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October 9, 2005

Playoff Prospectus

Division Series, Day Five

by Paul Swydan

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Condiments don't get initials, the Padres won't get a Game Four, and there is even a possibility that the bells may toll no more at PETCO Park. And aren't we supposed to be witnessing a league with a new level of parity? With one more Astros victory, we will have the first NLCS rematch since 1992, something that will make talk of parity hard to swallow.

  • Joe Sheehan hit the nail right on the head in his column yesterday. Whether we know it or not at the time, these games are reaching their climax in singular moments. Last night's Braves/Astros game turned in the top of the seventh inning when Bobby Cox pinch-hit Kelly Johnson for pitcher Jorge Sosa.

    Sosa had been allowing one hit per inning, but had allowed just three runs and thrown just 90 pitches. In addition, Cox pinch hit for Sosa in a one-out, bases-empty situation. Starting from this situation, there is an 83% chance that you will not score. Roy Oswalt had retired 11 of the last 13 batters, and one of the two who reached did so via a HBP. To say that this move smacked of desperation is probably an understatement.

    Unfortunately, it is never that simple. Sure, this move looks worse in hindsight, but Cox rightly realized his time was growing short. As it happened, Brad Lidge was brought in to get four outs, and this was with his team holding a four-run lead. It is not hard to imagine Lidge coming in for five or six outs had the game been closer. Furthermore, the bottom of the seventh would have likely turned out much different had Willy Taveras successfully laid down one of the bunts he attempted. To put this into perspective, let us again look at the Situational Run Probabilities chart. Though Taveras was bunting for a single, Chipper Jones was able to retire him in such a situation earlier in the series, so with that in mind, let us consider two situations: 1) the situation that actually unfolded, Taveras on first and Craig Biggio on third with no outs, and 2) Biggio on third with one out.

    
    Situational Run Probability, 2005
    Sit   0 runs   1 run   2 runs   3 runs   4 runs
    1)      .154    .412     .162     .131     .077
    2)      .339    .477     .104     .049     .018
    
    
    It stands to reason that one run will score. But by getting that first out the Braves would have decreased the chance of a multiple-run inning by 20%. In a sense, Chris Reitsma fell victim to his own crafty pitching. After Taveras bunted Reitsma's 1-0 offering foul, Reitsma threw him a fastball low and on the outside corner, which Taveras again couldn't successfully bunt. Now swinging away, Taveras was able to eek out an infield single, and the Astros were on their way to a four-run inning.

  • The Astros are hitting well in this series. Biggio, who fell one double shy of cracking the top ten all-time for doubles this season, now has hit four doubles this series. He and Taveras are reaching base half the time, the biggest reason the Astros have scored 17 runs in their two victories.

  • Mike Lamb was in the Game Three lineup for the Astros instead of Orlando Palmeiro. Manager Phil Garner's reasoning for this was he was comfortable enough to play Lance Berkman in the outfield at Minute Maid Park, something he was not comfortable doing in Atlanta. As such, he wanted Lamb's bat in there at first base because "I'm trying to get the best offensive thing out there I think I can get." This begs the question, is Lamb better than Palmeiro?
    
                     Career              2005 Total           Sept 2005
    Player     AVG  OBP  SLG  EqA     AVG  OBP  SLG  EqA    AVG  OBP  SLG
    Lamb      .274 .329 .412 .249    .236 .284 .419 .239   .319 .392 .609
    Palmeiro  .277 .355 .356 .249    .284 .341 .431 .268   .115 .233 .192
    
    
    As always, truth is in the eye of the beholder. Though they have different qualities, their career EqAs suggest they are essentially the same player. Palmeiro has had a better 2005 overall, but Lamb had a torrid September, and has been slugging very well overall in the second half. This is exactly what he did last night, slugging a third-inning Sosa pitch into the right-field seats to give Houston a 3-2 lead that they would not relinquish.

  • In 1999, Reggie Sanders had the second-best season of his 15-year career in a San Diego Padre uniform. After it, he was sent to Atlanta in the trade that brought Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko to San Diego. While Boone has long since moved on, Klesko has remained. After watching Sanders set an NLDS record for RBIs, capitalizing in situations where the Padres have failed, Pads fans may wish they had Sanders back.

    Last night was a prime example, when each played a key role in their team's biggest rallies. In the top of the second, Sanders chased Woody Williams with a two-out, bases-loaded double that plated the Cardinals' fourth and fifth runs. Klesko, on the other hand, killed the Padres best rallies of the night. The Padres, down 7-0, had plated two runs and had runners at first and third with two outs for Klesko in the fifth inning. Any hit would have scored a third run and really put some pressure on Matt Morris and Co., but Klesko fanned. Things did not get any better for Klesko in the ninth. Morgan and Miller touted his history against Jason Isringhausen as Klesko approached the batter's box, even though 13 PAs is not a huge sample size. Isringhausen retired him easily for the series clinching out. Klesko certainly was not alone in his hitting failure, but those two at-bats kind of summed up this series for the Padres.

  • How often do you see a player called out for leaving the box before successfully executing a bunt? Robert Fick played the Nic Cage role in the bottom of the second, when he helped short-circuit a rally in just this fashion. Why was he bunting with his team trailing by five runs? That's a great question.

  • When Dave Pease and I co-hosted a Ballpark Feed with the San Diego Padres this June, GM Kevin Towers told us that he and his staff had been desperately trying to get Nady some extra at-bats, which sounded especially omniscient when Nady homered later that night. Unfortunately, Nady's defense is an obstacle to him getting consistent playing time for a National League team with a lot of ground to cover on their home turf. Having said that, the Padres should have tried to find more than three at-bats in this series. In Game Three, the Padres used four pinch hitters, but Nady was not among them. Looking at the Padres EqAs, we can see that among these pinch-hitters, only Mark Sweeney was more qualified to step up, and that Eric Young is close enough. But how is Nady riding the pine so that Damian Jackson and Sean Burroughs can perform acts of futility?

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

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