Baseball’s Anaheim Angels are changing their name to—I am not making this up—the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Evidently they want “Los Angeles” in there for marketing purposes, but have to keep “Anaheim” as part of the name in order to satisfy their stadium lease. (I’m guessing that the local hockey team has the same sort of deal with the city, since they’re called “The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim”—perhaps that’s where the Angels got the idea.)
I can appreciate the e.e. cummings-style word play of turning Los Angeles into an adjective (though I imagine the new name might sound completely bizarre to anyone who speaks Spanish), but if they really want to make the marketing people salivate, how about just calling the team the OC Angels?
So I’ve had a request that I stop writing about baseball, to which I respond: Yes, dear, I’ll get you another ginger ale now that the World Series is finally over.
But first, one last tally of the relative success of “small ball.” The idea is that, in the playoffs, playing against teams with presumably better pitching, runs are at a premium. So teams are urged by commentators to “manufacture” runs with sacrifices, stolen bases, and the like. Statistically, these plays don’t help a team generate runs. But they’re so ingrained in baseball conventional wisdom that managers use them anyway.
So here, finally, is a tally of how the runs were scored in the 2003 World Series, as well as a tally of the success and failure of various “small ball” plays:
Total runs scored: 38
Runs scored by play on which they scored:
Home run: 14
Sacrifice fly: 4
Number of times a sacrifice bunt actually contributed to a bunt vs. total sacrifice bunts: 2 out of 8
Number of successful steals vs. total attempts: 4 out of 9
Number of times a steal contributed to a run: 0
From those numbers, “small ball” clearly hurt the teams that played it, costing them critical outs and netting virtually nothing in return. 21 of the 38 runs scored in the series scored on extra-base hits (and, though those numbers don’t show it, doubles were involved in several of the other runs). It’s hardly case closed, given the small sample size, but it’s clear that big plays, especially home runs, are generally the key to winning ball games.
As an A’s fan, I look at the Yankees loss in the World Series last night as simple karmic backlash for the play that beat the A’s in the 2001 Division Series.
Saturday night, the Marlins scored their first run on possibly the best slide into home plate I’ve ever seen. Alex Gonzalez was clearly beat by the throw, but somehow managed to bend his body around the tag of catcher Jorge Posada and tap the plate with his outstreteched hand. Andy Pettite pitched a great game, giving up one earned run (on that play) and one unearned run. And Josh Beckett was just a little better.
It was an exact reply of game three of the AL Division Series in 2001 - except this time, the Yankees lost. In that game, Barry Zito took a no-hitter into the seventh innning before Jorge Posada broke it up with a solo home run. But Mike Mussina was just a little better than Zito, and, thanks to that play, the Yankees won 1-0 (and ended up winning the next two games to win the series 3-2).
But the key play was a play at home plate: Jeremy Giambi failed to slide, and thanks to an improbable relay flip from Derek Jeter, Posada was able to tag Giambi an instant before his foot hit the plate, breaking the hearts of everyone in the stadium (including me).
This one doesn’t quite make up for the heartbreak, but at least the healing can finally begin.
A quick tally from game four of the World Series last night:
Second inning: The Yankees start the runner on a 3-2 pitch and may have avoided a double play. Plus one for small ball. They later score on sacrifice fly - we’ll call that 1/2 a point for small ball.
Fourth inning: Florida’s pitcher sacrifices the runner on first over to second base, where he ends up stranded. Minus one for small ball.
Tenth inning: The Yankees sacrifice a runner over from first to second, where he gets stranded. Minus one for small ball.
Eleventh inning: Florida sacrifices runners from first and second to second and third, where they get stranded. Minus one for small ball.
Second inning: Florida hits a two-run home run. One for big ball.
Ninth inning: The Yankees score two on a triple. Plus one for big ball.
Twelfth inning: Florida hits a walk-off home run. Plus one for big ball.
Today’s final score: Big ball 3, small ball -1.5.
In the battle of “big ball” (home runs and extra base hits) vs. “small ball” (sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, etc.) last night’s World Series game three was a clear win for big ball once again.
Small ball loses: In the bottom of the first, Louis Castillo tried to sacrifice bunt Juan Pierre over to third. Castillo got two strikes for his pains, and eventually struck out. Pierre scored later that inning on a base hit. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Marlins tried small ball again; this time Juan Pierre got thrown out trying to steal second base to end the inning. And in the bottom of the seventh, the Marlins sent pitcher Josh Beckett to the plate to bunt the runner over to second instead of pinch hitting; the bunt was successful, but the runner ended up stranded at second.
Big ball wins: All of the runs in the game involved extra-base hits. In the bottom of the first, Juan Pierre scored for the Marlins on a base hit after doubling. In the top of the fourth, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter doubled, eventually scoring after two walks and a hit batsman. In the top of the eighth, Jeter doubled again, and scored on a single. And in the top of the ninth, the Yankees got four runs on two home runs, a solo shot by Aaron Boone and a three-run back-breaker by Bernie Williams.
How many ways can a manager screw up? Ask Grady Little.
In the harsh spotlight of the playoffs, managers have a tendency to overmanage or second-guess themselves. Too often, they go away from what’s worked all season to try and get a better result - and usually, it doesn’t work.
Grady Little, as far as I can tell, did everything he possibly could to keep Boston from winning in the playoffs. It’s a testament to the Red Sox that they played as well as they did, and came oh-so-close to knocking off the hated Yankees.
Take the obvious example: Game seven of the ALCS. He had Bill Mueller, the American League batting champion, batting eighth. Why put one of your best weapons in a spot in the batting order guaranteeing him fewer at-bats? Sure, Mueller hadn’t looked great in the playoffs - but maybe that’s because Little had him batting so low in the order throughout both the ALDS and ALCS. Similarly, why bat Trot Nixon so low in the order (eighth in game six of the ALCS, seventh in game seven)? The guy had a great on-base percentage (.396) and a fantastic slugging percentage (.578) to go with his .306 average. Theo Epstein put together a great team - why did Grady Little waste it?
And then, of course, there were the pitching decisions. Red Sox fans are going to be reliving the sequence of Little heading to the mound in the 8th innning, talking to Pedro, leaving him in, then watching from the dugout as the next hitter, Hideki Matsui, slapped his second double of the game to cut the Red Sox lead to one run. Then there’s the decision to leave Wakefield in for the 11th. The Yankees had already burned their closer, Mariano Rivera, and had only a couple of situational relievers and their number five starter left in the bullpen. Why not bring in your closer, who presumably has the best chance of keeping the Yankees from scoring, and hope your lineup can get a run or two off the scrub pitcher the Yankees have to run out there in the next inning? In other words, why give the Yankees any more of a chance than you have to?
I could go on forever, really (for more, see my http://www.bryankeefer.com/archives/000009.html">essay on the A’s-Red Sox series). But the point is, Little may have done the worst job managing a team in the postseason that I’ve ever seen.
Fox’s baseball commentators for the World Series are always prattling on about “small ball,” which mostly seems to come down to sacrificing (and “moving runners over") and stealing bases (strangely, it doesn’t usually include walks). Occasionally this goes so far as to bash on teams that wait for home runs and/or extra base hits. So I kept a count during game two of the World Series tonight:
Top of the first inning: The Marlins start the runner from first on a 3-2 pitch. Batter strikes out, runner get thrown out at second. Big ball 1, Small ball 0.
Bottom of the first inning: Yankees leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano walks. Derek Jeter gets two strikes on himself trying to bunt Soriano over (Jeter might have been bunting for a base hit, but he showed bunt so early I’m going with the former). Then Soriano gets picked off trying to steal, and Jeter strikes out. The next batter, Jason Giambi, gets hit by a pitch, Bernie Williams gets a hit, and Hideki Matsui hits a three run home run on a 3-0 pitch. Big ball 3, small ball 0.
Bottom of the second inning: Nick Johnson gets on with a bunt base hit (bunting for a base hit doesn’t count as small ball any more than swinging for a single does). Johnson scores on a double by Juan Rivera. Big ball 4, small ball 0.
Bottom of the fourth inning: Base hit by Nick Johnson, who scores on a home run by Soriano. Big Ball 5, small ball 0.
Bottom of the sixth: Aaron Boone strikes out on a 3-2 pitch, and Jorge Posada, going from first on the pitch, gets thrown out at second. Two pitches later the pitcher throws a wild pitch to Johnson (which would have moved Posada to second), then Johnson smacks a double (which would have scored Posada). Big ball 6, small ball 0 (or big ball 5, small ball -1).
There you have it - “small ball” effectively cost the Yankees two runs (one in the first inning, and one in the sixth), while all of their runs came on home runs and extra-base hits. I’ll try and track the same stats for another game or two during the series.
8:51 PM: Red Sox 2, Yankees 0, top of the second: Unless Pedro goes head-hunting again (entirely possible given that he doesn’t have his best stuff so far, and he tends to try and intimdate hitters when he’s having trouble getting them out) the Red Sox look like they’re in pretty good shape . . .
Update, 9:48 PM: If the Yankees lose, this isn’t going to be Roger Clemens’s last start. No way he’ll go out like that (3 1/3 innings, 4 runs, game 7). He’ll be back for one more year with the Yankees. If they end up winning, though, and he gets a chance to redeem himself in the World Series, he might still hang ‘em up . . .
Update, 10:58 PM: The Yankees are desperate - they’re all swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, and swinging for the fences. It’s not looking good for New Yorkers . . .
Update, 11:31: Yankees 5, Red Sox 5: Grady Little manages to screw it up again by leaving a clearly tiring Pedro in there a few batters too long. More on Grady Little later.
Update, 12:22 AM: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5: Wow. Once again, I question Grady little’s decision - in this case, to leave Wakefield out on the mound. He’s been vulnerable to the home run all year - why do you leave him out there? Lose with your best on the mound, not a guy throwing knuckleballs. In any case, my condolences to Red Sox fans. At least they don’t have to worry about the Cubs breaking their curse any more.
Marlins 9, Cubs 6, game 7 of the NLCS.
As a friend just put it, I think baseball has more potential for heartbreak than any other sport. The long season, the huge element of luck, the tension of every pitch in a long game - and then, wham, your season’s over, and the other team is dog-piling on each other in the middle of the field while your guys hang their heads. There’s nothing nearly as emotional in the wold of sports. Football is too physical, and over too quickly. The NCAA basketball tournament is a bunch of teams from out of nowhere that get beat too quickly for you to form any real attachments (or, if you’re like me, you just expect your team to lose in the most painful fashion possible, so it doesn’t really hurt any more). The NBA isn’t competitive enough - it’ just everyone gunning for the Lakers. And there’s no drama to hockey, just people getting their teeth bashed in.
More on this tomorrow, once the ALCS finishes up.
Marlins 8, Cubs 3, bottom of the 8th:
Anatomy of a loss: Leave your pitcher in there two batters too long (aka, the Dusty Baker special). Have your hometown fans take a popout out of your outfielder’s glove. Have your shortstop drop the easiest groundball of the entire game. The Curse may be alive and well, but don’t tell me it had anything to do with this game.
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