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On Game 2 Of The World Series

For a very long time, I had no idea what I was going to write here. I had no idea what angle to pursue. I had no idea what angles there were that were available. Then Allen Craig came up and did what he did, and it was obvious. It basically took the choice out of my hands - I was going to have to write about Allen Craig, because Allen Craig had come off the bench to drive in the winning run for the second game in a row. For six and a half innings, there wasn't a clear story, and then for one and a half innings, there was one big giant obvious story.

Then the Rangers came back in the top of the ninth and won the game. I want to say that it all happened so fast, even though I know that it didn't, since Tony La Russa made a pair of mid-inning pitching changes. All of a sudden it didn't make sense to write about Craig anymore. Craig was still interesting, but he wasn't something to focus on after the Rangers turned the game on its head.

So what was there to focus on? I suppose there's a Josh-Hamilton-redemption angle, since he played through injury and came up with a critical sac fly. There's some kind of Tony-La-Russa-pitching-change angle, too, since you can argue over whether or not he should've gone to Arthur Rhodes like he did. But for me, the thing that most stood out, and the thing I most want to discuss, is the baserunning.

In the top of the ninth, there was some fantastic baserunning. Some fantastic, game-changing baserunning. Baserunning is often the forgotten value component. It took forever for FanGraphs to include it in the WAR formula, for example. People act like baserunning doesn't make much of a difference, and it's true - most of the time, it doesn't make much of a difference. But it can, and it most certainly did tonight.

The first example of good baserunning came from Ian Kinsler. Kinsler led off the ninth with a base hit. Not satisfied, Kinsler shortly took off for second, and he got such a good jump off Jason Motte that he slid in ahead of what was a perfect throw by Yadier Molina. Molina's got an outstanding arm, and it's risky to run against him, but Kinsler read the pitcher well enough and sprinted fast enough that there was basically nothing Molina could have done.

The second example of good baserunning came from Elvis Andrus. You can watch the highlight here. With Kinsler on second, Andrus lined a sharp single to right-center field to put runners on the corners. Kinsler rounded third and drew a throw home from Jon Jay, and then Albert Pujols made a poor attempt to cut it off, the ball getting by him and rolling to Molina. Andrus broke for second the instant the ball got away from Pujols, and he slid in ahead of Molina's throw.

And the third example of good baserunning also came from Elvis Andrus. You can watch the highlight here. Right after Andrus took second, Josh Hamilton came to the plate and lifted a sac fly to right field. Andrus tagged up and sprinted for third, and he beat the throw from Skip Schumaker. That meant that, instead of just being in scoring position with one out, Andrus - representing the go-ahead run - was just 90 feet away.

Three examples of successful, aggressive, clutch baserunning, all in a row. Kinsler's baserunning got him in position to score the tying run, and Andrus' baserunning got him in position to score the go-ahead run. Obviously the baserunning didn't complete the rally on its own, but it was a crucial factor.

How crucial? Well, this is why we have Win Expectancy. We can calculate an approximation of the degree to which the Rangers' baserunning improved their odds. Going event by event:

Kinsler on 1st: 27% chance of Rangers winning
Kinsler on 2nd: 36%

Andrus on 1st: 53%
Andrus on 2nd: 61%

Andrus on 2nd: 56%
Andrus on 3rd: 68%

Add them all together and you get just over +27% (trust me; I rounded the numbers above). The Rangers' three additional bases gained improved their odds of winning by 27%. Overall, the top of the ninth improved the Rangers' odds of winning from 16% to 81% - a change of 65% - so you could say that baserunning accounted for about two-fifths of the Rangers' rally. Or maybe not. Maybe that's bad math. What you can definitely say is that the Rangers won having been aggressive on the basepaths, and that they might not have won had they not been aggressive on the basepaths.

This isn't exactly a new thing for them. According to FanGraphs' baserunning statistic, which doesn't include stolen base attempts, the Rangers were far and away the best baserunning team in the league this season. According to Baseball Prospectus' baserunning statistic, which does include stolen base attempts, they weren't at the top, but they were close. The Rangers have run the bases well all season, and tonight Kinsler and Andrus' awareness and footspeed in the top of the ninth helped the Rangers pick up a win in the World Series.

The MLB playoffs: when little things can turn into big things. In one half-inning, the Rangers basically came up with three Dave Roberts stolen bases. I'm not rooting for the Rangers, but they earned that win, and, overall, that was a hell of a baseball game to watch.

  • Before the game, Buster Olney was looking ahead, and he tweeted out:

    Among the 72 best-of-seven MLB series that have started with a team taking a 2-0 lead, those teams have gone on to win 59 times.

    You see this kind of thing all the time, whenever you're dealing with playoff series. In any sport. People always want to know how many teams have come back from certain deficits. And there's nothing wrong with getting the numbers. But a big part of me wishes that people were just better with probability so we wouldn't have to deal with small sample sizes like, say, 72 historical 2-0 series leads.

    If you assume that teams who meet in a best-of-seven playoff series are roughly equal - in other words, if you stick with very simple 50/50 odds in each individual game - the chances of coming back from down 2-0 are about 19%. If you assume that the team behind 2-0 is just a tiny bit worse, and you change the odds to 49/51, then the chances of coming back from down 2-0 are about 18%. If you go by the historical data, though, then 13/72 = ...18%. Well I'll be damned. Hey, look over there!

  • It's no longer more than a curiosity, given that the Rangers rallied to win, but the angle I was going to pursue with Allen Craig was that, while Craig came through with a pair of pinch-hit RBI singles in the first two games, the pitches he actually hit were really tough. Here's the first, which was a 98mph fastball:


    And here's the second, which was a 96mph fastball:

    Two times in two games, Allen Craig beat Alexi Ogando, but he didn't beat him because Ogando made mistakes - he beat him with straight-up good hitting. Ogando threw a pair of excellent outside fastballs, and Craig just happened to get the bat out in time. It's a good thing for Ogando that the Rangers wound up winning Game 2, because had they lost, Ogando might've started to look like a goat, and Ogando didn't really screw up at all.

  • A Jaime Garcia fun fact:

    1st time through order, career: .598 OPS, 3.7 K/BB
    2nd time through order, career: .752 OPS, 2.0 K/BB
    3rd time through order, career: .727 OPS, 1.9 K/BB

    Tonight, Garcia retired the first nine batters he faced. He allowed a pair of baserunners and had to pitch out of a jam in the fourth. Like God damned clockwork. Except for the fact that he resumed being effective in the fifth, sixth and seventh. It was like clockwork for the first four innings.

  • Defense saving a run in the fifth:

    Defense immediately preceding Cardinals' run in the seventh:

    It's hard to believe there was a time not too long ago that baseball analysts weren't very concerned with quality of glovework.