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October 28, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game Three Recap (The Managerial Moves Edition)

by Ben Lindbergh


Wherever you stand on the obstruction call, you probably wish this game had been decided by a less ambiguous, controversial play. So it’s worth asking how we got to the point where this game could come down to where Will Middlebrooks fell. And the answer, in part (and as always), is “managerial moves.” Here, in reverse chronological order, are five moves that John Farrell or Mike Matheny made (or didn’t make) that helped set up Game Three for an infamous ending.

5. The Red Sox pitch to Jon Jay in the ninth.
John Farrell is not the intentional walk type: the Red Sox issued only 10 intentional walks all season, by far the fewest in baseball. But we know the IBB is in his postseason playbook, because he’d issued two earlier in this very game: once to get to David Freese with two outs in the fifth, Matt Adams on second, and Yadier Molina due up; and once in the eighth with the same base-out state, to get the right-handed Matt Holliday up against Brandon Workman instead of the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran.

In the ninth, Farrell was faced with what seemed like an even more obvious IBB opportunity, and he passed it up. After Adams struck out swinging to lead off the inning, Molina singled to knock Brandon Workman out of the game and pinch hitter Allen Craig doubled against Koji Uehara. That brought up the left-handed-hitting Jay with one out and runners on second and third. Uehara has no career platoon split, so it wasn’t imperative to play lefty/righty here, but an IBB still would have set up the force at every base and brought up a much weaker hitter (Pete Kozma, with Kolten Wong up after that). Tony Cruz was the only position player left on the St. Louis bench, so Matheny had no substitute for Kozma.

So did Farrell make a mistake? Maybe, but it’s tough to say for sure. Mitchel Litchtman did the math, and in this case, the expected outcomes of both scenarios are surprisingly similar, largely because Uehara issues free passes so rarely that he’s not a big risk to hand out a walkoff walk. Still, I’d guess that most managers wouldn’t have made the choice Farrell did. And had someone other than Jay been up, we probably wouldn’t be trying to parse what the rulebook says about obstruction.

4. The Red Sox let Brandon Workman hit in the ninth.
This may have been the most mismatched at-bat of baseball’s modern era. Workman had never had an at-bat as a professional player. He wasn’t a two-way player in college, so it’s possible that he hadn’t been in a batter’s box since his senior year at Bowie (Texas) high school (2007). And he was facing Trevor Rosenthal, who was throwing 97-98. AL pitchers in 2013 posted a collective .117 on-base percentage, and most of them probably had more recent offensive experience. With Rosenthal on the mound, I’m going to guess Workman’s expected OBP here was… .050? I’m in a generous mood.

Rosenthal threw three fastballs right over the plate, as if he hadn’t noticed Workman was there. And in the ways that mattered, he wasn’t.

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