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-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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

Doug Lampert
Doug Lampert

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.