For many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that was filled with heavy doses of drudging. It’s my hope that at the end of every week during the baseball season, at that moment that only occurs on a Friday afternoon when it’s too far away from closing time to leave work early, but too late in the day to start anything new, you’ll join us here to read some random observations and contribute your own opinions to ten stray thoughts on a Friday.
This week’s is a somewhat special version, because we find ourselves two games into the World Series, the incredible final chapter to baseball’s annual novel. There are few things for which I have a more genuine fondness for, without irony, than the World Series. Sure, it’s doubtful that a best-of-seven series is the best judge of true talent and the randomization at play tends to have a far greater impact on the outcome than we might appreciate. However, the tension and all-or-nothing approaches to the games quite easily make up for anything that’s lacking in terms of legitimacy.
So, without further ado, the World Series edition of Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday:
I’m not saying Gene Lamont is a windmill, but the last time I saw the Detroit Tigers third base coach, Don Quixote was tilting a sword at him. Heyo!
Terrible jokes aside, there was a fascinating moment from Game Two of the 2012 World Series, that might have cost the Detroit Tigers the game. Prince Fielder led off the top of the second inning by getting hit by a Madison Bumgarner pitch. The next batter was Delmon Young who hit a ball down the third base line into left field, for what would be an easy double. Fielder, who started on first base was waved home by Lamont, and the mammoth first baseman didn’t miss a beat in following his coach’s orders.
However, as Fielder ran down the line, San Francisco Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco picked up the ball and threw it to Marco Scutaro, who was playing the role of the cut-off man just behind third base. I have yet to see a camera angle that fully explains how the second baseman Scutaro ended up behind third base covering the throw from the outfield. Nonetheless, Scutaro threw a perfect strike to Buster Posey who tagged out Fielder.
The best thing that I’ve ever read on third base coaches was written a little more than a year ago by Grantland’s Jonah Keri, humorously enough, about Gene Lamont.
The more I watch high-impact, high-leverage decisions in baseball, the more I’m convinced that risk aversion is by far the biggest concern. That’s the case with decisions such as pitching changes, where a manager might save his closer for a save situation so as not to deviate from orthodoxy and leave himself open to criticism. But I’d love to see someone tackle more spur-of-the-moment decisions too. The more baseball you watch, the more it seems like, given fight-or-flight decisions, people choose flight. Wussing out is apparently a primal instinct.
Lamont had maybe a second or two to decide whether or not to send Santiago. It was a tie game, and scoring a single run would have immensely valuable at that moment. There were two outs, which is when you should get more aggressive in sending baserunners. Santiago is a decent runner, not a burner, but competent enough to score from first on a deep extra-base hit. Cruz did field the ball cleanly in the corner. But so many things would have needed to go right for the Rangers to nail Santiago from that point: a perfect throw-in by Cruz, a perfect relay, a perfect catch, plate-block and tag by Napoli. Yes, the man on deck was Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers’ best player, one of the three or four best hitters on the planet. Did Lamont consider the on-deck hitter when making his decision? Maybe. Would Cabrera (or Victor Martinez, if the Rangers opted to intentionally walk Cabrera) have been more likely to knock in the go-ahead run than Santiago would have been to score on the play? That just doesn’t seem possible. Lamont may not have had time to do all the math in this situation, and there’s nothing wrong with going on gut feeling in a big spot. But if that gut feeling is to be cautious to the point of harming your team’s chances, your prudence is much riskier than a so-called aggressive move could ever be.
There are two things that strike me after reading this: 1) I think we might take for granted how great of a writer Jonah Keri is; and 2) I don’t believe any factors outside of the likelihood of a runner being thrown out enter into Lamont’s decision-making process.
Keri does such a wonderful job describing a pivotal play from the 2011 ALCS with active language that doesn’t depend on the flowery nonsense that seems to litter popular sports writing. It’s interesting, full of action and considerate of the motivations behind the action.
It’s also a similar situation to Thrusday night, but with the opposite outcome. As Keri described the scene from 2011, Lamont had maybe a second or two to decide whether or not to send Fielder, and just as it was in the ALCS last season, the moment came in a tied game, and through hindsight we realize that scoring a single run would have been immensely valuable.
However, there was none out in this situation, which to me, even considering that the bottom of Tigers lineup was due up next, suggests that this would have been the time to put the brakes on Fielder. In addition, it was Prince Fielder running, and not Ramon Santiago. While the out may have depended on the seemingly miraculous positioning of Marco Scutaro, a fantastic tag from Buster Posey and a great call from home plate umpire Dan Iassogna, it remained Prince Fielder running the bases. And it would be Prince Fielder who had to evade a tag to score a run.
However, that’s not how Lamont considered the situation. The only thing he presumably considered was the angle with which the ball bounced off the wall along the left field line, that appeared for a split second to hinder Blanco’s approach to it. However, Blanco is a little bit more nimble than Detroit’s left fielder, and he was able to recover quickly and fire the ball to Scutaro, whose most valuable contribution to the Giants postseason run may be the one feat that gets overlooked, sent the ball to Posey to collect the out.
I can’t think of a single factor outside of the ball’s ricochet that Lamont would’ve considered in making his split-second decision. And that’s likely why this resulted in an out, and not a situation for Jhonny Peralta that would’ve had runners on second and third with no one out.
Coke On Cabrera
It all adds up to make Coke endearing to viewers and hilarious to listeners. My favorite is the way that Coke seems to remember the story as he’s telling it, looking away from the camera and fiddling with his fingers as though he’s just the slightest bit shy, which makes his presumably dead-on portray all the more engrossing. It’s just excellent.
Coke wasn’t lying about the plate appearance either. It occurred on September 1st, 2008, and Coke struck him out on an 81 miles per hour curve ball at the knees that Cabrera whiffed on.
Bringing Up Buster Posey
San Francisco Giants catcher and National League MVP-in-waiting Buster Posey collected only four hits in the entire seven game NLCS. He’s already landed three in the first two games of the World Series.
I spent a fair amount of time going through the Cincinnati Reds approach to Posey, and how it effectively shut him down. Unfortunately for the Detroit Tigers, they didn’t seem to be paying much attention. The Reds limited Posey’s impact by almost exclusively pitching him outside with fastballs. The Tigers, not so much.
I praised Detroit for the purposeful pitching against the New York Yankees in the ALCS, but through the first two games of the World Series, an admittedly small sample, they either a) don’t seem to be pitching with a specific idea in mind to the Giants best hitter (whom they intentionally walked Pablo Sandoval to face in Game Two); or b) have an entirely different game plan against Posey than what was used effectively by the Reds.
On The Road Again
Not that it means very much in terms of the two guaranteed, three potential, games to be played in Detroit, where the World Series heads for Saturday, but the San Francisco Giants have been really, really good on the road since the All-Star break. Carl Steward of the Silicon Valley Mercury News points out that the Giants have been playing better than .700 baseball away from AT&T Park since the Mid-Summer Classic.
That’s kind of astounding.
Knoblering On Buffoonery
— DKnobler (@DKnobler) October 26, 2012
Where to begin? Here are some of the reasons that Mr. Knobler’s article is the dumbest thing I’ve read in some time.
- Moneyball has nothing to do with scouts vs. statistics; and everything to do with capitalizing on a point of value that’s been overlooked by others;
- The San Francisco Giants are incredibly saber-savvy;
- This sentence doesn’t make any sense whatsoever: “If it’s not black and white, there are quite a few variations of gray, with the Tigers and Giants at one end of the scale and Moneyball as a concept at the other.”
- There is no purpose in writing such an article outside of either a) an axe to grind; or b) trolling the analytics community.
- Can we please stop imagining that only a team’s skill is on display when they win a playoff series? Doing so, spits in the face of the reasoning behind a 162 game schedule. So, in order to pretend as though skill is the ultimate decider in a best-of-seven series, you have to believe that the regular season is a waste of time. Why do these people hate baseball so much?
Maybe the Tigers aren’t really all that into analysis.
“The way I look at it, we’re 2 games back with 5 to play, but we’re playing the team we need to catch.” – Jim Leyland
— MLB (@MLB) October 26, 2012
Yep. That’s a way to look at it. I’m just not so sure this viewpoint is the least bit positive.
Doug Fister’s Head Shot
I came out fairly strongly against the hordes of people who immediately called for Doug Fister’s removal from the game after he was hit in the head by a baseball. I wasn’t bothered in the least by those showing concern for Fister or even concern for how the Detroit Tigers training staff was handling the pitcher.
Trainer: “Doug, how many outs are there?”
Doug: “Uh, two.”
Trainer: “Good, now go get the third.”
What upset me was the certainty being expressed that their suggestion for handling the situation was better than the doctor who examined him. Now, a good portion of my livelihood is dependent on me doing just such a thing when it comes to baseball, but the difference is that I don’t attempt to falsely raise the level of discourse on the issue to the heights of moral obligation.
Fister was checked out by a trained professional, who in his expert opinion decided that he was okay to continue. I’m very impressed that you’ve heard of Natasha Richardson, but citing one example of a head injury that wasn’t handled properly is almost at a level of using fear-mongering to prove a point.
Justin Verlander On Short Rest
It seems rather obvious that Justin Verlander shouldn’t start Game Four on short rest no matter what the score of the series is. In order to win four of the next five games, the Tigers will have to rely on other pitchers no matter what. The team has shown a hesitancy to use Verlander on short rest before, and the only reason to use him in Game Four would be to use him again on short rest in a potential Game Seven. If the team isn’t going to use him twice on short rest, there is absolutely no point in using him once.
Madison Bumgarner Is Better
Jeff Sullivan wrote a piece for Fangraphs today in which he suggests that Madison Bumgarner was lucky to get the outs that he did last night against the Detroit Tigers. As evidence, he cites seven examples in which the Giants left-hander missed the target set for him by Buster Posey.
I’m not one to cite results as evidence of good process, but if we want to play the observational game, there were several times that Bumgarner hit Posey’s glove perfectly. Bumgarner’s game is absolutely dependent on locating his pitches. Earlier this season, he drew comparisons to Cliff Lee with his stellar control, and while that seemed to be missing from his two previous postseason starts, it appeared to be there for him to me on Thursday night.
Another thing that Sullivan might not be taking into account is the risk mitigation being used when Posey calls for a particular pitch in a specific place. A good catcher would be keenly aware of where the ball is likely to go if the location is missed, and they account for this in where they place their glove for location. Pretending that the pitches missing the glove is a sign that Bumgarner was lucky to escape further punishment is the type of thinking that results from playing a baseball video game.
There’s also another element being missed entirely from Bumgarner’s game, which is his deceit. The pitcher’s motion does a good job of hiding his pitch until the very last moment, making a low nineties fastball far more effective than it would be coming from another arm.
It’s much sadder to see a grown person cry than a child. That’s strange, but it’s the truth. With a child, there’s a level of recognized ignorance suggesting that as bad as it might be in the kid’s mind right now, it’s not nearly as bad in comparison to life’s other tragedies. When a grown person cries out of sadness, it’s assumed that they are aware of all of life’s traumas, and their body considers whatever they’re dealing with at the time to be worth of tears.
When these tears are from the eyes of a once proud person whose point of pride has been quashed, no matter how obnoxious they might have been prior to their down fall, it seems ever sadder than the typical adult tears.
This is what I was thinking when Detroit Tigers reliever Jose Valverde was removed from Game One of the World Series after facing five batters and only getting one of them out. After he was removed from the game, the broadcast showed him in the dugout with red, swollen and wet eyes, pointing with his arms and configuring a sight that said, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but the one thing from which I felt good about myself is no longer.”
That’s likely an exaggerated or over-dramatic reading of actuality, but it’s what was spoken to me, and it’s what made me feel pity for a player that I had previously hated.
It’s quite likely that with his impending free agency, Valverde has thrown his last pitch for the Tigers, and it was a terrible way to go out. We often joke about the postseason not having an effect on a player’s free agent value, but this might just be the exception that proves the rule.
Bonus Peter Gammons Praise