The Game 2 Story That Almost Was

I know that we tend to exaggerate the meaning of the playoffs, which means we tend to exaggerate the meaning of playoff player performance. Regular players are made out to be heroes, superstars completing their development on the national stage. The playoffs make it easy to get swept away by anything. The increased focus on every single individual event allows for one to forget that all of these sample sizes are remarkably small. Through the middle of May, the Phillies had one of the best records in baseball. The Phillies were a bad team all along.

The point is: I get it. And, you get it. We all understand the postseason booby traps. And yet I need to share that Javier Baez is taking the playoffs over. Baez, already, was opening national eyes, and he owned the NLDS against the Giants. Sunday against the Dodgers, Baez authored a new chapter for his aggressively-growing legend. Not even very long ago, Baez felt risky and almost disposable. Now it’s difficult to see the Cubs winning without him.

Already in these playoffs, Baez had provided the only run in a game. In Game 2 of the NLCS, the Cubs were going up against Clayton Kershaw, so it stood to reason runs would again be at a premium. Baez, in his first trip, struck out, and, well, that happens. Especially when you’re Javier Baez, and especially when you’re facing the best pitcher in baseball. But Baez picked things up in the bottom of the fifth. When he came to bat, Kershaw had faced 14 hitters, and Kershaw had retired 14 hitters. Buster Olney was starting to tweet about a potential perfecto. The Cubs needed something, a sign of life, evidence that breaking through could be possible. Baez saw an 0-and-1 curveball.

All that is is a clean base hit. And Baez didn’t come around to score. Kershaw, today, isn’t thinking about this single, but not only was that the Cubs’ first spark. Look at this again. This is how much Javier Baez has improved since he was a rookie.

The story of the playoffs has been Baez’s maturation, and part of that has been maintaining better control of himself in the box. Baez came up with a huge leg kick, and he didn’t know anything but the huge leg kick, and it unsurprisingly made him vulnerable. Baez still has that kick today, but he doesn’t always use it. A few years ago, Baez would’ve swung right through this pitch. Look at him now. Baez got fooled, and he did shift his weight. Yet with his foot down, Baez stayed under control, and he kept his hands back until he could whip them forward at the appropriate time. This swing won’t hit you a homer. This swing will save an at-bat, and Baez turned a would-be 0-and-2 count into a line drive. The Cubs were on the board, in the second column if not in the first, and Baez again put his development on display. It’s adaptive hitting from someone who came up rather stubborn.

The Baez show, of course, was far from complete. He singled in the bottom of the fifth, and then he started a double play in the top of the sixth. But it wasn’t just any double play. It was a creative double play that required Baez to think quickly on his feet.

By allowing the soft liner to fall cleanly, Baez turned one out into two outs. As we’ve already gone over, the play was arguably borderline, but for Baez there wasn’t any real meaningful downside. Even if the umpires rather surprisingly ruled it an infield fly, the automatic out would stand. But an infield-fly call was unlikely, given the trajectory of the ball, and Baez found a loophole. He had two seconds to make a decision and he made a great one. Maybe this is something he’s practiced. Maybe this is something that’s been drilled into him. Even still, not every second baseman makes that play. An awful lot of players would take the one sure out. Baez doubled up, and he got the Cubs out of a jam.

Which only set the table for the real fireworks. In hindsight, Baez isn’t really remembered for the fifth inning. He isn’t really remembered for the sixth. It’s all about the seventh, when Baez came up as the go-ahead run with two down in the frame. The score was 1-0 Dodgers, and there was a runner on first. Kenley Jansen was ready in the bullpen, but Kershaw convinced Dave Roberts to give him one more hitter.

kershaw-roberts

It’s a decision that might live on in infamy. And perhaps that’s unfair to the first-year manager, given that Clayton Kershaw is Clayton Kershaw, yet only days ago, Roberts went to his closer without hesitation. Sunday night, he hesitated.

Once again, Baez showed off. And, once again, Kershaw’s postseason hopes were dealt a devastating last-minute blow. When Kershaw closed out the NLDS, fans and writers alike were quick to bid farewell to what had been an unpleasant and maybe unfair October narrative. Now it’s the seven pitches that look like the blip, because Kershaw more recently threw one bad one.

kershaw-baez

Off the bat at 103 miles per hour. Baez’s go-ahead, game-winning homer wasn’t some Wrigley cheap-shot, like Andre Ethier’s the game before. Were it not for an extremely favorable wind, Ethier would’ve wound up with a harmless fly out. Baez’s homer was legitimate. Batted balls hit the same way have most often been homers. It wasn’t exactly the pitch Kershaw wanted, and Baez applied a home-run swing. A leg kick was there. Baez was ahead in the count. Reading the situation, he took a chance, and he cemented his status as an area hero.

baez-2

Javier Baez is far from the only reason why the Cubs are where they are. It’s been a complete team effort all season long, and Baez will be counted as no one’s 2016 NL MVP. But while other players carried more of the load for the first six months, these last couple weeks have been almost all about Baez, showing off what he can do in every dimension. As things stand today, the Cubs are more likely than any other remaining team to win the World Series. It’s all they’ve ever wanted, and to this point, halfway through a terrific NLCS, they have a blossoming 23-year-old to thank. He might not have gotten them to the playoffs, but he’s pulling them to the finish line.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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JediHoyer
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JediHoyer

Another potential game changer is the 0-0 cutter 6 inches inside against Bryant that somehow got called a strike. That is an absolutely ridiculous pitch to call a strike. It never had the zone, it makes Bryant susceptible to the outer half if he has to cover that far in and it goes from 1-0 to 0-1 against this year’s mvp.

The Foils
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Member
The Foils

It was an at-bat changer, but not a game changer. Odds of the Cubs scoring there are pretty damn low.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Idk, dudes hit 40 homers this year and he gets in a friendly count. Getting on base there means zobrist gets up. It’s not like they were 1 or 2% to score…

The Foils
Member
Member
The Foils

It was a very bad call in a very important at bat, and there’s really no excuse for the ump.

All I’m saying is that, in a postseason filled with very bad calls in very important at bats, this particular one probably doesn’t change the game outcome. We’ve seen a team’s best hitter get rung up on a clear ball in far too many series already. At least this wasn’t that.

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

The next two pitches thrown to Bryant in that AB were in the strike zone, and Bryant took one for a called strike and swung at one. This wasn’t a ball in a 3-1 or a 3-2 count. It’s unlikely that had that been called a ball, the outcome of the AB changes. Jansen only throws one pitch. You know the cutter is coming, and it’s coming whether he’s ahead or behind in the count.

There are times when a bad called strike can completely change an AB, and that AB can really change a game. The called strike against Ben Revere, flipping a 3-1 count to a 2-2 count in Game 6 of the ALCS last year late in a one-run game with two runners in scoring was one of those calls. If you’re a Jays fan, it’s one that would have been fair to gripe about. An 0-0 pitch to Kris Bryant in Monday night’s game with nobody on base isn’t one worth stewing over. Calls like that happen in every game to every team. It wasn’t a game changer. It was barely an AB changer.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

1) jansen throws a slider as well.
2) the at bat is completely different if that first pitch is a strike, you now have to protect against that pitch when you get to two strikes. If you never played baseball I understand your lack of comprehension on this fact.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

You also missed the word potential. He isn’t exactly an empty .300 hitter.

Mike
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Member
Mike

Definitely an at-bat changer, but Fangraphs still had the Cubs at a 10.4% WE at the start of the AB. Given the OPS swings I’ve seen posted for both Bryant and Jansen between 1-0 and 0-1 I’d be curious what kind of WPA impact that single call had.

No, it “probably” doesn’t change the game outcome, but it certainly was a huge swing in probable outcomes for that AB in a very high leverage spot.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

This summarizes a good deal of what I was trying to say. I was also trying to add the mental impact of having to protect that far inside. Notice the last pitch froze him, part of that could have been him focusing on the inner half due to how bad a call it was.

In no way am I saying it changed the outcome of the game. It certainly effected the at bat and that at bat could have had an effect on the game.

HarryLives
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HarryLives

Or maybe Kenley Jansen’s cutter is just hard as f— to hit, even for Kris Bryant.

D4P
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Member
D4P

Here’s an article that appears to be about the very pitch you’re referring to…

http://m.mlb.com/news/article/206356666/yasmani-grandal-framing-helps-dodgers-in-nlcs/

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

It was still a ball after he framed it lol. Not too mention its a cutter so it was coming back not going in. I get borderline pitches being called strikes, that one wasn’t borderline.

booj11
Member
booj11

Pitch framing is a skill that baffles me. There are certain objective truths in the game. #robotumpsnow

david k
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david k

While I agree the call was brutal (and I am hoping the Cubs win the series, by the way), I don’t think that one pitch had a huge impact on the outcome of the game. It would have been way more brutal if it had put him in a 2-strike hole, or if it was a called strike-three. But in this case, an 0-1 count doesn’t put the batter in THAT deep of a hole (I don’t have the expected OPS rates with an 0-1 count vs a 1-0 count to prove that), but he had a couple of chances in that AB to get a hit. In fact, if I recall correctly, the very next pitch caught a LOT of the plate, but Bryant did not pounce on it.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Bryant, after 1-0: .279/.415/.520 .935 OPS
Bryant, after 0-1: .256/.337/.447 .784 OPS
——————————————————-
Jansen, after 1-0: .216/.346/.351 .697 OPS
Jansen, after 0-1: .134/.168/.212 .380 OPS

Maybe bigger difference than you think.

rbemont
Member
rbemont

Anybody that follows sabermetrics knows the difference between 1-0 and 0-1 is big.

But, we also have to go back and look at every single borderline pitch. I thought Hendricks got some benefits in the first inning, especially an inside 2 seamer that Contreras framed 5 inches or so .. leading to the dodgers batters chasing away.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

I did, the chart is below, the clear two worst calls went against the cubs. Borderline go both ways and are understandable that doesn’t really change a hitter. Terrible calls effect them much more. He also mentioned Bryant swinging thru a strike but that’s the point with an extra strike that’s not a big deal

tung_twista
Member
tung_twista

There is quite a bit of endogeneity here, though.
The sample of pitchers who get 1-0 on Bryant
are going to be generally better than pitchers who get 0-1.

Similar with Jansen, where the argument works backwards.

The point being simply looking at OPS differential is likely to
significantly overstate the true change in expected outcome.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Ops is data, you aren’t providing data to support that a better hitter is likelier to end up 1-0 against jansen. That’s an assumption.

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

Also, there’s just the sample size problem. Looking at league averages is better, and by that measure there’s about a .200 point OPS swing from an 0-1 to a 1-0 count. The swing on a 1-1 pitch (1-2 vs. 2-1) is larger. Still, the next two pitches were fastball strikes, so it’s likely that had that first pitch been called a ball, the next two would have been strikes, and now it’s a 1-2 count, which still strongly favors Jansen. And yeah, maybe one bad call completely threw Bryant out of sorts for the rest of the AB, but if it did, that’s kind of on Bryant.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

That’s for their careers. That’s a big sample man.

Travis L
Member
Member
Travis L

The zone was very generous to Hendricks as well. This isn’t the place to insist your favorite team/player was shorted.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

That is not what I was doing at all, must be nice on your throne though.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer
Careless
Member
Careless

So there were two clear balls called strikes, and both went against the Cubs. There were a couple of borderline balls called strikes that went against the Dodgers

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

3 clear balls, one vs lefty. 2 vs righties. All of the borderline balls. Were within a typically called strike zone, save 1 that was low. Also there is about 6 strikes that were called balls for the cubs. The Dodgers got basically all theirs. Point is, the zone was not very generous to hendricks, in aggregate he lost strikes.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Don’t know how the good people at Brooks get downvoted.

rbemont
Member
rbemont

When I watched that play, I noted (to friends on FB) the difference between Grandal’s framing (moving the pitch just an inch or two versus Contreras’s framing (moving the ball 5-6 inches).

Grandal’s frame was so slight and smooth that it looked like he caught it pretty much “on the corner”.

It was a ball. But I’d blame Grandal.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

To me if you watch the replay, he still framed it a ball. Meaning the end where he held it was a still a ball.