CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: World Ser... (10/26)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Today: On t... (10/25)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Judg... (10/27)
Next Article >>
The Week in Quotes: Oc... (10/27)

October 26, 2008

Prospectus Today

Speedy Endings?

by Joe Sheehan

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

You can understand, after last night's game, the way speed takes primacy in people's minds. Carl Crawford steals third so that he can score on a fly ball to right, and later beats out an infield single to key a seventh-inning rally. B.J. Upton sprints to deep center field to turn a Chase Utley double into an out, then creates the tying run all by himself with an infield hit and two stolen bases. Because speed shows up in so many different ways, and its effects are immediate and apparent, you can see how speed would become overrated as compared to other skills.

Speed is a skill that affects a game on the micro level. You use it to get a base, avoid a double play, turn two bases into one out. The benefits are clear-the guy was on first base, and now he's on second. We admire speed on a visceral level as well, admiring the acceleration as a burner cuts the bag at second to head for third, or staring open-mouthed as an outfielder covers ground with long, loping strides. We are conditioned to appreciate athleticism, and the most basic of athletic feats is running.

Over the long haul in baseball, on a macro level, other skills are more valuable than speed is. The ability to not make outs, the ability to hit the ball a long way, the ability-more about quickness and skills than raw speed-to make as many defensive plays as you can. The conflict between these two ideas plays out throughout the industry, as the people evaluating baseball players based on what they've seen, those displays of raw speed, come into contact with the people evaluating players based on the things both seen and unseen, their whole body of work.

So much of what we call "scouts versus statheads" is an outgrowth of the way each group values speed, one gauging its application while watching players play games every single day, the other looking at speed's effect on runs scored and allowed, wins and losses. Players and managers look at it the same way; the fast guy might help you win that day's game, and that day's game is what matters. This is why you have a general manager, charged with winning over the longer haul, to balance that instinct.

Last night, speed almost won a baseball game pretty much by itself. That it fell short doesn't mean anything-nothing in baseball is any good all by itself-but it did remind us why baseball players who can run fast will always be a little more enticing than perhaps they should be.

One reason speed came up short was power. The Phillies, not a slow team themselves, hit three homers in their 5-4 win, including back-to-back shots by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the sixth. That the winning run scored on a mad scramble home by Eric Bruntlett, who was hit by a pitch, advanced on a wild pitch, went to third on an error, and scored on a ball hit 45 feet doesn't change that-the Phillies won last night because they brought out the big sticks.

They needed to. Now 2-for-32 with runners in scoring position, that dribbler down the line by Ruiz is what amounts to clutch hitting for the Phillies now, the only time in this series they've driven a runner home from second or third base with a hit. Nevertheless, they're up two games to one, and in reality, in an even better position than that.

See, the Rays, down 2-1 and staring at Cole Hamels in Game Five, are in a position similar to where the 1986 Mets were heading into Game Six of the NLCS. In that series, Mike Scott, who won the NL Cy Young Award that year, beat the Mets in Games One and Four, throwing two complete games, one a shutout, striking out 19, walking one, and allowing one run, total. With Scott lurking for Game Seven, the Mets essentially had to win Game Six, so small were their chances of beating Scott.

Hamels is the 2008 version of Mike Scott. He hasn't been quite as dominant, but in four starts he's allowed just five runs, pitched at least seven innings in each one, and struck out 27 while walking just eight. The Phillies have won every one of his post-season starts, and no opponent has scored more than three runs against the Phillies when he starts in more than six weeks. When you consider that the Rays don't hit lefties all that well, and have been just a .500 team on the road, beating Hamels in Citizens Bank Park Monday would be a tall order. That makes tonight's game critical for them; win it, and it's a best-of-three in which they're guaranteed at least one more home game. Lose it, and they have to beat the postseason's MVP to save their season.

The Rays are down just 2-1, but losing the Matt Garza/Jamie Moyer matchup completely changes the series for them. They had the better starter on the mound, but early wildness-Garza seemed to be overthrowing in the first two innings, and having mechanical issues on his offspeed stuff-cost him a run, and two homers in the sixth cost him a quality start. Moyer pitched well, he had the Rays jumping at his offspeed stuff, getting into pitchers' counts, and often hitting off of their front feet. Both pitchers benefited from the biggest strike zone of the series, especially on the high side, but Moyer, with less stuff than Garza, needed that zone more than his counterpart did. He pitched to the outside edges of it, and provided an outing not many people thought he had in him after two shaky post-season starts.

His line might have been better had Charlie Manuel not insisted on looking a gift horse in the mouth. Six good innings of Moyer, with a three-run lead, should have been seen as a godsend. Despite a well-rested bullpen, though, Manuel sent Moyer to the mound for the seventh, and left him in after Moyer made a high-effort play on the leadoff man, diving to the ground in a failed attempt to retire Carl Crawford. At that point, Moyer could have been excused. Manuel let him go one more batter, and Dioner Navarro (Bandwagon!) doubled, setting up two runs for the Rays.

Joe Maddon wasn't without fault himself. I had written coming in that Maddon wouldn't let Howard see a right-handed pitcher after the fifth inning of this series' games, except perhaps James Shields, if a run mattered. Well, Maddon deviated from that in Game Three, and Howard punished him with a home run. I can understand leaving Garza, who settled down nicely after the second, in to face Chase Utley to start the inning, but after he touches Garza for the homer to make it 3-1, you have to go after Howard with a southpaw. Maddon didn't, and in the first PA of the series that violated my original prediction, Howard homered. We won't see that again, especially since Manuel absolutely refuses to adjust his lineup accordingly.

John Perrotto covered the wacky ending to the wacky night. I'll just add that I think both managers did exactly what they needed to do, from five-man infields to pinch-hitters. I thought Carlos Ruiz's dribbler might have gone foul, and that because of how he had to field the ball, Evan Longoria's only play was to pass it by and hope that it would, but you can hardly fault him for trying to make the play in that situation. That's a split-second decision with highly imperfect information.

Wednesday night's win put the Phillies up 1-0, but didn't change the outlook for the Series at all. Last night's win did. It flipped the Series, putting the Phillies in the driver's seat and giving them a real chance at their first World Championship in 28 years. Tonight's game, like Game Six of the 1986 NLCS did for the Mets, has the feel of an elimination game for the Rays despite their only having two losses.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Speed

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

BP Comment Quick Links

jkaplow21

"Failed attempt to retire Carl Crawford?"

What aggravates me the most is that the Moyer family clan was robbed of a memory that should be the mainstay of cocktail parties for decades. That was an out and the old man was robbed.

Oct 26, 2008 13:17 PM
rating: 1
 
SamHughes

"Despite a well-rested bullpen, though, Manuel sent Moyer to the mound for the seventh, and left him in after Moyer made a high-effort play on the leadoff man, diving to the ground in a failed attempt to retire Carl Crawford. At that point, Moyer could have been excused."

Replays clearly showed that Crawford was out. If the ump doesn't blow the call, and there's one out and nobody on, should Manuel pull Moyer?

Oct 26, 2008 13:19 PM
rating: 0
 
gluckschmerz

I thought, among other things, this game would serve as a platform for a classic Sheehan rant concerning umpiring blunders.

Oct 26, 2008 13:23 PM
rating: 0
 
GregJP

"Wednesday night’s win put the Phillies up 1-0, but didn’t change the outlook for the Series at all. Last night’s win did. It flipped the Series, putting the Phillies in the driver’s seat and giving them a real chance at their first World Championship in 28 years."

Joe,

Please define "real" chance. I thought the Phillies had a "real" chance before the series started.

Are you implying that in a best of seven glorified coin flip between two major league teams one of those teams didn't have a 40-45% chance before the series started?

Oct 26, 2008 13:37 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Really poor choice of words. Good point, Greg. How about "moved from a small underdog to a small favorite"?

Oct 26, 2008 15:23 PM
 
phuturephillies

"and later beats out an infield single to key a seventh-inning rally"

He didn't beat it out.

Everyone went on and on for hours about the Cole Hamels "balk", but the massive umpire mistakes in Game 2 and Game 3 have largely been under reported. The Phillies were robbed in Game 2, and they were nearly robbed in Game 3. Baldelli being allowed to go to 1B on a strikeout directly related to a run scoring for Tampa, and Rollins non-HBP drastically changed the situation of Game 2 in the 9th. The Crawford blunder cost the Phillies 2 runs, and instead of Upton's run tying the game it should have been 4-2.

This series has been poorly officiated to say the least. It would be nice if some attention was focused on this, instead of simply "Rays Rays Rays"

Oct 26, 2008 13:58 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Good point. I don't think I've written anything flattering, even borderline creepy, about Cole Hamels or Chase Utley. Once I finish this piece on the 17 ways in which Michel Hernandez is better than Ryan Howard, I'll bang something out.

"8. He used to be in the Yankees system."

"14. The 'z' is worth 10 points."

Oct 26, 2008 15:18 PM
 
phuturephillies

I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean. It wasn't even a shot at you, it was more of a general sentiment. Everywhere you look, its "Rays trail 2-1", not that the "Phillies lead 2-1", and it seems that every night, the current Rays starting pitcher is the best one yet, and the one that will lead the Rays to victory. Last night's umpire error cost the Phillies 2 runs, 2 runs that could have easily cost the team the game. That should be a huge deal, but its not even at footnote at this point.

Oct 26, 2008 16:13 PM
rating: 0
 
DLaRoss

They had the better starter on the mound, but early wildness—Garza seemed to be overthrowing in the first two innings, and having mechanical issues on his offspeed stuff—cost him a run, and two homers in the sixth cost him a quality start.

Okay, that is just bizarre. Garza allowed more runs (even with an obvious bad call leading to Moyer getting tagged with an extra two), more hits, more walks, and three home runs, in 1/3 fewer innings. The only statistical category where he wins out is strikeouts. If one guy hs to work through "early wildness" jus tto pitch as well as the other guy did all day, that doesn't make him the better player on the field.

Look, I admit I'm a Phillies fan, and I hate the kneejerk "you're writing unfavorable things about my team, you're biased!" reaction, but I'm trying to see how this makes sense and I can't.

Oct 26, 2008 14:55 PM
rating: 0
 
jtrichey

That's exactly what it sounds like. Before the game, Garza would be thought to have the advantage over Moyer, that's all he meant. And phuturephillies, it only sounds like Hamels balk was overanalyzed, and the umpiring mistakes of game 2 and 3 were underanalyzed because you are a Phillie fan. I think we have had equal coverage both at BP and elsewhere.

Oct 26, 2008 15:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

I missed where the fact that Crawford was out, by a half step that no mediocre college umpire should miss, was mentioned at all on BP.

Oct 26, 2008 15:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Noel Steere
(965)

Can anyone explain to me why Gross was left in to bat against Romero in the top of the 9th with 1 out?

Oct 26, 2008 16:41 PM
rating: 0
 
JParks

I'm a Phils fan and the Crawford play was clearly blown, but that was a tough call especially with the barehand catch. I was a bit surprised Moyer came out for the inning, especially with a fully rested pen.

Oct 26, 2008 16:44 PM
rating: 0
 
jocampbell
(148)

I'm also a Phils fan and I agree about the blown call. I think umps typically watch the bag and listen for the ball hitting the glove. With the barehand catch, there would have been nothing to hear. So I don't know if you can blast the ump too much for blowing the call though he did clearly blow it.

Oct 26, 2008 17:19 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

Well, that call is now a moot point, because the call on Rollins at third in the first inning in game 4 is now the worst call in the series.

Man, if these are the six best umps in baseball, it's time for another mass firing.

Oct 26, 2008 18:03 PM
rating: 0
 
phuturephillies

After this discussion here, I laughed out loud when Rollins was called safe.

Oct 26, 2008 18:43 PM
rating: 0
 
beegee73

Yes, it was a tough call for the ump to make. I don't think anyone is disputing that. But as much as I like Joe's writing, he has to know that for him to write about the play as if multiple replays didn't show that Crawford was out, as if that blown call didn't lead to two Rays runs, and to *then* use the play as a peg for an article about the glories of speed, leaves the door wide open for claims of bias.

Oct 26, 2008 22:50 PM
rating: 0
 
bigotis49

Joe--you think the Rays were right to walk two guys to load the bases in the 9th?

Oct 26, 2008 16:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

First...I couldn't tell in real time, and in the end, I figured it was too close to call, especially given the angle of the throw. It wasn't that easy to see when Howard received the ball.

I kill umpires as much as anyone, but I also recognize that some plays are so close that you have to cut some slack. *Many* aren't, and aggressively dumb things should be criticized (hi, Doug), but that call...no. Tough call, probably wrong, but not criminal. I had more issues with the strike zone, which was consistently large for seven innings, then became inconsistent late in the game.

As far as Maddon in the ninth, he was making lemonade from kumquats. Once it's runner on third, no out, you're faking it. Walking Victorino is the right play--as Maddon said afterwards, he can bunt, he's a contact guy, and ideally you'd not deal with that--and Dobbs is a good enough hitter, and fastball hitter, that he had to be walked. Had Manuel let Feliz hit--and honestly, I was surprised and impressed that he sent Dobbs up--I think Maddon pitches to him and goes for the strikeout.

Both managers did the best they could. Ruiz did about the bare minimum above a strikeout, which was just enough to get the job done. Big ups to him--Balfour was dealing.

Oct 26, 2008 17:30 PM
 
jocampbell
(148)

I thought the Phils wound up getting a break when Victorino wasn't HBP by Balfour's wild pitch. It was very close and only Victorino's acrobatics prevented it. If he had been HBP, it would have been 1st & 2nd with no one out. Instead it wound up runner on 3rd with no one out.

Oct 26, 2008 17:50 PM
rating: 0
 
One Flap Down

I think the Phillies need to send a bouquet of roses or some champagne over to the Boston Red Sox. Sure you can put this down to random variation or the pitching of Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton, but the basic fact is that the Rays have not been the same team since Boston came back on them in Game 5 of the ALCS. Although the Rays did eke out a Game 7 win (thanks primarily to Garza carrying them on his back), since the 7th inning of Game 5, the Rays have performed considerably more poorly by just about every metric you can think of - their power numbers are down, defensively they come nowhere near resembling the team that finished first in Defensive Efficiency, the pitchers have nibbled, etc. Only in the speed department (which is the most purely athletic and requires the least mental exertion) have they looked like the Rays of 2008 through October 16. Even their WS Game 2 win was pretty ugly, and they were hanging on at the end.

Oct 27, 2008 07:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Vilica

Yeah, Boston's game 5 comeback definitely sprinkled some cursed evil pixie dust on the Rays and made them an impotent bunch of infants. It's a shame for Boston that the evil pixie dust hadnt taken full effect yet by Game 7, but the Phillies definitely owe their success to it. Boston should get a WS share.

Oct 27, 2008 11:04 AM
rating: 1
 
mglick0718

I'm sure everyone's moved on to Game 4 discussion by now, but I disagree strongly that walking the bases loaded was the correct move for Maddon in the 9th. I thought once Dobbs came up, with no good righty hitter on the bench, he had to bring in a lefty to go after Dobbs and then play matchups from there if they survived. I generally hate the walk-the-bases-loaded strategy because it forces the pitcher to make hittable pitches. In this particular case, who knows, and you're right that once you get the runner on 3rd with no one out you're in big trouble.

Oct 27, 2008 12:49 PM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: World Ser... (10/26)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Today: On t... (10/25)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Judg... (10/27)
Next Article >>
The Week in Quotes: Oc... (10/27)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article League Preview Series
Every Team's Moneyball: Minnesota Twins: Reb...
Premium Article Skewed Left: History Repeats Itself
Premium Article League Preview Series
Premium Article Pitching Backward: Why Relievers Get A Free ...
Premium Article Spring Training Notebook: Cactus League
Prospectus Feature: How the Astros do Spring...

MORE FROM OCTOBER 26, 2008
Premium Article On the Beat: World Series Game Three
Premium Article Prospectus Preview: World Series Game Four
Premium Article Player Profile: Andy Sonnanstine
Premium Article Prospectus Q&A: Gene Tenace
Prospectus Q&A: Andy Sonnanstine
Premium Article Every Given Sunday: Wish Lists and Intention...

MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
2008-10-30 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Champions
2008-10-28 - Prospectus Today: Closer to a Tie
2008-10-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Judgment Calls
2008-10-26 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Speedy Endings?
2008-10-25 - Prospectus Today: On the Road Again
2008-10-24 - Prospectus Today: Decision-making Mayhem
2008-10-23 - Prospectus Today: Advantage Acquired
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS TODAY
2008-10-30 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Champions
2008-10-28 - Prospectus Today: Closer to a Tie
2008-10-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Judgment Calls
2008-10-26 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Speedy Endings?
2008-10-25 - Prospectus Today: On the Road Again
2008-10-24 - Prospectus Today: Decision-making Mayhem
2008-10-23 - Prospectus Today: Advantage Acquired
More...