tl;dr: We won! See you all next week!
A Grand Slam Ain’t Nothin’ But Four Runs
So when Manny Machado hit a grand slam off Huascar Ynoa in the bottom of the fifth on Saturday night to give the Padres a 7-3 lead, I was not alone in thinking the season was just about over. I certainly had, mentally, crossed off the game. But does that make sense? A four run deficit is, after all, just a four run deficit – teams overcome four run deficits several times a year.
But somehow, deep in the recesses of my lizard brain, a Grand Slam seems more deflating that some other set of plays that total four runs. So I went in search of data.
In the Retrosheet Era, there have been 6,809 Grand Slams. A team that hits a Grand Slam has an 86% chance of winning the game. That’s really good, but I thought it would be better than that. Then I remembered that you have to adjust for the run situation when the mighty blow is struck. After all, lots of those salamis are hit with teams substantially behind: on April 24th, 1960, the Baltimore Orioles, trailing the Yankees by 12-1, hit a Grand Slam in the 8th and, after the Yankees scored 3 in the bottom of the 8th, hit another Grand Slam in the 9th to lose 15-9. They hit two Grand Slams and were nowhere close to even being competitive in the game. (That’s the only game in which a team hit two Grand Slams and lost.)
So what about the games where the back-breaker came when the teams are tied? That drops us down to 1,574 homers with only 154 losses, a winning percentage of 90 percent. But it also matters when those home runs came in the game. I did a big long boring table for all the combinations, but let’s just look at Manny’s blast that came with 2 outs in the bottom of the fifth. There are 29 other Grand Slams in baseball history with two outs in the bottom of the fifth in a tie game, and the home team won every time. I note that this is not significantly different from the expected winning percentage with the bases empty and two outs and a four run lead, which is 96%. Indeed, adding in the Braves’ comeback win, the probability that you win with a Grand Slam giving you a four-run lead in the bottom of the fifth is now 29/30, 97%.
What I’ve learned is that (a) Grand Slams are great – they give you four runs, but they don’t seem to be any better than any other set of plays that give you four runs: there’s no extra back-breaking psychological advantage; and (b) no team has ever come back from a Grand Slam with two outs in the bottom of the fifth of a tied game, until Saturday night. (To be fair, 4 teams have come back from the 55 times a Grand Slam was hit in the bottom of the 5th irrespective of the number of outs, and it doesn’t make much sense to think that fewer outs are worse, unless you buy the famous Jeff Francoeur ‘rally-killer’ theory of homers, so a lot of this is just small sample size.)
Circle The At-Bats
With this, my last regular-season recap, we have a tool that we can look back and figure out the pivotal plays of the year. BRef provides a Pivotal Play tool that ranks every at-bat by its contribution the probability of winning the World Series[i][ii]. As you might guess, most plays have very little impact (and none have the impact of big plays during the playoffs) but a few do, and while they tend to come towards the end of the season, not all of them do. The list, as of today, of the 300 plays with the biggest impact is here. So Manny Machado’s hit on Tuesday lowered the Braves chances of a World Series Championship by 0.5%, which is the 5th most impactful play of the season. Jorge Soler’s double in the top of the 10th inning got that 0.5% back, so it was the 6th most impactful play.
Of the top 20 plays, four of them are negative plays by Will Smith; it hurts too much to recount them all here. His strikeouts of Ha-Seong Kim and Trent Grisham to end the game on Sunday were his only positive contributions in that list, and of course they were only as positive as they were because of the negative plays he made earlier in the inning to sufficiently lower the probability of a win. The number one play was Ozzie Albies’ walkoff homer against Lucas Sims on August 11th. Not only did it turn a probable loss into a win; it increased the chances that the Braves would be a Wild Card team by giving a loss to a Wild Card rival at the time, the Reds. For the same reason, the single worst play of the year was Smith’s walkoff extra-inning homer yielded to Luke Williams, which both added a loss to a game nearly won, but also helped our main division rival. By way of contrast, Smith’s strikeout of Freddy Galvis to end Tuesday night’s game comes in at 46th on the list, because (a) all it did was preserve a lead, which is mostly expected; and (b) the Phillies chances of beating the Braves for the season is much lower than it was when Luke hit his homer back on June 9th.
But in any case, a Braves team that not long ago had about a 2 percent chance of winning the World Series now has about a 13 percent chance. The mighty Dodgers have an 11 percent chance and the league-leading Giants have a 16 percent chance. Roll the dice!
All The Way To Citizens’ Bank
I’m really not sure why people hate Bryce Harper. He doesn’t seem very unlikeable to to me, but then again there are plenty of people who find me likeable and I struggle to understand that as well. In any case, he’s about to finish his 3rd season with the Phillies without a playoff appearance. When Mike Trout doesn’t make the playoffs people seem to think it is a cosmic mistake, but because Harper is disliked (again for reasons I cannot fathom) it makes people jeer at him, not at fate.
But unlike Ernie Banks, who played 2,528 games without making the postseason at around $300/game played, Bryce Harper is paid somewhere around $200,000 per game not to make the playoffs. Money isn’t everything, but neither are playoff rings. I confess to liking Bryce Harper, but the Braves’ part in keeping him from the playoffs doesn’t bother me one bit. And his 0-11 in this series is meaningless.
I posted yesterday about Melanie Newman, my current choice to replace to replace Chip (but I’m open to almost any conceivable alternative) and I listened to her for about an hour last night. She blew a home run call, but since I think she wasn’t actually at the game and it was a 94 mph hit that went about 331 feet right down the line at Dodger Stadium, I’m going to give her a pass. (Plus, she blew it by underplaying a homer, not overplaying a routine out. Refreshing.) I am not sanguine that the Braves fanbase is… how shall I put it… necessarily ready for a competent announcer with two X chromosomes, but I’m ready for competence from anybody, and I’m not going to let the possibility that lots of fans love Chip (sob!) and have unfortunate gender biases stand in my way.
My irritation with Chip in this game really started from the get-go. I want to be clear… reasonable people can clearly disagree with me in this opinion, but the triumphalist air with which Chip began this game is inappropriate to baseball. We all know that the conclusion of this division is all but determined. But Chip’s job is to make everything exciting, so he began this game with intimations of inevitability that is just inappropriate in baseball, in my opinion. If the Braves and Phillies had split the first two games, his attitude would have been entirely different. But the difference between those two outcomes is one Freddy Galvis swing, which has an evidentiary value of roughly zero. This is really less a knock on Chip but a generic problem with what announcers are trying to do all the time, but what makes baseball great is unpredictability, not inevitability… and all things considered I’d prefer that played up. If this were Chip’s only flaw, I’d probably love the guy.
“Anderson’s batting .059. Let’s see if he can change that.” Barring a walk, a hit batsman, or interference, Chip, he will. He did. He struck out. My annoyance with the “Let’s see if…” phrasing is unending.
“I’m not one who normally dabbles in the statistical probabilities of winning because of the human factor, but…” Just one of the many places where Chip and I part company. Where he got the idea that these probabilities are determined by anything other than the actions of human beings is beyond me. Maybe he means something profound. I doubt it.
“You can’t spell MVP without R-I-L-E-Y.” I’m not sure how many times he’s said this, but I’ve heard it twice. It is completely nonsensical. It’s been spelled without R-I-L-E-Y every single time. I might as well say “There’s no ‘I’ in Riley.” Makes exactly as much sense.
But let’s give Chip the benefit of the doubt. There are 4 MVPs whose full names contain all the letters in “Riley” and only one whose name contains none of those letters. Name them. (Answers in the footnotes.)
In Philadelphia sports lore, you lose to Apollo Creed, barely beat him in the rematch and call out bloodied to your girlfriend as a World Champion. It turns out that that’s fiction, as is the notion that Philadelphia fans will always give you another chance if you’re authentic enough.
Soler led off with a prodigious 465 foot homer, which caused Chip to ramp his Inevitability Meter to 11. Anderson trouble in the top of the 2nd made him back down a bit, which helped a lot. It was almost as if he was surprised that Philly intended to play the game. Riley hit number 33 in the 4th for the Braves’ second hit and second run. Keith Law ranks Riley 10th in the NL MVP race. That might’ve moved him to 9th. Me? I’ve got him all the way at 7th. But I’m a Braves homer.
A Swanson double scored d’Arnaud from first and at that point even I’ll begin to accept a few hints of inevitability. An Ozzie triple which scored Freddie from first, followed by a R-I-L-E-Y bloop that scored Ozzie made it 5-0. A 5 run lead isn’t Destiny, but it’s only an exit or two away.
But a two-run homer by McCutcheon once again reminded everyone that baseball is about unpredictability. 5-2 isn’t inevitable, not in a world that contains Hancock. Anderson left after yielding three hits and two runs in 6+ innings.
There was a moment of abject terror in the 7th when Alvarado plunked Freddie near the elbow at 100 mph, but it looks like Freddie will be OK. He stayed in the game, only to watch Realmuto hit a homer off Jackson in the 8th to make it 5-3, officially moving the team out of Hancock Heaven.
So Hancock enters: K, F6, K. That’s why you pay the man. Best closer in the game, amirite?
Comic relief against the Mets this weekend. We’ll be in Milwaukee on Friday.
[i] It will come as no surprise that the single most pivotal play in franchise history is Francisco Cabrera’s single whose 29th anniversary is a couple of weeks away. (It had about 50 times the impact of Ozzie’s blast.) The next most pivotal play, unfortunately a negative one, is Sid Bream’s bases-loaded double play to end the top of the 8th in the 7th game of the 1991 World Series. The biggest regular season play in franchise history is Carl Furrillo’s walkoff single in the bottom of the 12th on September 29th 1959 that knocked Milwaukee out of contention.
[ii] Pivotal plays are not, of course, the same thing as pivotal games. But Pivotal plays are much more fun.
[Trivia answer] Dennis Eckersley, Christian Yelich, Carl Yastrzemski, and Cody Bellinger. Note all of these require both the first and last names to work. But Mo Vaughn and R-I-L-E-Y have nothing in common, beyond the fact that they both helped the Mets lose money.