Some baseball happened in Miami yesterday. I know what you’re thinking: "baseball happens every day ‘round this time of year, you doof." Yes I know. But what I mean is that baseball happened. The essence of it seeped out during the top of the eighth inning in a game between the Diamondbacks and the Marlins. It was the stuff that both draws us in and holds us tight. There were impressive baseball skills on display, there was also the opposite of those things, and there were some heaps of luck—good or bad, depending on the perspective. It was a wonderfully discombobulating half-inning.
Let’s set the stage. After the Diamondbacks took the lead in the top of the first, the home team responded with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. After a bit more back and forth, the Marlins still held the lead, 4-2, after five innings. The Diamondbacks then put up four in the top of the sixth, and the Marlins responded with two in the bottom of the sixth—6-6 game. A glance at the win probability chart for the game illustrates that it was competitive. A good game, one might say.
Notice the top of the eighth inning. At the beginning of the inning, the win expectancy for each team was 50 percent. The game was tied in two different ways. Then, baseball happened. Sam Dyson was on the mound for the Marlins. The first batter he faced, Jordan Pacheco, is unintimidating. Over his career, he’s been about 25 percent worse than the average bat. He's employable because he can catch. Pacheco also owns a 4.7 percent career walk rate. It’s true that in 54 plate appearances this season it’s up to 11.1 percent, but the point remains that he’s not good at taking a walk. Dyson walked him on five pitches.
That brought up Cliff Pennington. Pennington is also not a good hitter. He was hitting .150 at the start of the game, so it makes some sense to have him bunt Pacheco over to get the go-ahead run into scoring position. He did bunt, but it was a bad bunt. It was one of those bunts in the air. Whenever an attempted sacrifice goes into the air, I immediately think whether or not the catcher will let it fall for the attempted double play. My mind was drawn in that direction, but the bunt was hit a little bit too hard toward the first base line.
Catcher J.T. Realmuto didn’t have a chance to catch it. It hit the ground just behind a trundling Cliff Pennington, who peeked at the ball once or twice and wasn’t running all that hard. Realmuto then picked the ball up and tried…tried…tried to get it out of his glove and throw it to first for the out. By the time he did, the runner had reached safely. Look how far up the line Realmuto was by the time he threw the ball.
I like win expectancy because I like things in context. What it doesn’t capture, however, is the specific batter. With runners on first and second with nobody out in a tie game in the eighth inning, the Diamondbacks had a near 67 percent chance to win. Which was a 17 point increase from the coin flip they were at a few minutes before these happenings. Enter pinch hitter Paul Goldschmidt. He’s also commonly referred to as "really, really good." With Goldschmidt up, I'd say the win expectancy should have been a bit higher. In cases such as this, it’s easy to imagine Goldschmidt putting the Diamondbacks up with a hit. Still, it’s also easy to imagine him recording an out. It happens frequently, after all. He hit the ball softly back to the pitcher for what looked like an easy out:
After Goldschmidt's infield single, the Diamondbacks had the bases loaded and nobody out. Without bothering to look anything up, I can state with confidence that such a base/out situation contains the highest run probability possible. In that situation, they had a win expectancy of almost 80 percent. But in a matter of moments, all the gains, and then some, were erased. Ender Inciarte came up to the plate. Inciarte hit the hardest ball of the inning. It resulted in a 9-2 double play:
That double play dropped the Diamondbacks’ win expectancy almost all the way back to 50 percent. The saving grace was that Pennington advanced to third base on the play.
A.J. Pollock is also a very good player. In about a half season in 2014, he hit 34 percent better than league average. This year, he’s started fairly strong and hit ten percent better than the league. He’s no Goldschmidt, but Pollock is also no Pennington. In this half-inning, however, he did exactly what Goldschmidt did: an infield hit to the pitcher.
Pollock beat out the throw to first and Pennington scored. The Diamondbacks win expectancy then stood at about 76 percent. They ended up holding on to the lead for the remainder of the game.
Baseball happened yesterday in Miami—a place where off-the-field happenings occupy our brain space. The Diamondbacks took the lead and eventually won with a walk, a failed attempt to give away an out, and squibs and squabs from two of their best hitters. The only hard hit ball in play led to two outs.
I wonder what will happen today.
Eric Garcia McKinley is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. He writes about the Rockies for Purple Row, where he is also an editor. You can follow him on Twitter @garcia_mckinley.