Game Two Was So 2017

Wednesday night had just about everything you could want in a baseball game. Game 2 is on the list, somewhere, of greatest World Series games in history.

There were dramatic swings in win probability in the late innings for each the Astros and Dodgers. Some of the game’s greatest stars produced signature moments. There was Yasiel Puig being Yasiel Puig, licking his bat and slamming his glove after nearly completing a five-star catch. There was the bill of Chris Taylor’s cap perhaps saving a run early. There was Justin Verlander returning from the visiting clubhouse to the dugout to implore his team to do something. There was this generation’s Rivera, Kenley Jansen, enduring a rare misstep. There was poor Josh Fields. There was a rare test of roster depth, with Austin Barnes becoming the first player to appear at catcher and second base in a World Series game.

There was even this:

Game 2 was weird.

Game 2 was dramatic.

Game 2 was controversial, too — although Dave Cameron saw the logic in Dave Roberts‘ pitching decisions and rightfully so.

Game 2 compelled many to declare their love for baseball on social media. Game 2 had heartbreak and ecstasy — for both clubs.

And there was also this: if Game 2 was anything, it was a reflection of where the game is in 2017.

The affair included tandem pitching, multi-inning appearances by closers, a veteran broadcaster and ex-player (John Smoltz) citing — somewhat begrudgingly, it seemed — Statcast data. It had elite velocity (Kenta Maeda sitting 95). And, more than anything, it had launch angle and juiced balls. Game 2 had home runs.

In fact, Game 2’s two innings of extra play accounted for nearly a quarter — a quarter! — of all extra-inning World Series homers in the sport’s history.

Think about that. Outside of 1904 (thanks, John McGraw) and 1994 (thanks, Don Fehr and Bud Selig), there’s been a World Series every fall since 1903. There were five home runs hit in extra innings, eight total in the game. The Marine Layer was nowhere to be found. For pure shock value, here are the GIFs of those home runs in their chronological order of appearance ———>

In 2017, the game’s smallest player is lifting and driving. Sorry, Fields, that was not an easy fly-ball chance.

Correa is a beast.

George Springer inside-outs a home run. These Astros are historically good, after all.

Has Puig ever showed more restraint?

Did poor Charlie — arms extended like wings flying around first base — think he had tied the score?

The Dodgers had five hits. Four were home runs.

One of the stories of 2017, a story dating back to the second half of the 2015, is how the ball is playing differently. Alan Nathan, Ben Lindbergh, and Rob Arthur have been the leading researchers on the subject. Namely, it appears, the seams are lower, reducing air resistance and bumping average fly-ball distance up slightly, but significantly.

After what he witnessed in Game 2, Dallas Keuchel told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that he’s a believer.

“There are really powerful guys in this league,’’ Keuchel said, “and they’re going to get theirs. But where you can tell a difference is the mid-range guy who’s hitting 20-plus home runs now.

“That doesn’t happen. That’s not supposed to happen. … That’s what Major League Baseball wants. They want that exciting two home-run lead, and then they (the Dodgers) come back and hit another home run, and everybody’s still watching. That’s what they want. That’s what they’re getting.’’

Maybe Keuchel is right. Maybe MLB is behind a juiced ball. The league, for their part, has repeatedly denied it. But could MLB have asked Rawlings to slightly lower seams in an effort to retrieve the game from a depressed run-scoring environment that existed as recently as 2014? It’s plausible. Fans generally like home runs and run scoring.

Nathan’s study, presented back in August, found that, while the ball changed in 2015, it hasn’t changed from 2016 to 2017.

So 2017 is in part about the ball, but it’s also, this author suspects, more about the hitter.

More players have begun to try to launch the ball in the air including a number in this series: Altuve, Taylor, Alex Bregman, Cody Bellinger, and Justin Turner among them.

The league’s average launch angle has inched up each year in the Statcast era from an average of 10.1 degrees in 2015, to 10.8 degrees in 2016, to 11.1 degrees in 2017. The Dodgers have reduced their ground-ball rate by 3.5 percentage points. There is an air-ball revolution.

Baseball is changing. Baseball has perhaps never changed so fast — or maybe not, at least, since it went from a dead to live ball nearly 100 years ago. Baseball is different in 2017. But “change” and “different” do not have to take on negative connotations. There is perhaps nothing wrong with 2017 baseball. Perhaps there is something wrong if these extremes continue to grow at this rate. But no one, save perhaps the pitchers involved, seemed to have a problem with Game 2.

Said Bregman to USA Today:

“It’s the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of but it’s also got to be the greatest game I’ve ever played in. And I know privately everybody in here thinks the same. It was ridiculous.’’

Thank you, 2017 baseball.

We hoped you liked reading Game Two Was So 2017 by Travis Sawchik!

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A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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