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October 17, 2008

Prospectus Today

A Stathead Considers Chemistry

by Joe Sheehan

With apologies to Elvis Costello (or whoever the line belongs to), writing about this game is like dancing about architecture.

You need more. You need sounds, and feelings, and touch, and all the things that make an experience burn itself into memory. Whatever I'm about to write here can't convey the look on my face when I realized that Gabe Gross had misjudged J.D. Drew's line drive, that the ball was going to land on the grass, that Kevin Youkilis was going to score. I can't write the shared glance of astonishment between my friend and I when Grant Balfour, and not Trever Miller, pitched to David Ortiz in the seventh. There are no words—there will never be words—to describe the mixed emotions of the Sox fans who watched the end of the game from their couches, the same ones who you could see walking out of the park after B.J. Upton's seventh-inning double.

No, today is one of those days where you bump up against the limits of your chosen medium, do the best that you can with the tools you have, and with a knowing nod concede that nothing is going to be good enough.

It's even more complicated than that, because a game like last night's challenges your belief system. Winning is about playing baseball better than the other guys do. The construct built up around the postseason, all of the soft words you always rail against—character, heart, experience, clutch—the ones that apply ex post facto and therefore are labels used to tell stories, not actual skills that affect outcomes... you know all these things are true, and you've spent your career trying to convince people to look past the storytelling.

Then a team down 7-0... no, down 29-5... with seven outs left in its season, showing all the life of the credit market, its fans crammed into subway cars and cursing their way out of parking lots, sullen, tired, stunned into submission. That team gets a single, and then another single, and then a hero, a damaged one, a human one, Superman in the second movie, powers dimmed, blood streaming from his nose, disrespected so much that his foe doesn't even reach for the good weapon... and that hero summons his strength, and strikes a blow, and a roar goes up that even the folks riding away from the park, below the ground, can hear, can feel.

In that moment, how do you say it's not just a little bit about who you are? How do you not think that this blow came from a place of sinew and fast-twitch and hand-eye, but also from some place you can't see on an MRI?

And as the game trickles on, and 7-4 became 7-6, and 7-7, and 8-7, how do you not assign some of those runs—not all, not even most, but some, in a way you never have before—to the people, rather than the players. Was the experience of 2004 and 2007 on one side, and the callowness of the players who lack that experience or any like it on the other—was that a factor in what we saw? Last night's game is an outlier, the extreme edge of the bell curve, a comeback almost unprecedented given the magnitude of the game. The facile storylines and trite labels that mark post-season coverage in the early 21st century are rightly regarded as meaningless, but when you're out beyond two deviations, and you're watching things that no one under 80 has ever seen, it is not only natural to question whether this could be the exception to your rules. It is mandatory.

And after the game, as you stare slack-jawed at the screen, reduced to monosyllabic expressions of awe and the occasional text message, you think about Saturday, and you wonder if there's going to be an effect. "Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher," you like to say, quoting a baseball genius. Maybe, though, tomorrow's starting pitcher is TBD, and momentum's taking a day to think about whether, maybe just this once, he wants to grab a bat and take some swings.

So maybe that's the legend of Game Five. It was the game that made a stathead consider chemistry.

---

You don't get from 7-0 to 7-8 without some big moments along the way, moments that were affected both by the players themselves and the decisions made by the men in the dugouts. Well, you don't get from 0-0 to 7-0 that way either, and what shouldn't be lost in the way the last quarter of the game developed is that the Rays continued to beat the daylights out of the Sox starters in the first quarter. Three homers in the game's first 13 batters gave the Rays a 5-0 lead, the third straight game in which the Rays led in the third inning by that score. The big three all got together this time: B.J. Upton in the first, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria back-to-back in the third. If you tuned in late you might have been looking for the "Rain Delay" logo in a corner of the screen, convinced this was a replay of Game Four.

Scott Kazmir, famously starting in place of James Shields because of his career success at Fenway Park, was effective: six shutout innings, two singles and three walks allowed with seven strikeouts. It was his best outing in some time. He did throw 111 pitches through six innings, and with a rested bullpen behind him, six was all he needed to throw. With the bullpen getting warm, the Rays scored two more runs in the top of the seventh, and seemed set for a champagne celebration at Fenway.

In that seventh, Terry Francona made the first notable decision of the game, calling on Jonathan Papelbon with no one out and two men on, his team down 5-0. I can't say it was the wrong decision, although it had a tinge of desperation to it. Papelbon never pitches that early and never pitches down that far, and while I completely agree with the idea behind it—Francona was using his best pitcher to keep the game as close as he could—it's the kind of thing that would have made more sense with the game slightly closer or slightly further along. By using Papelbon to start the seventh, it was assured that he could not pitch the ninth, and most paths to a Sox victory were going to involve higher-leverage innings than what Papelbon was stepping into. Again, I don't know that it was the wrong move, because I understand the thought process, but it did surprise me.

Papelbon allowed a double steal and a wall-ball double to Upton to make the game 7-0, then pitched out of it thanks to a double play. He also threw the eighth, and as John Perrotto reported, he was on fumes doing so. The outing reminded me of Mariano Rivera's "blown save" in Game Five of the 2004 ALCS, where he'd been brought into a bases-loaded, no-out situation, pitched beautifully in getting three straight outs, and got dinged because one of the outs was a fly to medium-center field that scored a run. Papelbon pitched well, but as the Sox mounted their comeback, you couldn't help but wonder if the two runs that scored on his watch, if not his line, would haunt the Sox.

Joe Maddon would quickly shift the focus to the other dugout. He started the seventh with Grant Balfour, who allowed a well-struck double to Jed Lowrie before whiffing the next two hitters. A Coco Crisp single to left advanced Lowrie but had no chance to score him. Dustin Pedroia went eight pitches deep before knocking a ball into right field that looked playable, but landed in front of Gabe Gross, who played it conservatively. I hated that decision; if you play it on a hop, the run scores, and you have first and second. If you dive and the ball gets by you, it costs a run and two bases on Pedroia. Up 3-0, 5-0, Gross makes the right decision. Up 7-0, I think you try and get the out. In any case, it was 7-1—the tying run was so far off that its parents were just beginning their courtship—and David Ortiz was coming up.

If there's one decision I'd give back to Maddon, and there were a number to choose from, it would be this one. You need just seven outs, and this is as high-leverage a situation as you'd faced in the game. Using another pitcher to get through the seventh would have little cost, and keeping the game at 7-1 with the top of the lineup past would be pretty valuable. It should have been Trever Miller, lefty specialist, and I can't help but think that had this been the brand-name version of David Ortiz, he would have made the move. Ortiz's wrist problem, his poor performance to date, may have baited Maddon into keeping Balfour in. Two pitches later, the game was 7-4, and for the first time since the third inning of Game Three, the Red Sox had some life.

If Ortiz's home run had a tinge of clutch to it—you wonder what the reaction would be if Alex Rodriguez had broken a post-season slump by hitting a three-run homer while down six—that fit his persona, the eighth-inning blast by J.D. Drew played against type. The laconic Drew, one of the more under-appreciated players of his era, had a number of big hits for the Sox last October, and the moment his two-run blast went into the right-field grandstand was when the Sox winning the game began to feel inevitable. It's a trick of sports, you know, when the team holding the lead feels like it's trailing. Drew's homer might as well have been a grand slam for the effect it had on the game.

Dan Wheeler bounced back to get Jed Lowrie and Sean Casey, taking some air out of the proceedings and, as Balfour had done moments ago, making it appear as if the Rays were back in control. Mark Kotsay, batting ninth because there is no tenth, roped a double to left-center that set the crowd off again. Coco Crisp, who appears to be taking back the job he lost a year ago at this same time, had the at-bat of the year, going 10 pitches deep—perhaps balls four, five, and six along the way—to line a single to right field. Gross once again failed to make a play, one-hopping the infield with a throw that left a divot. The Rays threw out Coco Crisp advancing to second, but absolutely no one cared.

The Sox were tied, it was the top of the ninth, and Papelbon was done. Having thrown 38 pitches, there was no way to leave him in. Francona turned to the last of his quartet of good relievers, Justin Masterson, who did the one thing he couldn't do in this situation: allow a single to Jason Bartlett. The sidearming Masterson now had to face Akinori Iwamura with a man on, deal with the runner on first, and likely bring Carlos Pena to the plate. The decision to use Papelbon in the seventh loomed large over this moment, as Masterson pitched carefully to Upton, eventually walked him, and set up what seemed to be the reversal of fortune, a Pena/Masterson matchup that had runs written all over it.

I'm not sure what the future will bring for Justin Masterson. He's probably going to make a lot of money in this game, be on the field for great moments, compete for championships, play with Hall of Famers. Any review of his career, though, no matter what happens, is going to feature a 1-0 pitch, on a cool October night, and his teammates turning a ground ball into two outs and a chance to complete history.

The air of inevitability returned, and persisted even as J.P. Howell dispatched Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz. Even a stellar play by Bartlett on Pedroia, staying with a ground ball deflected by Longoria to get the out, did little to change the sense that it was just a matter of time. With two outs, Kevin Youkilis chopped a ball weakly to third base, and Longoria, whose defense at third base is a huge asset for the Rays, didn't square up his body to first base after backhanding the ball. The weak throw, unnecessary under the circumstances, bounced up above Pena's glove and past him into the stands, allowing Youkilis to reach second base. It was 80 percent of a great play, but the missing 20 percent was worth two bases.

After an intentional walk to Jason Bay—inexplicably deemed "unconventional thinking" on the broadcast—Drew came up again. Howell fell behind 3-0, earning a visit from Maddon along the way, then threw a changeup for a strike. Perhaps feeling it was the one pitch he could throw for a strike, he went back to it on 3-1, and Drew pulled a line drive over Gross' head to win the game.

Just behind "where was Trever Miller?" is this question: where was Fernando Perez? Maddon doesn't typically take Gross out for defense, but three critical plays in the game all happened in right field, and Gross didn't make any of them. Would Perez have dove for Pedroia's single, made a strong throw on Kotsay, gotten back faster to snag Drew's line drive? I'm not sure. I know he has more speed than Gross does, which certainly couldn't have hurt his chances. Set aside the seventh-inning play; Gross' awful throw in the eighth allowed the tying run to score on a play that should have been close, and his terrible jump on Drew's single let the winning run in. You can't tell the story of this game without judging his defense.

Grant Balfour and Evan Longoria and Gabe Gross and Joe Maddon all came up short. David Ortiz and Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew didn't. The combination made history, and if the circumstances of Game Five let you wonder about the value of experience, Game Six will test the notion of momentum. You have to go a long way to find a baseball team taking the field with a worse recent memory than the Rays have.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

mglick0718

"You have to go a long way to find a baseball team taking the field with a worse recent memory than the Rays have."

How about the 2005 Astros?

Oct 17, 2008 12:59 PM
rating: 1
 
STLbuckeye13

Being a Cardinals fan, that memory of game 6 with Oswalt shutting down the Cards is all too familiar. I don't care what anyone says, I think that loss on the Pujols homer was more devastating than this loss was.

I think the Rays are tough enough that they'll take care of business.

"After an intentional walk to Jason Bay—inexplicably deemed "unconventional thinking" on the broadcast"-----That line by Carey definitely had me screaming at my TV...


Oct 17, 2008 18:46 PM
rating: 0
 
mynameisjohann

"You have to go a long way to find a baseball team taking the field with a worse recent memory than the Rays have."

2003 Cubs, in game seven against Florida, after... well, you know.

Oct 17, 2008 19:02 PM
rating: 0
 
ElAngelo
(942)

Not to be a wiseguy, but I presume you mean baseball-related "worse recent memory". Playing right after 9/11 and the Reds playing Opening Day after John McSherry died on the field are both probably worse than what happened to Tampa last night.

That aside, great job.

Oct 17, 2008 13:01 PM
rating: 0
 
azruavatar

"In that moment, how do you say it's not just a little bit about who you are?"

So the Red Sox have more character than the Rays? They wanted it more? They get along with each other better, more pats on the backs and high fives, thereby willing themselves to make more accurate throws or hit the ball harder?

Baseball is a game that takes place in fractions of seconds. Pedroia doesn't go to the plate thinking "We're down by 7 so I guess I won't swing like I usually do." He goes to the plate and takes the same approach he does every time. It wasn't a sense of inevitability that caused Longoria to not square his feet. He didn't stop and think about the impossibleness of stopping a rally -- he just botched a play. It happens.

The problem with "chemistry" is the ephemeral & whimsical nature in which it is applied. Did the Red Sox have a different chemistry in the games they lost? Were the Rays taking it easy because they were leading the series? No. The answer, however unsatisfying, is that random variation is a huge part of baseball. It's possible to enjoy that randomness without ascribing it to some artificial construct to humanize the unpredictability.

Oct 17, 2008 13:06 PM
rating: 0
 
mongrel

That's about as close as you can get to the "players are stat-generating robots" theme as you can get.

Well said that baseball is a game that takes place in fractions of seconds. I agree that a player's raw ability takes over in those fractions, but what about the time before putting those abilities into effect? Couldn't factors like score or stress influence both physically and mentally how a defender balances and positions for a play, or how a batter readies for a pitch?

Oct 17, 2008 15:20 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

I typically don't over-rate the psychological or character side of the game, but:
- MANY players would have accepted defeat down 7-0 in the 7th. The Sox didn't. They still had to play well, and luckily had the talent to do it, but they could have caved at that point.
- Wheeler had the faraway look of someone who was not up to the moment (interesting as he is one of the few "experienced" players the Rays have).
- Maybe Gross and Longoria felt the pressure of the moment as they threw the ball.

Oct 17, 2008 16:14 PM
rating: 1
 
azruavatar

Reverse the score for a moment. What if the Sox had scored 8 and the Rays only scored 7. Would the Rays have been flawed characters who didn't try hard enough then? Did they accept defeat and cave in?

Chemistry is used to extend a desired narrative. It's not something that's ever used the same way twice. Could factors like stress influence a game? Sure they could. But the application of who was under stress and when is done in a retroactive and revisionist fashion that does little but obfuscate the reality of plain old random chance.

Oct 17, 2008 17:52 PM
rating: 0
 
azruavatar

Hah -- that wasn't clear at all. What if the Sox scored 8 before the Rays scored at all and then they scored 7.

better.

Oct 17, 2008 18:03 PM
rating: 0
 
James Martin Cole

It's pretty telling, I think, that you use the phrase "artificial construct" to describe humanization. I would argue that, since humans (with, gasp, emotions) play the game, trying to dehumanize it and chalk YET ANOTHER incredible upset in the past 5 years at the hands of the Red Sox to nothing but random variance strikes me as the artificial construct.

Yes, we know that random variation is a huge part of baseball. But these people aren't dice or playing cards, they are people, and surely inexperience and nervousness in front of 30,000 screaming people might have something to do with Longoria botching a throw, Gross misplaying a ball and making a poor throw. (By the way, these 30,000 people are the same people that make up the home field advantage that seems to rise and fall with fan attendance [see: Tampa's home record with different attendance numbers; they do much better when they have more fans. That's not random variance.][Also, see the Astros playing at a Cubs surrogate homefield after their houses and the houses of their friends were destroyed in a natural disaster; humans can be affected by context])

When the stat-crowd devolves into zealotry to this level, it is no different to the smallball, grit&hustle idealouges that make up the crowd that the FireJoeMorgan boys have made look so foolish. You're sticking to the belief that context has no effect on humans playing a hugely stressful game. You're no longer being more rational than Joe Morgan and his ilk, you're simply being irrational in an opposite, reactionary way. I mean, my goodness, you called the humanization of humans an artificial construct!

Oct 17, 2008 16:28 PM
rating: 0
 
azruavatar

Artificial construct is not used as a description for humanization. It's the name I used for the "chemistry" Joe talks about. It's used as a tool to humanize the game.

Now that we've worked through your reading errors, I don't have a problem with saying that people can be affected by pressure. I have a problem with the subjective selection of said pressure in order to further a desired narrative.

I'm sticking to the belief that we don't have a chance in hell of guessing what effect psychological context has in these situations. Until we can objectively consider the impact of these events, it's all pure guesswork. Heaven forbid I contend that someone's muscle memory overrides their nerves in a situation or that the fact that they've done something 600 times previously that year may be more important than someone not encouraging them enough. If you want to believe that these ballplayers got the heebee-jeebees and thus couldn't perform, go ahead. I'll chalk it up to another strange game full of unforeseeable twists that has more to do with luck than how Mikey feels.

Oct 17, 2008 18:02 PM
rating: -1
 
karlehrsam
(803)

Please set free the elves who are in charge of putting the page in printable format. This is unacceptable.

Oct 17, 2008 13:16 PM
rating: -2
 
ccmonter

See Jeff's Unfiltered post.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/unfiltered/?p=1065

The 'printable format' now comes to you pre-packaged. Try printing the page and you will get a printout of the content as seen in the prior 'printable format'.

Oct 17, 2008 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
DAW0001

Often when I print, I get a page with just the banner ad from the top of the page on it. How should I avoid that?

Oct 17, 2008 13:59 PM
rating: 0
 
DAW0001

Also, what print margins do you recommend to not have characters cut off at the right margin?

Oct 17, 2008 14:01 PM
rating: 0
 
ccmonter

When I print, I get the Baseball Prospectus banner at the top of the page and nothing else, just the text.
Regardless of what margins I have, the page prints just fine, it scrolls the test at the appropriate margins.

I am using Internet Explorer 7.0

Oct 18, 2008 03:48 AM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

Just print the page. It's in a printable format now.

Oct 17, 2008 14:02 PM
rating: 0
 
relliott22

This is one of the great beauties of human existence. Some of it defies all rational explanation.

Oct 17, 2008 13:16 PM
rating: 0
 
logie316

A minor point, but Rivera came into Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS with men on first and third with no one out, not bases-loaded.

Oct 17, 2008 13:46 PM
rating: 0
 
ccmonter

"I can't write the shared glance of astonishment between my friend and I when Grant Balfour, and not Trever Miller"

I was actually yelling at my television. How can you not treat that situation like any other playoff game? So what if you are up by 6 runs. Miller is on the roster for one reason and one reason only. Why even give the Sox hope?

Last night is why.
This is not hindsight. How many of us were trying to get Maddon to change pitchers before Balfour threw a pitch to Ortiz?



Solace is two games at home.

Oct 17, 2008 13:55 PM
rating: 1
 
sgturner65

"I can't write the shared glance of astonishment between my friend and I when Grant Balfour, and not Trever Miller"

should be " my friend and me"

Oct 17, 2008 14:33 PM
rating: -1
 
MichavdB

Joe, I don't usually write in, but I think you're off your game today. If Maddon had done all the things you wrote about and still lost, wouldn't today's article be about how he 'overmanaged' the game?

A six run lead does not call for a situational reliever. especially if the next hitter up is hitting .105 or thereabouts. If Balfour gets the out he can go another inning. Gross played both balls hit to him by the book. Occasionally you get beat by balls hit directly at you. The throw was bad, but didn't lose them the game.

I think you're trying too hard to find something to write about. How about: 'What an awesome game! The Rays were better (again) for the first seven innings and then the Red Sox managed the unthinkable.'?

Oct 17, 2008 13:56 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

And yet, as events proved, the situation DID call for a situational reliever. If Ortiz had homered against Miller, the Rays' best pitcher for that situation, then you can shrug your shoulders and call it fate, chemistry, whatever. But letting an obviously struggling Balfour give BOS a better chance than they should have had was just plain arrogant.

The Rays' hubris (including Upton's view of himself as a cross between Carl Lewis and Willie Mays) did them in last night. They played like the game was iced; and were justly brutalized for it.

Here's hoping they learned their lesson.

Oct 17, 2008 15:21 PM
rating: 0
 
thorn969

Who is to say that Miller is a better pitcher for that situation than Balfour?

Based on their pitching for the 2008 season, Balfour is uniformly a better pitcher than Miller in any situation. The only possible advantage that you can attribute to Miller is that he allowed slightly fewer Home Runs than Balfour. He walked more people, allowed more hits, allowed more earned runs, and had fewer strikeouts.

Additionally, Balfour had a favourable split against left-handed batters, allowing them only a 1.07 ERA, 2.84 BB/9, 12.79 K/9, no Home Runs, and a 0.120 average compared to Miller who had a 1.78 ERA, 3.55 BB/9, 10.66 K/9, 1 Home Run, and a 0.209 average. Miller was there to face LHB after Balfour and Howell had already gone up and were worn out.

Oct 19, 2008 13:27 PM
rating: 0
 
akachazz

I don't get the idea that Papelbon would be saved for a "high leverage" inning.

In any given game, every single inning has the same amount of leverage. We say we want to save our best pitchers for high leverage situations because we want them to pitch in GAMES where they can affect the outcome of that game, not innings.

This was Boston's season. Runners-on/# of outs considerations aside, in an elimination game, unless you're going to win by a lot, you use your best guys. It's always high leverage!

Oct 17, 2008 14:04 PM
rating: -1
 
tjmckenn

Yeah, Joe is not really thinking about leverage in the right way here. Traditionally this would be considered a low leverage situation because the Sox were getting destroyed and were likely to lose the game anyways. Hence stopping those two men on isn't likely to matter very much so saving Papelbon for the next game etc would have some value. However with an off day and, more importantly, the end of the season coming up, the optimal strategy is allow as few additional runs as possible, without any consideration of the inning. This is because the working assumption for the Sox has to be that they will come back and score enough runs to win, so preventing all runs are automatically high leverage.

In such a world, two men on with no outs is a very high leverage position, as having Papelbon pitch in this inning will likely do more to prevent runs than in any situation likely to come up.

Oct 17, 2008 15:23 PM
rating: 0
 
sanott

i thought for sure given how sharply coco hit his single that kotsay was going to be out at the plate. i think the only reason they got crisp around 2nd was that the throw was so awful that it basically was cut-off by the infield (the camera angle stunk) the real time play, however, made it seem like there was going to be a close play at the plate. also, not to overplay the platoon splits, and i know that wheeler has been very good against lefties, but god it seemed like everyone who he pitched to was left handed.

Oct 17, 2008 14:15 PM
rating: 0
 
diperna

Joe --

I see no reason to all of a sudden abandon core principles and embrace chemistry arguments. You can simulate this game on the computer -- giving the Rays a 7-0 lead in the 7th -- and the Red Sox will come back 1 time in 100. It does happen. Think of Diamond Mind or Pursue-the-Pennant or strat, whatever.

Ray

Oct 17, 2008 14:22 PM
rating: 5
 
ddrezner

He's not abandoning core principles. He's saying that the probability of a Sox comeback from 7-0 with seven outs left was such a low-probability rare event that the standard explanations don't work. For extreme bounds events, sometimes you do need to consider other effects.

Oct 17, 2008 18:38 PM
rating: 0
 
dcarroll

All he said was that it was a game that forced him to consider chemistry. He didn't draw any deep conclusions that forced him to reject cherished beliefs. We should never be too sure of our beliefs that we cannot take another look at them every now and then.

Oct 18, 2008 11:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Vegas Watch

The line for tomorrow's game is TB -141/BOS +133. The sports wagering market sure doesn't seem to believe in momentum.

Oct 17, 2008 14:51 PM
rating: 0
 
Benjarvis

From a pure stylistic viewpoint, this is simply a great article. Whether you agree with the article's ideas or not, it is still an excellent article, in my opinion.

Oct 17, 2008 14:59 PM
rating: 0
 
Doug Thorburn

Chemistry? Experience? Random variation? It's an imperfect game played by imperfect people, with unpredictable outcomes. That's the beauty of this game, IMO. Another beautiful aspect of baseball is that over 162 games, 700 PA, or 225 IP, we can make many astute evaluations and predictions based on a large volume of information, but that analysis is best applied to similarly large volumes (like using PECOTA to predict 2009 stats). But in any 1 week, 1 game, or 1 inning, all of that analysis gives way to the essence of playing the sport: nobody knows for sure what is about to happen, and it is up to the guys on the field to produce an outcome, however unlikely it may be. Man, I love this sport!

Oct 17, 2008 14:59 PM
rating: 0
 
Doug Thorburn

To avoid sounding hypocritical, yes I am saying that the outcome is largely unpredictable, despite our ability to make predictions.

Oct 17, 2008 15:03 PM
rating: 0
 
(0)

Dec 31, 1969 16:00 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

To further tombores' point, one of the reasons that we can somewhat predict the events of a 162-game season, is that teams are generally managed for the big picture view of that timeframe.
For teams in the race at the end of September and teams playing in October, they begin managing for the immediate view. Essentially, only today matters - tomorrow will only matter tomorrow and only if we play tomorrow - so we play to win today - at all costs - manage the game to givwe yourself the best chance to win at every at-bat, whether hitting or pitching. The Sox did that yesterday, the Rays not as much. Looking forward to Saturday's game.

Oct 17, 2008 15:30 PM
rating: 0
 
Noel Steere
(965)

Frankly, if you're going to allow Balfour to pitch to Ortiz with a 6 run lead, why would you remove him after one bad pitch?

That lack of location was the theme of the Rays bullpen, combined with a couple of "almost" plays by Upton and Longoria. Were these chokes, or just bad luck? If I may break the pitching down:

Balfour: Bad luck. Should have stayed in the game.

Wheeler: Looked to me like a choke. Couldn't locate anything but his 91 mph fastball up to Crisp; was too worried about walking him to try anything else.

Howell: Went from throwing one dive-bombing breaking ball after another to Youkilis to placing the ball on a silver platter to Drew on 3-0 and 3-1.

It makes sense to me that pitching is the one area in baseball that might have a greater psychological element, since the pitcher is the one player that initiates action, rather than reacts.

Oct 17, 2008 16:02 PM
rating: 0
 
diperna

"MANY players would have accepted defeat down 7-0 in the 7th. The Sox didn't."

This is so false as to be silly. No players "accept defeat." They still go out and try to perform.

Oct 17, 2008 16:24 PM
rating: 1
 
adamtkay5

Eh, that's debatable. Players are human.

Oct 17, 2008 17:41 PM
rating: 0
 
ccmonter

Yes, it's debatable. My side of the debate is that *professional* players, playing in what will be their last game of the season are highly unlikely to "accept defeat". I don't think this has anything to do with the Red Sox, other than they were the ones in the situation. No team is likely to have "accepted defeat".

Are the Red Sox less likely? That's the point of the article.

Oct 18, 2008 03:56 AM
rating: 1
 
sbnirish77

Joe has consistently underestimated (if not, flat out ignored) the role of human behavior in his analysis. Choosing to analyze the game like he is playing with Strato cards. Anyone who has played any game competitively would know that performance is linked to confidence. For me, that is the abilty to expect a good outcome despite a string of bad outcomes. To say that your chance of making a 3-foot putt is the same whether your are confident or questioning your ability is simply wrong.

That is also why Joe has attached no significance to the Yankees completing 14 game comeback to win the AL East last year or the Rays standing up to the Red Sox down the stretch this year. In his analysis, the extra effort to win an extra home game simply isn't worth it.

For me, I would have loved to see the Red Sox deal with yet another collapse to the Yanks last year. And the reason the Sox went on and the Yankees went home was the Red Sox had more games to play after being down 3-1 to Cleveland.

The only reason the Rays are ahead in this series is they learned that they could beat the Red Sox down the stretch. And the Red Sox learned they could be beaten. This was feflected in player comments and even Boston comments prior to game 5. Now the Red Sox had done everything they could to reverse that thought process.

I'm not sure I'd call playing with confidence 'character' but I'm convinced it can affect performance. I'm glad you climbed on board Joe 'if only for one night'

Oct 17, 2008 18:51 PM
rating: -1
 
ccmonter

"The only reason the Rays are ahead in this series is they learned that they could beat the Red Sox down the stretch"

While I agree that Joe downplays the role of human behaviour, I believe that most people overrate it. If you really believe that the *only* reason the Rays are ahead is due to some character trait, that's overrating things.

We simply don't know what role human behaviour has. We can't say it doesn't play some sort of role but without the ability to quantify it, it has little role in performance analysis. At the professional ranks, it almost certainly has a much smaller role than in my Slo-Pitch league.

Oct 18, 2008 04:04 AM
rating: 0
 
diperna

"To say that your chance of making a 3-foot putt is the same whether your are confident or questioning your ability is simply wrong."

Sorry, but this is a professional sport, not Putt Putt on Route 9 in Framingham, MA.

"That is also why Joe has attached no significance to the Yankees completing 14 game comeback to win the AL East last year or the Rays standing up to the Red Sox down the stretch this year. In his analysis, the extra effort to win an extra home game simply isn't worth it."

Umm... the Yankees didn't win the AL East last year. In any event, you're conflating two different issues here: (1) intangibles and (2) team strategies in the era of the wild card.

Oct 17, 2008 19:03 PM
rating: 0
 
studes
(280)

Nice article, Joe. I don't have a problem with a baseball analyst being willing to consider the role of confidence or anxiety in a game or situation. Just don't make it a habit!

Oct 18, 2008 05:15 AM
rating: 1
 
sdfdranger

What did Chemistry have to do with all that rambling?

Oct 18, 2008 06:02 AM
rating: 0
 
GBSimons

Two themes in these comments jump out at me.

The first is the idea that professional athletes don't let the pressure of the circumstances affect them one bit. Seriously? The thought never occurred to the Rays that the Red Sox have done this before, and quite recently? No one on the team thought, "Oh, #@^$%, here they go again?" The idea never entered the Sox players' minds that, once they started rallying, "Hey, we might just do this again." And these thoughts had absolutely no effect on how the players and managers performed? Completely, utterly discounting stress, emotion, intestinal fortitude - call it what you will - seems absurd to me.

The second, related theme is that if something can't be measured, it doesn't exist. If something can't be measured, it simply can't be measured; that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Not everything in life can be quantified.

I greatly appreciated that BP and other sabermetricians try to do as much data-based analysis as possible, but this isn't a Strat game, it's life. Heck, even a Strat game isn't simply a Strat game. I'm sure lots of Strat managers make gut moves.

Try to fit everything into little boxes and categories all you like, but life isn't that simple. Skills vary from moment to moment, and the significance of that moment *can* have a degree of impact. Scratch that, *will* have a degree of impact.

Oct 18, 2008 06:16 AM
rating: 0
 
studes
(280)

What most baseball analysts really object to is the reference to chemistry and pressure when those things may or may not have had an effect. How do you know the Rays "choked" or lost confidence? You don't, anymore than I do.

I think the tone of Joe's article was right on. Those things may have had an impact, and it's fun to think about them. But those psychological pressures may not have been the real story of the game. Sometimes players do and don't perform just because that's how the ball bounces.

Oct 18, 2008 07:43 AM
rating: 0
 
Michael
(736)

Is anyone from Baseball Prospectus going to comment on this story?:

mvn.com/mlb-stats/2008/10/15/world-famous-statspeak-roundtable-october-15/

It's kind of tacky that I learned about it reading The Book blog instead of seeing an announcement here.

Oct 18, 2008 08:01 AM
rating: 0
 
emanski

On the other hand B.J. Upton has nearly as many HR in the postseason as he had in the regular season - is that "team chemistry" or "B.J Upton chemistry?" If Upton wasn't tearing it up like this the Rays might have already lost.

To extend the dice-and-cards metaphor, any Strat/APBA fan could easily see Longoria going on a spree like this - lots of HR on that card - but Upton's card would be practically unable to provide HR at this rate. If it somehow did, the little kid in our brains would be giddy with storylines the likes of which any Bill Plaschke would be proud to write. Of course, we know that B.J. Upton the human was always capable of this, because he is so talented. But using statistics as a guide, his HR explosion is more noteworthy, and influential, than team chemistry was on scoring 8 runs over a period of innings, which is the sort of things we've all seen many times over. Heck, it happened several times in Game 4 of the 1993 WS alone.

Oct 18, 2008 09:03 AM
rating: 2
 
jeasthope

I am glad to hear you are finally admitting Joe that chemistry can and does play a part in the game. Chemistry is a "crutch" that uninformed announcers, writers, and others use to describe what happens in baseball. But sometimes chemistry is the story.

As a Mets fan, I actually stopped reading BP for at least 3 months after the Mets collapse last season. I remember being so frustrated with Joe's article talking about the Mets just going cold at the wrong time of the year as the reason for their collapse. There was no mention of any psychological or chemistry reason for the collapse. That collapse may have started due to an unfortunate run of cold play, but chemistry had a lot to do with the tail end of it.

Psychology had a lot to do with the end part of that Mets collapse. I believe if the Mets had some sort of solid chemistry like the Red Sox they would have never lost all those games and there would not have been such a historic collapse.

Oct 19, 2008 07:30 AM
rating: -1
 
Junker23

The Rays made no errors in their four games against the White Sox. The Rays made no errors in the first three games against the Red Sox. The Rays made three errors in Game 4 (a blowout win) and one each in the last two games. Maybe there's something to that? I doubt it, but maybe it's worth noting.

Oct 19, 2008 08:43 AM
rating: 0
 
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