When the Numbers Lie

Baseball, more than any other sport, is a game of numbers.  When a season stretches out over 162 games (not including playoffs), managers are forced to play percentages, and take gambles on favorable matchups.  Hot streaks in May are balanced out by mid-season slumps, and at the end of the season, we are left with a seemingly very accurate picture of a team’s true identity.

But what happens when those numbers lie to us?  What happens when the numbers tell us that we should be seeing exorbitant amounts of runs, but instead have barely seen 8 runs combined from both teams through two games of the 2011 World Series?  Is it the numbers fault?

A Lack of Knowledge

They say that familiarity breeds contempt which anyone with an annoying co-worker, neighbor or family member will tell you is true. But what does in-familiarity breed?  Not runs, that’s for sure.  The St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers did not square off during the regular season – not a big surprise since they play in different leagues, but still, the lack of familiarity with each other’s pitching staffs is really starting to show.  Scouting reports and pitch analysis can tell you that when faced with a count of A-B, with C outs and Y runners on in the Xth inning, the pitcher is very likely to throw pitch Z (numbers left out on purpose in case you were wondering). But what the scouting report doesn’t tell you is how much the slider is going to break, how fast the cutter will get in on your hands, how much dive the sinker has.  Until batters get a handful of at-bats and have seen exactly how good a pitchers’ stuff is, they will be at a disadvantage – and it is becoming evident.

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Is Weather a Factor?

It’s tough to see it on TV sometimes, but it was pretty cold in St. Louis for the first two games of the 2011 World Series. It was 49* at first pitch of game 1, and 50* for game 2.  Not a lot of teams or players are used to playing baseball in cold weather and it definitely changes the way hitters approach at bats, not to mention how far the ball travels once you actually make contact.  Case in point: in the bottom of the 8th inning, Albert Pujols drove a pitch to right field which he stood and watched for a second before jogging down to first base. Now maybe he knew that Nelson Cruz was going to catch it, which would explain his nonchalant behavior, but I think in reality, he thought it was going to be a home run. They were playing in Albert’s home stadium, a place where he has hit dozens of home runs (hundreds if you count batting practice). It drove Cruz to the wall, but I would have to imagine that in warmer weather, that ball would have been a no-doubt home run.

When the series arrives in Texas for game three, we are expecting warmer weather which generally equates to more runs (but then again, the numbers can lie).

Even Pitching Matchups

When we say “even” we don’t necessarily mean that they are evenly matched, although that has been the case. What we do mean is that we are seeing #1 starters face off, #2’s face off, etc.  At the beginning of the regular season, each team rolls out their “Ace” and we generally expect some of the best pitching of the year since theoretically, all 30 teams are starting their best pitchers.  As the season wears on, however, injuries, travel days, rainouts, etc become a factor, and a matchup of #1 starters facing off  against each other becomes far less frequent.

The postseason is like a giant reset button when it comes to rotations and the 2011 World Series has been no exception. We got to see Chris Carpenter go up against CJ Wilson in a battle of aces, and Jaime Garcia and Colby Lewis are no slouches either.  We saw the four best pitchers that these teams could throw out, which could be part of the reason why we haven’t seen the run production that these teams are usually capable of.

For whatever reason, this series hasn’t gone exactly as we predicted, but it has sure been exciting. Whether both teams are scoring in the teens or whether we continue to see low scoring games, we have seen two days of high quality baseball and edge of your seat entertainment.  Here’s to a great rest of the series.