Detroit Drives Over Yankees

The Narrative: I remember joking before the playoffs began that the only way I could envision the Detroit Tigers beating the New York Yankees in the ALDS was if Justin Verlander pitched every game for Detroit and A.J. Burnett countered for New York.

It’s funny how baseball can make you look like a moron sometimes. In this respect, I can sympathize with the game’s final out, Alex Rodriguez.

Instead of Yankees heroics, Detroit’s Doug Fister and three relievers held New York to only two runs despite a maddening ten hits and three walks, as the Tigers beat the Yankees 3-2 in the decisive fifth game of their American League Division Series.

Anatomy Of Confidence

We’ve been hard on Jose Valverde throughout the season, most likely because he represents a lot about baseball analysis that drives the writers of this blog to drink. People attempt to credit Valverde for being a great pitcher because he’s reeled off x amount of saves in a row. Ultimately, reeling off a gazillion saves in a row doesn’t make you a great pitcher. There are several, more important numbers one should be looking at when making up their minds as to the effectiveness of Papa Grande.

To that point, it’s important to remember that Valverde is still a very good pitcher for reasons other than every time he received a save for meeting arbitrary objectives in the ninth inning this season.

Let’s take a look at the final at bat of the game in which Jose Valverde got the better of Alex Rodriguez.

  1. Valverde started the at bat with a beautiful four seam fastball at the bottom of the strike zone, which A-Rod, given the circumstances, had no choice but to take for strike one.
  2. The Detroit closer followed this up with a split finger fastball that’s about seven miles per hour slower than the first pitch fastball. Again, Rodriguez takes it low in the zone for strike two.
  3. Valverde’s third pitch is another split finger fastball that he either missed with or hoped that Rodriguez would chase. He didn’t and the count went to 1-2.
  4. Papa Grande finished the at bat off with a 94 miles per hour four seam fastball with typical four seam movement, almost right down the middle of the plate. Rodriguez, whose timing was perhaps thrown off by the two previous slower pitches, swung and missed.
Without looking at the sequence or the pitch chain, it would be easy to call Valverde’s last pitch of the ball game a mistake, but this is probably what managers and old school commentators mean when they talk of confidence. He trusted in his ability to mix up speeds, and Valverde delivered a juicy meatball that was ultimately unhittable for Alex Rodriguez.

The Most Important Play Of The Game

The main criticism for people who like to use advanced statistics when watching a baseball game is that it supposedly takes away one’s ability to enjoy the more random aspects of a game. My argument has always been that understanding, or attempting to understand the numbers, actually enhances one’s appreciation for the luck and randomness that takes place.

With this in mind, it was very unlikely that the Detroit Tigers would leave the first inning of Game Five up two to nothing thanks to two solo home runs from Don Kelly and Delmon Young. And yet that’s exactly what happened with the two taters off of Ivan Nova increasing Detroit’s win probability added by a total of 18.1%.

The Biggest Disappointment Of The Game

With the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Joaquin Benoit, whose Game Five contribution was in many ways more valuable than Jose Valverde’s, struck out both Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher to get out of an inning with only a single run given up despite a run expectancy with the A-Rod at bat of 1.64. The two strikeouts decreased the Yankees probability of winning by 28.4%

The Shamsky Award

Named after Art Shamsky, who single handedly increased the Cincinnati Reds’ chances of winning by 150.3% in a losing effort during a game in 1966, The Shamsky Award is given to the player on the losing team who contributes the most to them winning.

Mark Teixeria’s one for four in a losing cause may not sound all that spectacular, but he drew a key walk in the seventh inning that brought the game to within a single run. He increased the Yankees’ win probability by almost 10% with his at bats.

The Aggravating Thing That The Managers Did

It was do or die for both teams, and both managers acted appropriately in going to the bullpen to create pitching matchups earlier than if this were a regular season game. The moves that I questioned the most from Jim Leyland was the original lineup and perhaps leaving Joaquin Benoit in too long, but both of those examples ended up working out quite well for the Tigers.

The Statistics You Won’t Believe

Jose Valverde earned his 51st straight save.

Nick Swisher is 1 for 31 with 10 Ks with runners in scoring position over 38 career postseason games. #Clutch

The Yankees lost three games in this series by a total of four runs.

New York has lost in the first round more often than they have won the World Series. They have five championships and seven first-round knockouts — in 1995, 1997, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011.

For the series, Alex Rodriguez was a painful two for eighteen.

The Best New Nickname To Come Out Of The Series

Alex Rodriguez is Low And Away Rod.

Carefully Selected Quote Cliche Of The Game

From Baseball Prospectus, today, we’ll go with New York starter Ivan Nova’s perspective:

I wasn’t making my pitches. I wasn’t hitting my spots. It was almost like even if I was, they were still going to find a hole. That’s baseball. You get days where you nub three or four and they go for hits. I didn’t try to walk anybody and when I got behind in the count I still pitched my game.

The Hackiest Thing A Journalist Said

From ESPN New York’s Ian O’Connor:

Worried his hitters would be distracted, Joe Girardi, manager of the New York Yankees, had the umpires strip Benoit of his bandage, exposing what Tigers manager Jim Leyland called “a big lump on his face.” But Girardi couldn’t strip the pitcher of his powers, or of his ability to throw an 86-mph splitter on a 1-2 count that would reduce A-Rod to a flailing Game 5 mess and, ultimately, leave him once again as the face of a first-round flameout, the master of another Yankee disaster.

Stray Observations Of The Game

Joaquin Benoit’s massive bandage on his face to cover a bump is a total Dustin Parkes move in high school to cover a pimple. I’d tell everyone I got scratched playing baseball or something.

Robinson Cano’s home run off of Doug Fister was on a 2-2 slider.

Watching Fister pitch, he seems so obviously solveable, but to this point, the American League hasn’t done it. What am I missing?

From Derek Jeter:

They pitched, man. They pitched That’s why they’re here, that’s why they’re moving on. They’ve got a great pitching staff. Their starters are tough, their bullpen is good. And Valverde closes the door. You get to this point in the season, it’s usually about pitching for the most part. They were tough on us.

Looking at the number of missed opportunities for the Yankees, I can’t help but shake the feeling that they lost this series more than Detroit won it.

Alex Rodriguez is about to get BLAMED.