Does Momentum Matter in the World Series?
During the 2014 World Series, Bloomberg View columnists Jonathan Bernstein and Kavitha A. Davidson will discuss, debate and dissect the happenings on and off the diamond.
Kavitha A. Davidson: After a lackluster showing in Game 1, the Kansas City Royals evened the series by making one, simple adjustment: playing Kansas City Royal baseball.
That meant aggressive defense, audacious baserunning and absolute stonewalling by the bullpen. Royals starter Yordano Ventura didn’t have the most dominating outing, but it was enough to buy some time for his offense, which remained relatively quiet until the fateful sixth inning.
It was a sixth inning the Giants would like to forget. The Royals put up a five-spot off five different pitchers, leaving a 7-2 cushion for the stalwart bullpen and opening the door for some ultra-rare second-guessing of San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy’s decisions on the mound.
I tend to think rear-view second-guessing is kind of a cop-out, a device used by sports reporters to keep the chatter going. But what do you think? Was Bochy’s decision to go to hard-throwing yet erratic Hunter Strickland ill-advised, especially with Yusmeiro Petit waiting in the wings? Or was it a high-reward gamble Bochy had to take, the only fault being Strickland’s for failing to deliver?
Jonathan Bernstein: Hello again, Kavitha. This one wasn’t as fun for me, but I’ll take off my fan hat and try to be a little analytical.
I think what we saw tonight were the limitations of the two excellent bullpens. For the Royals, the potential problem is that with Ned Yost now trying to squeeze as many innings from his big three as possible, he’s also giving the lefty-heavy Giants lineup a whole lot of platoon advantages. That didn’t hurt tonight, but it could, especially as the series goes on and the Giants start having multiple at-bats against those right handers.
For the Giants, the problem is that Bochy really wants to use his own balanced bullpen to get platoon advantages … but that works a lot better if he’s trying to get nine or fewer outs than if he has to begin earlier. At the same time, Bochy really doesn’t have confidence in either Sergio Romo or Santiago Casilla to go two innings, and he doesn’t want to use Javier Lopez against right-handed hitters at all. All that said, his solution of falling in love with a rookie who just wasn’t ready for the role he was given after seven -- seven! -- regular-season major league innings was an avoidable disaster. He wants to save Petit to pick up for a real disaster start, but he’s not going to have that luxury going forward.
Meanwhile: Did this game finally disabuse you of the myth of momentum that you brought up yesterday? Surely, if momentum meant anything, Gregor Blanco’s leadoff home run for the Giants would have been a crushing blow.
KAD: On the contrary, I think the fact that Ventura was able to settle down after Blanco's shot gave the Royals’ offense room to breathe. There’s something to be said for the compound effect of success and failure on the psyche, especially with a team as young as KC.
Admittedly, my belief in some form of momentum stems from growing up watching the extremely streaky Yankees of the dynasty era (and it’s the only way for me to rationalize that thing that happened in 2004).
I know the math doesn’t really support the idea of momentum having a significant impact on the game; as this Baseball Prospectus post notes, the belief presumes athletes have little capacity to control their emotions. That post was inspired by the Giants’ very own Game 2 starter, Jake Peavy, who’s a big believer in momentum. It’s important not to discount the facts, but the fact that players themselves continue to buy into the concept leaves at least a little room for momentum to affect their play -- especially, again, with a less-seasoned roster.
JB: I certainly do agree that the players believe in momentum. As a subjective feeling, it certainly exists; as a force that causes things to happen, I can’t see it at all.
Meanwhile, a big story of this postseason is that the Giants keep throwing away baserunners: Buster Posey (again) at the plate in Game 1, and Brandon Belt at second base in Game 2. Who knows what would have happened, but after Belt’s misadventure to end the fourth, Travis Ishikawa led off the fifth with a single; maybe if the Giants don’t give up that out they wind up getting to the bullpen earlier, and the whole game changes. One of my favorite Bill James essays was about the 1983 White Sox and how aggressive base running killed them in the postsesason because the stuff that works against mediocre teams turns counterproductive against quality competition. That may apply here -- or maybe it’s just a couple of mistakes.
Back to the Bay Area now after a travel day, where the Giants' biggest franchise weakness will be exposed: their weird Journey fetish.
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Tobin Harshaw at email@example.com