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October 26, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game Two Recap: Giants 2, Tigers 0

by Ben Lindbergh

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In Game One, we got a blowout, which is another way of saying we got one half of a pitcher’s duel. In Game Two, we got the whole duel. Both starters got through their first six innings unscathed. Both starters' lines showed fewer baserunners allowed than innings pitched. Both starters watched Andy Pettitte when they were younger and decided to steal that thing he does with his glove before each pitch.

The fastest pitch Doug Fister threw went 90.2 miles per hour, and the fastest pitch Madison Bumgarner threw went 90.7. If you like watching batters get blown away, you were probably bored by Bumgarner and Fister, but if you’re a fan of finesse pitchers (or Sergio Romo’s slider), this was one of the best combined pitching performances you’ve seen all season.

Bumgarner’s command was missing in his first two postseason starts, but it was nearly perfect last night, as the World Series again brought out the best in him. He put most of his pitches where he wanted them and avoided making any serious mistakes. Against left-handed hitters, he stayed away almost exclusively:

Against right-handed hitters, he got fouls on the inside corner, called strikes on the outside corner, and swinging strikes up, completely avoiding the heart of the zone:

In the seventh inning, he got Miguel Cabrera to swing at and miss a 90-mph fastball; as Dan Brooks reported on Twitter, Cabrera had swung through only 11 fastballs slower than 91 mph all season. In that plate appearance, Bumgarner threw nothing over the plate between the waist and the knees, nibbling at the edges of the zone and mixing up his horizontal and vertical locations from pitch to pitch.

The only time he doubled up on location was from the third pitch to the fourth, when he followed a slider over the plate up with a fastball just a bit higher. Even though Cabrera had just seen a pitch in a similar location, his bat had been slowed by the slider just enough to make this miss possible:

Bumgarner’s careful approach kept him out of trouble against Cabrera, who—like most of the Tigers—went hitless on the night. Cabrera did walk in that plate appearance, but ball four (the ninth pitch of the at-bat) was in the strike zone, one of the few questionable calls by home plate umpire Dan Iassogna.

And Bumgarner did it all despite stepping directly on the foul line and daring fate to do something about it.

As good as Bumgarner was, Iassogna might’ve been better. Check out this chart:

With just a few exceptions, that’s exactly what you want a called pitch plot to look like.

The Tigers produced some line drives that didn’t lead to baserunners, but they collected only two hits—one of which was a humpbacked liner Brandon Crawford couldn’t corral at short—and came close to scoring just once. There were really only two times when Detroit could have done something different that might have affected the final score. Prince Fielder was hit by a pitch to lead off the second and was waved home two pitches later on a Delmon Young double. Buster Posey (barely) managed to apply the tag before Fielder crossed the plate, ending the threat. It wasn’t the worst send you’ll ever see, but with no outs, Fielder and third-base coach Gene Lamont could have chosen to play it safe and count on one of the next three batters to drive the runner in from third.

The other possibly pivotal play came in the seventh, when the Giants loaded the bases with no outs against Fister and reliever Drew Smyly.* Jim Leyland opted to play the infield back rather than bring the infielders in to cut off the go-ahead (and, as it turned out, winning) run. Smyly got a groundball and the Tigers turned two, but Hunter Pence scored from third.

*On the podcast yesterday, Sam Miller and I discussed the ripple effect that Jose Valverde’s downfall has had on Detroit’s bullpen, specifically the fact that Phil Coke’s ascension to the closer role makes Drew Smyly the Tigers’ lone situational lefty. You wouldn’t think that would be such a bad thing, given Smyly’s stats as a starter and the benefit most starters see from pitching in short bursts, but in eight innings out of the bullpen, he’s walked 10 batters (one intentionally). It might mean he’s not suited to or acclimated to short stints, or it might mean nothing, but that’s not the sort of thing a manager wants to worry about sorting out in the World Series. Three of those walks came last night, and the second one turned into San Francisco’s second run.

It’s really hard to say whether Leyland made the right call, since there are so many variables to consider, not all of which we can weigh precisely. The batter, Brandon Crawford, (somewhat surprisingly) isn’t much of a bunter, so the Giants didn’t have to worry about him laying one down, and they also didn’t have to hold the runner at first with second base occupied. The pitcher’s spot was up next, but it was predictable that the Giants would pinch-hit. Pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot isn’t exactly a scary bat off the bench, but the top of the order was due up after him.

What we don’t know is exactly how where the infielders are stationed affects the likelihood of each outcome—a double play, a hit, a grounder that would lead to an out at home, etc. All we can say is which direction each alignment moves the needle: infielders back makes a double play more likely, infielders in makes an out at home (but also a hit) more likely. And another thing we can say is that the Giants’ run expectancy for the inning (which was 2.260 with the bases loaded and no outs) would have been slightly better with the bases loaded and one out (1.537) than with a runner on third, two outs, and one run already in (1.363).

That suggests that the double play was the more desirable outcome, which in turn suggests that Leyland’s decision wasn’t bad and may actually have been the better one. The extra run the Giants plated in the eighth dialed down the scrutiny of Leyland’s call a little, but it looks like we can all put away our pitchforks regardless.

***

The Giants had only four hits off of Fister, one of them off of Fister’s head.

The ball was hit very hard by Gregor Blanco—after the ricochet, it went all the way to shallow center on the fly—so either Fister has an especially hard head or the liner hit him at the perfect point or angle to prevent an injury. He showed no ill effects from the impact, which was a relief to everyone watching.

Now you can watch it again and again without worrying:

***

Less than two weeks ago, the Tigers shut out the Yankees to take a 2-0 lead in the ALCS. Now they find themselves on the other end of a shutout and a two-game deficit, having been held scoreless for just the fourth time all season after mustering only three runs in Game One. As Joe Buck noted at the end of the broadcast, 41 of 52 pennant winners that went up 2-0 won the World Series. The Giants probably aren’t 79 percent likely to win this series—most of those previous losers couldn’t call on the best pitcher in baseball twice in their final five games—but the Tigers are undoubtedly in a deep hole as they head back to Detroit.

***

Coming up with keys to the game must be really hard, because the key to the game is always scoring more runs than the other team scores. But you can’t just do this

because eventually America will catch on. If you’re going to do keys, you really have to commit to coming up with some convincing faux-insights every time out. “GET US BACK HOME 1-1” is another way of saying “WIN”, which isn’t so much a key to the game as it is the goal of the game.  

***

Why you have to be crazy to be a catcher, exhibits A, B, and C:

And exhibit D, or what FOX’s high-speed Phantom camera was made for: watching a foul tip deform Gerald Laird’s cheek in thousands of frames.

***

If you think we’re anywhere close to coming up with a way to prevent pitcher injuries, gaze upon this GIF of Fister throwing a 74-mph curveball and despair.

Fister, as far as I can tell, has never had an elbow injury, but his UCL comes a little closer to tearing every time you let that GIF repeat.

***

Hunter Pence was so excited about scoring a run that he briefly considered biting off the ear of an unsuspecting Matt Cain:

The only person who’s ever been capable of creepier expressions than Pence is Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, circa 1968:

***

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski was sitting in the stands. His expression was sad, but his hair was spectacular.

No one with hair like that at age 56 should ever look so unhappy.

***

Since San Francisco is up 2-0, Intensely Fist-Pumping Giants fan gets the last GIF:

That fist pump followed a routine groundout with no one on in the fifth.

Thanks to Colin Wyers for his infield in consulting services.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

24 comments have been left for this article.

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