We live in an age of instant data. Numbers are at our fingertips in an instant. And we can often build a case for just about any narrative we want to make. Post season statistics, especially offensive ones, have to be taken with two very strong reminders. The first is that the offensive statistics are extremely small sample sizes. Orioles’ fans and writers could be blasting Adam Jones right now because he is batting .091 in this post season. But if you are reminded that Jones’ post season is only thirteen or fourteen plate appearances deep, what conclusions can you actually draw from that?
The second reminder is that batters have to hit against pitchers. That sound simplistic but it is amazing how much that simple fact is overlooked. The Jones in our example has had to face some of the best pitching in baseball. The teams that make the playoffs would not (in most cases) be there if they did not have strong pitching. So Jones would not be alone in struggling against those pitchers. Recently published here at IIATMS was a historical look at the 1962 World Series. In that piece, it was pointed out that Mickey Mantle went 3 for 25 in that series. Can you imagine what Mantle would be hearing if he did that today? The bum! But he wasn’t alone. The Yankees hit only .199 in that series and won it! They faced excellent pitching.
It can be amusing to watch the reactions of fans in the heat of the moment on Twitter. If the pitcher on the favored team gets out of a jam, then it was a great pitching job. If the favored team does not capitalize on a bases loaded situation, then the favored team choked in the clutch. If the favored team’s closer gets three outs easily in the ninth, he’s a great closer. If the favored team falls victim to the other team’s closer, then the favored team’s batters are scrutinized and often painted as failures. You can’t always have it both ways.
The TBS broadcasts have one nice feature that might overcome other flaws in the broadcast. That network keeps the little PitchF/X box on the screen so you can always see where the pitch is thrown. Now, granted, it is not flawless. But it does help temper the eye test that makes us yell at the umpire and batters so often. While watching the broadcast of the game last night, the one thing that was impressive is that all of the Orioles’ pitchers did a terrific job of staying out of the middle of the plate. Wei-Yin Chen lived on the margins all night. Darren O’Day kept the ball out of the middle of the zone and so did Jim Johnson.
And yet, the narrative says that the Yankee batters choked and Nunez and A-Rod in particular stunk. The fourth inning was particularly frustrating. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out. With Nunez batting, all he had to do was hit something to the outfield and a run would score. He popped out. Heck, Andruw Jones could have done that, right? But look at the pitch chart for that at bat:
Not only did Nunez have to deal with an inside pitch that was called a strike that put him in a 1-2 hole, but Chen never gave Nunez anything sweet to hit. If that third pitch that was an inch and a half inside was called a ball, Nunez is in a much better hitter’s count at 2-1. Instead, the count is 1-2 and Nunez is on the defensive. You might also look at the chart and say that Nunez was not patient in that at bat. But the fourth and fifth pitches he swung at were too close to take from an umpire that was calling the margins all night. Tip your cap to the pitcher.
After Nunez popped out, the Yankees still had a chance with Derek Jeter coming up with his 216 hits this season and 3,300 career hits. But again, Chen did not give Jeter anything fat to hit:
And just one more chart. This one is A-Rod’s last at bat of the game. He was getting murdered on Twitter for his lack of hitting. But his last couple of at bats were brutal. Darren O’Day has been brutal on right-handed batters all season. Right-handed batters had an OPS against O’Day of .589 for the season. The guy is tough for a right-handed batter to hit. That is exactly why he was brought in the game to face A-Rod. And O’Day got the job done as designed. Tip your cap. And then Jim Johnson is just plain nasty. Sure, the Yankees got to him on Sunday, but that was the fluke, not the norm. He was back to his nasty self on Monday. Take a look at how he pitched to A-Rod to end the game:
That’s just nasty stuff. There was one semi-decent pitch to hit in that sequence and Rodriguez fouled it off. Yes, the two pitches he swung at were outside. But they were really nasty sliders with tremendous bite. Again, if Rafael Soriano had pitched to a batter like Adam Jones and had that sequence, Yankee fans and bloggers would be singing Soriano’s praises. Instead, stupid old Alex just can’t get the job done anymore.
Sometimes…just once in a while…a team’s fans and its writers have to give the other guys credit. Sometimes, you just have to top your cap.
All pitching charts courtesy of Brooks Baseball.