Karpin: Series Postscript, Great Sox and the Mystery of Rich Hill

It was a World Series where you could make the argument that “old school” triumphed over advanced metrics and analytics.

The Red Sox solidified their place among the all time great, single season teams with their impressive run through the post season that culminated in a World Series championship. They did it by putting together a team that went back to using some of the “old school” ways while blending in some analytical formulas, without being beholden to them.

In February 2016, Red Sox owner John Henry told reporters that they were making a philosophical change. The team finished last in the AL East in three of the previous four years and ownership felt the team became too reliant on analytics. Dave Dombrowski, who has always favored a more balanced approach of scouting and data, was hired in 2015 to be the General Manager and he helped the Red Sox build a team that had great balance on offense and enough pitching to become the World Champions.

Look at how the Sox offensive philosophy goes against many of the analytical beliefs. They put the ball in play and de-emphasize the strikeout. I saw more “hit and run” plays from Boston in the post season than I saw in all the games that I watched throughout the regular season. Yes, the Red Sox use the running game and don’t devalue a stolen base. That is called balance. The Red Sox could score in all sorts of ways and it took a tremendous effort by opposing pitchers, elite ones included, to keep them down.

The belief among the analytical crowd is that they “don’t want to give up an out” but the Red Sox used their outs wisely to move runners and set themselves up for that impressive display of two out, RBI hits that they showed off during the playoffs. The Red Sox drew walks but they put enormous pressure on opposing pitchers with their ability to sustain rallies with hits.

Boston never gave up on using advanced metrics but they put together an impressive blend of the two and have created a blueprint for other teams to use. In the end, the Dodgers ran into greatness but they had their chances to get things turned around. Relying on analytically based decisions may have led to their downfall.

The turning point in the series came in game 4, which leads us into the “Mystery of Rich Hill.” It’s not a suspense novel but there is intrigue into what exactly happened with the Dodger left hander.

Following the 18 inning, game three epic on Friday night, Hill was giving the Dodgers exactly what they needed as he plowed through the Red Sox lineup for 6 and 1/3 innings. The left hander walked Xander Bogaerts on a close, 3-2 pitch to start the 7th inning and then struck out Eduardo Nunez on three pitches. With one out, one on and a 4-0 lead, Mgr. Dave Roberts took Hill out of the game and he flood gates opened as the Red Sox feasted on the Dodgers’ pen for 8 of their 9 runs.

In last year’s World Series, Roberts pulled Hill in game two after four innings and 60 pitches. The decision was based on analytical data that said the lefty became more hittable after going through the opposing lineup two times. Roberts was severely criticized for taking out an effective pitcher after the Dodgers went on to lose in extra innings to allow Houston to even the Series at a game apiece.

Last night, Roberts removed Hill and went to southpaw Scott Alexander who walked the only batter he faced to put two on. Roberts then went to Ryan Madson, who had proved to be unreliable in two previous appearances. After Madson got pinch hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. to pop out, Mitch Moreland was sent up as a pinch hitter and he promptly deposited the Dodger reliever’s first offering into the right field seats for a game changing three run homer. Roberts said lefty Julio Urias was not available when asked about his decision to stay with Madson against Moreland. Lefty Alex Wood has not exactly been lights out, and who knows if any move would’ve worked against this Red Sox relentless offense, but I would not have made it so easy for Moreland, who feasts on right handers.

Before the 7th inning began, Hill was seen talking to Roberts in the dugout. Hill admitted that he told the Manager, “Keep an eye on me.” A directive like that can be taken one of two ways. Either Hill felt he was running out of gas or did he really want to take the ball and go out for the seventh. You would think in the biggest game of the year that Hill would want to “take the ball.” If he really had a reluctance to do so, that would be puzzling, especially when you take into account, the state of the Dodgers bullpen.

During last night’s game five broadcast, Joe Buck and John Smoltz were discussing the situation and making it sound like Hill was doing the “right thing for the team.” The right thing would’ve been to take the ball and grind through the seventh. Hill had thrown 91 pitches when he was lifted and had just struck out a batter, who usually pounds lefties, on three straight strikes. The left hander looked like he still had something left and could negotiate his way through two more outs.

When Roberts came to the mound, Hill did not exactly plead his case to stay in the game. What do you think Jacob deGrom would’ve done in that spot? He would’ve pulled a “Bob Gibson” and told his Manager to get back in the dugout before he got to the mound.

The lineups that the Dodgers employed during the Series left you wondering if they were using their personnel properly. The thought process was to not start the left handed hitters against the Red Sox left handed starters in games one and two, but that left quality hitters on the bench.

Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, and Max Muncy got three at-bats each in the first two games. In game four, Bellinger and Muncy started against Boston left hander Eduardo Rodriguez, Pederson did not. In game five last night, Bellinger and Pederson did not start against David Price but Muncy was in the lineup. Are you still with me?

Here’s the real head scratcher. kike Hernandez started and got four at-bats as the #3 hitter while Bellinger got only one AB as a pinch hitter. (BTW: Bellinger batted for David Freese who had two hits in the game) I know that Bellinger was 0 for 15 in the Series coming in but Hernandez is not the better option and he came up in a big spot in the first inning. After Freese homered and Justin Turner walked against Price, Hernandez killed the inning with a double play grounder. Who would you rather take your chances with in an elimination game, Bellinger or Hernandez?

The Red Sox were not going to be beat this season but the Dodgers could’ve made this a much more competitive Series if they used the “Intel” from their gut instead of their keyboard.

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