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Looking Foolish the Day After

In last evening’s piece, I predicted a rough night for Detroit starting pitcher, Doug Fister.  Not because Doug Fister doesn’t have a Major League-quality skill set, but because the skills he possess appeared to diminish in value vs. the type of hitters in the Texas Rangers line-up. Since many of you wouldn’t be reading the note until this morning, I noted it would either look foolish or prescient.

Doug Fister pitched 7 innings, gave up 2 runs, and got the win the Tigers desperately needed.  Place a mark in the foolish ledger.

Doug Fister did what Doug Fister does – walked no one and struck out only 3 batters in seven innings, rates below his seasonal pace -- exactly as expected vs. Texas.  In pitching to contact, as he his prone to do, he was also in enormous trouble early in the game.  The first three hitters of the game got hits and by the time Fister had faced ten batters, Texas had five hits.  However, they also had two double plays and as a result Fister survived the rough start.  How unlikely were the double plays?  Before last night, Fister had pitched 80 innings for Detroit and the Tigers had turned four double plays behind him.  Last night they turned two before the third inning was over. 

Additionally, those two double plays probably got into the head of Texas manager Ron Washington, as he called for a sacrifice bunt, down one run, in the top of the sixth inning with a runner on first and no outs.  The strategy, if not ludicrous against a pitcher who doesn’t strike batters out and with sluggers, not singles hitters, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young coming up next, is certainly sub-optimal.  It has to be stated again.  The desire to tie the game provides an illusion to managers, and probably fans, that the game is now even.  Visiting teams which are tied entering the bottom of the 6th innings lose 60% of the time (since 1954, per  In the last five years it was 62%.)  You must always employ a strategy that gives you the greatest chance to get ahead, not just even, especially when you are on the road.

Doug Fister should be commended for leading Detroit to victory last night, particularly the way he handled the heart of the Texas line-up (Young, Beltre, and Napoli went 0-9 vs. Fister.)  I think however, the analysis from yesterday’s note holds and should he pitch Game 7, Fister probably shouldn’t count on two double plays, a caught stealing, and a sacrifice bunt helping him out of trouble. 

I take that back.  He can probably count on the sacrifice bunt.

ALCS, Game 4 - Detroit at Texas

Rick Porcello is actually Doug Fister-lite.  While Fister’s 6.1 strikeouts per 9 innings were below league average, Porcello’s rate of 5.1 per 9 innings is lower still, and substantially so.  Porcello is not wild, walking just 2.3 batters per 9 innings, but he doesn’t qualify as having the elite control Fister has (1.6 per 9).  Porcello is even more of a ground ball pitcher than Fister is though and he’ll certainly depend on that today, as there should be a lot of balls put into play.  Once again it looks like a match-up that favors Texas, and this time the oddsmakers agree, having installed Texas (-115) as a small favorite.  (Follow @MagicRatSF on Twitter for the official selection once starting line-ups are announced.)

There is a blown saving coming in this series and it’s even money as to which team will suffer the loss.  I’ll write about why tomorrow.

NLCS, Game 3 - Milwaukee at St. Louis

This series, which contains a lot of potential to be memorable, steps up another notch in intensity today.  Just like there are high leverage situations in a baseball game, there are high leverage games in a series and this is one of them.  Tied at two games, or of course, three games a piece, the stakes would be even higher, but in the case of this series tied at one-all, we get treated to two starting pitchers coming off stellar performances in elimination games last Friday.

Yovani Gallardo and Chris Carpenter are very similar pitchers.  Neither is elite (although Carpenter used to be and based on how he throttled the Phillies in Game 5, he can still dial up an elite performance) but perform just below the level of National League hurlers who will garner 2011 Cy Young votes.  Gallardo strikes out a few more batters but Carpenter will walk less and, on average, pitches deeper into games.  My model prefers Gallardo by just a bit, due to the difference in strikeout rate (8.99 per 9 innings vs. 7.24.)

While the game looks like a toss-up to me, Carpenter’s tremendous performance in Game 5 vs. the Phillies appears to be at the forefront of oddsmakers’ minds.  (Apparently his Game 2 debacle against an offense not as good as Milwaukee’s has been all but forgotten.)  I’ll be able to quantify just how much once starting line-ups are announced, but with implied odds of winning 41.7% (Milwaukee is listed as a +140 underdog) an investment in Milwaukee appears to have value.

It’s not that I think Milwaukee will win – that’s a coin flip call – it’s that I think either Chris Carpenter is getting too much respect, or Yovani Gallardo is not getting enough.  Odds aside though, it’s simply a game to enjoy as three of the best hitters in all of baseball come into this game ridiculously hot.  Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Albert Pujols combined to go 12-23, with 4 home runs and five doubles in Games 1 and 2. As good as they are, Gallardo and Carpenter will have their hands full and the at-bats vs. these sluggers are not to be missed.

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