What a World Series! What can I say? It was an unbelievable set of games, between two amazing teams. All the games were very close and hard-fought. Even the ones that look like blowouts from the final score weren’t. Game 4, that ended with the Dodgers winning 6-2? It was tied at 1 going to the ninth inning. And even Game 7 was tighter than you’d think.
Sure, the Astros scored their five runs early. Yu Darvish is probably already getting blamed for it, but watch the replays. Springer’s leadoff double was fair by inches, and if Cody Bellinger has simply put the ball in his pocket instead of throwing it to El Monte…. Meanwhile, Astros’ starter Lance McCullers must have thought he was playing dodgeball instead of baseball against the Dodgers – he hit four of the thirteen batters he faced. But the Dodgers offense left the population of Burbank on the basepaths, dooming whatever chances they were handed.
Even so, knowing the state of the Astros’ bullpen and the overall strength of the Dodgers’ offense, there was always the hope / worry that Los Angeles would put something together and pull out a win. They didn’t really look dead until the bottom of the ninth.
Just how insane a World Series was it? Baseball’s stat geeks have come up with something called “Win Probability Added” (WPA). The fact that baseball is a game of discrete plays (unlike the continuous action of basketball, hockey, and soccer) coupled with a tremendous amount of statistical history means that one can calculate a team’s odds of winning at every at-bat in a game. The WPA is the percent by which those odds change after a given play.
Here’s an example. On May 18, 2017, the Detroit Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-5.
1. Chris Davis hits 2-run home run. Orioles 2, Tigers 0 (WPA 0.18, Orioles)
2. Seth Smith drives in another run with a single. Orioles 3, Tigers 0 (WPA 0.08, Orioles)
3. J.D. Martinez hits a 3-run home run. Orioles 3, Tigers 3 (WPA 0.22, Tigers)
4. Adam Jones homers. Orioles 4, Tigers 3 (WPA 0.14, Orioles)
5. Victor Martinez hits a 2-run home run. Tigers 5, Orioles 4 (WPA 0.26, Tigers)
6. Alex Avila drives in a run with a double. Tigers 6, Orioles 4 (WPA 0.11, Tigers)
7. Seth Smith homers. Tigers 6, Orioles 5 (WPA 0.11, Orioles)
Typical games won’t show many plays with large changes in the WPA. Wild and crazy games, like this year’s Game 2 and Game 5, will. Such games might be sloppily played, but they are certainly exciting. One can, if one wants to go there, get a handle on how crazily exciting a game is by totaling up the WPA of all the individual plays. Not surprisingly, this has already been done for World Series games.
Here are the Top 10 in Total Win Probability Added:
2011 Game 6: Cardinals 10, Rangers 9, 2.25 WPA
2017 Game 5: Astros 13, Dodgers 12, 2.14 WPA:
1960 Game 7: Pirates 10, Yankees 9, 2.01 WPA
1908 Game 1: Cubs 10, Tigers 6, 1.77 WPA
1993 Game 4: Blue Jays 15, Phillies 14, 1.70 WPA
1957 Game 4: Yankees 7, Braves 5, 1.7 WPA
1986 Game 6: Mets 6, Red Sox 5, 1.35 WPA
2005 Game 2: White Sox 7, Astros 6, 1.13 WPA
1925 Game 7: Pirates 9, Senators 7, 1.11 WPA
2004 Game 1: Red Sox 11, Cardinals 9, 1.05 WPA
If you take the average WPA for all the plays in a game, this World Series has two of the top 20 (Games 2 and 5, of course).
Needless to say, many of these are among the greatest World Series Games of all time.
There’s been a lot of publicity given to that Sports Illustrated cover from back in 2014 where they boldly predicted that the Astros would win the World Series this year. One should also note that the player they put on the cover was George Springer, this year’s World Series MVP.
It’s kind of nice that Major League Baseball is naming a lot of its awards after great players; I guess it’s better than a corporate sponsor (I’ll take the “World Series MVP Award, presented by Chevrolet”, but NOT the “Chevrolet World Series MVP Award” – even when the WS MVP award itself was started by SPORT Magazine back in 1955).
NOTE: I cannot seriously object to Major League Baseball naming anything after Willie Mays, but the WS MVP Award? Though he appeared in four WS (1951, 1954, 1962, and 1973) earning one championship ring, his performance left a lot to be desired (.239 batting average, no home runs, 6 RBIs). Yes, there was The Catch in 1954, but still. I’d have gone with “Mr. October”, Reggie Jackson. He’s one of only three players (Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson are the others) to have won the WS MVP more than once. In five WS, he won four rings while hitting .357 with ten home runs and 24 RBIs. And who can forget Game 6 in the 1977 World Series, where he hit three home runs on three consecutive pitches? It should also be noted that in his first at bat that game, he walked on four pitches. So with only three swings of the bat, he connected for a home run on each! And in his last at-bat in Game 5, he homered as well! So make that home runs on four straight swings of the bat!
Anyway, this World Series was one of the most intense, awesome, exciting, and greatest ever. I wonder what we’ll get in 2018.