29 April 2009

Game 21 Unfair Win Shares

Rafael Furcal had a fascinating at bat in the top of the eighth inning. With the count 1-2 he watched a pitch come in that was just low. It was so close, to the point where it would have been natural to see the umpire rise up after that pitch and figuratively punch Furcal out. But he didn't. How did Furcal know he could take that pitch? Did he get lucky, frozen by uncertainty on the pitch and bailed out when it was just low? Or did he know, based on all his practice and experience, based on his remarkable ability to see the pitch clearly in that splintered-second of decision time ( to swing or not ) that it was likely to be just out of the zone?

He was even better on the next pitch, because it looked like a strike halfway home, and then dropped well out of the strike zone by the time it crossed the plate. Only the spin gave it away, perhaps, and I must assume Furcal saw that, for why else would he not swing at that? The count was full after that pitch, and it seemed Furcal had taken control of the at bat. It seemed certain that he would get on base, start a rally, and let Manny finally come up with a runner on base. And then he struck out on ball four.

So Furcal had to be perfect in his pitch recognition to get on base in that at bat, and he wasn't. It's really hard to be perfect in something so hard, that calls for such quick decisions. The amazing thing about Manny is that he nearly is perfect in pitch recognition, in seeing what is a strike and what isn't before the ball crosses the plate. It's such a joy to watch Manny bat because he so rarely swings at garbage. He seems precise and confident at the plate, like a master gem-cutter. He was completely perfect yesterday, a diamond on the diamond, with two walks when he didn't hit the ball, and three deep doubles when he did. He never did come up with runner on base in the game, since Furcal and Hudson had a single walk between them in 10 plate appearances, so he was the rally starter instead, the virtual leadoff hitter who sparked the Dodgers to victory.

Ethier also had a fine game, going 2-4 with an intentional walk including the go-ahead double in the ninth. The Dodger outfield had 7 of the Dodgers' 9 hits and 4 of their 9 walks last night. While Martin and Furcal struggle, and Loney deals with a power outage, it is mostly the Dodger outfield hitting the team to success.

I have two of the unfair win shares going to Manny and Ethier, and then four candidates for the last one. Matt Kemp was also 2-4 with a walk, but he also had a horrible caught stealing just ahead of one of Loney's walks in the sixth inning. That right there probably cost the Dodgers at least one run, so he's out of the running. Will Ohman felt like a miracle when he came in to pitch the ninth inning, with a routine 1-2-3 dismissal of the top of the Giants' order, a welcome game-sealing relief from the crazy stress of the sixth, seventh, and especially eighth innings. But I don't know if that's enough. Is he more deserving than Billingsley, who battled and kept the Dodgers in the game when he didn't have his best stuff? It would have been a lot worse for Billingsley though if he hadn't been bailed out by luck and some good defensive play. Though it is true that he was also burned early by some poor defensive play by Furcal.

I'll give it to Loney, with apologies to Billingsley and Ohman. He was on base 4 out of 5 times, with two runs driven in, and some nice work on starting the line drive double play. I'm not at all sure of this choice. This was one of those games where there were so many heroes, and so many potential goats if the game had turned out to be a loss, so many wasted chances, so many moments when the game seemed on the line. Crazily enough the best clutch performance of the game might have belonged to Jon Broxton, when he pitched to Eugenio "Honest Abe"* Velez after having already walked in the tying run in the eighth inning. It was clear that Broxton just didn't have his usual command, but he was able to bear down and get the strike out, when another walk would give away the lead and a hit would have blown the game open.

It's worth asking if Broxton should have been in the game at that point, in that situation, and my short answer to that is maybe, but it's complicated, and involves Torre and Billingsley and Broxton and Ohman and Mota and Colletti and probably some tortured analogies and metaphors so it will have to wait for a later post that I may or not make later today.

Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Manny -- 1
Ethier -- 1
Loney -- 1

Unfair Loss Shares ( Giants )

Molina -- 1
Lewis -- 1
Howry -- 1

* -- If you imagine Eugenio Velez with a stove-pipe hat and slightly different skin color he looks exactly like Abraham Lincoln. Really.

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