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October 6, 2005

Playoff Prospectus

Division Series, Day Two

by Paul Swydan

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Unlike the first day of the postseason, which featured three mediocre games, there was a playoff atmosphere Wednesday as all games were hotly contested. Just like always, the media was quick to dig up old ghosts and easy angles, rolling both into one with the hideous Tony Graffanino/Bill Buckner comparison. But not even such heinous behavior could put a damper on a day filled with playoff baseball.

  • In the top of the seventh inning in Atlanta, with the Astros clinging to a 4-3 lead, Craig Biggio dropped down a bunt to move Andy Pettitte to third base with one out. Immediately, the announcers began talking about how this was a signal that the 'Stros were playing for one run, and just wanted to get a little cushion before handing it off to the bullpen. Then a graphic was flashed across the screen proclaiming the Astros to have a 69-19 record when scoring four or more runs. This is true, but looking at our Team Records by R/RA and Streaks report, we can see that it is a bit misleading:
    
    Astros 2005 Records by RS
    RS     W    L     PCT
     4    13    8    .619
     5     8    7    .533
     6    16    2    .889
     7    11    1    .917
     8     6    0   1.000
     9     5    1    .833
    10+   10    0   1.000
    
    4-5   21   15    .583
    6+    48    4    .923
    
    
    While the Astros do pretty well when they score four or more runs, the real break point is the sixth run. When notching at least six tallies, the Astros are nearly unbeatable. Taking this info into account, we can question whether bunting here was the correct move, especially since Biggio had been hitting the ball well. It ended up looking like an okay decision, as Houston loaded the bases in the inning, eventually scoring Pettitte on the way to a 10-5 win, but this was mainly due to poor pitching from Atlanta.

  • Nevertheless, when the right decision absolutely had to be made, Phil Garner made it. As Joe Sheehan discussed in his series preview, the extra position player on Houston's bench was to help leverage Jeff Bagwell at-bats, and in the eighth inning that is exactly what they did. Bagwell was inserted for Willy Taveras, whose offense is so bad commentator Steve Phillips said it was "almost like having the pitcher up." Bagwell subsequently singled with the bases loaded, making it a 6-3 ballgame. Four batters later it was 10-3 and the game was basically over.

  • Center field defense played a large role in the first two games yesterday. In the early game, we heard announcers touting the candidacy of Andruw Jones for yet another Gold Glove, and the middle game found much bleating over Aaron Rowand. Rowand then went out and made several important catches, notably on balls hit by John Olerud and Edgar Renteria. Jones did not fare as well, taking a bad route on a fly ball off the bat of Brad Ausmus that he played into a double. He then compounded that by airmailing a throw to home on a Craig Biggio fly ball, allowing Ausmus to score and stretch the Astros lead back to three runs.

    But what of the Gold Glove argument? Does either player deserve one this season?

    
    MLB Center Fielders, 2005
    
    Player           LG   GM-CF   FRAR   FRAA
    Jim Edmonds      NL     138     42     20
    Willy Taveras    NL     147     40     16
    Vernon Wells     AL     154     39     10
    Aaron Rowand     AL     156     38      9
    Luis Matos       AL     119     29      8
    Carlos Beltran   NL     149     32      7
    Brady Clark      NL     144     31      6
    Andruw Jones     NL     158     31      4
    Nook Logan       AL     122     26      7
    Torii Hunter     AL      93     20      2
    
    
    Based on Clay Davenport's numbers, Rowand has a legitimate case to be the AL winner, but Jones has no such argument in the NL. Edmonds and Taveras are head and shoulders above the competition, while Carlos Beltran and Brady Clark are both marginally better.

  • While Graffanino's error impacted the Red Sox/White Sox game, the fact remains that the Olde Towne Team still had four innings to score one measly run, and were unable to do so. Ozzie Guillen certainly did not make their job any easier with his expert management of the bullpen. Guillen brought in the man who has assumed the White Sox' "closer" mantle, Bobby Jenks for the eighth inning, rather than saving him for the ninth. As was talked about recently, the eighth inning can often be a tougher inning than the ninth, and this was certainly true last night. In addition, Guillen deserves credit for having double-barreled action in the bullpen during both the eighth and ninth; he wasn't going to be locked into Jenks, label or no, if things started going badly.

  • Last night's Angels/Yankees game figured to be a tough matchup for John Lackey. The Yankees draw a lot of walks and Lackey sometimes fights his control, averaging more than three free passes per nine innings this season. Though he won his two appearances against the Yankees this season, he needed 212 pitches to finish 10 2/3 IP. Game Two was no different, as Lackey needed 98 pitches to get through 5 2/3 IP, walking five batters along the way. He did allow just two runs and five hits, however.

  • Another night, another failed hit and run. Yesterday we looked at strikeout percentages for Angels regulars. Examining the chart, we can see that Chone Figgins is only slightly more suited to execute a hit-and-run than Darin Erstad is. In the bottom of the third, with no outs and the top of the lineup coming up, Mike Scioscia decided it was time to get aggressive. Seeing that the first eight Angel batters hit ground balls, Scioscia was likely trying to stay out of a double play. However, this aggressive behavior played right into the Yankees hands, leading to a strikeout/throwout double play.

    Trying to stay out of the double play was likely the motivation for the consecutive sacrifice bunts in the bottom of the seventh as well, moves that looked similarly doomed until Orlando Cabrera laced a single into center with two outs, giving the Angels the winning runs.

Paul Swydan is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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