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There’s a left-handed first baseman putting on an absolute clinic at the plate in the World Series. Throw him a ball? He’s not interested. He’ll take and take until you challenge him in the strike zone. Even then, he might take — it’s three strikes to a strikeout, after all, and you might walk him all the same. He’s hitting well enough to keep people honest, but really, the walks are the main event. No, it’s not Max Muncy (or fine, it’s not just Max Muncy). It’s Ji-Man Choi.
Let’s start with the basics. Here are the playoff batters who swing least often at pitches outside the strike zone, minimum 40 opportunities to chase:
While there’s still a bit of baseball left to be played, this is always the time of the year when I dissect the current season’s ZiPS projections. Baseball history is not so long that we suffer from a surfeit of data, and another season wrapped means more for ZiPS to work with. ZiPS is mature enough at this point that (sadly) the major sources of systematic error have been largely ironed out, but that doesn’t mean that the model doesn’t learn new things from the results.
Last week, we looked at the team projections. Now, we turn our eyes to the hitters. Given the length of the 2020 season, the accuracy and bias of hitters’ projections this year likely offer fewer broadly applicable lessons, but they can still help us learn something about how projections ought to treat truncated seasons.
The first thing I can say with confidence is that, at least when it comes to ZiPS, there was no group tendency that could be gleaned from the projection errors. I assessed the errors using a variety of tools to see if certain types of players had more or less accurate projections or a 2020 tendency to over- or underperform the projections as a group. For instance, did fastball hitters fare better or worse? Did young players, or faster players?
The answer for these and other similar comparisons I looked at was no; none of these attributes had significant predictive value when it came to the magnitude of the errors or the bias of the projections. That’s good news in that 2020 didn’t feature any new calibration errors, but bad news in that we didn’t really learn anything new about short seasons. If, for example, my analysis had revealed that older hitters overperformed their projections as a group, it may have given us new insight into how aging players can better maintain their performance in 60 games rather than 162. On the whole, the errors were uncorrelated in this manner. The exception was the usual one: players with shorter resumés had less accurate projections than players with longer ones, but that’s always the case. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller break down the exciting fourth and fifth games of the World Series, touching on Brett Phillips’ momentous hit and the Dodgers’ momentous misplays at the end of Game 4, the managerial decisions that led to that wild ending, Manuel Margot’s baserunning and Clayton Kershaw’s pitching in Game 5, and other observations, plus a preview of Game 6 and a possible Game 7.
Audio intro: Guided By Voices, "Run Wild"
Audio outro: Dinosaur Jr., "What Was That"
Link to Dan Szymborski on Game 4’s historical significance
Link to list of top plays by cWPA
Link to Mike Petriello on the biggest World Series plays
Link to Sam on single-play WAR
Link to video of Phillips single
Link to Ben Clemens on Game 4’s managerial decisions
Link to Ben Clemens’ Game 4 gamer
Link to BP’s Game 4 breakdown
Link to video of Margot’s trip around the bases
Link to Jon Tayler’s Game 5 gamer
Link to Ben on the Dodgers as a TV show
Link to FanGraphs playoff coverage
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Saturday night, the Rays and Dodgers played one of the wildest World Series games ever. Leads changed hands, runners slipped, pitchers crumbled, and the Rays walked it off in spectacular fashion. At the time, I criticized several managerial decisions, and I wasn’t alone. With the benefit of a few days of thinking, however, I wanted to look back at a few key decisions each manager made and decide whether they were blunders or merely tough decisions that looked worse in hindsight.
For the Dodgers, the key managerial decision was the relief pitcher hierarchy. After a spectacular pitching performance from Walker Buehler the previous night, Dave Roberts had the entire bullpen available. His first decision came with two outs in the fifth inning, when Julio Urías began his third trip through the Rays’ lineup. Urías had been up and down on the night; he had nine strikeouts, but he’d also allowed some loud contact and two home runs. The Rays stacked their lineup to challenge him; the first four hitters were all right-handed.
Roberts went to Blake Treinen, and I think that’s a reasonable choice. The Rays had a bench full of lefties, which means any stretch of righties in their lineup can turn into lefties at the drop of a scorecard. Despite that fact, however, Randy Arozarena probably wasn’t leaving the game, and guaranteeing a Treinen/Arozarena matchup, plus forcing Tampa Bay to use some left-handed pinch hitters, is as close to a positive platoon matchup as the Dodgers were going to get.
That leads us to a pivotal pitching change in the sixth: two runners on, one out, and Brandon Lowe stepping to the plate. Behind Lowe, the Rays had Willy Adames and Hunter Renfroe due up. In theory, that’s two righties and a lefty. In practice, Lowe is the only Tampa Bay hitter who the team couldn’t substitute. That left Dave Roberts with three decisions, in my mind — all of which he would have had to make several batters earlier to allow the pitchers time to warm up. Read the rest of this entry »
He hasn’t hit as many homers as Corey Seager, or made as many highlight-worthy plays as Mookie Betts or Cody Bellinger, but Justin Turner has been a crucial part of the Dodgers’ October success to this point — success that has the team one win away from its first championship since 1988. A perennial force in the postseason during his seven-year run with the team, the 35-year-old third baseman began this year’s playoffs in a bit of a funk, but went on a tear that started in the middle of the NLCS, and has raked at a .364/.391/.818 clip through the first five games of the World Series.
After batting a more-than-respectable .307/.400/.460 (140 wRC+) during the regular season — we’ll get back to that performance — Turner went hitless in eight plate appearances during the Wild Card Series against the Brewers, and just 2-for-10 in the Division Series against the Padres, though he did walk three times and drove in a run in all three games. He singled in each of the first three NLCS games against the Braves, and scored twice during the 15-3 Game 3 rout, but to that point was batting just .167/.278/.167 though 36 PA, with an average exit velocity of just 88.8 mph and an xwOBA of .296. While the two hits he collected in Game 4 came during garbage time, when the Dodgers trailed by six runs, his eighth-inning double off Tyler Matzek was a portent of things to come.
Since then, through the remainder of the NLCS and the first five games of the World Series, Turner has gone 12-for-35 with six doubles, three homers, and four walks (.343/.410/.771), with an average exit velocity of 95.1 mph, a .441 xwOBA, and at least one extra-base hit in seven of the nine games. He homered off Max Fried in the first inning of NLCS Game 6, walked twice and scored the first Dodgers run in Game 7 (the only game in that stretch in which he didn’t hit safely), and collected doubles as his lone hits in the first two games of the World Series.
Turner’s bat was a much bigger deal in Games 3 and 4, as he became the first player to hit first-inning homers in back-to-back games of the World Series. The first of those, off Charlie Morton, gave the Dodgers a lead they didn’t relinquish, and his third-inning double off Morton preceded a two-run single by Max Muncy. After homering off Ryan Yarbrough to start the scoring in Game 4, his third-inning single went for naught, but his seventh-inning double off Aaron Loup set up Joc Pederson’s two-run single, which gave the Dodgers a 6-5 lead, and his eighth-inning single of John Curtiss sent Seager to third base with two outs. Muncy couldn’t bring them home, which proved significant as the Rays came back in the most improbable fashion, but none of that was attributable to Turner’s play. Those big hits:
Watching Game 4 of the World Series, you may not have felt as exhausted as Brett Phillips did when the plane celebration ran out of fuel, but you probably came pretty close. Baseball is at its best when it’s full of unresolved tension, and until that moment of catharsis when the Rays highlight-reel celebration ensued, there were a good six or seven innings of nonstop pressure Saturday night.
Looking at the win probability graph for Game 4 illustrates the rollercoaster everyone rode:
The sheer number of peaks and dips is scary. The outcome was mostly in doubt for the final two-thirds of the game and the arrow of fate couldn’t decide where it was going. For a much less suspenseful game, let’s look at an earlier Dodgers tilt this postseason, the Game 3 NLCS laugher against the Braves that started with an 11-run first inning:
Given how little suspense there was, that might as well have been a graph of fan interest. While the Dodgers were rightly pleased to bank such an easy win, watching eight-and-a-half innings of baseball that’s all but certainly decided isn’t the most compelling viewer experience. I was still watching the game, but at that point, I was paying more attention to the Paladin I was leveling in World of WarCraft!
So how does Game 4 fit into baseball history? To answer this question, I took every win probability change for all 125,000 plays in postseason history in postseason history and tracked them on a game-by-game basis. I then crunched the numbers to determine which games had the most change in expected outcome per event and thus to see how all 1,668 games ranked in terms of volatility. If you thought you were watching a special game, you were right; the uncertainty in Game 4 was definitely meaningful on a historic level:
The pivotal and most crucial decision of Game 5 of the World Series was attended by a wave of boos, even as Dave Roberts got it right.
Amid the carnage and chaos at the end of Game 4 a scant 20 hours prior was the realization that the fulcrum of the series was now the left arm of Clayton Kershaw. That he would be the man on the mound was already known, as he’d been announced as the scheduled starter for Game 5 well before then, but the circumstances surrounding his turn swung as sharply as Game 4 itself. In the moments before Brett Phillips overturned the world, Kershaw was going to take the mound as the man to end Los Angeles’ three-decade run without a title. In the moments after, he became the man who would have to overcome his checkered postseason past to break the deadlock and put the Dodgers on the doorstep of a championship. If he couldn’t, Los Angeles would be facing the end of the road in Game 6.
It’s both unfair and tiresome that the playoffs always seem to swing around Kershaw, but he warps the series around him, a gravity well that sucks up matter and turns it into white-hot takes. There’s also the fact that the Clayton Kershaw Postseason Narrative™ has, for the most part, accurately reflected his October body of work, full of struggles and heartbreaking losses. The irony of these playoffs is that, one weak NLCS start aside, Kershaw has looked more like his regular-season self. Coming into Game 5, his 2020 postseason body of work consisted of eight runs allowed in 25 innings — a 2.88 ERA — and 31 strikeouts, and he was superb in Game 1, holding the Rays to one run in six innings. This is the Kershaw we all know and love. Read the rest of this entry »
Last night’s game was the only 9 inning game in that short list… can we quantify whether that was indeed the craziest 9 inning WS game?
The 2004 movie Primer is widely considered the most complicated movie plot of all time. Two engineers travel back in time again — and again — and maybe before?? — and again in an attempt to mold events to their own benefit. It’s a truly ridiculous, convoluted mess — and it pales in comparison to what the Dodgers and Rays did last night in Game 4 of the World Series.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Ryan Yarbrough took the mound for the Rays, on three days’ rest after a relief appearance in the first game of the series, and he wasn’t sharp. He surrendered solo home runs to Justin Turner and Corey Seager, and scattered three other hits and a walk while striking out only one batter. He was out of the game in the top of the fourth.
Julio Urías, his counterpart, flirted with brilliance. He struck out nine Rays out of the 18 he faced, bullying the opposing lineup to the tune of 20 swinging strikes. Tampa Bay whiffed 17 times on his fastball alone, and his curveball accounted for another 10 called strikes. Naturally, the Rays tagged him for two home runs — a Randy Arozarena first-pitch ambush and a full-count moonshot from Hunter Renfroe. The Dodgers had added a run in the top of the fifth, so Urías left with a 3-2 lead.
LA added another run in the sixth inning,, and the game felt like it might start getting away from Tampa Bay in a hurry. The Dodgers bullpen isn’t airtight, but the Rays’ own bullpen hadn’t been able to slow down opposing hitters all series, and they were running out of good options to fill innings. What was the offense going to do, score six runs in four innings or something? Read the rest of this entry »