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October 14, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game Two Recap: Red Sox 6, Tigers 5

by Zachary Levine

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It’s 2033, and baseball has seen better days. What’s good for a team has been harnessed so effectively that it’s become bad for the game.

Teams have all but mastered proper usage of their pitching staff so that nobody’s going much more than 75 pitches and nobody’s saving much of anything. The trend toward higher velocity that became a big topic in the early 2010s isn’t really slowing down. The average starter, to the extent that there are still starters, is throwing 96. The average reliever is throwing 97.

The average pitcher has blown by 9 strikeouts per 9, once thought the realm of only record holders, and the double-digit barrier will fall soon. And nobody swings any more. Why bother? There have been more walks as the arms race has prioritized more and more velocity, and power hasn’t gone down when there is contact made, so really, why bother? Wait the guy out and hope for the best. You probably weren’t going to hit it anyway.

Games are averaging 3 hours and 20 minutes mostly because there are no quick outs. There’s terrible defense in this baseball dystopia as well, since there are so few balls in play that there’s almost no reason to bother putting competent defenders out there. No base-stealing either. Mexico City led the American League with just 53 as a team last year.

The product has become a little tougher to watch, but it’s baseball so we watch it. For the chance that we’ll get to see one of the 15 no-hitters per year (12 or so per year combined) or see what could be Raul Ibanez’s final home run.

Baseball has seen much better days, though.

***

I mentioned on Twitter the other night that while we often say that a particularly tough-to-watch game sets baseball back a few decades, the Tigers and Red Sox were setting it forward a few. Specifically, it was the matchup of the Tigers’ futuristic pitching—eventually every staff will be putting up strikeout numbers like theirs, barring a rule change or fundamental shift in hitters’ approaches—against the Red Sox’s modern lineup.

Game 1 was a historic and at times wonderful mess, with Boston striking out 17 times against Anibal Sanchez and crew. Game 2 was more of the same with Max Scherzer. Déjà vu was running through the water as the Red Sox played right into Scherzer’s hands.

They waited and waited and waited on first pitches, running their typical deep counts, and then had no answers once they were behind and Scherzer could overpower with his slider. It took until the 11th Red Sox plate appearance of the day for someone to get the bat off his shoulder on the first pitch. Overall against Scherzer the Sox swung at the first pitch just six out of 25 times. But then they fell behind and had to. The righties whiffed on nine of his 17 sliders. He got five more whiffs on his changeup, which was just as effective, and 10 more on his fastball.

He struck out 13 of the 25 hitters he faced, and we were full speed to 2033.

***

David Ortiz was one of the ones who swung at a first pitch. He wasn’t the only one. Shane Victorino, a bit of a hyper one, swung at two against Scherzer and might have swung at a third if it hadn’t hit him.

When Ortiz sees one that he likes, he’ll take a whack at it occasionally.

With the Red Sox down 5-1 after Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, and Al Alburquerque couldn’t get three outs in the eighth, Ortiz got a matchup with Joaquin Benoit.

“Different story when you’ve got bases loaded,” manager John Farrell said of the change in approach. “Obviously Benoit is trying to get a strike early. And David is such a smart hitter that he’s looking for one pitch on the plate early to turn it loose.”

Ortiz sounded like he had a pretty good sense of what was coming. He called that pitch a changeup, though Brooks Baseball has it classified as a splitter and Ortiz was using the terms pretty interchangeably. Outside of a rogue slider in a 2012 matchup, Benoit had thrown 42 pitches to Ortiz—26 fastballs and 16 splitters.

(Today’s pitch was the purple dot on the outside corner, which is on your left as you read this, touching the edge of the box halfway up the strike zone. Basically belt-high on the black, and he was able to pull it out the park.)

If Ortiz was really ruling one of those pitch types out, he pretty much had it narrowed down. So why wait?

“I know that they’re not going to let me beat them with a fastball in that situation,” Ortiz said. “Plus I know that my boy Benoit, he had a good splitter. And I take my chances in that situation.”

Jim Leyland had the option to bring in Phil Coke in that situation to go lefty-on-lefty, and he ascribed his decision to the fact that “Coke hadn’t pitched a big game for quite a while.”

He had his best reliever in the game at the biggest moment to that point, and that reliever got beat by Ortiz.

And in providing that blow, Ortiz showed that there can still be some fun on the road to a strikeout-dominated game.

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

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

ChinMusic

Have we officially "jumped the pitch count shark" when you pull a dominant ace at 108 pitches and replace him with a shaky bullpen in the most critical game of the year? To me, this seems like the dark side of sabermetrics, a blind overreliance on data. Can someone tell me what Leyland and Jones saw (besides pitch count data) that made them think it was wise to pull Scherzer in that situation? (I mean in a mechanical sense, not a "save him for a possible Game 6" sense.)

Oct 14, 2013 05:58 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

It wasn't pitch counts. Scherzer had told Leyland that he was done. From Chris Iott's Michigan Live piece (link at the bottom:

Scherzer was asked if he knew he was done after seven.

"Yeah," he said.

So, no discussion?

"I told them I was done," he said. "They wanted me done. They had it all lined up how they wanted to approach the eighth inning.

Scherzer was asked again whether he could have gone back out to pitch the eighth.

"No," he said. "I was done. You can write that. I was done. Everybody, they wanted me done. I was done. I was not going out there for the eighth inning."

http://www.mlive.com/tigers/index.ssf/2013/10/detroit_tigers_max_scherzer_on_3.html

Oct 14, 2013 09:08 AM
 
DetroitDale

There's some reports in local papers that Scherzer told Leyland he was tired.

Leyland has his faults but overdependence of sabermetrics isn't one of them. If there's a Leyland mistake here it's depending too much on lefty righty matchups, maybe if he leaves Smyly in instead of bringing in Al squared (one of the historically more shaky guys) for the next righty, you have your best lefty facing big Papi and maybe he gets him, but Smyly's walk of Ellsbury didn't inspire confidence, and you still ended up with your closer faxing Big Papi and before last night Benoit had good success. Much has been made of the bullpen failures but it wasn't reasonable to expect that you were going to shut out the Red Sox for two straight games. They just got beat by a better team.

Leyland's only mistake really was moving Peralta to short to get more offense in the lineup, then squandering that by again starting Don Kelly, whose picture appears in the dictionary under "replacement level player" He sacrificed shortstop defense for left field defense, got no offense out of the deal, and still Kelly still misplayed a ball off the monster. Still though they scored 5 runs so you really can't blame this loss on Leyland, but continued waste of at-bats on Don Kelly for a team desperately in need of offense is indefensible.

Oct 14, 2013 06:51 AM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

Seems to me that Leyland made a bunch of reasonable moves that many other managers would have also made but they all backfired. Even bringing in Jose Iglesias as a defensive substitution failed when he threw away the Jonny Gomes grounder. YCPB

Oct 14, 2013 06:59 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Zachary Levine
BP staff

Agreed. To be honest, I thought most of the attempts to criticize Leyland last night were people acting on reflex. A team just blew a 5-run lead, so we're probably supposed to find some fault with the manager in that. I've criticized plenty of managers and I'm sure I'll have something to say about Leyland in some game this series, but this wasn't it. Sometimes you just blow a 5-run lead because your players did it.

Oct 14, 2013 07:21 AM
 
PeterCollery

Veras, Alburquerque and Smyly failed in the 8th.

Oct 14, 2013 07:32 AM
rating: 1
 
Yefrem

....and Benoit

Oct 14, 2013 07:53 AM
rating: 1
 
Randy Brown
(189)

In the 8th, Leyland played matchups and I can't really fault him for that (although I do think that any Smyly appearance where he doesn't pitch to Ortiz is a suboptimal use of Smyly). The only pitching change that I can't really wrap my head around is Porcello opening the 9th. It is pretty clear that if Benoit got out of the 8th with the lead, he would have been on the mound in the 9th.

So why, with the game now tied, is Benoit either unavailable for the 9th, or the situation is no longer important enough to have your best reliever on the mound? Vexing.

Oct 14, 2013 07:55 AM
rating: 1
 
Marcgiz

I wondered the same thing. Only thought was that he was looking to get multiple innings out of Porcello anyway, and didn't want to risk over-using Benoit in a long 9th. With the day off, though, I don't know.

Oct 14, 2013 08:00 AM
rating: 0
 
Marcgiz

Can't blame the manager for this one.

Veras gave up a double.
Smyly walked the lefty.
Benoit throws one in Ortiz's happy zone.
Hunter misplays the ball (replay shows pretty conclusively that if he hadn't overrun the ball it would have been just a loud out).
Iglesias turns a single into two bases.
Porcello throws a wild pitch.

At this point I might have IBB the bases full, but this was a team loss by the Tigers and it rests squarely on the shoulders of the guys on the field.

BTW - How many chances at SS did Peralta have? 0, zip, nada, zilch. If you listen to Leyland before the game, it would seem he had an inkling.

Oct 14, 2013 07:57 AM
rating: 0
 
sandriola

Hunter was sprinting across the field and overran a hooking line drive at the short fence. To say that Hunter should have caught that is a bit harsh. I believe he hasn't played the best right field he could have this year. He's misplayed or let up on seemingly easy balls. However, to blame him for not catching the ball last night would be placing too much blame on him.

Also, Fielder HAS to block that ball from Iglesias.

No need to IBB the bases loaded after the wild pitch as there were no outs. The infield would have to come home on a ball and therefore would still be playing in. If Porcello struck out Salty, then yes, I agree then IBB the bases loaded.

Oct 14, 2013 15:59 PM
rating: 2
 
Yefrem

This is baseball; it happens. As baseball fans this heartbreak is what we've signed up for. Sometimes Leyland's funky decisions work, other times they do not. As a Tigers fan I was angry, and still am; however the Tigers have weaved a lot of magic of their own, most notably in game 4 against the A's and game 1 against the Red Sox. A 2-0 series would be nice, but honestly, they're still in good shape. That, however, doesn't numb the sting of a victory being snatched away in such a cruel manner. Baseball.

Baseball

Oct 14, 2013 07:59 AM
rating: 2
 
montanabowers

Wow. I agree that laying blame is easiest with 20-20 hindsight, but I also watched in disbelief as Leyland over-managed the 8th inning. The first words out of my mouth when he came out to replace Veras were, "What are you doing?" Veras got an out and then gave up a soft double into the left field corner . . . with a four run lead. Shame on him! Now comes the over-managing and the parade of matchup pitching changes . . . with a four run lead! If it was the regular season, Veras stays in and probably gets out of it and maybe gives up that run on second base. One out and a runner on second - probability of scoring is around 65%. Who cares if that run scores as long as you get outs along the way. You have a four run lead. Instead, Leyland chose to manage as if it's a one run lead and it spiraled out of control from there. Veras threw 3 pitches - two for strikes. We never got to find out if he was having control issues and we never got to find out if his .199 batting average against would play out after that double.

Oct 14, 2013 08:07 AM
rating: 5
 
Yefrem

That's my point. Leyland has over managed his bullpen a lot in the past. It is just more frustrating now because it didn't work this time. Leyland better learn to trust Smyly facing right handers in the rotation next season. Taking him out after Ellsbury was most curious move. Smyly has demonstrated the ability to put out right handers, and would've been able to face Ortiz 2 batters later. That said, his bullpen "magic" worked in game 1.

Oct 14, 2013 08:23 AM
rating: 1
 
vespij

Scherzer didnt seem to look done - thats why some people questioned it. If they got a couple more outs out of him it would have made a big difference. But if he really was done I guess thats it. strange though that the quote above has him saying "i was done. they wanted me done. they had it all lined up. i was done - you can print it. I dont think he was done.

Oct 14, 2013 11:09 AM
rating: 0
 
Bryan Cole

At the turn of the 20th century, talking heads were concerned about the large amounts of horse manure produced by large cities like New York. How would we dispose of it while mitigating the public health risk?

And then Henry Ford showed up. (more: http://freakonomics.com/2012/12/20/the-house-of-dreams-full-transcript/)

My point is that things evolve in new and unpredictable ways. For every large-market Tigers and Red Sox, there will be a small-market A's and Twins looking for an inefficiency. So there's no need for the doom-and-gloom in the lede! Baseball in 2033 is gonna be great, you guys!

Oct 14, 2013 11:18 AM
rating: 2
 
jnossal

I find it endless amusing that Detroit was considered small-market when the Tigers sucked, but are apparently a large-market team now that they've had sustained success.

Oct 15, 2013 10:02 AM
rating: 0
 
Bryan Cole

Fair. But now they're willing to splash that Domino's Pizza money, at least.

And besides, Detroit is the 14th largest American MSA, right ahead of Seattle and right behind Phoenix. So maybe "large-market" was the wrong term; should've been "big-spending".

Oct 16, 2013 05:11 AM
rating: 0
 
jnossal

Little Caesars. They had Domino's money back when they were "small market".

Oct 16, 2013 20:29 PM
rating: 0
 
vespij

I'm a bit supprised that there's no huge discussion on why farrell is benching Nava. Once Nava won the starting job in LF he played outstanding. He seems to be twice the hitter Gomes is against right handed pitchers anyways. They say Farrell is going to start Gomes over Nava against Verlander. I know that Gomes is a great inspiration and leader to the red sox. Is that enought to start him against Verlander? I'm not sure i've ever seen anything like this before.

Oct 14, 2013 17:09 PM
rating: 0
 
villapalomares

I'm disappointed in all the strikeouts and low scoring games this post season. I remember 1968 and not fondly. Pitchers are dominating and the games are not as interesting. Every time a hitter gets two strikes, I almost expect a K (or backward K.) I love the game, but give me more offense. Anyone else on board?

Oct 14, 2013 21:31 PM
rating: 0
 
NJTomatoes

Face it, we are in a pitching era. The pendulum has swung and it will do so again.

Oct 15, 2013 12:34 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

Repeat after me ... there is no thing such as a clutch hitter ... there is no thing such as a clutch hitter ...

Oct 14, 2013 22:21 PM
rating: -1
 
jnossal

Anyone still think Leyland isn't overmanaging his pen after he uses four pitchers to close out a 7-1 lead, including using Benoit with a 5-run advantage to start the 9th?

I'd say fire him now while they can, but I asked the same thing last year when he insisted on running an obviously toasted Valverde out there game after game, but if it didn't happen then, it won't happen now.

Sox in 7 with at least one more Tiger bullpen meltdown on tap.

Oct 16, 2013 20:33 PM
rating: 0
 
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