Thursday, October 28, 2021


Two games into the World Series, and even the mainstream media (Andy McCullough at The Athletic) is tumbling to the possibility that this year's clash between the Braves and the Astros might not produce any "stellar games" even as it appears that the two teams might fight it out all the way to Game Seven.

"Stellar games" is a proxy for games that are decided by one run. Of course, there can be memorable games that don't wind up in that category: walk-off homers with men on base are still exciting, even if the winning team's margin is greater than a single tally. But we still use the one-run game as the benchmark for a particular type of ambient, lingering tension that keeps the outcome in doubt until the last pitch.

It seems paradoxical that a post-season series that goes to its limit (five or seven games) might not be all that riveting despite a "win-or-go-home" finale, but it does occasionally happen. Of course, it could all turn around for the Braves and Astros over the weekend, and nailbiting games could come into play; but we have two rather lackluster games in the book thus far, which creates the possibility for a peculiar form of boredom.

To get a closer look at this phenomenon, we did what we always do: we created a table filled with data. There have been exactly forty World Series that have gone all the way to seven games (leaving out those few years when the Fall Classic was expanded to a best-of-nine), and we've captured the run differentials in all 281 games (yes, 281: there was a tie game in 1912 that forced a "Game Eight"--that one we've included.

So here they are, and they've been sorted in a way that creates an admittedly crude quantification of "an excitement index" for each of the forty 7-game series. (Some may wish to call it "the boredom index": we salute you by raising our half-empty wine glass.)

As noted, it's simplistic. We capture the number of games where the contest is decided by one run, and the number of games where the contest is decided by four or more runs. We record that info, we place it side-by-side, and we subtract the number of 4+ run differential games from the 1-run differential games. 

That gives us a value (in the column at the far right of the table called "DDIF") that suggests (as opposed to insisting) a range of excitement based on the relative abundance of one-run games.

When we sort by DDIF, we make our suggestion into a crude assertion--and we now assert that the 1972 World Series between the Oakland A's and the Cincinnati Reds, which featured six games decided by one run and one blowout (Game 6, decided by seven runs) is the "most exciting" World Series of all.

Now, of course, you don't really remember that series, do you? You may remember the 1991 World Series between the Twins and the Braves, which featured five one-run games, including two such games in Games 6 and 7 (which is a nuance that might need to be incorporated into a method such as this).

Or you are perhaps even more likely to remember the 1975 World Series, which had two blowouts but five one-run games, including that epic 12-inning Game 6, followed by a nail-biting Game 7. 

So we can posit that World Series that go seven games seem more exciting if the final games are close (read: one-run games). Thus the 1971 World Series, with its closing one-run contests in Game 6 and 7, is another one that's memorable for this dynamic. It joins 1924, 1975 and 1991 as the only seven-game series to end with two one-run games.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Fall Classic where there are no one-run games. In a nice touch of symmetry, there are four such World Series: 1931, 1965, 1968, and 1987. Of these series, it's 1965 that has the most blowout games: six. (Only the low-scoring Game 7, a 2-0 final where Sandy Koufax pitched a shutout on two days' rest, escaped the peculiar lack of tension within the games as they played out in a see-saw pattern; 2 wins for the Twins, 3 for the Dodgers, 1 for the Twins, 1 for the Dodgers. So the outcomes of the games can produce some tension as to who will win, but that doesn't ensure that the individual games will be particularly exciting.)

Examining some of the patterns here, particularly in terms of the 7-game series that started with two blowouts (which the 2021 WS has joined, with its 4 and 5 run differentials), shows us that the only hope that we have for a result that winds up high on the DDIF sort would be for the next five games to be one-run games. Of course, that has never happened--no one has closed out a 7-game WS in that way. Only one Series--that unheralded one held in 1972--has ever had five consecutive one-run games (the A's and Reds did that in Games 1-5 of that series).

No one else has had four in a row. But there are a number of three one-run games in a row incidences: though you can pick them out on the chart (we bolded the one-run games), we'll give you the full list: 1991 (G 2-4); 1975 (G 2-4); 2001 (G 3-5); 1947 (G 3-5). We've never had a G 5-7 sequence in which the games were all one-run outcomes. (The closest: the 1952 WS, where the Dodgers and Yankees had one-run games in G 5 & 6 and a two-run outcome in G 7.)

Now that would be a nice way to relieve the boredom, right? Let's suggest that our teams get busy and give us something new under the sun to close out this topsy-turvy year. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021


 ...will not be the 2021 Giants and Dodgers, despite what will turn out to be an even two dozen games that they've played against each other this year. 

That total ties the number of games played between the Dodgers and the Braves (still in Milwaukee) in 1959, where the two teams played 24 times (including a two-game playoff). But it's not the all-time record for most games played by two teams in a single season. That total (including post-season play) is 26--held by the Yankees and Red Sox, who did this in 2003 and 2004 thanks to two seven-game Championship Series.

But what about the most games played by two teams in a regular season? Clearly we wouldn't be writing any of this if it simply turned out to be those 1959 Dodgers and Braves. (The Dodgers, by the way, won 14 of the 24 contests played between those two teams that year.)

Have you got it? Yes, it happened exactly 70 years ago--1951, to be exact--when the Dodgers and Giants played 25 games against each other: 22 as regularly scheduled, and three more in a playoff series memorable for Bobby Thomson's walk-off home run.

That game capped an incredible comeback run by the Giants, who'd been 13 games behind the Dodgers as late as August 11, 1951--and who were still six games back as late as September 14th, at which point they won 11 of their next 12 games to wind up in a tie.

But the story of the Giants-Dodgers head-to-head competition in 1951 is as riveting and unusual as the playoff series itself. We examine some aspects of those 25 games in what follows.

First, the Giants got off to a terrible start in 1951, in large part due to losing their first five meetings with the Dodgers. At that point in the season they were 2-12 and nursing an eleven-game losing streak. (The Giants had blown leads in each of their three games vs. the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds on April 20-22, and lost two more at Ebbets Field before getting off the schneid thanks to a six-run first inning against two forgotten Dodgers--Chris Van Cuyk and Earl Mossor--en route to a 8-5 win.)

They would not win another game in Ebbets Field until September.

In late June, the Giants had turned around their season and entered a three-game series with the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds only 5 1/2 games behind the Dodgers. This series was an odd premonition of what would occur at the end of the year, with a similar "rubber game" on June 28th that the Giants won 5-4 thanks to a three-run homer--by Monte Irvin, however, not Bobby Thomson, which turned around the score in the bottom of the eighth, not the ninth. Consider it a practice run for what would happen three months later...

However, the Giants then proceeded to get their hats handed to them six times in a row at Ebbets Field--in a three game series on July 4-5 (including a doubleheader sweep on the 4th) and again on August 8-9 (including another doubleheader sweep on the 8th, made especially frustrating in the second game of that twin bill, where the Giants had rallied from a four-run deficit in the late innings only to lose in the tenth inning). In the game on the 9th, they'd blow a 5-3 lead and wind up losing 6-5 despite drawing a total of 15 walks in the game--and having Whitey Lockman thrown out at home trying to score the tying run in the top of the 9th.

At that point the Giants' record against the Dodgers overall was 3-12, and 1-8 in Ebbets Field. After that bitter 6-5 loss, they were 12 1/2 games out. Two days later it would reach 13, at which point the Giants would embark on a sixteen-game winning streak, including a sweep of the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds in three tightly contested games, won by the Giants by scores of 4-2, 3-1, and 2-1 (that last one being a memorable duel between Sal Maglie and Don Newcombe, with what proved to be the winning run coming on a Newcombe wild pitch).

At the beginning of September the Dodgers returned to the Polo Grounds for a two-game series and were routed each game (8-1 and 11-2), led by the unlikeliest player ever to hit five homers in two games: Giants right fielder Don Mueller, who hit three in the first game and two in the second. The Giants were now suddenly just five games back.

A week later the Giants were back at Ebbets Field, where they (of course) lost, a 9-0 rout, with Newcombe shutting them out on just two hits. The next day, September 9th, was pivotal, however: Irvin hit a two-run homer off Ralph Branca in the fourth, and Maglie made it stand up, scattering eight hits and four walks in a 2-1 win that was sealed by a game-ending double play with the tying run on third base. Without this win, the Giants would've come up short despite their 12-1 season-closing drive.

Going into the playoffs, the Dodgers had won the season series 13-9 thanks to that 9-2 cushion at home. They'd suffer an uncharacteristic loss in Game 155 when Irvin and Thomson hit homers off Branca and Jim Hearn allowed only a second-inning homer to Andy Pafko--sounds like a 2021 game, doesn't it--and the Giants scored a precious third win at Ebbets, 3-1. The Dodgers drubbed the Giants 10-0 in the second game behind Clem Labine in the first of two at the Polo Grounds. (The second game you may dimly remember due to its containing what is still called The Shot Heard Round The World.)

Not a catch-22, but a catch-24...
The head-to-head breakouts of hitting stats in for the two teams, separated into performance totals at each ballpark (excluding the three playoff games), show that the Dodgers were tigers (Tigers?) at the plate in Ebbets vs. the Giants that year, hitting 21 HRs in eleven games and combining for a .306 team average (that includes the pitchers, whose stats aren't shown). The Giants, led by the unlikely long-ball assault from Mueller, hit 17 HRs at the Polo Grounds; more crucially, their pitchers limited the Dodgers to a .206 team batting average, which helped them to win seven of the eleven regularly scheduled contests in '51.

Twenty-year old rookie Willie Mays was not a major presence in these games, though that would change soon enough: after hitting just .197 in all 19 games (including the three playoff games) against the Dodgers in '51, he'd return from the Army in 1954 to club 10 HRs in 22 games against Brooklyn, hitting .378 as the Giants turned around their season series with the Dodgers, going 13-9 against their crosstown rivals en route to a five-game cushion in the pennant race. And there was something about a catch, too--not a catch-22, though, just a catch--you might have heard of it...

Monday, October 4, 2021


We'll look at baseball's 2021 run scoring patterns in a post later in the month, but for now let's wrap up several of the "minutiae" that we've presented intermittently over the season.

The M's win! (the Pythagorean lottery sorry!) Hell, a team whose Pythagorean won-loss record works out 76-86 has no real chance of lighting up the post-season, so the Mariners' shot at entering the playoffs would've been a fluke anyway. As it turned out, the 2021 M's are officially the luckiest team ever, having won 14 more games than Daddy Pythag says should be the case.

That does leave the question of what team that made it all the way to the World Series had the most Pythagorean luck. Of course, we have the answer to that and a bit more: here are the eleven (11 as in seven-eleven, for those of you who blow your dough blowing on dice...) luckiest teams to play in the Fall Classic. As you can see in the column at the far right of the table, seven of the eleven teams were defeated by their less-lucky opponents.

This year's luckiest playoff team? After a long stretch with the Red Sox in the lead, it turns out to be the Yankees (+6.46, for those of you who crave extra precision). Next: the Cardinals (+5.27), then the Giants (+4.13) before we get to the Red Sox (+3.55).

More interesting, perhaps, are the playoff teams (or near-and-yet-so-far teams) at the other end of the luck spectrum. The White Sox (-4.36), the Astros  (-5.68) and the Braves (-6.02) all played a good bit under their Pythagorean projections. The biggest underachievers, however, were the Blue Jays (-7.82), who projected to win 99 games but came up one win short of a post-season tumble.

Austin Adams quietly hits...the road. After setting a record (of sorts) with by completing a "double Dunkin" run of 24 HBPs, the burly Padres reliever found himself collecting splinters down the stretch as San Diego collapsed in September (7-21). Do not be surprised if Adams is elsewhere in 2022...

The fate of those "fat pitchers"... We will spend more downtime in the off-season refining our search for all the "chunky chukkers" in MLB, since there is clearly a "coverage gap" in this all-important area. (We need to keep tabs on all the guys with "gut hang"...)

Of the two showcased at the end of July, lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. had the more successful run, becoming a steady member of the Yankees rotation down the stretch. In 12 starts from July 28 to the end of the year, Cortes fashioned a 3.31 ERA, with the Yanks going 8-4 in those games. He struggled a bit with the HR ball, but who didn't in 2021?

His righty counterpart Paolo Espino was not so successful for the depleted Nationals, but they gamely kept him in the rotation despite a poor August (7.36 ERA) and he perked up a bit in September. It's another story of dogged perseverance for Paolo--the only man named Paolo to play in the big leagues--he finally stuck for a full season in the majors at the age of 34. Never overpowering even when young, Paolo will probably remain in the majors for a couple more years because he demonstrated versatility (pitching better in relief before being thrust into the rotation), but he probably won't get another such stretch as a starting pitcher (snif!).

The "smallfry" renaissance fizzles a bit: So the short folk did not, in fact, create an oasis of tiny excellence as we'd hoped might be the case previously. Cedric Mullins' slump in September dropped his OPS+ down to 135, pushing him off our list of tiny 140+ achievers. The man who managed to make it for the smallfry is Jose Ramirez of the Indians (probably the last time we'll use that embattled nickname in the semi-present tense...) who had a fine year (36 HRs, .536 SLG) and posted a 141 OPS+.

Other well-known smallfry final OPS+ numbers are as follows: Mookie Betts 128 (injury-prone season), Jose Altuve 127 (31 HRs), and--in ~440 PA, a surprising, unsung season from the A's Tony Kemp (5'6", 160 lbs.) at 126, easily the best year of his career. All in all, it was a solid showing from the little big men, but it fell short of what we'd been hoping for back in July.

The 50+-HR-a-month club grows a bit more: That total moved upward again in '21, as five teams clustered up over that line in September (we'll cover the "hot" month a bit later when we return to MLB run scoring levels/patterns...), bringing the all-time total of 50+ HRs-in-a-month incidences to 90. The 60+-HR-a-month club moved up to three all-time when the Blue Jays slammed 66 in September, placing them second all time behind that insane Yankees performance in August 2019 (74).