Caution: Royals Playoff Disappointment.
It’s 2014, and Madison Bumgarner’s arm is still somehow attached to his shoulder after pitching Games 1 and 5 and then coming in to throw roughly 60 pitches in Game 7 (just 3 days after Game 5!) to try to close out the series and give the Giants their 3rd pennant in 4 years.
Here is the game’s play-by-play if you’d like to follow along.
The Giants started off the game with Tim Hudson, who gave up 2 runs in the first 2 innings. Heading into the bottom of the third inning, Giants Manager Bruce Bochy decides to put in Jeremy Affeldt, who shuts the Royals down for 2 more innings. Bochy refuses to use any one of the other relievers or pitchers available and instead opts to go to Bumgarner in the 5th inning.
Keep in mind that Bumgarner had just pitched a complete game on 117 pitches just a few days prior. Bochy could have used Santiago Casilla or Sergio Romo or Tim Lincecum or Javier Lopez to fill up any of these innings. It’s not like any of those guys were slouches, either, as all of the names previously mentioned had not given up a single run in their limited World Series work. This was one of the best bullpens in baseball during the regular season, ranking 5th in bullpen ERA. Even during their postseason run, the Giants held a respectable bullpen ERA. So, Bochy had a few options he could have gone to over the course of the game that would have been just as good as Bumgarner. The bullpen was also relatively well-rested, having not pitched at all in Game 5 (remember, complete game shutout from Bumgarner on 117 pitches). Bumgarner, by the time the series was all said and done, would throw 21 innings, roughly a third of all innings thrown by Giants pitchers in the World Series.
Anyways, Bumgarner was on short rest, but had pitched well in Game 7, throwing 4 shutdown innings up to that point and preserving the Giants’ razor-thin lead, so Bochy’s decision appeared to have worked out well. Bumgarner was just 3 outs away from the World Series title heading into the 9th inning, with the Giants leading 3-2. He was set to face the middle of the order with Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon due up. Bumgarner held the platoon advantage against Hosmer (both are left-handers) and struck Hosmer out on 5 pitches for his 4th strikeout of the game. He then got Billy Butler to pop out into foul territory on 3 pitches. Baseball Reference estimates that the Giants had a 96% chance of winning the game after this point.
That brings us to the most critical at-bat of the game: Bumgarner vs. Alex Gordon. Gordon was a significant part of both Royals runs earlier in the game, having doubled in the 2nd inning to score Billy Butler from first base and then scoring on an Omar Infante sacrifice fly a few plays later to tie the game at 2 apiece.
Here is the play if you would like to follow along.
Gordon singles into left center field, dropping one in front of Gregor Blanco. Blanco had made just 1 error in the regular season over 127 games in the outfield and was by no means a slouch defensively, so it was a shock when the ball bounced in front of him and then skipped underneath his glove and towards the wall. So, the two-out single becomes a two-out double with the error.
The ball rolls to the wall, with Juan Perez hustling after it. Perez had also made just 1 error in the regular season but over 59 games. Perez reaches the ball deep in left center field, tries to pick up the ball, and it slips out of his hand and rolls left down the warning track. Gordon is now headed for third base.
Perez finally gets the ball, fires a strike to Brandon Crawford some distance behind the infield, with Gordon reaching third. The question, at that point is: “do you send Alex Gordon to the plate and challenge Brandon Crawford?”
Here are some reasons why the third base coach might have sent Gordon:
- The Royals had not scored a run since the 2nd They had generated just 2 hits (including the Gordon single) off of Bumgarner in 4.2 innings of work. The odds of getting a hit off of Bumgarner this series, let alone this game, were pretty low. For the series up to this point, Bumgarner had allowed just 9 hits in 20.2 innings of work and held a WHIP under 0.5.
- Crawford was in the outfield and would have had to throw accurately from deep to hit Buster Posey at home plate. There is a chance that Crawford wouldn’t have thrown a good ball to Posey or Posey might have struggled with the throw. These are two unlikely things, especially because Crawford and Posey were among two of the best at their positions defensively. However, considering the pandemonium that had caused Gordon to end up at third base, maybe the baseball gods would have smiled favorably on a mad dash for home plate?
Now here are some reasons the third base coach might not have sent Gordon:
- Salvador Perez was the following hitter and he had been hot thus far in the World Series, collecting 8 hits on 23 at-bats. Granted, Perez had not produced a hit thus far in Game 7, but Alex Gordon was responsible for half of them anyways. Perez held the platoon advantage against Bumgarner, hitting from the right side.
- There is no data on sprint speed (the amount of feet covered per second while running) for the 2014 season, but Baseball Savant measured Gordon’s 2015 sprint speed at 26.1 feet per second, which ranked him 412th out of 549 qualified players. We can probably assume that his 2015 speed was similar to his 2014 speed (I realize he was injured in July of 2015, but I assume he wasn’t particularly fast considering he was 30 years old at that point).
- Brandon Crawford had the ball with Gordon on third. Crawford was an excellent defender, collecting 2.5 dWAR over the 2014 season. In fact, Crawford would go on to win the Gold Glove in 2015, 2016, and running on one of the game’s elite defenders (plus another elite defender in Buster Posey at home plate) was probably not a good idea.
Baseball Reference set the Giants’ win probability at 84% following the single.
From watching and re-watching the play, I personally think the third base coach made the right decision to hold Gordon at third base. As interesting as it would have been to see Gordon try to beat a throw from Brandon Crawford, the odds that Crawford’s throw would have beat Gordon to the plate were too good for the third base coach to justify that kind of decision.
Bumgarner would finish off a postseason for the ages with the next play, which can be found here.
Ultimately, it was probably a very painful off-season for Royals fans after having watched Alex Gordon come oh-so-close to tying the game. But they had also watched their squad come agonizingly close to a World Series title just a year after missing the playoffs completely. And, I assume they were probably very happy when the Royals returned to the World Series just a year later and tossed the Mets aside in a gentleman’s sweep. Giants fans are happy in 2014, Royals fans are happy in 2015. Basically, everybody wins, except for Mets fans.
Photo by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)