The WAR is won; the diamond-shaped battle-field is littered with the empty, gargantuan payrolls from teams and men that could not adapt. Sabermetricians brandish their, um, sabers as they stand atop the pile of their unyielding enemies. “Traditionalists” – the derogatory term they gave those opponents – a name on-par with Death-Eaters and Red-Coats, are laid to waste.
Gone are the days where baseball teams – to use a basketball analogy – rolled the balls out and just played the game. Sure, back then there was gamesmanship (hit-and-run, sacrifice bunts) but today
it’s a brand-new ballgame. With the invention of analytics, baseball has experienced a serious shift. Literally. The concept on nine men standing on the field, patrolling their posts normally, is long forgotten. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s an exponential growth. Baseball, as a whole, saw 2,357 shifts in 2011. That number leaped to 8,134 shifts the next season. Third Basemen are playing in short Right Field, teams shift per batter per pitch and Bartolo Colon’s body still qualifies as a professional athlete – its absolute pandemonium! What a game, baseball.
But what about those days of old, when the word “shift” just meant a button to press five times to get Sticky Keys. When baseball managers were prized for unique stratagem and used their eyes rather than CPUs. Did those old, ignorant, statistically-disadvantaged fools leave wins on the field? Did they not use their player-capital to the utmost of their abilities?
One of the best analytics since the advent is one of the simpler. How does Batter A fare against Pitcher B?
To solve this quandary, I looked at the pinnacle of failure: the walk-off homerun.
I used those batter-pitcher matchups from most high-profile walk-offs from before holding an advanced analytics card was as essential to a manager as a packed lip of chaw.
(Confession: as a Red Sox fan my internet browser tried to save me by censoring all results for “2003 ALCS Aaron Boone” Google search, but I had to do it.)
If managers had these statistics in front of them before they put in their ill-fated pitchers, would they still have been comfortable with their choice?
Bobby Cox, Manager of the 1991 Atlanta Braves, might not have been. Kirby Puckett had hit Pitcher Charlie Leibrandt well in the regular season (18-for-63) so bringing him in to face Puckett may not have been the best choice. But even then, Leibrandt had faced Puckett twice in the playoffs, and struck him out both times.
An interesting note: three of the home-runs were the first time the pitcher and batter had faced one another, occurring in 1993, 1988, and 1975.
The highest average of any of these home-run heroes is .286, yet they pulled through in the one time it counted. Four of ten batters had faced the certain pitcher multiple times, yet their home-run was their only hit.
For example, Grady Little of the 2003 Boston Red Sox would’ve had every possible ounce of confidence because by bringing Wakefield in against the Yankees in the bottom of the tenth he brought in a guy who had dominated the lead-off hitter both in the regular season (2-for-11, a pair of Ks) and in the playoffs (0-for-5, a pair of Ks). Boone has an abysmal career average of .190 against all knuckle-ballers, but as baseball randomness would have it, he crushed one over the Left Field fence.
What this list truly shows is that you can analyze and make regression sheets and track the ERA of each pitcher by hairs in their nostril on rainy, day games before the all-star break, but sometimes baseball is just unpredictable. There are moments that defy the average.
The sabermetricians may have won the front-office WAR, but it doesn’t mean the mean is what they get on the field.
Sam Fortier will be a Freshman majoring in Journalism at Syracuse University this fall. He enjoys good bratwurst and even better baseball. Read him here every Monday.