that lacked constant tension and drama, it makes sense. As Charlie Morton finished off the Dodgers in the final innings, the conclusion seemed inevitable.

Following the game, the architect of the title, Astros GM Jeffrey Luhnow, briefly took the post-game microphone, addressing an emptying stadium and a national television audience. He did what most winning executives do in such situations: he thanked ownership for their patience and support.

As mundane as Luhnow’s words might have seemed, it’s likely that they transcended mere cliche. Because, where other clubs typically experience ebbs and flows, the Astros took one of the most extreme routes to a title in the game’s history. Ownership had to be open to a lot of losing. Because of the result, however, it’s a path down which other clubs will likely attempt to travel. In a copycat industry such as this one, everyone wants to be like, or at least learn from, the last team standing.

How can your team be like the Astros?

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Maybe There Really Was Something Up With the Ball

Look, I don’t want to dwell on this too much. I’m not sure there’s anywhere to take it, and I’m a natural skeptic with these theories, anyway. I’m not sure why the World Series baseball would feel unusually slick, and, even if it’s true that it did, well, both teams got the same baseballs. You adjust and you deal. The Astros won one more game than the Dodgers did. Every single baseball game is played under its own unique conditions. The Astros are the rightful champions, and the Dodgers are the rightful runners-up.

But there’s always going to be that what-if element. It would be there anyway. What if Clayton Kershaw started Game 7, instead of Yu Darvish? What if Cody Bellinger had actually walked off Game 2? What if Yulieski Gurriel had been suspended immediately, instead of having it delayed until 2018? What if a million things. Baseball seldom makes it clean. What if there truly was something weird about the ball? What could’ve happened if there weren’t?

There’s no closure to be found through entertaining these questions. The games will never be replayed, and the Astros will stand as the 2017 champs forever. I just wonder. I see the argument against the ball being different. I made it just the other day! And yet, I’m not sure how to explain Brad Peacock.

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An Ode to the Astros’ Veterans

When the accolades are being given out for this 2017 Astros championship, they’ll deservedly go to the club’s young core. They were spectacular. World Series MVP George Springer led the way in the final seven games with an OPS over 1.400, five home runs, and enough exuberance to exhume the dead. Possible regular-season MVP Jose Altuve led the club with a 1.021 postseason OPS and seven home runs. Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa combined for nine wins this year. Indeed, no team club received as many wins from players aged 28 or younger than this Houston Astros team.

We shouldn’t forget the veterans on this squad, though, a collection of players who not only offered important production but supported their younger teammates all the way to the end.

The Astros hitters over 30 — led by Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Josh Reddick — compiled the 17th-most wins among 30-somethings across the league. It doesn’t look like a lot, but that group may have helped change what had been a losing culture in Houston most recently.

“There was a lot of concern about where this thing was going,” said general manager Jeff Luhnow after the game, “and culture is a hard thing to quantify. From the young guys that we’ve had here — Altuve, [Carlos] Correa, Springer, [Alex] Bregman — they were developing their own culture, and the thing that we were missing was the McCann, Beltran, been there, done that, been in every situation and can help these guys through it, and that was useful.”

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Charlie Morton Was Baseball in 2017

Last night, with the franchise’s first championship hanging in the balance, Astros manager A.J. Hinch handed the ball to Charlie Morton. He never asked for it back, and four innings later, the Astros mobbed Morton on the mound. They are champions today in part because of Charlie Morton, and there was perhaps no more fitting player to get the last out of the 2017 season, because Charlie Morton embodies so much of what baseball is today.

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George Springer Had an All-Time World Series

Symbolism is useful, but it’s also overused. The Astros just won the World Series, and George Springer just won the World Series MVP. Are there ways in which Springer is a symbol for what the Astros are, and for what they’ve achieved? Sure, if you need him to be. He’s a good young player. Homegrown. Seems like a leader. Thrived on the biggest stage. Springer could serve as a symbol, because he is great, and the Astros are great. Look how easy this is!

But while it’s appropriate that Springer won the award, I don’t think that’s because the Astros made a point of following his lead, or anything. I don’t think the Astros made themselves in George Springer’s image, any more than they made themselves in Jose Altuve‘s. A winning team is a collection of a whole lot of talent. It’s appropriate that Springer won the award because of this.

You thought you were seeing a lot of this before. You haven’t seen anything yet. You’re going to hear about this from your dentist.

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Tonight’s Matchup Is the Greatest of All-Time

The drama of the World Series — and perhaps this World Series, in particular — renders everyone a little prone to hyperbole. Under the influence of the present moment, one has a tendency to forget the great moments of the past. In the wake of a crucial play or big game, it’s not uncommon to make declarations that, upon further examination, fail to hold up to scrutiny.

Having acknowledged all of that, I would like to use this post to explain why tonight’s baseball game is the single-greatest matchup in the history of baseball.

Before 1961, Major League Baseball featured just 16 teams, separated into two leagues. Each team’s regular-season schedule consisted of games against just the seven other teams in their respective league. The team with the best record in each league at the end of the year moved on to the World Series.

Because of the way in which the schedule was constructed, it was easy for teams to beat up on the dregs of the league and come away with a strong record. It also meant that the good work of the regular season couldn’t be undone in the playoffs: because winning the league meant an immediate spot in the World Series, the notion of a “playoff upset” didn’t really exist.

By 1969, there were 24 teams in the majors. Another round, the Championship Series, was added to the postseason at that time. Expansion brought the league to 28 teams by the early 90s. The 1995 season marked the debut of the Division Series. Then, a few years later, Arizona and Tampa Bay joined the league. The degree of difficulty for reaching the World Series was greater than ever. Even teams that excelled in the regular season had to navigate a gauntlet.

That degree of difficulty is, in part, what makes the matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros in the World Series so rare. Add to that the prospect of a Game 7, and you’re left with a decent argument for the greatest World Series matchup of all time.

Since 1903, the World Series has featured 39 winner-take-all games. Not all of these matchups took place between regular-season titans. In fact, two matchups of recent vintage — in 2002 between the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants and 2014 between the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants — both featured a pair of clubs that had failed to win their respective divisions.

This season, on the other hand, we have two juggernauts. The Dodgers won an MLB-best 104 games. As for the Astros, their 101 wins ranked second in the American League, although that maybe doesn’t fully account for their accomplishment. Consider: in the 10 years before the 2017 season, the 101-win threshold had been reached only three times.

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The History of Starters Relieving on Short Rest

A few hours from now, Yu Darvish will throw the first pitch of Game 7 of this year’s World Series. Shortly thereafter — or, less shortly thereafter, if the Astros are lucky — Lance McCullers will take the mound. I don’t need to tell you what Game 7 means. Nobody does. It’s plainly evident: This game is everything. It’s everything that anyone plays for.

Because of the stakes, and because there’s no tomorrow, patterns you might be used to no longer apply. Both teams will employ an all-hands-on-deck approach, hoping for sufficient adrenaline to counteract fatigue. Darvish, of course, will want to go as long as he can. The same goes for McCullers. They’ve probably both dreamed of going the distance. But that’s almost certainly not going to happen. The Dodgers and Astros are likely to dip into their bullpens. And that’s where it gets extra fun.

Both teams have their full complement of arms. The Dodgers might have more faith in their relievers than the Astros do, but the Astros’ relievers also ought to be more rested. Yet there’s an additional twist. It’s hard to find a writer who doesn’t expect to see Clayton Kershaw. It’s just as hard to find a writer who doesn’t expect to see Dallas Keuchel. There’s also been chatter the Astros might make brief use of Justin Verlander. Kershaw and Keuchel would be on two days’ rest. Verlander, zero. With one game remaining, one game that means more than all others, we should examine the playoff history of this.

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Home-Field Advantage and Game 7

The Dodgers’ reward for having the best record in the majors this year, for recording three more wins than the Astros during the regular season, is this: they host the final game of the 2017 major-league campaign, Game 7 of the World Series, tonight.

Home-field advantage is a real phenomenon. In the game’s history, World Series Game 7 victors have been split evenly, 19-19, between home and road teams. But that’s a fairly small sample. In baseball, the home team typically wins 54% of regular-season games, and that rate holds up as a constant decade after decade, era after era.

Conventional wisdom suggests that home-field advantage is the result of multiple advantages enjoyed by the home team: the right to bat last, the ability to tailor a roster specifically to the park, a certain comfort with the surroundings, and the absence of travel-related fatigue (such as might be experienced by the visitors). All of those elements, perhaps, play a role. But the salient factor behind home-field advantage is umpire bias, particularly regarding borderline strike-ball calls. University of Chicago behavioral economist Tobias Moskowitz and Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim documented convincing evidence in support of that observation in their book Scorecasting.

The authors used pitch-tracking data to quantify this concept.

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Mapping Out The Game 7 Pitching Plans

Tonight, two great teams play for the championship. An outstanding World Series will end with the best theatre the sport has to offer; one game, winner takes it all. Game 7s are unlike any other baseball game of the year, and for the second year in a row, we might be in for a classic.

The biggest change in any Game 7, of course, is that neither team has to worry about tomorrow. The need to weigh present versus future performance goes away. Tonight, the only thing the managers have to decide is who, in each moment, gives them the best chance to win tonight, and then everyone can go rest for five months afterwards.

The game will start with Yu Darvish and Lance McCullers on the mound. Neither will be around for the finish, though, and the biggest task either manager faces today is to map out how he plans on getting 27 outs. So let’s look at the options for both Dave Roberts and A.J. Hinch.

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Did Justin Verlander Find a New Pitch?

Justin Verlander threw an epic game in his final 2017 outing. It just wasn’t enough to bring home the hardware for the Astros. It’s wasn’t for lack of trying: he averaged over 96 mph on the 60 fastballs he threw, struck out nine, and didn’t walk a batter. He even broke out a surprise for the Dodgers, something that left many of them shaking their heads after the game.

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The Early At-Bat That Changed the Whole Game

The biggest at-bat of Game 6 was when Chris Taylor doubled. Whether it was a good pitch or not, whether it was a good swing or not, Taylor made contact and the ball found the grass, and the Dodgers evened the score. Just as importantly, they moved runners to second and third with nobody out, and, that quickly, the home team became the obvious favorite. The Dodgers’ chance of winning increased about 24 percentage points. Corey Seager followed with a sacrifice fly, and the lead was never surrendered. The game flipped in the sixth. That fast, the Astros were forced to prepare for Game 7.

At the end of the day, you need to score to win. Justin Verlander blanked the Dodgers through five, and, for a time, it looked like it might not even matter if the Astros added on. Perhaps George Springer‘s home run would be enough. But, to me, there was a turning point, before the major turning point. Going into the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers were still down 1-0. Yet it could’ve been an awful lot worse. But for the sequence in the top of the fifth.

As Rich Hill started the inning, Brian McCann ripped a single, and Marwin Gonzalez ripped a double. Josh Reddick dug in with two runners to score, and there were all of the outs to play with. Reddick was in position to provide some insurance. Then Hill started him off with three balls.

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Justin Verlander: Hall of Famer?

If you tune into the World Series tonight, chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to watch at least one future Hall of Famer — and likely, even, that you’ll see several.

Of the participants in this year’s Series, Clayton Kershaw is already a lock. Both Carlos Beltran and Chase Utley are in the twilight of their careers but have strong cases for inclusion without doing any more work. Among younger players, Jose Altuve is already off to a great start, and early-20-somethings Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have certainly made their mark.

Meanwhile, there’s one player expected to appear in tonight’s game who occupies an in-between category. On the one hand, he hasn’t yet established unassailable Hall of Fame credentials and is past his peak. On the other, he seems poised to compile a few more reasonably productive years. Justin Verlander has a decent case for the Hall right now, but the next few seasons will determine how persuasive his case ultimately is.

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One Complication for the Slicker-Ball Theory

The thing about the slick-baseball theory is it’s so easy to believe. To review, as quickly as possible: Pitchers believe the World Series baseball is different. Like, the actual baseball itself. They suspected it was kind of different earlier in the playoffs, but now they think it’s more different. It’s different by feeling more slick, more slippery. You can imagine how that could pose a problem. What are pitchers to do if they’re not accustomed to their instrument?

So the idea goes, it’s had a profound effect on sliders in particular. Anecdotally, you can get behind it, because we’ve seen some sliders get hit hard. But the other evidence is even more compelling. There’s the blindfold test. There are pictures. And, simply, there are the pitchers, speaking their minds. Experienced pitchers, who you’d think would know what a baseball feels like more than anyone. This is more than just one or two guys. Tom Verducci spoke to players and coaches from both the Astros and the Dodgers. Why would you doubt what the pitchers have to say? Why would they just make this up?

I don’t think they are making it up. I think pitchers do have a certain sense for things. I’d just like to present a graph.

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Game Five Was as Weird as It Felt

As illustrated by basically all the win-probability graphs featured here on any given night of the season, the average baseball game tends to be composed mostly of plays that, individually, have little influence on the outcome but which, when taken collectively, push the game towards one conclusion or the other.

This graph from the Brewers-Cardinals game on the last day of the season illustrates the point:

You can see Brett Phillips‘ home run annotated here. That one play shifted the probability of victory about 20% in Milwaukee’s direction. Other than that one event, however, the game is defined mostly by a series of small ups and downs before it flatlines in favor of the Brewers in the ninth.

This is the how these win-probability graphs typically work. There aren’t often moments where, based on one play, you tell yourself, This game is over — or, alternatively, Wait a second, this changes everything. There’s usually some build-up, an accumulation of smaller moments leading to a bigger one.

This World Series, however, has abandoned the slow burn. It continues to produce big moments at an unprecedented rate.

If we define a “big moment” as the sort of play the produces a win-probability change of 25% or greater — that is, a play that brings a club back from precipice of defeat or, alternatively, appears to render a tight battle over — we find that 96 of the 113 World Series played since 1903 have featured four or fewer “big moments” over the course of an entire series. This year’s World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros has beaten that number this series… in a single game… twice.

*Setting the bar at .25 is admittedly somewhat arbitrary, but going too much higher increases the rarity of something that doesn’t occur all that often. Even using the threshold of .33, for example, would reduce the number of instances by half. Similarly, lowering the bar to .18 would double the amount of plays. Although slightly haphazard, .25 seems to set a decent balance.

When the Dodgers and Astros combined for five game-changing plays in Game 2 of this series, it was unprecedented, and I wrote about it at length. To briefly recap: prior to Game 2, there were just three World Series games with four plays featuring a WPA of at least .25. Only 11 other World Series games had even had three such moments. Game 2 had five of those big, single-plays that change a game.Sunday’s night’s Game 5 matched that number and produced an even wilder result than we saw just last week.

As I did after Game 2 to provide some context, here are the biggest plays of this year’s postseason by WPA, with Sunday night’s game now included.

Biggest Plays of the 2017 Postseason
GameDate Inning Outs PlayDesc HomeTeam AwayTeam WPA
10/25/2017 10 2 Enrique Hernandez singled to right (Grounder). Logan Forsythe scored. Enrique Hernandez advanced to 2B. Dodgers Astros .468
10/15/2017 9 2 Justin Turner homered (Fly). Yasiel Puig scored. Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Cubs .394
10/29/2017 10 2 Alex Bregman singled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Derek Fisher scored. George Springer advanced to 2B. Astros Dodgers .391
10/7/2017 8 1 Bryce Harper homered (Fly). Victor Robles scored. Nationals Cubs .388
10/14/2017 9 1 Carlos Correa doubled to right (Fliner (Liner)). Jose Altuve scored. Astros Yankees .369
10/25/2017 9 0 Marwin Gonzalez homered (Fliner (Fly)). Dodgers Astros .350
10/25/2017 10 0 Jose Altuve homered (Fliner (Fly)). Dodgers Astros .350
10/29/2017 5 2 Jose Altuve homered (Fly). George Springer scored. Alex Bregman scored. Astros Dodgers .340
10/29/2017 9 2 Chris Taylor singled to center (Grounder). Austin Barnes scored. Astros Dodgers .306
10/24/2017 6 2 Justin Turner homered (Fly). Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Astros .306
10/25/2017 6 2 Corey Seager homered (Fly). Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Astros .306
10/7/2017 8 1 Ryan Zimmerman homered (Fly). Anthony Rendon scored. Daniel Murphy scored. Nationals Cubs .300
10/6/2017 8 0 Jay Bruce homered (Fly). Indians Yankees .298
10/29/2017 5 1 Cody Bellinger homered (Fliner (Fly)). Corey Seager scored. Justin Turner scored. Astros Dodgers .284
10/6/2017 3 2 Aaron Hicks homered (Fliner (Fly)). Starlin Castro scored. Gregory Bird scored. Indians Yankees .278
10/12/2017 5 2 Addison Russell doubled to left (Grounder). Willson Contreras scored. Ben Zobrist scored. Nationals Cubs .271
10/25/2017 11 0 George Springer homered (Fliner (Fly)). Cameron Maybin scored. Dodgers Astros .261
10/9/2017 8 3 Anthony Rizzo singled to center (Fliner (Fly)). Leonys Martin scored. Anthony Rizzo out. Cubs Nationals .259
10/29/2017 7 1 Cody Bellinger tripled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Enrique Hernandez scored. Astros Dodgers .258
10/16/2017 2 2 Todd Frazier homered (Fliner (Fly)). Starlin Castro scored. Aaron Hicks scored. Yankees Astros .258
10/9/2017 8 2 Josh Reddick singled to left (Grounder). Cameron Maybin scored. George Springer advanced to 3B. Red Sox Astros .253
10/9/2017 5 1 Andrew Benintendi homered (Fly). Xander Bogaerts scored. Red Sox Astros .253
10/6/2017 6 2 Francisco Lindor homered (Fliner (Fly)). Carlos Santana scored. Yan Gomes scored. Lonnie Chisenhall scored. Indians Yankees .251
Orange = Game 2
Blue = Game 5

Of the 11 biggest plays in this year’s playoffs, eight have come during the World Series. The fact that it’s the World Series doesn’t make these plays more likely. Any individual game can produce dramatic swings — only one in three actually do have plays with a WPA of at least .25 — but this matchup has produced more dramatic moments than we’ve seen throughout the rest of the playoffs. Individual plays aren’t the end-all-be-all of excitement. In the bottom of the seventh inning on Sunday, for example, the Astros increased their win expectancy from 35% at the beginning of the inning to 93% by the end due to multiple plays of significance, but no single play did as much damage as the plays in the chart above.

When we consider the sheer number of plays we’ve seen in this World Series that have changed win probability by 25%, it blows away every other series we’ve seen, as the graph below shows.

The World Series of 1912, which went eight games due to a tie in Game 2, featured eight big moments. Fred Merkle, who is known mostly for his “boner” in the 1908 series, very well could have been the hero in Game 8 after recording an RBI single off of Smoky Joe Wood in the top of the 10th that put the New York Giants ahead 2-1. He didn’t receive the distinction, however, as Tris Speaker produced an RBI single off of Christy Mathewson to tie the game and then a bases loaded sacrifice fly ended the series.

The 1975 World Series, perhaps most famous for Carlton Fisk‘s Game 6 homer, also had eight big moments, including an RBI single by Joe Morgan in the top of the ninth of Game 7 that broke a 3-3 tie with two outs. This year, the Dodgers and Astros tied the record in Game 5 when Jose Altuve’s three-run homer tied the game at 7, and the two teams broke it three times before the game ended. Here are some of those same numbers from the graph above, but only showing the leaders.

All the years of the World Series omitted from the chart above — and there are number of them — featured fewer game-changing moments over the entirety of the series than occurred in Game 2 and Game 5 of this year’s Dodgers-Astros matchup alone. More than one-third of all series had either one or zero moments of that magnitude. They weren’t necessarily boring, but they might have lacked for some particularly big moments.

We’ve had eras off good and bad pitching and eras with a lot of homers, but we’ve never had a World Series quite like this one. Maybe the ball is juiced and slippery and maybe the teams and the bullpens are worn down because of the long season and increased usage of late, and maybe everybody is trying to hit it out of the park, but we aren’t just talking about homers here. Three of the five biggest plays on Sunday night were on batted balls that stayed in the park. Two were singles. Because we haven’t looked at it yet, here’s the win-expectancy graph from Sunday.

When looking at Game 2, I couldn’t help but compare it to probably the craziest World Series game anyone has ever seen: Game 6 in 2011. While Game 2 this year had five “big moments,” the moments back in 2011 were bigger at the top, and there was a lot more depth in terms of tension and moments. Game 5 comes a lot closer to matching up with Game 6, which, as an elimination game, carried a bit more weight in terms seasonal leverage.

Here are the top-20 plays in terms of WPA for each game:

Game 6, 2011 vs Game 5, 2017
Game 6, 2011 Game 5, 2017
Play LI WPA WPA LI Play
David Freese tripled to right (Fliner (Fly)). Albert Pujols scored. Lance Berkman scored. 3.33 .538 .391 4.34 Alex Bregman singled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Derek Fisher scored. George Springer advanced to 2B.
Lance Berkman singled to center (Fliner (Liner)). Jon Jay scored. Albert Pujols advanced to 3B. 6.42 .471 .340 1.84 Jose Altuve homered (Fly). George Springer scored. Alex Bregman scored.
Josh Hamilton homered (Fly). Elvis Andrus scored. 2.95 .428 .306 4.56 Chris Taylor singled to center (Grounder). Austin Barnes scored.
David Freese homered (Fly). 2.19 .376 .284 2.61 Cody Bellinger homered (Fliner (Fly)). Corey Seager scored. Justin Turner scored.
Lance Berkman homered (Fly). Skip Schumaker scored. 0.84 .217 .258 2.05 Cody Bellinger tripled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Enrique Hernandez scored.
Adrian Beltre homered (Fliner (Fly)). 1.53 .213 .234 1.91 George Springer homered (Fly).
Michael Young doubled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Josh Hamilton scored. 2.02 .172 .233 1.92 Yulieski Gurriel homered (Fly). Jose Altuve scored. Carlos Correa scored.
Yadier Molina walked. Lance Berkman scored. Matt Holliday advanced to 3B. David Freese advanced to 2B. 4.75 .162 .205 2.36 Jose Altuve doubled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Alex Bregman scored.
Jon Jay singled to left (Fliner (Fly)). Daniel Descalso advanced to 2B. 3.31 .140 .170 2.87 Logan Forsythe singled to left (Liner). Chris Taylor scored. Justin Turner scored. Enrique Hernandez advanced to 3B.
Nelson Cruz homered (Fly). 0.9 .125 .164 2.27 Corey Seager doubled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Joc Pederson scored. Chris Taylor advanced to 3B.
Ian Kinsler hit a ground rule double (Fliner (Liner)). Craig Gentry scored. 1.26 .117 .136 2.07 Austin Barnes doubled to center (Fliner (Liner)).
David Freese walked. Lance Berkman advanced to 3B. Matt Holliday advanced to 2B. 3.61 .109 .130 1.79 Carlos Correa doubled to left (Liner). George Springer scored. Jose Altuve advanced to 3B.
Elvis Andrus singled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Ian Kinsler advanced to 3B. 1.52 .096 .110 1.54 Justin Turner doubled to center (Fliner (Fly)).
Mike Napoli singled to right (Liner). Nelson Cruz scored. 1.59 .095 .072 1.96 Justin Turner walked. Corey Seager advanced to 2B.
Josh Hamilton singled to right (Grounder). Ian Kinsler scored. Elvis Andrus advanced to 3B. 1.76 .091 .072 1.35 Yulieski Gurriel doubled to left (Fliner (Fly)).
Daniel Descalso singled to right (Liner). 1.64 .086 .070 1.34 Yasiel Puig advanced on a stolen base. Logan Forsythe advanced to 2B on error. Error by Yulieski Gurriel.
Matt Holliday walked. Lance Berkman advanced to 2B. 2.1 .079 .066 0.77 Carlos Correa homered (Fly). Jose Altuve scored.
Nelson Cruz reached on error to left (Fly). Nelson Cruz advanced to 2B. Error by Matt Holliday. 1.08 .079 .060 1.96 Enrique Hernandez walked. Chris Taylor advanced to 3B. Justin Turner advanced to 2B.
Ian Kinsler singled to center (Grounder). Derek Holland scored. Ian Kinsler advanced to 2B. 0.78 .077 .060 0.69 Austin Barnes singled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Logan Forsythe scored.
Lance Berkman walked. 2.4 .075 .059 1.76 Andre Ethier singled to left (Grounder).

Ultimately, even the games from the current World Series — objectively crazy as they’ve been — can’t compete with Game 6 from 2011, which featured three win-probability changes of at least 40%. Where Sunday night’s contest can match up with 2011 is the significance of the plays after the top three. If we simply average the top-10 plays, it comes to 28% for 2011 and 26% for Sunday night. If we go down to the top-20 plays, the averages are 19% and 17%, respectively.

While we might not remember it with all the hits, Sunday’s game also had its share of big outs. In Game 2, there were just two plays where the pitcher’s team increased its chances of winning by at least 10%; on Sunday, there were four. That doesn’t quite measure up to the seven from Game 6 in 2011, but it isn’t too far off. Game 6 also has the 11 plays with a leverage index greater than 4.0, compared to just one in Game 2 and three in Game 5.

Game 2 was crazy. Game 5 was even crazier. We aren’t guaranteed more of the same in the next contest (or two), and odds are actually against it. It felt surreal watching Sunday’s game go back and forth. The numbers support that feeling. Removing emotion from the equation reveals just as crazy an outcome as it felt watching — which for me, enhances my already great appreciation for the game.


Which Home Run Was Worse?

After the way that Game 5 played out, I knew I had to give this some breathing room. There are things you want to talk and read about right after a game is finished, and there are things you want to talk and read about much later on. This is hardly the most important content about the Astros’ tie-breaking victory in their final home game of the season. I just have a question, and I’d love to see how you respond. I’ve been thinking about this since before I fell asleep.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Sunday night, Carlos Correa faced Brandon Morrow and knocked a two-run homer out to left field. The Astros went ahead 11-8. In the top of the ninth inning, Yasiel Puig faced Chris Devenski and knocked a two-run homer out to left field. The Dodgers tightened the gap to 12-11. By the rules, both home runs were legitimate. There’s no question that the balls left the yard on the fly. Live by the Crawford Boxes, and die by the Crawford Boxes. Correa and Puig both hit two-run home runs. They were significant. But, in your own personal opinion, which home run was worse?

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Incredulous Responses to Bill Miller’s Strike Zone

No one ever wants to have to talk about the strike zone. If the zone is called well, there’s nothing to discuss; if it isn’t, that’s a problem, but it’s all deeply unfulfilling. Fans don’t want to be helped by the strike zone, because it takes something away from a team’s own achievements. And fans don’t want to be hurt by the strike zone, because it leaves them feeling cheated. Every baseball fan everywhere acknowledges that the game involves a certain human element, but we all prefer to think the games are decided by the players, and by the players alone. Introducing a third party tends to make people upset.

Among the great reliefs of Game 5 is that it won’t be remembered for home-plate umpire Bill Miller. The game packed in enough astonishing action that there are more interesting and important points to make besides the zone having been so weird. Miller made some strange calls, but every pitcher was also entirely gassed, and balls were flying over the fence. Alex Bregman won the game with a walk-off single. Although the zone was pitcher-friendly, there were still 11 total walks and 25 total runs. The lingering image isn’t one of a hitter shaking his head.

Yet the obnoxious reality is that the zone was a factor. The zone is always a factor, because every game changes with every individual pitch. On Sunday, some pitches were called unlike how they usually are. The zone is woven in, inextricable, a part of the larger game story. We’d prefer not to think about it, but blissful ignorance doesn’t acknowledge all that went on.

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Does the Juiced Ball Lead to Straighter Pitches?

The ball is going faster in both directions these days. Velocities are up, exit velocities are up, and the players are openly discussing the changed nature of the ball. Slippery balls are maybe flattening out sliders this World Series. Are they, though? We can look at what’s happening now, and then we can also compare movement across different times in baseball’s rapidly changing environment as a comparison.

Turns out, movement is the product of a complicated relationship between the pitcher’s mechanics, the seams on the baseball, and how fast the ball is going. (Who would’ve guessed? Pitching is complicated.) Every ball is also slightly different — it’s put together by humans from the hide of a cow, after all — but we’ll never truly know exactly how different this World Series ball really is.

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