Wild World Series Tactics: 2001-2003

Last week, the World Series started to look more like modern baseball. The best hitters batted more, the worst pitchers threw less, and there were fewer bunts than ever. Did that modernization continue into the 2000’s? Uh, nope!


Here we are, at the World Series that led me to this article series in the first place. The Diamondbacks were an oddly constructed team; stars and scrubs to an extreme degree. They didn’t help things by batting Tony Womack and his 66 wRC+ in leadoff, and Mark Grace was overqualified in the seven spot, but this team simply didn’t have much offensive firepower outside of Luis Gonzalez and Reggie Sanders, who batted third and fourth respectively. Grace over Craig Counsell in the two hole would have helped, surely, but offense wasn’t this team’s calling card.

The Yankees had the same efficient lineup as always. Jeter held down the oft-misused second spot, Chuck Knoblauch remained an underqualified leadoff hitter, and everyone else was roughly where they should be. It’s still hard to know whether they got there on purpose or by accident — Knoblauch somehow got 600 PA as a no-bat left fielder/DH — but for the most part, they had good hitters batting where they should.

In Game 1, the 90’s came back in the most predictable way. Womack led off the third inning by getting hit. Counsell followed up with a sacrifice bunt — which Luis Gonzalez followed with a homer. Nice bunt! It had been a tie game, but still: third inning, no outs. That’s a pretty bad one.

Aside from that, the 9-1 blowout was more or less uninteresting. The Yankees indulged in a few intentional walks, but they were in spots that felt somewhat do-or-die; down three and four runs, to be precise. Bob Brenly pulled Curt Schilling after 102 pitches and 7 innings, and he used back-of-the-pen relievers to protect an eight run lead. By the book, as it were.

For Game 2, Joe Torre decided he wanted to match goofy lineups; he inserted Randy Velarde, batting second, to face the left-handed Randy Johnson. That makes sense, it’s good platoon behavior… but why second?? Jeter, who had batted second in Game 1, slid down to third, and the rest of the lineup essentially moved back a slot.

Jeter was a great second hitter, and also a great third hitter — as we’ve learned in the intervening years, good hitters are, well, good hitters, and you’d like them to bat a lot. That lineup weirdness aside, the game was an open-and-shut affair. Johnson shut the Yankees out on 110 pitches, Andy Pettitte gave up a three-run homer to Matt Williams, and the Diamondbacks won comfortably.

In Game 3, a tight affair, Brenly made a move that would be talked about much more today. He moved Womack, who had been leading off, to the nine hole. Bat first, bat last… same guy. It was a great sign that he considered leadoff a spot for speed, not for any particularly good hitting. Poor Mark Grace was still trapped in seventh.

It mostly didn’t matter, though; Roger Clemens was good, Mariano Rivera went two innings for a save, and Brian Anderson was a hard-luck loser; he allowed only two runs in 5.1 innings, but the Yankee pitching was simply too strong. The D-backs again used middling relievers, this time in a close game, which makes me think Brenly’s bullpen rotation may have been ill-conceived — but again, when you score only one run, it hardly matters.

Game 4 is where things started to get good. Brenly went back to his magic eight ball — Womack led off again, Grace was now inexplicably hitting eighth, and Reggie Sanders, the team’s second-best hitter, was now batting seventh. Just… who knows?

As the game wore on, Brenly’s plan was clear. He was going to bunt with Counsell — three times! — but more importantly, he was going to use Schilling somewhat lightly — he’d pitched only three days before — and hope to use closer Byung-Hyun Kim to finish the game from there. Rivera had done it only one day before — how hard could it be?

As it turns out, pretty hard! Even without those three valuable outs Counsell surrendered, Arizona managed a two-run lead. But after Tino Martinez knocked a game-tying homer in the ninth inning, the D-Backs never threatened again — after a 1-2-3 top of the 10th, Jeter put the game away with a home run on Kim’s 61st pitch.

In Game 5, they could have used a rested closer. Miguel Batista danced around five walks and five hits to go 7.2 scoreless innings — a crazy ask for a swingman, but one he managed — before Brenly went back to Kim for the save. Kim, again, had thrown 61 pitches the day before. And while he wasn’t awful, the Yankees got him again — this time a game-tying Scott Brosius homer with two outs. Arizona had one last shot at it when their first two runners made it aboard safely in the 10th, but after a Matt Williams bunt, no one scored, and the Yankees eventually pulled it out.

Game 6 was a 15-2 pasting — the only interesting question is why Brenly let Randy Johnson throw 102 pitches when the team was up 15-0 after four innings. Johnson famously got the Game 7 win — on zero days rest — but the job could have been easier if he left after four. Brenly’s devotion to the bunt memorably paid off after Johnson’s 1.1 excellent innings, as Rivera threw away a bunt — but amusingly, Arizona tried to bunt again, and this time Rivera got the lead runner. The game, in the end, was won on a Womack double, a Counsell HBP, and a Luis Gonzalez flare.


Nothing could compare to Brenly’s odd management in the 2001 World Series, but the 2002 Series was entertaining nonetheless. The Angels and Giants both batted bad hitters second — sure, sure — but aside from an odd Lofton bunt in Game 1, the first two games went smoothly.

Game 3 featured a fun Barry Bonds intentional walk — first and third, one out — but was otherwise uneventful. The excitement didn’t really start until Game 4, when the Bonds walks narrative really took off.

When the same situation as Game 3 arose in the first inning — first and third, one out — John Lackey walked Bonds intentionally. He got a double play on the next batter to escape unscathed. Staked to a three-run lead, Lackey again faced Bonds in the third, this time with second and third and one out. Again he walked him, and again he got a double play to get out of the resulting jam. In the fifth, the Giants rallied, and Lackey faced Bonds with a man on second and one out. This was a more reasonable intentional walk spot, and it happened again — three plate appearances, three intentional walks.

The Angels finally pitched to Bonds in the seventh — Francisco Rodriguez got him to ground out weakly. But the back end of the Giants lineup scratched together a run — David Bell singled home J.T. Snow — and San Francisco prevailed in a game where Bonds only got to bat for real one time.

In Game 5, Mike Scioscia decided instead to pitch to Bonds and walk other people. Bonds came to the plate with first and second and one out, and given the chance to swing away, launched a run-scoring double. With a man on second and two outs, he intentionally walked Reggie Sanders — only to see Jarrod Washburn walk the next two batters and force in a run. So when Bonds came up again in the second, with runners on second and third and one out, Scioscia put up four fingers. Naturally, Reggie Sanders drove Bonds in two batters later with a sacrifice fly — intentional walks have a cost. The Giants were out to a 6-0 lead, and they poured it on, winning 16-4.

With their backs against the wall, the Angels decided to — well, they decided to stick with what works. Man on first, two outs in the top of the first? Walk Bonds! Leading off the fourth inning? It wasn’t intentional, but they pitched around him so heavily that he couldn’t do anything but walk. In the sixth, with K-Rod on the mound and a 3-0 San Francisco lead, they finally pitched to him — and he launched a solo home run. Not until the seventh — man on first, two outs — did they finally retire him, on a K-Rod strikeout.

By the way, the Angels won that game. They scratched back three runs in the seventh before adding three more, and sealing the game, in the ninth. They did it against the Giants’ best pitchers, too — Dusty Baker gave his guys a chance to succeed, and they simply weren’t up to the task.

After the fun first six games, Game 7 was a bit of an anticlimax. The Angels went up 4-1 early, and the Giants never really made them sweat. Bonds never batted with a runner on base, Scioscia never called for an intentional walk, and the Angels cruised to the series win.


You might think the Marlins were another of those anti-saber teams that batted their bad but speedy hitters at the top of the order. But in a twist, they batted great hitters at the top of the lineup — Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo were good in addition to being fast.

The Yankees, meanwhile, did what they always do; they stacked a bunch of good hitters up at the top of their lineup. Leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano had a 124 wRC+ in 2003; Nick Johnson followed with a tasty 143 wRC+ driven by a spectacular .422 OBP. You could, I suppose, argue with batting Jason Giambi seventh, but this was a juggernaut of a Yankee lineup.

Right from the jump, this series looked different. Pierre led off with a bunt — for a single. Castilo followed, and he wasn’t bunting; he lined a single to right, and Pierre scored a batter later. Alex Gonzalez did squeeze in an intentional walk, but it was almost — almost — reasonable. First and second, no outs, and the worst batter on the team up? Eh, sure.

The Yankees lost that Game 1, but they roared back to win Game 2. Again, they did it more or less by the book; a Hideki Matsui three-run shot in the first inning stood up. They did get a little cute with starter Andy Pettitte, letting him throw 111 pitches with a 6-0 lead, but this was a fully-operational-Death-Star Yankees pitching staff; no short rest starts for anyone when your rotation is David Wells, Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Mike Mussina.

In Game 3, the plan worked perfectly. Mussina went seven strong (nine strikeouts, one walk, one earned run), Rivera nabbed a two inning save, and the Yankees tacked on insurance runs against the middling Marlins bullpen. That plan almost worked, too, in Game 4 — Carl Pavano danced through eight innings, but Ugueth Urbina blew a save by allowing two runs in the ninth.

Just one problem — the Yankees didn’t finish the job. The top of the 11th featured a pile of managerial meddling — David Delucci sacrificed with men on first and second and no one out, which led to the Marlins intentionally walking Juan Rivera. After it all came to nothing, the Marlins won with a walkoff in the bottom of the 12th. The Marlins bullpen did just enough, and without Rivera, the Yankees’ pen was ordinary.

By Game 5, Joe Torre was desperate for offense — so naturally, he batted light-hitting Enrique Wilson second, leaving Soriano on the bench. It paid off early when Wilson reached safely with a perfect bunt (Jeter had singled to lead off the game), though he gave some of that back by grounding into a double play next time up.

Meanwhile, disaster struck. Wells felt a spasm in his back after the first inning and had to leave the game. The Marlins scored four on emergency reliever Jose Contreras, and they added two more in the fifth when Wilson, who was presumably in the game for his defense (it certainly wasn’t for his bat) couldn’t handle a feed at second base. That was the game — the Marlins left Brad Penny in to face 30 batters over seven innings, and their shaky bullpen was just good enough to close it out 6-4.

In Game 6, Josh Beckett was so good that tactics simply didn’t matter. That’s part of the charm of baseball, and it also made the Yankees’ earlier tactical blunders feel more painful. For the most part, though, this was a cleanly-played series, and the Marlins simply pitched and hit well enough to win.

The 2003 World Series feels like it should have been the weirdest of the early 2000’s. The ragtag band of upstarts led by two steals-and-defense slap hitters? It’s a perfect grit-over-numbers story. But those Marlins were reasonably by-the-book. The real weirdos were the 2001 Diamondbacks, with their make-it-up-as-you-go batting order, and the 2002 Angels’ raft of unending intentional walks. The early 2000s were awesome!

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Six Ten
3 years ago

I remember Kim giving up those games for Arizona but I definitely did not remember he threw 61 pitches in the first appearance. And then went out again the next day! Just bonkers.

With Johnson I kind of get it: Brenly had no trust in his bullpen by then, even with a huge lead, and Johnson was untouchable at less than full effort so he could eat innings with the best of them. And was, you know, the best pitcher on the planet.

But Kim … he’d averaged about 20 pitches per appearance all year. 61. Amazing.