Austin Riley Lifts the Braves to a Game 1 Victory

For eight innings, the Dodgers’ impromptu bullpen game was going nearly to plan, with their cavalcade of relievers holding the Braves to two runs on just four hits. With the game tied heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts brought in his eighth pitcher of the evening, Blake Treinen, hoping to force extra innings. It proved to be a bridge too far for his relief corps. A one-out bloop single by Ozzie Albies followed by a stolen base put him in position to score the winning run. Austin Riley delivered the big hit, his second of the night after a game-tying home run in the fourth inning:

It was a bit of déjà vu for both Riley and Treinen. These same two teams met in the NLCS last year and it was Riley who wound up hitting the game-winning home run off Treinen in the ninth inning of Game 1. In this case, it was a line drive single to left field that easily scored Albies from second base. It was the first walk-off hit of Riley’s career and just another high point in a breakout season for the 24-year-old.

After a promising debut in 2019, Riley made some adjustments to his approach in an attempt to address his 36.4% strikeout rate. Those changes worked — his strikeout rate dropped to 23.8% in 2020 — but he struggled to maintain contact quality as good as it had been during his debut. This year, he put everything together, sustaining his plate discipline gains while also producing fantastic contact quality. It led to a 135 wRC and 4.2 WAR, a season that should produce some down-ballot MVP votes.

For the Dodgers, starting off the series on the back foot was always a possibility after Max Scherzer was deemed unavailable to start following his ninth inning appearance in Game 5 of the Division Series. The ZiPS Game-by-Game odds shifted more than five points in the Braves favor after Corey Knebel was named the starter, though Los Angeles was still favored to win, 51.3% to 48.7%. The game didn’t start off exactly to plan either. Eddie Rosario led off with a hard-hit single down the right field line, stole second, advanced to third on a ground out and finally came around to score on a wild pitch. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Brent Strom Ponders the End of the Road

Brent Strom may or may not be calling it a career. The 73-year-old Houston Astros pitching coach said earlier this week that he’s been considering retirement, adding that a decision will be made “when the season ends.” With his team battling Boston in the ALCS, that determination could come as soon as next week, or it could extend into November. Regardless of when he ultimately steps away, Strom will have made a meaningful mark on the game of baseball.

A southpaw whose playing career saw him take the mound for three big-league teams, Strom had his best seasons in 1975 and 1976 when he cumulatively logged a 3.02 ERA over 331 innings with his hometown San Diego Padres. In 1978, he became the second pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery.

The guidance that he’s subsequently provided is what’s garnered him the most respect. For the past three decades, Strom has tutored hurlers at the minor- and major-league levels, serving as both a coordinator and as a pitching coach. Prior to being hired by Houston in October 2013, he spent six years with St. Louis.

I asked Adam Ottavino about Strom prior to ALCS Game 1.

“We had ‘Strommy’ with the Cardinals toward the end of my time in the minors,” said the Red Sox right-hander, who spent five seasons in the St. Louis system after being drafted out of Northeastern University in 2006. “He worked with me when I was struggling in Double-A, and I really liked the way he talked about there being many different ways to go about pitching. You didn’t have to fit into some small little box. At the time, a lot of people were preaching one way of pitching — kind of pitching to contact and throwing fastballs low in the zone — and he wasn’t afraid to challenge that idea.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Grand Fashion, Boston Slams Houston in Game 2

The Red Sox evened the ALCS at 1-1 on Saturday evening with a convincing 9-5 road victory in a game that rarely felt even as close as the four-run deficit suggested.

Lance McCullers Jr.’s injury was one of Houston’s big storylines coming into this series, and the consequences could be seen Saturday as the Astros withered behind Luis Garcia, who likely would not have started this early in the series otherwise. Garcia is fortunate that the Rookie of the Year ballots were already tabulated before the postseason started, as his Game 2 loss was his second poor outing this October, and as in his first appearance, it was one bedeviled by poor location.

Trouble started quickly for Garcia as he fell behind 2-0 against totally stereotypical leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber. The right-hander went right back to the fastball a third time, a pitch Schwarber crushed to deep right for a long double. Garcia received possibly his last bit of good fortune this game against Kiké Hernández, who hit a liner off a high fastball that was grabbed in an excellent dive-and-catch by Astros center fielder Chas McCormick. Rafael Devers worked his way back from an 0-2 count to a walk as Garcia fell into a pattern of nibbling. It worked against Xander Bogaerts, who went up there determined to hit a slider, but not so much with Alex Verdugo, who left his bat on his shoulder in a five-pitch walk. With the bases loaded, J.D. Martinez hit a liner to the opposite field for a grand slam, giving Boston a 4-0 lead. Read the rest of this entry »

Scherzer’s Max-Effort Relief Work Causes Dodgers to Shuffle NLCS Rotation

The bill for using Max Scherzer to close out Game 5 of the Division Series against the Giants has come due. On Saturday afternoon, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced that he would again use Corey Knebel as the opener in Game 1 of the Championship Series against the Braves, presumably to give Scherzer — who threw 13 pitches in closing out the Giants, earned his first career save, and indicated his intent to “party hard” in celebration afterwards — an extra day of rest before his NLCS start, a move that bumps Walker Buehler and Julio Urías back one game as well.

Prior to Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the possibility of using Scherzer, “He’s ready for whatever we need. Obviously the most important thing is to win tonight. But we still have to think about when and if we fire that bullet there is a cost, and we have to weigh other options as far as guys we already have in particular roles who have thrived.”

With Knebel and Brusdar Graterol each pitching scoreless (but hardly adventure-free) innings ahead of Urías on Thursday, the Giants emptied their bench early in order to gain the platoon advantage, but were left with righty Wilmer Flores — who was 0-for-17 with eight strikeouts in his career against Scherzer to that point — batting with two outs in the ninth. He struck out, aided by first base umpire Gabe Morales‘ dubious strike three call on a checked swing. Knebel will again open, and Roberts has indicated that Tony Gonsolin, who has not pitched since September 30, will figure prominently in a bulk role.

From the standpoint of our ZiPS Postseason Game-By-Game Odds, the overall cost is negligible thanks to the quality of the Dodgers’ pitching. The swing in the odds of the individual games appears somewhat steep in spots as the Dodgers reshuffle their rotation, with the Braves’ decision to pitch Ian Anderson in Games 2 and 6 (if necessary) and Charlie Morton in Games 3 and 7 (if necessary) nudging the needle as well:

NL Championship Series Rotation Changes
Game LAD Old LAD New ATL Old ATL New Old Odds (LAD) New Odds (LAD) Change
1 Scherzer Knebel Fried Fried 56.5% 51.3% -5.2%
2 Buehler Scherzer Morton Anderson 54.5% 58.8% 4.3%
3 Urías Buehler Anderson Morton 61.3% 59.3% -2.0%
4 Gonsolin Urías Bullpen Game Bullpen Game 50.8% 60.0% 9.2%
5 Scherzer Gonsolin Fried Fried 61.3% 49.9% -11.4%
6 Buehler Scherzer Morton Anderson 54.5% 58.8% 4.3%
7 Urías Buehler Anderson Morton 56.7% 54.5% -2.2%

Max Fried’s Game 1 assignment and the Braves’ use of some kind of bullpen configuration for Game 4 were thus the only constants for either side. Still, it all comes out in the wash, moving the overall series odds by less than 1%:

NLCS Outcome Projection Change
Outcome Prob Prob Change
Braves win in 4 Games 3.8% 3.3% -0.5%
Braves win in 5 Games 7.5% 8.9% 1.4%
Braves win in 6 Games 11.8% 11.1% -0.7%
Braves win in 7 Games 12.9% 13.6% 0.7%
Braves Total 36.0% 36.8% 0.8%
Dodgers win in 4 Games 9.6% 10.7% 1.1%
Dodgers win in 5 Games 18.8% 16.1% -2.7%
Dodgers win in 6 Games 18.7% 20.1% 1.4%
Dodgers win in 7 Games 16.9% 16.3% -0.6%
Dodgers Total 64.0% 63.2% -0.8%

A Fall FanGraphs Membership Update

With the postseason in full swing and the offseason looming, it’s time for a FanGraphs Membership update.

First, I’d like to thank all of our Members for their support this season. Your Membership dollars go directly to paying our staff and keeping the lights on at the site. When you subscribe, you are supporting our 10 full-time employees and 23 contributors, and I thought I’d take this chance to briefly highlight the work they do every day.

In addition to myself, we have nine full-time staff members. Ben Clemens brings you insightful daily baseball analysis, co-authors the Trade Value series, and is spearheading our upcoming Top 50 Free Agent rankings. Sean Dolinar is our lead web developer and is constantly making updates and additions to the site, creating new tools and improving the user experience. Kevin Goldstein, provides first-hand knowledge of how teams operate as well as insightful prospect analysis, and hosts Chin Music. Jay Jaffe brings you daily baseball analysis, deep dives into the game’s history, and is the foremost expert on all things Hall of Fame related. Eric Longenhagen is our lead prospect analyst and spearheads all of our prospect and draft coverage, as well as maintaining The Board. Jason Martinez is the man behind FanGraphs’ RosterResource and makes sure every roster move and player contract is meticulously tracked. Meg Rowley, our managing editor, makes FanGraphs “go” and co-hosts the Effectively Wild podcast. Paul Sporer is RotoGraphs’ managing editor and the co-host of The Sleeper and The Bust, and provides fantasy rankings and analysis year round. Dan Szymborski is the architect of the ZiPS projection system and provides daily analysis as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Astros Outlast Red Sox to Open ALCS

The Dutch historian and children’s author Hendrik Willem van Loon had an enjoyable definition of eternity. Every thousand years, he said, a bird comes to sharpen its beak on a hundred-mile-high, hundred-mile-wide rock. When the rock has been worn away by the bird’s beak, one day of eternity will have passed.

Personally, I think he could have just used the pitches in tonight’s Astros-Red Sox game to count eternity. Two of the best, grindiest offenses in baseball faced off against two starters who scuffled with control, and the result was a ponderous affair that lasted more than four hours and tested the nerves and patience of fans on both sides.

The Red Sox set the tone with a disciplined, persistent attack. After a leadoff single was erased by a double play, they wore Framber Valdez down, beak-sharpening peck by peck. A walk put a runner back on first. A flare over the shift added another runner before a walk loaded the bases. Hunter Renfroe flew out to end the threat, but the Red Sox had Valdez’s number. They hardly swung at bad pitches and rarely missed when they did swing. Read the rest of this entry »

Postseason Preview: Dodgers and Braves Reprise Last Year’s NLCS Matchup

When the postseason began, a rematch of the 2020 National League Championship Series only had about a 21% chance of happening, according to our Playoff Odds. But after some particularly unlikely occurrences — not just the lower seeds advancing in the Division Series — here we are. Freddie Freeman became the first lefty to hit a homer off Josh Hader in nearly 13 months, and the first to do so on a slider in more than two years, while lifting the Braves past the Brewers in Game 4. The Dodgers won the Wild Card game via a walkoff home run by a slumping Chris Taylor and then eked out a narrow victory over the 107-win Giants in similarly heart-stopping fashion, with the winning hit in Thursday night’s Game 5 delivered by Cody Bellinger on the heels of a nightmare season. That’s baseball, Suzyn.

Unlike last year, this time around the Braves will have home-field advantage despite winning 18 fewer regular season games than the Dodgers, because the current playoff format deals a stiff penalty to teams sneaking into the postseason via the Wild Card door. Atlanta’s advantage could be significant at some point in the series, particularly if it goes past five games, but it’s worth noting the Braves went just 42-38 at home, tying the Marlins for the NL’s 10th-highest win total in that split; meanwhile, their 46-35 road record ranked fourth in the NL. The Dodgers had the best home record (58-23) and third-best road record (48-33), and just won an elimination game (and two of their three Division Series games) in enemy territory. The talent gap between the two teams probably matters more than the venue in which they meet, though in a short series… you know the rest. Read the rest of this entry »

Giancarlo Stanton’s Long Single

Every now and then, something happens in a major league game that arouses my interest as a baseball physicist. In the sixth inning of the recent American League Wild Card game, the Red Sox were up 3-1. With Aaron Judge on first and one out, Giancarlo Stanton hit a laser of a shot that bounced high off the left-center field wall at Fenway, barely missing a home run. As it happened, Judge was thrown out at home plate, while Stanton took second on the throw. It was truly a game-changing play. But what I really want to talk about is Stanton’s shot, particularly the distance the ball would have gone had it reached field level unobstructed. That is the usual meaning attached to “home run distance.” Although not normally done, I want to apply it to a single.

As it turns out, there is a wealth of data available that allows us to figure this out. First, we know the Statcast measurement of the launch conditions:

Table 1: Giancarlo Stanton Statcast Launch Parameters
Exit Velocity (mph) Launch Angle (deg) Spray Angle (deg) Spin Rate (rpm) Spin Axis (deg)
114.9 17.8 -11.9 1115 184

The most important of these parameters, exit velocity and launch angle, are publicly available. Of lesser importance to the calculation are the spray angle, spin rate, and spin axis. Note that the ball is hit very hard and, typical of Stanton, at a somewhat low launch angle. For both those reasons, the spin rate is not particularly large and the spin axis indicates nearly perfect backspin (i.e., very little sidespin). Note also that the small negative spray angle means the ball was hit slightly to the left-field side of center. Read the rest of this entry »

Chin Music, Episode 35: This Is for 1934!

The postseason continues, as does Chin Music, and even though we had a last-second (and perfectly understandable) guest cancellation, I am joined by Steven Goldman of The Infinite Inning podcast and Baseball Prospectus for more than two hours of baseball talk and other stuff. We begin by reviewing the three Division Series that have ended, as well as the one that hadn’t at the time of recording, followed by a philosophical discussion on what defines a successful season. Then it’s your emails on why catchers don’t hit, what base coaches actually do, as well as a long discussion about my personal feelings (both good and bad) when watching the Houston Astros, and how I wish people understood that they don’t need to avoid the subject with me. We finish by catching up with Steven before discussing the darkest of dark comedies, 1971’s Little Murders.

As always, we hope you enjoy, and thank you for listening.

Music by Kowloon Walled City.

Have a question you’d like answered on the show? Ask us anything at Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Audio: Bill Koch on Baseball’s Raucous October

Episode 944

This week on FanGraphs Audio, we go over the first round of the playoffs before looking ahead to both Championship Series.

  • To begin the program, David Laurila welcomes Bill Koch of The Providence Journal to talk about Boston’s ALDS win over the Rays. Not many expected the team’s season to go this way, but the return of Chris Sale and a continually impressive Garrett Whitlock have the Fenway faithful loud and ready for more October baseball. David and Bill talk about that weird off-the-wall play in Game 4, the effects of baseball’s competitive balance on October, and how the Red Sox will match up against a perennially competitive Houston club in the ALCS. [2:23]
  • After that, Ben Clemens and Dan Szymborski get together to banter about the other playoff matchups. We’ve seen some intense rivalries play out in exciting ways so far, while other so-called feuds seem weirdly one-sided or manufactured. Ben and Dan discuss the Brewers’ offensive woes (and who their main rival is), the news of Lance McCullers Jr.’s questionable availability for the ALCS, Dan being ejected as a mouthy little-leaguer, and more. [29:23]

Read the rest of this entry »