Playing Around With Pivotal Plays

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:

  1. Freddie’s blast: 4.12%   Julio’s single: 4.11%
  2. 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%
  3. 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%
  4. 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%.
  5. 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.

  1. Tellez dinger off Ynoa: -2.97%.  Similar to Carlos Beltran solo shot off Jaret Wright in Game 5 in 2004.  
  2. 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.
  3. Narvaez single off Morton: -2.14%.  Like Biggio’s single off Chris Reitsma in Game 5 in 2004.
  4. Narvaez double off Anderson: -1.63%.  Lance Berkman’s homer off Jaret Wright in Game 1 in 2004.
  5. 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.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

40 thoughts on “Playing Around With Pivotal Plays”

  1. Great post. Really enjoyed trying to remember the similar plays. I’ve lived and died with every playoff pitch since 1991 and I have no recollection of Elliot Johnson.

  2. Am I the only one here who thinks what Dave Roberts did with his starting pitcher today is total chicken crap? Not so much in terms of employing the opener (though I do hate openers), but in terms of switching to it super late in the day. You should be required to name your starting pitcher the day before barring injury, and if injury, the guy you pull should not be eligible to pitch in that game. Roberts shouldn’t be able to let everybody think Urias is gonna start until like 7 p.m. for a 9 p.m. start IMO.

  3. @6

    Well, that’s lovely. I’m glad he at least had the good grace to do that, but you can’t count on everybody to, so I still want my rule imposed.

  4. If we play San Francisco, or LA for that matter, I wonder how late the games will be. It’s currently 56 degrees in San Francisco. I think the weather will add to their home field advantage if we play them. I’m still hoping we play the Dodgers. An extra game at home is highly significant.

  5. @9

    Looking at the MLB website, they’ve apparently announced the start time for Game 1 as 8:07 p.m. Eastern Saturday. (So that’ll be 5:07 p.m. Pacific if we’re playing in San Francisco.) They haven’t announced Game 2 yet, but since the ALCS isn’t playing that day, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be either 7 or 8 p.m. Eastern.

    Generally, I would guess the schedule rubric for this series has games starting anywhere between 4 and 9 p.m. Eastern, with games in Atlanta probably starting no later than 8 p.m. Eastern (or 8:10 or whatever) and games out west more likely to get a 9 p.m. start than a 4 p.m. (1 p.m. local) start.

  6. @5 I feel the same way. I would love home field advantage, but the Dodgers with Turner and Scherzer are scary….plus I just can’t stand them.

    @9 I wish it was 56 degrees here. It is toooooo hot for October.

  7. Fudge, I guess its the Dodgers.
    I preferred the giants….

    Edit: agreed, Cindy. He had only been up since september.
    Oh and lol at more bunting.

  8. It’s the Dodgers.

    Scherzer pitched the 9th, so I guess he will be starting on 1 day of rest Saturday.

  9. Umps have been consistently garbage in all playoffs series this year.
    This game was umpired in favor of the dodgers, no doubt about it. Missed ball call cost the giants 1st and 2nd no outs in the 4th inning IIRC.

  10. I hope MLB doesn’t invite that 1B ump to the LCS. We don’t need any biased calls towards the Dodgers who will already be heavy favorites. That was horrible.

  11. If you’re gonna end a playoff series on a check swing call, you’d better be damned sure the guy went around. And Flores did not. Not even close.

  12. Just for reference, the Dodger starters we beat this year were Kershaw and Bauer. We lost to Urias twice.

  13. Tough way for the Giants to lose. Not sure why Doval threw so many breaking pitches when he has a 100 mph fastball in his arsenal. You’d rather lose on that pitch than on a slider.

    Oh well, LA is it. We better get up 2-0 again this year. I’d hate to have to win a game or two in LA, where we really have a horrible record.

  14. The Giants announcers were gutted by the loss but they said it was a good call on the checked swing.

  15. Max Munchy may not play. That helps some. Maybe Turner will get lost on his way to the airport

  16. @26

    I don’t know why they said that. It wasn’t. At least not by current standards where the batter has to go more than halfway. Like Nathan said, literally any time a hitter lifts the bat off his shoulder could be called a swinging strike according to the rulebook. I’m guessing their umpire’s manual has the halfway thing codified, though.

  17. Hey everyone. Dusty’s great post prompted me to start thinking about expanding our team of writers internally. If you’re interested in putting words on here as an author, shoot me an email at cothrjr at gmail.

  18. We’ve drawn the Dodgers in the playoffs in 2013, 2018, 2020, and now 2021. Seems unfair. I’d have rather faced the Giants, but we also have a lousy playoff history against them too.

    Anyways, they’re not unbeatable. We had them on the ropes last year and couldn’t finish it. Maybe the guys have revenge on their minds.

  19. Comparing this year’s potential NLCS roster to last year’s really shows how different a team this is.

    C – Subtract Flowers add Contreras – push?
    IF – Subtract Culberson, Camargo (replaced Duvall) Sandoval add Adrianza and Arcia – push
    OF – Subtract Ozuna, Acuna and Markakis add Pederson, Heredia, Gore and Rosario (Healthy Duvall too) Soler? – if you had Soler, you could argue advantage 2021, but as it stands it’s advantage 2020
    SP – Subtract Wilson and Wright add Morton – Advantage 2021, less SP depth and Wilson did well this is why AA got Morton
    RP – Subtract Melancon, Martin, Greene, O’Day, Dayton, Tomlin add Chavez, Webb, Smyly, Lee – Note 2020 rosters were at 28. Hard to not call this a downgrade, though this version of Luke vs 2020 Luke balances things out a bit.

  20. Good analysis comparing this year to last year Dusty. I would argue that it’s all about who is hot. I think the state of our starting pitching is a huge upgrade on paper over last year but last year’s group did surprisingly well. If our bullpen stays hot from the previous series, it is an upgrade. To me the x factor is Albies. We really need him to show up for this series.

  21. 32 – I was thinking about it at lunch and was going to come back on to add that the improvement of Riley probably makes this infield better than the 2020 version. Good call.

  22. Same look at the 2020 Dodgers vs 2021

    C – No change – Push
    IF – Subtract Muncy (I assume), Rios and Kike add Lux, Pujols and Trea Turner – actually tough to call given how clutch Kike is in postseason, Turner adds a lot but Muncy is a big blow, I’ll say push.
    OF – Subtract Pederson add McKinney and Souza – it’s really hard to figure how to classify several Dodger hitters (IF vs OF) but I’m putting Bellinger at OF. This is a clear downgrade especially when you consider 2020 Bellinger vs 2021 Bellinger.
    SP – Subtract Kershaw add Scherzer – honestly, given the Braves limited success against Scherzer this may be a push.
    RP – Subtract May (SP?), Baez, McGee, Wood (SP?), Gonzalez, Kolarek, Floro add Bickford, Knebel, Price and Vesia – Again some are hard to classify but this seems a clear downgrade.

    Probably worth pointing out that shrinking from 28 to 26 man rosters is a clear win for Atlanta given LA’s depth and forward thinking organization and manager. Probably just a small factor, but it’s something.

  23. @31 Good analysis. I had originally rated this bench as far superior to the one last year. The loss of Soler is significant to that depth.

    @35 I think Atlanta has become more forward thinking recently. I read something recently about how the shifts have affected them. Even old school Snit has improved in some respects. The Dodgers are Goliath to our David though… doubt .

  24. #NLCS Broadcasters on TBS:

    Brian Anderson
    Jeff Francoeur
    Ron Darling
    Lauren Shehadi

    Darling and Frenchy – should be great.

  25. First pitch Sunday is set for 7:37 p.m. Eastern.

    So we’ve got 8 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 Sunday decided so far. They haven’t yet declared any start times for once the series shifts to LA.

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