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October 25, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game Two Recap (Cardinals Edition)

by Sam Miller


We keep waiting for Jacoby Ellsbury and Yadier Molina to have a showdown on the basepaths, but while we wait Pete Kozma and Craig Breslow snuck in to produce the most unexpected cat-and-mouse moment of the series.

Kozma stole third base at the front end of a double steal in the seventh inning. He represented the tying run, with one out, so the value of that stolen base was obvious at the time and obvious in retrospect: minutes later, Matt Carpenter hit a sacrifice fly, which narrowly scored Kozma; on the throw (which got away), trailing runner Jon Jay went to third, and on that throw (which also got away) Jay scored. A deficit was now a lead. The Red Sox goofball antics on the sacrifice fly had the largest win-expectancy shift of the inning, but none of it would have happened if Kozma hadn’t been on third.

The question is: What the heck was Kozma doing stealing third? Kozma had just entered as a pinch-runner for David Freese, but he’s not actually a burner, and he’s certainly not a basestealer. Kozma swiped three bags (in four attempts) this year, playing almost full-time. He’s got five steals in 185 regular-season games as a big leaguer (one of them on a busted suicide squeeze/wild pitch), and the last time he reached double figures in a season at any level was back in 2010, when he took 13. If stolen bases are your proxy for speed, the following players might have a better case for pinch-running over the past two seasons than Kozma: Vernon Wells, Todd Frazier, Albert Pujols, Jason Bay, Miguel Cabrera, John Jaso.

We’ve seen the Cardinals pull this off, in almost identical fashion, recently: on September 13th, Kozma pinch-ran for Brock Peterson. There was one out, and the Cardinals were trailing by one, and the runner was already on second base, just like in Thursday’s game. Kozma waited deep into the count and took off, stealing the base easily off Charlie Furbush. Furbush, in retrospect, was the crucial part of that play. He’s a big guy with a slow delivery, and in what amounts to a full season’s worth of innings he has allowed 27 stolen bases in his career, include seven (on nine attempts) of third base.

Maybe Matheny liked how well that worked and wanted to try it again. But Breslow is no Furbush. In his career, which amounts to two full seasons worth of innings, he has allowed just 22 stolen bases—to go with 24 caught stealings. Just 10 times has a runner tried to take third against him, and six times was thrown out. Breslow is close to elite at holding runners on.

Which brings us to the physics of the matchup in question. I wanted to see whether Breslow was predictable in his looks, giving Kozma a chance to get a huge jump; and whether Breslow was particularly slow to the plate. Here’s how the at-bat went, pitch by pitch. A capital L means Breslow took a long look at Kozma; a lower-case l means a short look; D means he looked down; d means a quick look down; and F means he looked forward, toward the plate.

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<< Previous Article
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