Pads-Rox and the agony of a Sabermetrician
October 2, 2007 4 Comments
I normally don’t post game reviews (the blog is supposed to be about Sabermetrics… and it will be), and I haven’t got a rooting interest in either the Rockies or the Padres, but their 13-inning survival-fest last night to decide the National League Wild Card deserves some special mention. I always make it a point to watch one-game playoffs (or any sort of do-or-die game, like a Game 7) of any kind. Even if it’s hockey, a sport in which I haven’t the slightest idea of what’s going on, a single elimination game is always at least interesting to watch. But, when it’s my first love, baseball, it’s that much sweeter.
Because of my vantage point as a disinterested fan (in the proper sense of the word “disinterested” meaning, “I really don’t care who wins but I’m watching on pins and needles”… as opposed to “uninterested”, which would describe the announcers on TBS who called the game as though they were calling a junior high game between two mediocre teams while hopped up on benzodiazepines… anyway, back to the original sentence…), I found myself occasionally swooning, occasionally fuming, and occasionally laughing, and occasionally scratching my head.
Before we go anywhere: Matt Holliday never did touch home plate. At least as best as I can tell, anyway. And I don’t plan on losing any sleep over it. What will haunt me was the Rockies mascot (who looks worryingly like Baby Bop from Barney), attempting to psych out Trevor Hoffman in the 13th inning by doing some sort of Exorcist thing with the headpiece of his costume turned around while wiggling his fingers at the pitcher and doing it all right behind the backstop. No wonder Trevor Hoffman gave up the lead.
Speaking of Hoffman, Bud Black’s usage of the future Hall of Fame closer was puzzling from a strategic point of view. The Padres were the road team in a tie game that had gone to extra innings (or the ninth inning for that matter.) Assuming that your closer really is your best reliever (more on that in a moment), strategically for a road team in those circumstances, it makes more sense to bring the closer in with the game tied rather than waiting for your team to grab the lead so that he can pitch in a “save situation.” In the bottom of the ninth, Black stuck with a highly effective (and quite good) Heath Bell. I can’t fault him there. In the tenth, he sent out… drumroll please… Doug Brocail. To be fair, Brocail had a decent year, but he also has the distinction of having served up the most homeruns (8 in 75 IP… playing half of his games in Petco) of all of Bud Black’s options in a situation where a homerun would have ended the game. I think now would also be a good time to point out that the game was being played in Colorado.
For those of you who are about to argue, hear me out. Let’s first agree that Trevor Hoffman is a better pitcher than Doug Brocail. By better pitcher I mean “less likely, on paper anyway, to give up a run.” Practically, it would have been easy enough to have Hoffman warm up in the top of the tenth (I think he actually was) to bring him in for the bottom of the tenth, whether or not the Pads had the lead. Let’s also suppose that Hoffman and Brocail are your only two choices for who will pitch. (You can substitute any name you want in for Brocail.) Let’s also assume that Hoffman would only be able to pitch one inning (seeing the circumstances, that’s unlikely.)
If you are the road team in a tie game that is now heading to the bottom of a “last” inning (ninth inning or later), you face a situation where if you give up a run to the home team, the game is over and you lose.
If you manage to get out of that inning with no damage and score a run in the top of the next inning, in the bottom of that inning (which is likely now a save situation and where the closer is usually brought in), if you give up a run, the game is back to tied and you live to fight another inning.
So, the stakes are higher when the game is tied. But managers put in their inferior relievers when the stakes are higher all in the name of saving the closer for that all-important “save situation.” The proper use of pitchers would be Hoffman to preserve the tie, and the lesser Brocail (or someone else, doesn’t matter) to nail down the lead when he has a little more room for error. Of course, Brocail pitched 1.2 innings of shutout ball and Hoffman gave up the three runs that lost the game. I suppose that’s why they play the games on grass, not on paper.
While we’re on the subject of guys who are thought to be better than they really are because they’ve been “closers”, why was Jorge Julio allowed to wear a Major League uniform? Let’s set aside why he was even in the ballgame when the Rockies had other relievers, a few starters who could have been called in for emergency duty, a utility infielder or two, and surely some of the fans who were available to pitch. Julio (8 HR, 62.0 IP, game in Colorado) didn’t seem to be the ideal pitcher to throw out there. Were the Rockies really that desperate? Is there anyone in baseball who’s spitting out a bigger fish-hook today than Jorge Julio?
(Small interlude: during one of the inane cut-aways mid-inning in which the studio host and Cal Ripken tried desperately to look like they were having a natural conversation about baseball, Ripken was discussing A-Rod. Someone in the control booth apparently pressed the wrong button, and as Ripken expounded on A-Rod’s abilities, a shot of a baby filled the screen for about two seconds. That’s the television equivalent of a Freudian slip.)
This game drove the Sabermetrician in me nuts. Jake Peavy… Jake Freaking Peavy!… was starting for the Padres against Josh “Who Are You Again?” Fogg. Peavy, who’s been amazing all year and will still win the Cy Young Award (I hope no one pulls their vote from him on account of this game) gives up six runs in 6.1 IP. The announcers said that Brian Giles has a “good eye” because he always leads the league in walks. Brian Giles leads the league in walks because the man is apparently allergic to swinging. There was all sorts of talk about Colorado having “momentum” going into the playoffs (and coming into this game). In so many ways, this one game violated everything I believe in.
I love October baseball. To quote the greatest philosopher of our time, Miss Britney Jean Spears-
Federline, “Gimme more.”
A small post-script: If there was a replacement level for uniform quality, the San Diego Padres road uniform would be it. Come to think of it, the Padres could just wear orange prison jump suits or just an all grey uniform that had “San Diego” in block lettering or… well, their old 1984 uniforms (classy and tacky in a way only topped by the old Astros’ “rainbow warrior” jerseys). So the current one is probably existing below replacement level. And that’s why the Padres lost.