Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Swinging away

An illustration of a difference between the Cards and Redsox through the "Moneyball" lens...

In the first inning of Game 4, after a leadoff single, the Cardinals number two hitter Larry Walker lays down a sacrifice bunt. Walker is a former batting champ who hits with power – having him bat second is an interesting move, essentially the same one the Yankees made by having A-Rod bat second. The idea is to pack more offense into the first inning.

Derek Lowe is on the mound for the ‘Sox. His ERA on the road is over six. The Cardinals can hope to score a lot of runs, and the way the ‘Sox have been hitting, the Cards will need at least 5 to hope to win.

The bunt is an incredibly stupid move. That early in the game, why not play for a big inning? The Redsox, with their 12 sac bunts during the 162 game regular season, are less likely to make that bad call.

Now go to the fourth inning, bases loaded, two outs, 3-0 count to Trot Nixon. Conventional baseball wisdom gives most batters the take sign in that situation: "make the pitcher show he can throw a strike." Only the elite hitters (and Trot Nixon doesn't qualify) get the green light. But why? More often than not, the pitcher grooves a batting practice fastball for a strike, and the batter only gets one shot with the hitter's count, at 3-1. How often does the pitcher miss on 3-0 – enough to justify prohibiting the batter to swing at a fat fastball he knows is coming? It's always seemed strange to me that major league hitters cannot be trusted to look for fastball down the middle and lay off any other pitch on a 3-0 count. Bill James would know the answer to this question.

Interestingly, Nixon gets the green light and smashes the fat 3-0 fastball off the right centerfield wall for two runs. Score another one for Moneyball?

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