Wild World Series Tactics: 2012-2014

While Even Year Magic was in full swing from 2012-2014, there were plenty of other great World Series storylines. There was Mathenaging, Yostseason, and even Jon Lester fielding bunts. With such an action-packed set of games, let’s get right to it.

2012

The Tigers brought a mostly-sweet lineup to the table: Austin Jackson was a leadoff beast, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder provided thump from the three and four slots — and yes, Omar Infante batted second in a season where he had a .283 OBP, but they can’t all be perfect decisions. Anyway, Infante had a career OBP of .308, which is — wait, no, that’s still bad. That one’s on Jim Leyland.

The Giants featured the fifth-best offense in baseball, a lineup with almost no holes all the way down, depending on how you feel about Brandon Crawford and Grégor Blanco. In Game 1, that deep lineup overpowered Justin Verlander. There were no key points in the game, no weird decisions — sometimes your dominant pitcher just gets hit. Heck, Barry Zito even had an RBI single. Can’t win ‘em all.

You could argue, if you really felt like it, that the Tigers left Doug Fister in the game too long in Game 2. He came out for the seventh inning after 108 pitches and 22 batters faced, and gave up a single to Hunter Pence before being replaced. But using Fister there maintained the platoon advantage — two lefties and a pinch hitter followed Pence, and lefty Drew Smyly faced them. Pence ended up scoring, but I like Leyland’s call here. Also, the Tigers didn’t score any runs. Whoops.

When the Giants started a righty in Game 3, Infante moved from batting second to batting ninth — and if he’s a ninth-level hitter without the platoon advantage, he’s probably not a second-level hitter with it. Quintin Berry hit second instead — I still don’t love the decision, but he was at least a solid-OBP hitter with a platoon edge.

It didn’t matter. The Giants scratched together two runs in the second, and Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum, and Sergio Romo combined to shut Detroit out. Did Leyland lean on Aníbal Sánchez too long? Maybe. Sánchez went seven innings, faced one batter for a fourth time through the lineup, and threw 117 pitches. The last batter he faced was Ángel Pagán, with two outs in the seventh and a runner on second base. That’s a spot where a reliever might help by turning Pagán around to his weaker side, but it’s a narrow decision either way.

In Game 4, Bruce Bochy made a few marginal decisions that might have let the Tigers back into the series, fleeting as their hopes were. He sent Brandon Belt in motion on a 3-2 pitch from Max Scherzer to Blanco — the second-most-whiff-prone Giant facing off against a strikeout god. Blanco struck out, Belt was thrown out — it’s not the end of the world, of course, but not a great send.

After Buster Posey smacked a two-run homer in the top of the sixth, the Giants had a 3-2 lead. A modern manager might step on the gas pedal and replace Matt Cain rather than let him face the heart of the Tigers order a third time — Cabrera, Fielder, and Delmon Young were due up. Cain stayed in, and Young hit a game-tying homer — but again, this would be a close call even now, so it’s hard to fault them for it.

In a sign of the changing times, the lone sacrifice bunt of the series came in the last inning. With a runner on first and no one out, Bochy called for a sacrifice bunt. Brandon Crawford, the number nine hitter, was at the plate, and he executed it perfectly. That’s still, per our WPA Inquirer, a marginally bad bunt. But throw in the batters involved, and it’s pretty close — one of the least objectionable sacrifice bunts imaginable by a non-pitcher.

The bunt worked, by the way. Marco Scutaro singled home the winning run, and Even Year Magic claimed another series.

2013

Say what you will, but Mike Matheny could craft a lineup. He put Carlos Beltrán in the two spot in the lineup, a downright modern choice. Pete Kozma, long on glove and pluck but short on offensive ability, was relegated to ninth. Matt Adams batted seventh against righties and fourth against lefties. It was glorious — a lineup correctly run.

The Red Sox lineup looked solid at the top — but it mostly looked solid all the way down, and it’s hard to imagine a way to goof it up. Good hitters gave way to other good hitters, who gave way to Stephen Drew and sometimes David Ross. In Game 1, that worked to the tune of eight runs, though three Cardinals errors certainly didn’t help their cause. Meanwhile, Jon Lester went 7.2 innings and shoved, the Cardinals offense struggled, and Game 1 was more or less by the book.

Game 2 was also by the book — only, it was the Cardinals’ book this time. Michael Wacha went six strong innings, Carlos Martínez tacked on two, and Trevor Rosenthal locked down the save. The Red Sox played it straight as well — John Lackey as long as he could go, followed by a who’s who of Boston’s best relievers. Watching this game again, I’m struck by how distinctly 2019 it feels — hot starters with reasonable leashes, flame-throwing relievers, and station-to-station baseball.

But if the first two games disappointed in terms of nonsense, Game 3 made up for it. There were sacrifice bunts — Beltrán bunted after Matt Carpenter led off the game with a single, though it was an attempt for a hit gone wrong. There were baserunning gaffes — Matt Holliday turned a fly out into a base when Jacoby Ellsbury dropped it, then into an out when he tried for second base on the play.

But that wasn’t the full extent of it. The Cardinals went to extreme bullpen lengths — Randy Choate for a batter, Seth Maness for two, Kevin Siegrist for three and Martínez for four. But despite using six relievers in the game, St. Louis missed a chance to pinch hit for Joe Kelly. In the bottom of the fourth, ahead 2-0, Kelly strode to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. The entire bullpen was fresh after a day off, a hit would blow the game open, and Kelly was a swingman, not an ace — it’s a no-brainer substitution today. He stayed in and popped out, letting opposing starter Jake Peavy off lightly.

The Red Sox made no such mistake — in the top half of the next inning, Peavy came to the plate with runners on first and third and one out. Mike Carp pinch hit for him and contributed an RBI groundout — not a massive win, but a good decision nonetheless.

The rest of the game was rather tame — tactically, at least. It famously ended on a walk-off fielder’s interference. But that’s beyond our remit here, so we’ll keep it to the weird pinch hitting and score this one a victory for Boston manager John Farrell.

Game 4 featured a spot where a modern manager might go into deep thought. With a man on second base and two outs, the Red Sox intentionally walked Daniel Descalso to face Lance Lynn. Lynn had been solid through four — four strikeouts and no walks, with an infield single the only hit. Matheny didn’t even consider lifting him, and Clay Buchholz retired him to escape the inning.

Lynn then fell apart a bit in the fifth — giving up a double and two walks to start the inning. He escaped with only one run allowed, which led the Cardinals to send him back out for the sixth — where he gave up two baserunners, who then scored on a Jonny Gomes home run. It’s easy to over-litigate letting a pitcher face the order a third time through — but this one certainly didn’t feel great, and there was even a good pinch hitting spot to provide Matheny with an excuse. Again, Farrell had a chance to pinch hit for his pitcher in the top of the fifth, and again he used it. He out-NL’ed the NL manager repeatedly in the series.

In any case, Gomes’ home run off of Maness held up. Kolten Wong got picked off of first base in a two-run game with two outs in the ninth, a mental gaffe that probably didn’t affect the outcome, and that was the game. The Cardinals could have used a few runs earlier in the game, or a less tired starter, or something different. It wasn’t a huge managing error, but the game was a tossup anyway, and Boston got the better of it.

Game 5 featured a real doozy of a play. David Freese, batting seventh, led off the third inning with a single through the center of the infield. Pete Kozma stepped in next — and sacrificed himself to advance Freese. It was a hit attempt; Kozma placed it perfectly down the first base line and caught David Ortiz flat-footed. To be clear, though, Kozma didn’t reach safely. He spent an out with the pitcher coming up next, and Adam Wainwright batted for himself. That worked out roughly how you’d expect — Lester escaped with no damage.

Both pitchers probably stayed in too long — seven innings for Wainwright, 7.2 for Lester — but nothing else particularly dramatic happened. The Sox escaped with a 3-1 win, with both bullpens lights out and a seventh-inning David Ross double off of Wainwright the decider.

There wasn’t much to Game 6 — Michael Wacha simply didn’t have it, and Boston steamrolled him for six runs in five innings. But Matheny dropped little edges throughout the series, while Farrell seized them. Did that change the outcome? Likely not. It simply pushed things a little further in Boston’s favor.

2014

The Giants, by this point, were old hands. OBP machines at the top of the lineup, big bats hitting 3-5, and the worst hitters at the bottom; their lineup was a thing of beauty. The Royals countered with Alcides Escobar leading off and a cleanup hitter who was below replacement level on the year. This wasn’t a case of the Royals playing checkers while the Giants played chess; this was the Giants playing chess while the Royals picked up a piece and threw it at someone.

But for all his lineup weirdness, Ned Yost ran an admirably tight in-game ship. While James Shields got shelled in Game 1, by Game 2 their plan was evident: get five or six innings from their starter, then turn it over to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland from there. That was enough to get past Jake Peavy, whom the Giants tried to stretch a little too far — he came out for the sixth inning long enough to allow two baserunners before the San Francisco bullpen melted down to the tune of a five-run inning.

In Game 3, the Royals used a variation on their theme — they mixed in two batters worth of Brandon Finnegan with their normal Herrera/Davis/Holland end game. The substance was the same, though: five innings and 18 batters from Jeremy Guthrie, then a parade of lockdown arms until the game ended.

The leash could have been even a bit shorter on Guthrie — he faced two batters in the sixth, allowing a single and a double, before Herrera came in and got three groundouts to escape the inning with a lead intact, a lead the Royals held the rest of the way. But Yost wasn’t about letting his pitchers work through trouble — he had a bullpen hammer, and every opposing rally rightly looked like a nail.

In Game 4, Jason Vargas couldn’t get through five, which left the Royals grasping at straws. The Giants tied the game in the fifth, then broke it open against Finnegan in the sixth, taking a 7-4 lead they never relinquished. About that breaking-open, though: the Giants did their best to not score a bunch of runs. After a leadoff single, Blanco showed bunt on the first pitch. On the second and third pitches, he stuck with it. Only after reaching two strikes did he relent and swing away — at which point he lined a single over Escobar’s head.

Okay, bad bunt averted. Joe Panik was next — and you guessed it, he came up showing bunt. It was so telegraphed that the Royals actually had a play called for it — a designed back-pick at second after Panik pulled back. It didn’t work, but the point is, the Giants weren’t surprising anybody. A successful sacrifice bunt here isn’t terrible — in fact, it has no effect on win probability at all — but success was far from guaranteed. That back pick went to review, and it easily could have been overturned. And even then, Panik had to get the bunt down — he did, of course, but the Giants ended up scoring five runs in the inning, so it’s not like the base advancement was of essence.

Ned Yost followed up with a pretty solid intentional walk — Buster Posey, with first base open — but it didn’t stop the Giants from scoring, and that was the game. Sometimes a series of weird bunts and bunt attempts only delays the inevitable. The Giants were going to score that inning, attempts to sacrifice outs or no.

After a Game 5 wipeout — Madison Bumgarner pitched a complete game shutout — the Royals notched a 10-0 Game 6 victory to force a deciding game. They even did it without burning their bullpen — just aggressive baserunning, contact, and that classic postseason tradition, a home run off of Hunter Strickland.

But Game 7 didn’t go their way. The Giants went with Tim Hudson — but really, they went with Bumgarner, who gutted his way through 68 pitches and five innings on two days of rest. Yost went with his normal plan, even jumbo-sizing it for the last game of the year; Herrera, Davis, and Holland totaled 5.2 scoreless innings. But the Giants scratched together three runs against Jeremy Guthrie, and the Royals simply couldn’t solve Bumgarner. Yost managed his heart out — it simply wasn’t enough.

We hoped you liked reading Wild World Series Tactics: 2012-2014 by Ben Clemens!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

newest oldest most voted
isntthisrich
Member
Member
isntthisrich

Cool series, Ben. Wondering if you saw the recent piece by Tom Boswell in the Washington Post about Game 7 of the 1924 World Series. Boswell tried to make the case that 27 year-old Senators manager, Bucky Harris, outsmarted the legendary John McGraw by using tactics that anticipated current day analytics. Harris used a RH opener for 2 batters, then followed him with a LHP bulk guy who got him to the 5th inning, then brought in his relief ace Firpo Marberry. When Marberry ran out of gas by the 9th, Harris brought Walter Johnson out of the pen on 2 days rest, and the Big Train stayed in until the Senators won it in the 12th. (Of course, Boswell also says that Harris’s issuing intentional walks like penny candy also brilliantly anticipated modern strategy, so possibly he’s overstating the case just a bit, as he often does.)