Sure, it would be easy for me to blame umpire Bob Davidson for the Marlins’ troubles in this past series versus the Philadelphia Phillies. Of course, I would be totally wrong in doing so, as that would ignore the bullpen problems the team ran into the last three games along with the continued offensive struggle by the team. After all the Marlins did score just seven runs in the series, though it may be excusable since they faced two of the best starters on the Phillies team and one of the best in baseball overall in Roy Halladay. Nevertheless, the Fish could not eke out a win despite getting to face the replacement level Kyle Kendrick in one of the starts.
Because of all that frustration building up during the series, it is quite easy to point the finger at Bobl Davidson for making that call and “costing” the Marlins the game. I’d like to take a closer look at last night’s ball game via win expectancy and see how badly the Fish got robbed.
Series Hero: Gaby Sanchez (0.240 WPA, and it would have been a lot more otherwise)
Series Goat: Any number of players, but I suppose Cody Ross (-0.402 WPA) will do
Impressed By: Mike Stanton (13 PA, 4 H, 1 HR, 1 BB, 3 K)
Depressed By: The entire series
Leading up to the play
The Marlins had picked up four runs in seventh inning on a barrage of hits as soon as starter Roy Oswalt left the mound. Oswalt picked up just one out while allowing a single to Mike Stanton and a walk to Wes Helms. Manager Edwin Rodriguez called for a sacrifice bunt from Ronny Paulino, which would be a typically decent play if Paulino were not a terrible bunter with no shot of getting on base on the play due to poor fielding. Paulino laid down a bad bunt and the Phillies got the force out at third base. As soon as Oswalt left the game, the Marlins went to town, delivering a single, double, and two walks (one intentional) and driving in four runs.
After the Sanchez RBI single, the Marlins had picked up 67.6% odds of winning, if the two teams were even. Given Phildelphia’s advantage over the Fish, the gain was more likely to be something like 60% odds. Nevertheless, the Fish had manufactured a situation with runners on first and third and just one out, with the expectation of another 1.64 runs to come home by the end of the inning (again, it’s more likely to be 1.4 or so given the discrepancy between the teams). However, both Dan Uggla and Ross came up unclutch in the situation, neither player able to put the ball in play and get the runner from third home. After two strikeouts, the Marlins’ odds of winning sat at 85.2%.
The blown save
Leo Nunez came into the game with the Marlins at a 91.7% chance of winning. One could argue that this was a poor usage, but I think most two-run saves are justifiable. Indeed, Nunez entered into a situation with a Leverage Index of 1.61, a below average but still acceptable LI for a bullpen ace to face entering a game. However, he quickly melted down, allowing four straight baserunners to reach, two on hits scoring runs to tie the game.
Consider that this could have been a worse situation had the Phillies not run themselves out of the inning. After Domonic Brown reached on a fielder’s choice to record the first out of the game, the Phils had runners on first and second with one out. Behind the plate was backup catcher Brett Hayes, who is nondescript (read: average) defensively. Jayson Werth took off in an attempt to get into range for a sacrifice fly to win the game. According to the win expectancy tables in The Book, a steal in that situation would have been worth about .120 WPA. A caught stealing in that situation would have cost the average team 0.149 WPA. In the current environment, according to the numbers on FanGraphs, the caught stealing did cost the Phils 0.159 WPA, meaning the values are likely comparable. Due to the lower run scoring environment, I’d imagine that the steal is a more worthwhile play, as runs a little harder to come by than they are in the 5 RPG that The Book uses. In this case, I would not be surprised if the breakeven point for Werth’s steal was something like 55%.
Given that breakeven point and Werth’s basestealing ability, I would say that the gambit was worthwhile. Brown’s attempt at second base, however, with a breakeven point closer to 60.1%, was also a decent move most likely. Unfortunately for the Phillies, neither paid off and the Marlins were given a new lease on life.
Finally, the play
In case you missed the highlight, here it is. Kudos, by the way, to MLB.com for airing the calls from both Florida’s and Phildelphia’s broadcast booths. While Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton were ecstatic (to say the least) about the call, the Phillies guys were also in doubt about the ruling on the field.
As you saw on the play, Sanchez’ grounder was well hit down the line. In the highlight, it does appear to skip very close to the line, and from the angle given one could make the case that it was even past that. However, after it bounces past the bag (which is technically where you are supposed to make the judgment on the ball), it clearly lands in fair territory, which generally means the ball was fair over the bag. The official ruling is that the ball needs to go over some part of the bag in order to be called fair; if it misses going over any part of the bag, it is a foul ball.
Note: Keep in mind that this is the case regardless of what happens when the ball is in the infield. If the ball lands foul first but then ends up in fair territory as it passes the bag, it is a fair ball. Essentially, if the ball has already hit the ground, it is judged as fair or foul either when it goes through the infield (past the bag, in this case) or when it stops, either on its own or because a player gloved it.
Edwin Rodriguez, the rest of the team, and the Marlins announcers were all livid because the ball was clearly fair when it first lands past the bag. However, Davidson makes this point to justify his call (italics for emphasis):
“I’m very confident I got it right. What the ball did when it went past me is irrelevant…
He is absolutely correct in the italicized statement. What happens after the ball passes the bag is not relevant to whether it is fair or foul. The reason why people used it as justification is because the trajectory of the ball well into fair territory implies that the ball was likely fair on the way over the bag. However, it could indeed have been foul, though the hop to make that happen is really difficult to imagine. Indeed, Davidson admitted that he was essentially projecting the ball’s path and not directly looking over the bag, because that view is not easy to assess in live motion.
In any case, how much did that really cost the Fish? Well, obviously if the hit had gone through, the Marlins would have won the game, thus having a 100% win expectancy. Instead, Sanchez struck out, dropping the WE to 61.3%. Drop that a few notches because of the talent discrepancy and the Fish likely lost close to 42% win expectancy from the questionable call. Even with the reduced impact (the Marlins would have still had a shot to win the game even after the call, with Ramirez still on second base), it remained a devastating blow to a team already dwindling in the pennant race. Hopefully the Marlins can recover, but this series sweep was a tough one to swallow.