Some people complain that baseball is too slow. My response to that is that might be, but only for people who don’t like to think. The gaps between every batter, even between every pitch, are filled with thoughts. But it’s not just the discrete nature of baseball between pitches and plays. It’s that you never know when one of those plays is going to have huge impact, because the difference between winning and losing is so finely balanced that the anticipation causes excitement.
And of course the impact can be fairly easily quantified, which for those of us of a certain cast of mind is enjoyment in and of itself, because it enables comparison with other plays and other times, whether those within our memory, recalled to memory, or discovered for the first time.
The 2021 NLDS between Atlanta and Milwaukee consisted of 287 discrete plays. Each of those plays added to, or subtracted from, each team’s probability of a 2021 World Championship. The most important play, it will come as a surprise to no one, was Freddie’s Game 4 homer. That blast raised the Braves’ chance of a World Series Championship by about 4 percent. Given that the Braves entered the NLDS with a 14.2 percent chance of a World Series championship, that’s a lot!
But then you look for the closest play in impact in an NLDS and you get what seems like an odd result. Almost the identical impact was Julio Franco’s single in the bottom of the 9th, trailing 3-1, putting the tying run on base against Robb Nen and the Giants. But the Braves lost that game, and the NLDS, two batters later when Chipper rapped into a game-ending double play. That play lost the 4 percent Franco gained and another 1.3 percent on top of it.
But that’s what I’m talking about: Freeman’s play was great, and it turned out to be the critical play of the game. But like Eric Hinske’s homer, which was even bigger than Freddie’s because the Braves were losing at the time and in an elimination game for them, the great probability added came to nothing because the Braves failed to hold the lead. It is this interplay of raised probabilities which can still in an instant come to naught that makes sports great.
So here are the top 5 and bottom 5 plays of this NLDS and the most comparable plays in Braves NLDS history by cWPA:
- Freddie’s blast: 4.12% Julio’s single: 4.11%
- Rosarios’s 2 run single: 2.97% Closest comparable: Mike Mordecai’s single breaking a 4-4 tie in the top of the 9th if Game 2 in 1995 against the Rockies: 2.98%
- Joc’s 3 run homer: 2.49%. Compare with: Wohler’s bases-loaded strikeout of Andres Galarraga in the 9th inning of Game 1 in 1995: 2.49%
- D’Arnaud’s game-tying single: 1.94%. Elliot Johnson’s triple off Ronald Bellisario in Game 4 in 2013. This one is great, as I barely remember Elliott Johnson at all. 1.94%.
- Urias out at home (credit either to Ian Anderson or Austin Riley if you prefer): 1.53% Compare with: Marcus Giles’ go-ahead single off Carlos Zambrano in the bottom of the 6th of Game 2 in 2003.
Taken together, those plays increase our chances of a WS Championship by over 13%! Unfortunately, though, there are the downsides in the same series. It’s the ups and the downs, y’see.
- Tellez dinger off Ynoa: -2.97%. Similar to Carlos Beltran solo shot off Jaret Wright in Game 5 in 2004.
- Tellez dinger off Morton: -2.27%. Just like Carlos Beltran’s other homer off Jaret Wright in that game. Honorable mention to Ozuna’s double off Melancon in 2019.
- Narvaez single off Morton: -2.14%. Like Biggio’s single off Chris Reitsma in Game 5 in 2004.
- Narvaez double off Anderson: -1.63%. Lance Berkman’s homer off Jaret Wright in Game 1 in 2004.
- Arcia’s game-ending groundout in Game 1: -1.55%. Vinny Castilla’s go-ahead homer off Smoltz in Game 1 in 1995.
Looking over this list, the thing that kind of leaps out at me is how fundamentally incomparable these plays are in my mind: the plays against the Brewers are so fresh and the others are either forgotten or forgettable; even where I remember them they just don’t seem as important — even those that happened in 1995 and actually led to a World Series Championship. That’s an important lesson about sports, too! The best plays devolve into a rosy glow of success and even the worst plays are lost in a sea of misery. Live for now. Just win, baby.