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October 25, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game Two Recap (Red Sox Edition)

by Ben Lindbergh

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Throughout the World Series, we'll be providing two recaps of each game, one with a focus on the winner and the other devoting a longer look to the loser. This is the Red Sox entry for Game One. The Cardinals edition is here.

Say this for the Red Sox: they made Michael Wacha work. In his first three postseason starts, Wacha put away the Pirates and Dodgers in an average of 4.09 pitches per plate appearance. The Red Sox suffered the same fate as the right-hander’s previous playoff victims, but they didn’t go down easy, forcing him to throw 4.75 pitches per batter faced. They took 21 of his 24 first pitches, drew four walks—tied for the most the 22-year-old has allowed in his brief big-league career—and ran his pitch count up to 114, the most he’s thrown in a major-league start.

Research by Sam Miller confirms the conventional wisdom about the Red Sox: pitchers who pounds the zone make their patience work against them, reducing them to something like a league-average offensive team. Game One (and maybe Four, and maybe Seven) starter Adam Wainwright, despite his miniscule walk rate, isn’t one of those pitchers: he doesn’t walk anyone, but only because he gets less disciplined hitters to chase. Compared to Wainwright, Wacha throws a slightly lower percentage of pitches in the typically called strike zone; his 49.9 percent zone rate was 129th out of 252 pitchers who threw at least 1000 pitches this season. He’s not really a Red Sox killer, either.

So by sticking with their plan at the plate, the Sox got Wacha out of the game after six even, his earliest exit this October. Their reward? Two innings of unhittable Carlos Martinez, chased down by a dose of ridiculous Trevor Rosenthal. Although Mike Matheny did the Sox a favor by letting David Ortiz face Wacha for a third time in the sixth—and Martinez instead of a warmed-up Randy Choate in the eighth—he made things more difficult for them by going to Martinez an inning earlier than usual. Martinez and Rosenthal combined for 35 pitches, 31 of which were fastballs with an average velocity of 97.2 miles per hour. And of those 31 heaters, 25 were strikes. Knocking tough starters out served Boston well against Detroit in the ALCS, but there was no soft bullpen underbelly for the Sox to feast on in the seventh last night.

  • Thanks to the Cardinals’ aggressiveness, his own good command, and what Brooks Baseball suggests was a couple extra inches of horizontal movement on his breaking balls (relative to the regular season), John Lackey averaged over a pitch less per batter (3.65) than Wacha and lasted two outs longer. Pop quiz: Which Game Two starter will earn more money in 2015? Answer: They’ll both make close to the major-league minimum. The Cardinals aren't the only team with cost-controlled starters!

  • A big part of Boston’s home field advantage comes from its outfielders’ experience in playing balls off the weird walls of Fenway, but in Game Two, the walls worked against them. Jacoby Ellsbury has played center field in Fenway for parts of seven seasons, but even he still hasn’t mastered the art of anticipating the carom. Here’s where he was when the camera cut to him on Matt Holliday’s leadoff triple in the fourth, with a Family Circus-style dotted line representing the route he took to where the ball ended up:


    The extra base Holliday took because of that unpredictable bounce gave St. Louis its first lead of the series. The Cardinals didn’t get another hit in the inning, but after Matt Adams lined out to second, a Yadier Molina grounder drove in the run.

  • The Cardinals scored the winning run on a throwing error by Craig Breslow, another reminder that the players with the best arms in baseball are infuriatingly inaccurate when they’re not aiming at the plate. (Everyone remembers how the winning run scored in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series; fewer remember that the Diamondbacks put the tying run on when Mariano Rivera fielded a bunt by Damian Miller and threw it into center field.)

    Here’s how the rate of throwing errors broke down by position in 2013, using assists as a measure of throws:

    POS

    POS

    ASSISTS

    TH_ERR

    TH_ERR_RT

    1

    P

    5329

    239

    0.0429

    2

    C

    2546

    210

    0.0762

    3

    1B

    3186

    67

    0.0206

    4

    2B

    13789

    132

    0.0095

    5

    3B

    9176

    264

    0.0280

    6

    SS

    13772

    269

    0.0192

    7

    LF

    282

    22

    0.0724

    8

    CF

    244

    36

    0.1286

    9

    RF

    295

    38

    0.1141

    The rate of throwing errors among pitchers is about 4 ½ times higher than it is among second basemen—whose throws probably have the most comparable difficulty level—and about twice as high as the rates for first basemen and shortstops. Silly pitchers. Assists are for position players.

  • David Ortiz continues to be clutch, if you go by the dictionary definition (“dependable in crucial situations”). Of course, he’s also pretty dependable when the situation isn’t so crucial. From 2002-2013, Ortiz has a .953 OPS (with a homer every 15.2 at-bats) in the regular season and a .912 OPS (with a homer every 16.8 AB) in the playoffs. Very good players on very good teams tend to produce a lot of lasting postseason memories.

    Last night’s lasting memory came on a fourth consecutive changeup from Wacha, the only time in the game that he threw more than three in a row. Before his go-ahead homer, Ortiz had seen eight changeups in 15 pitches. That’s one of the problems with being close to a two-pitch pitcher; by the time you face a batter for the second (let alone third) time, he’s already seen everything. Maybe Wacha was trying to be less predictable by quadrupling up on the change, but the repetition came back to bite him. Well, that and the fact that it didn’t move much and was up and out over the plate.

  • “There are very few guys who are winners without the numbers to back it up,” Tim McCarver said, during a brief break between other baseless statements. “[Jonny] Gomes is a winner.” Gomes wasn’t a winner last night, though, and so Game Two could potentially mark the last time we see him start in this series. The Red Sox went undefeated in Gomes’ first seven starts of the postseason, which made John Farrell’s decision to continue to play him the managerial equivalent of remaining motionless on the couch for three innings because your team scored while you were leaning to your left. Even before Gomes’ latest o-fer against a right-handed hurler, Farrell had declared his intention to start Daniel Nava in Busch Stadium’s larger left field, but maybe seeing Gomes struggle again—and seeing the Red Sox lose despite his inspiring presence—will keep him out of the lineup if the series comes back to Boston.

  • The Key to the Game for the Red Sox, according to Fox, was “Feel the momentum.” No wonder they didn’t win. The correct Key was “Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme.

  • Joe Kelly is the Cardinals starter least likely to throw a pitch inside the strike zone, so we could be in for some Red Sox runs in Game Three. Lance Lynn, who would likely start Game Four if St. Louis takes a 2-1 lead, has the highest zone rate in the rotation.

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

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