WPS recap: ALDS, 10/5/2013

The schedule throttles back from yesterday’s overdrive, leaving us time to ponder a question of practicality. If the baseball playoffs are going to have a couple of days with four games, wouldn’t it make sense to juggle the schedule so that one of them falls on a weekend? As it stands, we got a quad-header on Friday, and will get one on Monday. It would be nice for today’s kids (and I mean the East Coast kids) to be able to watch a postseason game or two through to the end. Not to mention those of us with work.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Rays       0   1   0   0   2   1   0   0   0    4
Red Sox    2   0   2   1   1   0   0   1   X    7
(Red Sox lead series 2-0)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Rays      19  23   6  13  33  22  28  18   4  
Red Sox   24   5  22  12  17   3   3   6   X
WPS Base: 255.7  Best Plays: 35.2  Last Play: 0.5  Grand Total: 291.4

After a lot of poor games and one good one, we finally get something about average. There are plenty of ways to come out average in WPS. In this game, it was the home team getting out to an early and wide lead, but the visitor pecking away and frequently threatening more.

Boston bent under that pressure, but didn’t break. The Sox turned double plays in the seventh and eighth innings, the first of them with the tying runs on base, producing a 0.141 WPA for the biggest play of the game. So another game goes to the modern House of David—and I don’t mean Ortiz.

Red Sox fans will disagree with his exclusion. Ortiz’s two home runs off David Price, almost perfect bookends for the game, symbolized the surprisingly easy time Boston had with the Rays ace. Despite the peppering he took, he lasted into the eighth inning, barely getting over 100 pitches. If Joe Maddon thought there were no better alternatives in the bullpen, that could bode ill for what slim chances the Rays have to rebound in this series.

Wil Myers‘ miscue yesterday hounded him today. The spectators rode him pitilessly with chants of Myyyyy-errrrrs!, very often when nothing was happening that involved him. When he first came to bat, or when a fly ball headed his way, it was instead derisive cheers, including a long, exaggerated hand when he caught a ball. He smiled through it, but the stiff upper lip did him no good. He went 0-for-5, including the final out of the game, a painful final blow.

You’ll remember from several days ago how I loved Pirates fans going after Johnny Cueto and the string of relievers behind him. Maybe it’s my rooting interests talking, but I don’t feel the same way with the Bostonians. This felt too premeditated, as I guess it might be several days after PNC’s fans made their impact, as well as gratuitous, especially when nothing involving Myers was happening. We’ll see if this treatment lasts into next year. (I doubt the denizens of Fenway will get another chance to taunt him this season.)

Boston fans did have other ways of enjoying themselves at the game. Noteworthy were the three men sitting behind home plate, each bedecked with a thick fake beard. They would occasionally lend out their beards to other fans for a half-inning, though one seemed to have done so just so he could drink his beer unimpeded. I’m not sure whether that’s practical or weak.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Tigers     0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0    0
A's        0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   1    1
(Series tied 1-1)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Tigers     7  14   5   6  30   7   8  24  12 
A's        5   5   5   9  30   7  31  41  38  
WPS Base: 282.2  Best Plays: 47.2  Last Play: 6.8  Grand Total: 336.2

This is an interesting kind of game for the WPS Index. WPS likes scoring, because that swings the winning probabilities, so a long string of zeroes tends to be a drag on the numbers. WPS also likes close games, and a game where neither side takes the lead until the final at-bat is literally as close as a game can be. Pulled in two directions, the game splits the difference, landing a little above the mean in this case. Told you there were plenty of ways a game could be average in WPS.

The game went next to nowhere in the first four innings, simply because pitchers Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander were so strong. Gray allowed the only serious threat in that stretch—you can see where—and the lack of a good chance for runs to score suppressed the WPS. A pitcher’s duel with no threats ends up static. The fifth brought a pair of rallies, and there were enough in the rest of the game before the decisive ninth to push the game above the midpoint.

There’s one oddity in the numbers, not affecting the total score that much, that I will mention. FanGraphs, from which I get the WPA data that supports this whole enterprise of mine, counted the strikeout/throw-out that ended Detroit’s fifth as two separate plays rather than one. That doesn’t affect the base numbers, but it took what would have made the Best Play list and broke it in halves that didn’t. I would consider the K+CS double play to be one play, but I’ll accept FanGraphs’ verdict. If you don’t, though, you can add 6.5 points to the grand total.

Well, maybe there are two oddities. A walk-off win seems like it should end with a bigger final play than a 6.8. You have to consider, though, that the A’s had the bases packed with no outs. That 6.8 ends up saying that the Tigers had just a 13.6 percent chance of escaping the inning without the winning run coming across. (Trust me on the math.) The result has almost been decided, so the conclusion doesn’t tally that well. If the Tigers had held the run off the board, that would have meant a juicy WPA swing.

Home plate umpire CB Bucknor, who caught flak recently on a flagrantly blown out call at first, threatened to have a similar effect on this game. His strike three call on the A’s Seth Smith to end the second was quite low and away, and he wasn’t even calling that consistently all night.

Then in the fifth, with Oakland rallying to break the ice, Stephen Vogt swung at a pitch that hit the dirt before getting to Alex Avila‘s glove. Bucknor ruled it a foul tip, caught for strike three. Replays suggest he missed both elements of the call (he definitely blew the second). It may be that, via two mistakes, he got to the right conclusion after all, that Vogt struck out. Two wrongs aren’t supposed to make a right, but the rules change in the Bucknor Zone.

One batter earlier in the fifth, with runners on first and second and nobody out, Josh Reddick attempted a bunt, and popped out to Miguel Cabrera. The A’s, more than a decade after Moneyball, still don’t bunt much, so this was surprising—even though this was one of the better tactical situations, with two on and an elite pitcher on the mound (for those who still accept a down-year Verlander as elite). Could Billy Beane have decided that, since his you-know-what doesn’t work in the playoffs, to try everyone else’s you-know-what? If so, maybe it’s time to switch back. A results-oriented opinion, but mine own.

Personally, I’m glad the late flurries pushed this game into better-than-average territory. Not merely because we’ve been lacking in above-average games this postseason, but because it’d look a touch silly for this game to have fallen short in WPS when it did not on the field. I don’t even mind how late this one kept me up.

Much. Three-plus hours for a 1-0 game? Gotta be October.

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

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A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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Ricky W.
Ricky W.

Alas, baseball isn’t about the fans anymore.

Shane Tourtellotte
Shane Tourtellotte
Ricky, the game is still about the fans, even if the layers of stuff going on between the two makes the relationship hard to see.  Networks pay big bucks to show baseball games because they believe they’ll make the money back, and more, selling to advertisers who want their products in front of a lot of eager eyeballs.  Corporations pay millions for stadium naming rights to give their brand names positive connotations to lots of people who get emotionally invested in the games that happen in those parks.  No matter how convoluted the relationship gets, the fans still have to… Read more »

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