Well, the season wrapped up on Wednesday night and we saw what we agreed on a couple weeks ago was the best case scenario, and the Boston Red Sox are the 2013 World Champions. I won’t argue with anyone who says that it was a horrible result and that they hate the Red Sox. This is an organization that sent out a group of dirty Irish hooligans to sing the National Anthem and then use banjos and accordions in inappropriate ways (I kid, because The Dropkick Murphys > Mumford & Sons, whose blandness is truly offensive).
So what did we get to enjoy with this World Series? Most notably, teams can make it to the world Series with some pretty incompetent managing. John Ferrell and Mike Matheny were lost for all six games of the series. There were questionable line-up and strategic decisions, but the worst offensives tended to be with pitcher usage. If you really want a good recap of the awfulness, get a Baseball Prospectus subscription and read Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller’s game articles.
I won’t go into specifics, but it’s not an uncommon complaint that teams carry too many pitchers on the 25 man roster. A lot of that has to do with specialization and savvier platoon usage, which is smart even if it’s the cause more annoying pitching changes. In this series, Ferrell and Matheny were reluctant to use a quick hook on their starters. This is in a playoff format that has more rest days than teams receive in the regular season, and the starting rotation is pared down, leaving an extra arm coming out of the bullpen. Unless the starter is dominating, there is no reason to leave a guy on the mound to face a line-up for a third time.
As the years have gone by, I find myself having a harder and harder time getting up on my high horse about stupid manager tricks like this. I know that a lot of what they do is suboptimal from a statistical standpoint, and there are times when I just shake my head in wonder. The problem is that it’s next to impossible to find managers who don’t deserve to be taken to task for this kind of stuff routinely. Even Joe Maddon had his moments of completely inexplicable decision making this postseason.
Matheny seemingly deciding not to play Shelby Miller at all after the NLDS got quite a bit of attention. That certainly seems odd, but perhaps they just knew he wasn’t really physically in the best position to help them and thus didn’t really want to use him outside of an emergency situation. That, of course, raises the issue of why he was on the NLCS and WS roster at all, but I wonder if they just didn’t have anyone under their current control that they would have rather placed on the roster than him? That certainly seems more likely than Matheny hating him or that the front office forced him to be on the roster and Matheny refusing to use him.
In other bits of strangeness from the series, how about those endings to games three and four? I know a lot was made of the interference call on the Red Sox that ended game three, but I really don’t see how umpire Jim Joyce had any choice. The letter of the law is that, even if the contact was unintentional on the part of Middlebrooks, it’s still his responsibility to get out of the way. I have absolutely no patience for the idea that the umpire shouldn’t make that call because it was in a key moment of a high profile game. Rules are rules and they need to be enforced regardless of whatever situation may arise. If a call is right, it’s right in a game between non-contenders in August and it’s right in the ninth inning of game three of the World Series.
Was interference really the correct call there?
Middlebrooks was still in the act of making a play on the ball and from the vantage point above, he’s not in the baseline between third and home. Maybe the rule was interpreted literally and that’s the way it needs to be done to avoid controversy, but I have a hard time agreeing that it’s correct.
The Koji Uehara pick off of Kolton Wong in game four was an example of a weird and awesome way to end a game. The Cardinals were only down two and had the top of their line-up coming up to bat, and then it was just over. They still would have had a difficult time against Uehara, who was lights out in the World Series. David Ortiz was pretty amazing for the series, but Uehara’s Win Probability Added had to be close (I’ve searched and couldn’t find it for the postseason).
The weird endings certainly added to the narrative flip flopping in the series. With the completion of each game, we were treated to the latest reason why the night’s winner now had the upper hand. The Red Sox beat Adam Wainwright in game one, which gave them the clear advantage of beating the Cardinals’ ace.
(I found the WPA numbers on Baseball Reference, and I was really wrong. Uehara’s -0.149 isn’t anywhere near Ortiz’s 1.014. I tried to give a compliment to a relief pitcher and it blew up in my face.)
The Cardinals took game two, which lead to the suggestion that the series wouldn’t even return to Boston, and that was “cemented” when the Cards took game three. The script then flipped again when the Red Sox won game four in St. Louis because they guaranteed a return to Boston. There was some serious whiplash going on with the coverage that was amusing to follow. Really, I think the lesson that we should all learn (and then quickly forget, because that’s how these things work) is that single game advantages in baseball are meaningless. Aces get pounded, superstars take the golden sombrero, and the best games are lost on one big hit from a struggling line-up.
All season long, the Cardinals rode this wave of absurd “clutch” hitting with a historically high batting average with runners in scoring position. Then they get to the World Series and are beaten at their own game by the Red Sox. Both teams hit like garbage (or pitched really well depending on your perspective), but Boston was able to bunch their hits together.
I really don’t think there is much doubt that what Middlebrooks did, or if you prefer what happened to him, constitutes obstruction as it is set down in the rules. It doesn’t matter if a runner is in the technical baseline, because runners create their own baseline between themselves and wherever they are trying to get to. If one had to be in the baseline to be obstructed with, second basemen would be free to do their best Lawrence Taylor impersonation on any runner taking a wide turn around the bag going first to third. Clearly, runners don’t have to be in the actual baseline to be protected from contact with defenders.
I’m not sure if I just notice it more now than I used to or if the sports media has just gone off the rails in the creation of these silly narratives, but it was really amusing to see how each new twist and turn would be woven into existing tropes and what things would just be completely forgotten. At the end of the day, baseball is just too random of a game to fit into these neatly prepackaged narratives, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to shoehorn circumstances into existing ones wherever possible.
The narrative of this postseason is going to be that David Ortiz, certified clutchmonster, carried the Red Sox all the way through to a title. The fact that he hit .091/.200/.227 in the ALCS will never really come up. Jon Lester allowed six runs over 34 ⅔ innings this postseason, and it’s going to be largely lost to history.
Anyway, that’s lots of complaining about what was a pretty entertaining series on a game to game basis, even if my only real rooting interest was to see one team lose rather than to see a team win. It was nice to see the Cardinals “clutch” narrative die a slow, agonizing death in a World Series loss.
Next week we’ll take a look back at the Brewers’ season that was and then start looking forward to 2014.