MIND GAME: Chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

MIND GAME: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created A New Blueprint for Winning is a book penned by the writers of Baseball Prospectus, and I am reviewing an advance copy book on Fire Brand of the American League as I read the book.
I. Introduction to MIND GAME
II. Chapters 1, 2, 3 – The Banality of Incompetence; Shopping for Winners; The A-Rod Advantage
III. Chapters 4, 5, 6, 7 – Squeezing the Merchandise, Varieties of Relief, Walking Wounded, Arms and the Man
IV. Chapters 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 – You Want Me to Hit Like A Little B-tch?, The Caveman Cleans Up, The Holy Gospel of On-Base Percentage, A Streak of Insignificance, Nomar’s Spring and Regression to the Mean
V. Chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 – Better Winning Through Chemistry, Brothers of the Mind Game, Basebrawl, Nomargate, Invunerable
Basically Chapter 13 deals with a recap of the fateful sweep the Red Sox suffered in Yankee Stadium. You know the games well – it’s when Derek Jeter did his “death-defying” leap in the stands, although Pokey Reese’s play was better (and gets credit in the book). One section in this chapter deals with strikeouts. I still don’t like strikeouts, but I’ve certainly got to be used to them. The 2004 Red Sox rank as the second most easiest team in AL history to strike out. Bellhorn struck out in 34% of his at-bats. The team had 250 more strikeouts than 2003, and scoring dropped by 12 runs. While statisticans scoff at that 1% drop, 12 runs can win 6-12 games if they’re timed right. The OBP held the same, though. Out of the five teams on the list, four are headed up by “progressive” general managers – Sandy Alderson, Billy Beane, Brian Cashman, and Theo Epstein. That doesn’t mean strikeouts are awesome. It just means they believe that people who prolifically strikeout are undervalued and thus easy to get. Billy Beane reversed course and now his team is the hardest to strike out.
The next chapter talks about Billy Beane and Theo Epstein. Baseball Prospectus says that a “fundamentally flawed assumption (is) that you’ll score more runs if you start giving away outs with the running game, the hit and run, or having nonpitchers bunt.” They do note that these situations have their time and place in baseball (agreed) but they argue that these times are far in between. I don’t agree. They’re a vital part of an offense.
They do make an excellent point that sacrifice bunts and whatnot give away outs, and each time only has 27 outs to spend, so the object should be to get on base, not to get out. But again, there’s a time and place for giving outs away.
We in 2005 relied too much on the homeruns. Sacrifice bunts are not known in Boston and when one is laid down, it’s a massive surprise. I hate that we’re so one-dimensional. We have a great offense because we club homeruns and walk, but we really ought to have a more balanced lineup.
The chapter goes to to speak of how effective the A’s and Red Sox were at wearing pitchers down – to get to the bullpen and wear them down. Good read, your’ll have to read it yourself, but they illustrate how this method allowed the Red Sox to sweep, and tie for the wild card with three games to go until the All Star Game.
The next chapter is about the infamous brawl in which a lot of peopl (including I) pointed to as the turning point of the season. As the book proves, brawls rarely have any momentum change and submit the Nomar trade as the true momentum changer. They also have a section on how Jason Varitek wasted ~$30 million over his career because he held out as a draftee. Thanks, Scott Boras.
Then we have Nomargate. I’m not going to rehash this for all of us, because we all remember this. But I will say this – the book argues that the Red Sox didn’t make this trade because of Nomar’s attitude or “lack” of offense. They needed someone who could play defense. Nomar wasn’t cutting it, and the Red Sox identified the need for a big glove to stop all the unearned runs pouring through the infield. They also had to deal Nomar because they decided that 40 games of Nomar and 20 games of Ricky Gutierrez/Pokey Reese was less valauable than 60 games of Orlando Cabrera. The Red Sox had to find a way to stop Pokey Reese from taking the field because he was such an inept hitter, and the only way to do tat was to trade Nomar. So they did – even though the VORP was roughly the same, it took Pokey’s bat out. (I love Pokey, but this is the truth.)
The next chapter deals with the streak the Red Sox ripped off – the 22-3 streak. But guess what? This book argues that this streak was EXPECTED. Based on their runs scored/runs allowed, their record should have been 67-49, three games ahead of where they were, and the Yankees should have been nine games back – so the Red Sox should have been 1.5 games up, not 10.5 down. The pythagorean percentage for both teams simply started balancing out during this streak. Given the Red Sox’s 2004 winning percentage (.605) they throw math at you to show that the chances of them going on a 22-3 win streak was 31.4%, a one-in-three chance, and they nailed it.
Not because of Cabrera, or Mientkiewicz. Orlando’s bat was the same as Nomar’s, so offensively Orlando stepped in seamlessly. It’s the efense where he made a difference. The defense of Cabrera and Mientkiewicz made opponents stop hitting .306 off our pitchers and start hitting .279 during this 22-3 streak, a huge drop. After the trade of Nomar, perhaps the team was so glad Nomar was gone that it helped. The offense went from .280/.358/.469 to .288/.373/.490 post-Nomar trade.
Also, a nice snippet by this chapter shows that West Coast swings (the ones that always “kill” us) don’t kill us. The differential of East to West and West to East road trips is a -0.0092 difference on the traveling team. Which means you can expect to not prosper, but also to not go in the tank – you’ll go about .500.
Coming up is “Cracking the Rivera Code” … should be fun.
Coming Friday…we’ll talk more about the 2006 Red Sox which some of you are agitating for!