Freud: The Houston Astros win and baseball analytics lose (so do the LA Dodgers)
November 2, 2017
What a great World Series with drama and intrigue — what's better than Game 7? — leading to the Houston Astros' first title.
Very deserved for a city that experienced Hurricane Harvey.
And … 3 … 2 … 1 …
THE DODGERS DID NOT WIN THE WORLD SERIES.
Yes, of course, this postseason all came down to the Dodgers losing. I'm a San Francisco Giants fan. My two favorite teams are the Giants and whoever's playing the Dodgers.
I was hoping they'd get swept by the Diamondbacks in the divisional round. As the playoffs continued, I tried to rationalize that it would be OK if the Dodgers actually won.
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I couldn't get there.
Let there be much rejoicing — the Dodgers remain stuck on 1988.
Now, on a serious note, the 2017 World Series will be known as the Fall Classic of Analytic Baseball.
Paralysis by analysis
I know I'm turning into the cranky old man who yells at the kids in his neighborhood, "Get off my lawn."
Yet we saw the sabermetric wing of baseball thinking take over this postseason, particularly in pitching.
Of course, there are better stats with which to analyze a pitcher's performance than win-loss record. That ratio depends on a lot of things, most specifically if a team scores runs or not for its starter.
But the Dodgers absolutely micro-managed their staff this postseason, capped by the World Series.
Los Angeles' bullpen threw 55 innings in 17 postseason games. During the World Series, Dodgers' starters (30 1⁄3 innings pitched) barely outlasted its 'pen (28 2⁄3 innings).
That's just too much, and it proved the Dodgers' downfall.
I get that pitchers don't perform as well the third time through the lineup. That's a good statistical note. Yes, if it's your fourth starter, then a manger has a shorter leash, particularly in the postseason.
But limiting Clayton Kershaw to five innings during Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cubs was downright criminal. Kershaw is the Dodgers' best pitcher. He is likely the best pitcher in baseball. He can go more than five innings — and, dare to dream, go through the lineup a third time — thus saving your bullpen as the postseason progresses.
Yes, the sabermetric use of the Dodgers' relievers worked for them in the NLDS and NLCS, but the relief corps ran out of gas in the World Series, most notably in Games 2 and 5.
In Game 2, Rich Hill went four innings to start, and was actually looking good. The Astros led, 1-0, hardly a crisis situation. Hill had thrown just 60 pitches, so pitch count wasn't a problem.
Why take him out, except for the formulaic concept of going through the Astros a third time? Let Hill eat some more innings and then your bullpen doesn't have to overdo and explode, as it did in Game 2.
By Game 5, the Dodgers relief corps was clearly gassed. Brandon Morrow was absolutely toast in that game, understandable given that he pitched in all seven games in the Series.
Not only did other Dodgers pitchers lose some zip on their pitches, but Houston's potent lineup got more looks at the same hurlers, and were able to adjust.
Starting pitching in the postseason is still critical, no matter how good your bullpen is. The Astros had more and won.
Truths about true outcomes
The theme of 2017 was uppercut swinging with the idea of trying to hit a home run as often as possible. With this has come the theory of three true outcomes — a walk, a strikeout or a homer — independent ways of evaluating a player.
I suppose they are, but strikeouts are not good, even if the baseball word seems to be more accepting of them. In the chase for home runs, pitchers can find holes in swings and exploit them.
This brings us to the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger. He's pretty much a slam-dunk for the NL Rookie of the Year and is even a legitimate MVP candidate.
He struck out 17 times in 28 at-bats with one homer during the World Series. That's what happens when you try to hit a home run every time against premium competition.
Yes, sluggers strike out more, but that's an obscene rate. Every out is precious in the postseason. There is merit to moving a runner over or simply making good contact. If one gets good contact on a regular basis, the hits and home runs will come.
The only Dodgers regular who had a good statistical series was Joc Pederson, ironic as he is the epitome of true-result baseball.
Yes, batting average is an "old school" statistic that is not perfect analyzing offensive performance, but hitting .205 as a team during a seven-game World Series shows the flaws of all-or-nothing.
To Kershaw or not to Kershaw?
A lot of talk after Game 7 was "If the Dodgers were going to pitch Kershaw, why not start him?"
As much as I would have enjoyed seeing Kershaw lit up like a Christmas tree in the finale, you go with the guy who's rested.
The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish midway through the year from the Texas Rangers for a Game 7, so that Kershaw didn't have to carry the load. That was the same reason the franchise built up the super bullpen.
Darvish should emerge from the 2017 as the World Series goat.
That said, a pitcher of Kershaw's skill and stature has to pitch better in Game 5. That was his moment. He could have sent his team home with a 3-2 lead. He even had a 4-0 lead — and blew it. The Astros ended up with a 13-12, 10-inning win.
Kershaw's going to the Hall of Fame, no question. The bigger one is will he and the Dodgers ever get a ring?
Happily, for this Giants fan, not this year.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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