Friday, July 20, 2007

Serendipity

There are always a few things I find odd about baseball, and the way it's covered. Last night was the perfect example. Everyone is lauding D'Angelo Jiminez for his game-winning single, but what strikes me funny about that is that his hit was the result of a series of strange circumstances. If any of those change, he's not the hero; he's the same old goat we've seen for a few months.

Watch the video. Jimenez did what Jimenez always does. It's a routine ground ball to short. Sure, he hit it solidly, but the only reason it was a hit was because the runner was on third.

Why was the runner on third? Because Yorvit Torrealba had about as much interest in catching or blocking a pitch in the dirt earlier that inning as I had in fighting traffic to go to a Rockies/Nationals game.

If the runner's not on third, the infield's not in, and Jimenez makes an out. And he doesn't get headline after headline.

It's a funny game.

  • I also find it odd how players never get credit for scoring the run, just driving them in. Jimenez gets all the glory, but Kearns deserves a big part of it. Without his single, Jimenez doesn't get a sniff.

    I've talked about win probability a few times before. It's a way of divvying up credit for games based on how the change in the game's state (what runners are on what bases with what outs) affect a team's winning percentage based on what all other teams in baseball history (at least a subset over the last 20 years or so) demonstrate. It's a way of assessing the 'clutchness' of particular events. An RBI single in the bottom of the 10th to win the game means a lot more than an RBI single in the 7th when your team is down by 9.

    What do you think the biggest play for the Nats was?

    Obviously, the most valuable play was Jesus Flores triple-turned-single. But the second was Jimenez' RBI single. When he came to the plate, teams with 1 out and a runner on third win 83% of the time. So he gets credit for upping the Nats odds by 17% (100%-83%).

    But if you look at the game as a whole, Austin Kearns was the hero. He was involved in a number of key plays, and he upped the team's chances by 25% on his own. Not only did he have the hit in the 10th, but he was key to the 8th-inning rally, as he scored the tie-making run after being hit by a pitch.

    Like Jimenez, he was in the right place at the right time.

  • It's that right place, right time thing that makes one-run games so much fun to watch. One little bounce here or there, like on the wild pitch, and things can turn out differently. If their RFer keeps the ball in front of him, the Nats likely lose.

    We saw in 2005 that one-run games are a strange animal. Because they're predicated more on luck than a typical game, even lousy teams have a chance to do well. Yesterday's win gives the Nats a 17-12 record in one-run games this year. Since '05, they're 70-63.

    If we look at games decided by 5 or more runs, it tells a different story. 6-17 this year, 35-64 since '05.

    Bad teams can win the close ones, thanks to lucky bounces, but it takes more than a few lucky bounces to blow another team out. It takes quality. Boston, for example, has won 61% of its blowouts this year.

    Someday we'll be there. But we're not there yet.

    For now, we'll have to enjoy those odd circumstances, coincidental events, that sometimes all line up in a row and give us something strange like D'Angelo Jimenez, Game Hero.

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