Tuesday, October 8, 2013

MLB Playoffs, Day Five

Good golly, they had a bunch of great baseball games yesterday!  I don't like the Wild Cards in baseball -- I think they're incredibly unfair to teams that played the best during the regular season.  But the games yesterday were as entertaining as you could hope for:

Oakland 6, Detroit 3:  The A's went to Detroit for a game that started at 10 A.M. Pacific time -- and finally got the home runs that Moneyball depends on.  Oakland ran out to a 6-3 lead after 4 and 1/2 innings -- and then shut out Detroit the rest of the way.

St. Louis 2, Pittsburgh 1:  With their backs against the wall, the Cardinals sent out Michael Wacha -- a 22-year-old rookie -- and all he did was pitch a one-hitter through seven and one-third innings.  In fact, Pittsburgh only got one hit in the whole game -- a solo homer by Pedro Alvarez.  St. Louis only got three hits, but one of those was a two-run homer by Matt Holliday.

Tampa Bay 5, Boston 4:  With their backs against the wall, the never-say-die Devil Rays had a back-and-forth battle with Boston.  The Red Sox, trailing 4-3 in the top of the ninth, scored a run to tie the game.  But in the bottom of the ninth, Jose Lobaton hit a walk-off homer to keep Tampa Bay alive.

Los Angeles 4, Atlanta 3:  Rather than save Clayton Kershaw for Game Five, the Dodgers decided to pitch their ace in Game Four, seeking to end the series once and for all.  Kershaw pitched well, but Dodger miscues allowed Atlanta to take a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 8th.  The Braves, who have relied on a strong bullpen all year, brought in David Carpenter (4-1, ERA of 1.78) to pitch the eighth.  The amazing Yasiel Puig greeted him with a double.  This brought up Jose Uribe, who tried -- but failed -- to bunt Puig to third.  Finally, Uribe whacked a 2-2 pitch into the left field seats to win the game, and the series, for L.A.  Dodger fans celebrated their revenge for Atlanta's divisional title back in 1991.  Atlanta fans were left to ponder their seventh consecutive defeat in a playoff series, and to wonder if they should have brought in their closer after Puig's double.  At least he'll be well-rested for next year.

So now the series look like this:

National League Divisional Series (Best of Five)
Los Angeles beat Atlanta 3-1
St. Louis and Pittsburgh are tied 2-2

American League Divisional Series (Best of Five)
Boston leads Tampa Bay 2-1
Oakland leads Detroit 2-1

Here are today's games (all times Central):

Oakland at Detroit (4:07 P.M. on TBS)
Boston at Tampa Bay (7:37 P.M. on TBS)


  1. Oh, yeah, also, Aunt Kaat seems to have hated Moneyball. He and the MLB Network play-by-play dude agreed that this version of the A's didn't much jibe with the current A's, and then Kaat said that even the Oakland team back then actually didn't have much to do with the version presented in the movie. I don't know what is precisely right here. I rooted for that A's team that Moneyball depicts, and it sure looked different than other teams at its time. I do know that Scott Hatteberg really did play first base for the A's, and I do know that they really did win 20 games in a row after looking like a mess earlier in the year, and I do know that it really was a heck of a fun season. But, whatever, I'm sure Jim Kaat is right about everything given that he played pro baseball for a million years and now gets to talk about it on TV.

    I am thankful to Aunt Kaat that his performance yesterday encouraged me to look up Moneyball on Wikipedia and that I subsequently learned that Bill James once appeared on an episode of The Simpsons.

    1. Folks like Jim Kaat tend to think that Oakland's success in the early 2000's was due to the fact that it had great pitching, and that the Moneyball stuff was just a coincidence.

    2. Right. That's what he said yesterday--that it was all Mulder, Zito and Hudson. Those guys were great. Heck, Hudson and Zito are still pitching.

      Of course, I thought the movie was great, too.

    3. In 2001, the A's had Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. They scored 884 runs (4th in the league) and they allowed 645 runs (2d best in the league). That translated into a .630 winning percentage, as they won 102 games.

      Then they lost Giambi, Damon, et cetera, and they were expected to be down -- even though their pitching was still expected to be good. They allowed 654 runs (2d in the league), pretty much what they had done in 2001. However, they did manage to score 800 runs (8th in the league), and that was enough for them to have a great year.

      How did they score 800 runs? They were 9th in the league in batting average, and they stole only 46 bases (last in the league). But they were 4th in home runs, and 3d in walks. So they did, in fact, make up for being slow and not able to get a lot of hits by concentrating on power and working the count.

    4. The bottom line is that Kaat and others are not wrong when they say that pitching was at the heart of Oakland's success in the early 2000's. But we've known for 100 years that teams can win with great pitching. What we didn't know before was how guys who hit for power and draw walks are much more valuable than we realized. That's the real story of those teams, as Michael Lewis properly recognized.

    5. Here's another way to think about it. Which of these third basemen was the most valuable in 1978?

      Pete Rose: .302, 7 HR's, 52 RBI's
      Ron Cey: .270, 23 HR's, 84 RBI's
      Mike Schmidt: .251, 21 HR's, 78 RBI's

      Well, in 1978 we thought we knew that Rose was the best of those three players. Rose was, in fact, the starting third baseman on the 1978 National League All-Star team, Cey was the back-up, and Schmidt didn't make the team.

      But we were wrong, because we overrated batting average. Bill James showed that what matters is how often you get on base and how much power you have to move people around the bases. So now we look at on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging average (SLG). Here's what those numbers showed:

      Cey: OBP of .380, SLG of .452
      Schmidt: OBP of .364, SLG of .435
      Rose: OBP of .362, SLG of .421

      We thought that no one was better at "setting the table" than Pete Rose, and that this made up for his lack of power. But Cey and Schmidt were both getting on base more often than Rose, and of course were hitting for more power as well.

      And that's not all. New ways of looking at defense and other stats allow us to calculate "Wins Above Replacement" -- that is, the difference between any player and a scrub you could bring up from the minors. Here is how the three third basemen rank in that category:

      Schmidt: 6.2
      Cey: 5.3
      Rose: 3.4

      Schmidt and Cey were each the most valuable position player on their team, and were significantly more valuable than Rose. In fact, Rose was only the fourth most valuable position player for the Reds, behind George Foster, Johnny Bench, and Dave Concepcion.

    6. Yeah, I think that's correct. The movie (and the book, I imagine) is about one part of the story. But Aunt Kaat wants to discredit the whole deal. I imagine he's friends with all of the real guys who were depicted as being dubious of Brad Pitt's strategy.

    7. Now here's the thing: We didn't know any of this in 1978. I'm looking at the NL MVP voting for 1978. Larry Bowa came in 3rd. Steve Garvey came in 2d. Pete Rose came in 11th. Neither Cey nor Schmidt finished in the top 25 -- and they were better than any of those guys. That's how little we knew.

    8. By the way, in my neighborhood in Paducah, we absolutely ranked Cey to be the best of these players, with Schmidt a solid second and Rose maybe third. Kenny Reitz would've gotten some nutso Cardinals votes for third-best, even.

      When I was a kid, I thought there was no possible way that Cesar Cedeno wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame on first ballot.

    9. If you collected baseball cards, you knew.

    10. By the way, the most valuable player in the National League in 1978 -- by a lot -- was Phil Niekro. He had 42 starts for the Braves, and threw 334 innings. He had 248 strikeouts and only 102 walks. His ERA was only 2.88 -- an ERA of less than 3 in 334 innings!

      But he pitched for a bad team (the Braves), which went 69-93. So his record was 19-18. That was still incredible -- the Braves went 50-75 in their other games, so he took them from a .400 team to a better-than-.500 team. But we didn't pay attention to that stuff. Niekro came in 17th in the NL MVP voting -- six spots behind Pete Rose. Niekro was sixth in the CY Young voting, even though he pitched at least 60 innings more than everyone who finished ahead of him.

    11. I don't think it's a coincidence that the rise of Sabrmetrics corresponds with the maturity of our generation. We had grown up with baseball cards and tabletop games, and so we were more open to James's ideas. Our generation was wrong about Iraq, but we were right about baseball.

    12. Topps National League All-Star third basemen:

      -- 1974, Ron Santo
      -- 1975, Ron Cey
      -- 1976, Ron Cey
      -- 1977, Pete Rose
      -- 1978, Pete Rose
      -- 1979, Ron Cey
      -- 1980, Mike Schmidt
      -- 1981, Mike Schmidt
      -- 1982, Mike Schmidt
      -- 1983, Mike Schmidt
      -- 1984, Mike Schmidt