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October 31, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game Six Recap (Cardinals Edition)

by Ben Lindbergh

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The story of the Cardinals’ loss, both in Game Six and in the World Series as a whole, is simple: they didn’t hit, recording only a collective .224/.273/.299 line. And when you come right down to it, that’s not a very interesting story.

For one thing, over a short series—and by baseball standards, even a best-of-seven series is abbreviated—not hitting happens. And when it does, the dry spell often holds no special significance.

From September 8 through September 14—another six-game stretch—the Cardinals hit .198/.288/.289. That’s a .577 OPS, vs. a .572 mark for the World Series. From August 28 through September 3, they managed only a .429 OPS—extend that sample to September 5, and you get an eight-game stretch with a .484 OPS. We can keep playing this game. Seven games from July 25-July 30: .434 OPS. And so on. This sort of streak pops up at least a few times a season for every team, including the National League’s best offensive unit.

In the regular season, you might not even notice when one of these mini-slumps befalls a lineup. And even if you did, you probably wouldn't make much of it. At most, you might think, “the Cardinals haven’t been hitting this week,” followed by “I hope they start hitting soon.” In the World Series, though, a slump demands an explanation. We can’t just leave it at “they haven’t hit,” so we grope for a reason: they haven’t hit because they lack postseason experience, or because they’re a bunch of chokers. The irony is that one of these slumps rooted in randomness is even more likely to occur in October, when the cold and the caliber of opposing pitching combine to suppress scoring further.

So St. Louis didn’t hit, but we can’t draw much of a conclusion from that, other than that the playoff format can be frustrating. It’s not as if offense was a known weakness that came back to bite the Cards in October, like the Tigers’ defense, bullpen, and baserunning did in the ALCS. “I think there’s some randomness to it,” Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told Jesse Spector, and that wasn't sour grapes speaking.

Now, we could keep drilling down until we come to a more fundamental cause; in some cases, it could be a copout to blame a team-wide power outage on the vagaries of BABIP. For instance, maybe we discover that a team is whiffing more often than usual. That could help explain why they’re struggling. Then we could drill down even deeper: Okay, well why are they whiffing more? Maybe they’re swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone! But as a writer, that’s about where the potential for analysis ends. You can say, “Hey, slumping team, stop swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone,” but it’s not as if whiffing was their goal. They’ve either been induced to chase by good pitching, in which case it will continue to happen as long as the competition keeps it up, or they’ve fallen into a funk, in which case…well, it will sort itself out, either with time or with work. On talented teams, slumps resolve themselves. Just not necessarily before the guys in the other red-and-white uniforms win four first.

To make matters more complicated, the Red Sox didn’t hit much better than St. Louis in this series, triple-slashing .211/.291/.330. (The Cardinals “outhit” them, in the strict sense of the word.) So why was St. Louis outscored, 25 to 14? Sequencing, mostly, something St. Louis knows quite a bit about after setting a regular-season record for performance with runners in scoring position that prompted most analysts to declare their exploits unsustainable. In this series, the Cardinals batted .214 and slugged .238 with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox batted .250 and slugged .409, and that made much of the difference. “You look at all the games, when we had runners on, we hit balls right at them,” Matt Adams said to Spector. “So, a few inches here or there, it changes all the games.”

If there’s anything less meaningful than overall offensive performance over six games, it’s offensive performance with runners in scoring position over six games. We can blame the Cardinals for not coming through in the clutch, but since that performance tells us little about their true talent, it’s not very satisfying to do so.

And that’s how we wind up here:

Clearly, David Ortiz did more to send St. Louis home than Matheny might have. But as I’ve written repeatedly and discussed with Sam Miller on Effectively Wild, Matheny made a number of dubious decisions in this series. Game Six was no exception.

Matheny’s highest-profile, quantifiable crimes against the run-expectancy table were his intentional passes to Ortiz. Three times—the first of which was in the second inning—Matheny decided to put Ortiz on rather than pitch to him. The first two times, the inning ended up being bigger because of the IBB, as Ortiz came around to score. Only once in this game did the Cardinals truly try to get Ortiz out—and wouldn’t you know it, it worked. In that matchup, Matheny found the courage to go back to Kevin Siegrist, whom he seemed reluctant to use against the Red Sox slugger after the lefty—who shut down same-sided hitters all season—allowed a homer to Ortiz in Game One. The move paid off with a strikeout, much as it might have earlier in the game (and the series) had Matheny not allowed a single plate appearance to sway his bullpen approach. Matheny’s mistake was assuming that Ortiz’s hot streak was not only reflective of his underlying skills during that small-sample stretch, but predictive of plate appearances to come.

Matheny also made an odd move in the fourth, when he replaced the finally mortal-looking Michael Wacha with Lance Lynn. Down by four runs on the road in an elimination game, with two outs and men on first and second, it was crucial that the Cardinals escape the jam before Boston could bury them in an even deeper hole. This wasn’t the time to worry about regular roles; it was a situation in which the correct reliever was the one who would give St. Louis the best chance of getting the next batter (Mike Napoli) out. That might’ve been Trevor Rosenthal, and it might’ve been Carlos Martinez, but it wasn’t Lance Lynn, or—after Lynn allowed two more runs on a single, a walk, and another single—Seth Maness.

Matheny didn’t make a move for Martinez until the sixth, with St. Louis down 6-0, and Rosenthal stayed in the bullpen until the eighth, when the deficit was 6-1. Combined, the two got eight outs without allowing a run, but by the time they entered the game, the Cardinals were facing a steep uphill climb. Although it’s impossible to say whether things would have played out differently had the score been somewhat closer, the Cards probably weren’t going to win this one no matter what Matheny did. (To do that, they would have had to stop slumping.) But when we evaluate managers, we have to do so based not on whether their moves worked or made the difference between a win and a loss, but on whether they were sound tactics at the time.

As Will Leitch put it after Matheny’s sixth-inning screw-up in Game Four,

This is what Cardinals fans were concerned about when Matheny was hired. He's growing into becoming a better manager … but the Cardinals are trying to win a World Series today -- like, this second. This isn't a learn-on-the-job job; let the Cubs or the Astros hire somebody like that. There's little room for error for a contending team like the Cardinals, and none in the World Series. Mistakes like Matheny's cannot happen in the World Series.

As someone who didn’t watch to watch five-hour games, I was grateful that Tony La Russa wasn’t pulling the strings in this series. But if I were a Cardinals fan, I would’ve been happy to sit through a few more commercials if it meant that Matheny had learned to apply more of the lessons from La Russa’s bullpen-heavy 2011 championship run. No manager could have stopped the Red Sox assault, but La Russa might have made it closer. Hyperactive managing has its own pitfalls, but trusting your starter in every circumstance and overreacting to small samples isn’t the way to win a World Series. Both Matheny and the Cardinals will return to October in the coming seasons; if he adds some in-game savvy to his clubhouse skills and matures as a postseason manager, he might not have to watch while another team celebrates.

(Because this is the Cardinals recap, I won’t rehash my gripes with John Farrell, but the Red Sox skipper was far from flawless; tactically speaking, this wasn’t an especially well-managed series on either side.)

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

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

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gtgator

The criticism of managers this postseason has really gotten out of hand.
The Cards lost and people act like the result would have been different if Joe McCarthy or Casey Stengal were calling the shots. It is as if people think that the only thing that matters is what a manager does - not the execution of his players or the fact that the other team is, you know, trying to win as well.
And how exactly would managing the Cubs or Astros have prepared Matheny to be a better postseason manager? Don't you have to actually be in the postseason to get this experience? And how many managers with WS managerial experience are simply lying around? At least Matheny had played in a WS.
In the end, I am sure Matheny didn't have the best WS. But, in fact, neither did many of the Cards. Is that all Matheny's fault as well? Or perhaps the Red Sox players should get just a little bit of credit for playing and executing better. That would be as interesting, I guess.

Oct 31, 2013 06:24 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I don't know if you're referring to what I wrote re: criticism getting out of hand, but I didn't say the outcome of the series would have been different with another manager. I said "No manager could have stopped the Red Sox assault." I also said that the story of the Cardinals' loss was that they didn't hit (which I'm not blaming on the manager), so I'm not suggesting that Matheny's moves were the only thing that mattered.

And as for the quote from Will's article, he wasn't saying that managing the Cubs or Astros would have prepared Matheny for anything. He was saying that it's not as important for a rebuilding team to have a good tactical manager as it is for a current contender like St. Louis.

Oct 31, 2013 06:36 AM
 
lazyrasmus

The Cardinals' biggest problem was that they weren't hitting. That's not on the manager, obviously.

But when a team isn't hitting, it only serves to put the manager's bullpen moves/non-moves under a microscope. Matheny made several mistakes in this area where he couldn't afford to.

Oct 31, 2013 07:16 AM
rating: 4
 
BrianGunn
(439)

I think that's a good way of putting it. When your team isn't hitting and the other team is, the last thing you need is your manager working against you too.

Oct 31, 2013 08:13 AM
rating: 2
 
BillJohnson

Well said. It's been aggravating, not just with this Series and these two teams, but throughout the playoffs, to see the managers under a dissecting microscope for minutiae, while the large-scale meltdowns of pitching/hitting/fielding are essentially dismissed as luck. (And it certainly hasn't been limited to BP. I've seen that in every baseball blog I read.) Yes, there is an important factor of luck in the game outcomes. But as no less a baseball mind than Branch Rickey said, luck is the residue of design. It bends credulity severely to imply that in-game tactical decisions were the "design" feature that allowed Boston to be "luckier" than St. Louis.

Oct 31, 2013 11:00 AM
rating: 0
 
Shawn
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Can whoever converts PECOTA predictions into team wins be "reassigned" in the off-season? Not a good run for PECOTA odds this postseason.

Also, Ben...for the most part, I enjoy your writing (not much of a podcast person) but the world series recaps have been painful to read at times. From your writings, my impression is that you think that this world series could have been managed better if both teams had hired chimpanzees to throw darts for decision making. If this is what you truly believe, perhaps you need to take a break.

I think a good idea for a future article from you would be to go with a thesis that Farrell managed the series very well and try to look at some other perspectives/possibilities/etc for some of the decisions made. I'm not saying an argument cannot be validly constructed for the Sox winning in spite of Farrell (because that's exactly what you've been writing), but the world does not general work in such black/white terms.

Oct 31, 2013 06:45 AM
rating: -7
 
RedsManRick

PECOTA does projections, not predictions. Also, odds aren't fate. They are what they are, simple likelihoods of events occurring. That a given unlikely outcome ends up occurring does not mean the odds were wrong.

Oct 31, 2013 07:14 AM
rating: 10
 
BrianGunn
(439)

Exactly. Many of the PECOTA odds favored the Cards 55/45, essentially a coin flip. When the outcome sides with the 45, do we say the whole system is flawed? I don't know why PECOTA favored the Cards night after night (I'm curious to know), so maybe there actually were bugs in the system. But the outcomes aren't an indicator of that.

As for the comment about chimpanzees throwing darts, I've no earthly clue what you're talking about. I thought Ben's writing was great this postseason.

Oct 31, 2013 08:17 AM
rating: 6
 
louschuler

Ben, you wrote this:

"But if I were a Cardinals fan, I would’ve been happy to sit through a few more commercials if it meant that Matheny had learned to apply more of the lessons from La Russa’s bullpen-heavy 2011 championship run."

As a Cards fan, I can tell you that statement is true most of the time. But when the commercials include sour chicken, "sweet ride, Jeremy," and those awful Silverado spots, it was probably better to just get it over with.

Oct 31, 2013 07:00 AM
rating: 17
 
Degerman

The BoSox came up with nearly all of big extra-base hits while the Redbirds essentially got nothing from the bottom half of their lineup. St. Louis looked feeble vs. a weakened Clay Buchholz.

And if someone had told me the Cardinals would go 0-2 in games started by Adam Wainwright, I would assume they had no chance to win the Series.

Bottom line, though, it was remarkable season by the Cardinals considering they played virtually all of it without their starting shortstop, their No. 2 and 3 starters and their closer.

Oct 31, 2013 09:28 AM
rating: 5
 
BrianGunn
(439)

I agree. Although to be somewhat fair, none of those injuries (apart from Motte's) were bad luck per se - Carpenter, Garcia, and Furcal were known injury risks, so to an extent the Cards were playing with a handicap that they invited upon themselves. But it was amazing how they were able to replace defective parts with fresh, shiny, new spare parts without missing a beat. That's the sign of a very high functioning organization.

Oct 31, 2013 12:33 PM
rating: 4
 
sbnirish77

"Matheny found the courage to go back to Kevin Siegrist, whom he seemed reluctant to use against the Red Sox slugger after the lefty—who shut down same-sided hitters all season—allowed a homer to Ortiz in Game One. The move paid off with a strikeout, much as it might have earlier in the game (and the series) had Matheny not allowed a single plate appearance to sway his bullpen approach."

I think I said this in a posting after one of the games.

Being afraid to go back to Siegrist in any meaningful way resulted in starters left in too long or relievers overused.

In game 2, Martinez pitched the 7th and 8th with Ellsbury leading off the 8th.

In game 3, Siegrist pitched to flip Salty and Drew and Martinez was left to pitch to Ellsbury in the 8th.

In game 4, Lynn was left in too long (acc to some here) to pitch to Ellsbury and Ortiz in the 6th.

In game 5, Wainwright was left in to pitch to Ellsbury after the horse was out the barn door.

The cascade effect of Siegrist giving up that HR to Ortiz in game 1 colored their approach to him and the use of the entire pitching staff thought the series.

Oct 31, 2013 14:08 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

This, as with several other observations regarding Siegrist, rather misses the point that he isn't a LOOGY. Yes, he shut down left-handed hitters during the season. He also shut down right-handed hitters during the season (.138/.233/.246), unlike Randy Choate. Siegrist was the more appropriate pitcher to use in situations where more than one batter would be faced, and he was indeed used, effectively, in such situations. He pitched in four games, and the last three of the times he was used were high-leverage, as Series appearances in all but the most extreme blowouts are.

If there's a puzzle to Matheny's bullpen use, it's more a matter of the overall roster construction than use of Siegrist individually. It still isn't clear to me why one of Mujica or Miller wasn't replaced by Sam Freeman, although he isn't really a LOOGY either. I rather suspect that if Matheny had known how thoroughly berserk David Ortiz was going to go, he'd have made sure Freeman was available to pitch to him, but who could know that?

Oct 31, 2013 14:37 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

All the more reason to let Siegrist pitch to Ellsbury AND Ortiz. he was better equipped to handle Pedroia in between especially with Victorino out.

Oct 31, 2013 17:48 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

I forget where I read it, but a study (maybe it was by Russell A. Carlton) showed that guys who blow their first save chance tend not to get repeat opportunities. I think the same is true of non-star players in the playoffs. If you muff your first chance, and the team has other options (hello, bullpen), you might not get another. had Shelby Miller executed in his one inning of relief in the postseason, we would have seen more of him. Alas...

Oct 31, 2013 16:39 PM
rating: 0
 
DNicholas

No Red Sox edition for Game 6?

Nov 01, 2013 09:53 AM
rating: 3
 
dbiester

the end of the article suggests another one: who were the best world series managers, at least in recent history?

Nov 01, 2013 11:57 AM
rating: 2
 
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