Second Verse, Same as the First

Wins needed for WS championship: 11

Give the Cardinals credit. They know what to do with opportunity. They see it, they pounce. They don’t screw around like some teams I know.

Those of us who have followed the Padres all season know that what we’ve seen in the first two games of the NLDS is pretty representative. They hit, but not when it counts. And they cannot play defense.

The Padres have hung tough, but they have not been able to do what the Cardinals have — execute when it matters. And right now, that is the difference in the series.

Good Hitting vs Efficient Hitting

The point of the game, of course, is to win. To do that, you need to score more runs than your opponent. To do that, in turn, you generally need to hit better than your opponent.

At the risk of veering off onto some weird philosophical tangent, how do we define good hitting? In the abstract, we often use metrics such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage to demonstrate how well an individual player or an entire team hits. We may say of a player or team that he is a “good” hitter if he meets or exceeds some predetermined measurable level.

But a game isn’t an abstraction. It is a contest between two teams, a battle for supremacy as measured by who scores more runs in the allotted time.

We can talk about correlations and such, but in the end, it comes down to who got the job done. This is especially true in a short series, where nobody has the luxury of letting things “even out” over the course of a much larger sample.

Which One Is Cardinal Fang?

Readers Didi and Jay threw out some revealing numbers during yesterday’s In-Game Discussion. I’ve consolidated what they found and tweaked the presentation:

Team Hitting, Games 1 and 2
Game 1
Padres 37 .351 .405 .486 3 10
Cardinals 33 .303 .378 .515 1 5
Game 2
Padres 33 .303 .395 .333 4 9
Cardinals 30 .200 .314 .267 1 7
Padres 70 .329 .400 .414 7 19
Cardinals 63 .254 .347 .397 2 12

I don’t know about you, but if somebody had told me the Pads would have a significantly higher average, OBP, and SLG than their opponent through the first two games, I’d have been pretty happy.

Now look at the Cardinals offense. They’ve basically hit like Gregg Zaun and parlayed it into 14 runs over two games. That’s hard to do. Some might attribute their production thus far to a ruthless efficiency. (Or, because they are Cardinals, perhaps an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. But I digress.)

Stay Classy, San Diego — Except on Defense

In addition to the Pads’ inability to capitalize on opportunities, there is another point worth noting: The Padres appear to be completely outclassed on defense in this series.

I could give a lot of anecdotal evidence about positioning, jumps, throws, and such, but I’d like to concentrate on double plays. The Cards have turned seven of ‘em in this series, and as our esteemed guest CalvinPitt noted yesterday, they induced more double plays than any other team in the big leagues this year.

So I did a little research. During the regular season, the Cardinals averaged 1.221 twin killings per nine innings. As noted, that was the best mark in baseball (just ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates).

The Padres? They checked in at — brace yourself — .841 per nine. Only the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies were worse.

The Cardinals turned .380 more double plays per nine innings than did the Padres. If my math is correct, that means the Pads had to face an extra batter roughly every three games to get the same number of outs. (Tip o’ the cap to for stats.)

How relevant is this to the current situation? Good question. Seven double plays in two games is pretty well off the charts. But as we are fond of saying, anything can happen in a short series.

Better Execution, Better Results

The larger point is that the Cardinals’ fielders shorten games for their pitchers and pick them up when they get into trouble. The Padres don’t. It’s that simple.

Look, we all knew going into this that the Cardinals were the better team. You don’t win 18 more games during the regular season by accident.

But I think some of us who have followed the Padres all season long are surprised that the final outcomes of the first two games haven’t been closer because we see the hitting numbers and have an idea in our head of what those should equate to in terms of runs and, by extension, victories. And when there’s a disconnect between expectation and reality, it’s frustrating.

Bottom line is that even though the Padres hitters are putting up solid numbers and the pitchers by and large have handled a very potent offense, this team simply cannot execute the way the Cardinals can. And when you think about it, there isn’t any shame in that. After all, the Cardinals did win more games than any other team in MLB this year.

And, of course, they have nice red uniforms.

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15 Responses »

  1. I’m fascinated by the lack of clutch hitting by the Padres all year long. Your stats show we are getting on base in the current series, but we can’t get them over. Perhaps its because there always 2 outs, or the wrong guy up, witness Pedro up with bases loaded yesterday.

    Of course, a lack of a clutch hit is clutch pitching, no? Witness again Pedro in the third, bases loaded, defense unable to help, pitched his way out. Padre fans see that performance as clutch, while Cardnals fans see a lack of clutch hitting in that particular instance.

    So clutch is a dialectic that depends on your POV. Or in baseball parlance, clutch is mano a mano and the better, more skilled, more talented players wins most of the time.

    But there is also the pressure factor, performance under pressure. Nevin could blast three-homers in blowouts, but rarely came up with the clutch single to win a game. So clutch is performance under pressure. Sorry to ramble.

    Then there are the guys who hit under pressure well, but can’t keep the avg up everyday. Laritz, the King, comes to mind as that type of player.

    More later.

    Is there a stat for clutch hitting, I wonder?

  2. Noooooooobody expects a kind of Spanish Inquisition!!

    Poke him with the Soft Cushions!!

  3. It’s not just clutch pitching for the Cardinals but also clutch defense. They have been unbelievable.

  4. Padre Mike … it’s my understanding that every attempt to create “a stat for clutch hitting” shows that it doesn’t exist … in other words, the stats show that someone who is “clutch” this season, wasn’t clutch last season and/or won’t be clutch next season … so that clutch-ness appears random … or at least barely non-random … I think that if you think about why you think Leyritz was clutch, you could find data that would indicate he wasn’t at other times and/or that other players you’d swear weren’t clutch were clutch at times … hey, these guys are ALL VERY VERY GOOD … they were ALL clutch in high school and the minor leagues … what makes you think that some of them lost that ability when they got to the big leagues? As opposed to just not being as good as their opponents and/or being subject to the normal randomness of events (ex. not all hard hit balls result in hits) …

  5. Geoff, nice banner, thanks for putting it up.



    I, too, have been pretty well convinced by the research that “clutch hitting” doesn’t exist. Or at the very least, you can’t find evidence of it because, as you point out, players wouldn’t have made it to the majors in the first place if they didn’t possess it.

    Having said that, this team is shaking my confidence in those studies. It’s not just a two game sample; it’s a 164 game sample. I’m thinking that most of this team has guaranteed post-MLB jobs as “coolers” in Vegas.

    Maybe this explains why Loretta and Randa are just now making their first post-season appearances. Maybe this helps explain why Giles’ Pittsburgh teams sucked so badly.

    And maybe that’s just ridiculous. The teams all those guys played on just had, for the most part, precious little major league talent. Still, when the season is over, I’d be curious to see what one of those “clutch-hitting” research projects focused specifically on this roster would reveal.

    In the meantime, I asked my sarcastic eight-ball if Game 3 would be more of the same. “Not a chance” was the reply. This randomness is way overdue to change directions. Game 3, Padres score 10 on 6 hits, 3 BB, and 1 HBP with 0 LOB.


  6. Can’t read the whole thing w/o subscription, but what can be read is VERY insightful … … and by a writer I respect.

  7. BP post-season odds report has Padres at just under 8% to win this series, just under 1% to win it all. Of course, a week before the regular season ended, BP had the Indians at 96.5% to make the playoffs. So we got ‘em right where we want ‘em.


  8. Thanks, dprat. Glad you like the banner. I’m proud of it in a geeky way. It’s actually done only with text (i.e., no graphics involved). All CSS and HTML, which probably excites only me, but there you go.


  9. LM summed up my understanding: no such thing as clutch exists. The BP guys always say that. Sure, in any individual game or season someone has to have better than average numbers with guys in scoring position, but this is a fleeting trait.

    The fact that STL gets more DP’s over a season does not explain the 7-2 difference. That is bad luck. Does not help erase either loss, but does kind of make me hopeful about this next two games.

    Given my pessism about not putting away SF until the second to last series, I am oddly optimistic.

    Go Pads.

  10. Very interesting stuff. Would like to read more but I’m cheap. Sounds like its the little things the cards are doing well and the Pads are doing poorly. Not sure I buy that ice metaphor, but he’s right. In the big stuff, hits, pitching, we are probably on par, but the little things, defense, hit n runs, blocking the plate, we are really lacking and once the dike begins to crumble, its a flood sooner then you can say Katrina and the Waves.

    Did I mention, BLOCKING THE PLATE!!!!

    Half full, half full, christ, just give me another beer.

    Funny though, I feel the same way today as on Wednesday. IF, and that is a big if, the Pads can play decent ball and do the small things, they can win. So go padres. I’m waiting for that chicken dinner.

  11. And another thing. John Kruk, former Padre and current baseball analyst, has been just bagging on the Padres. After game 1, when another put out the quasi-rhetorical question of what will happen to the Padres with losing both Peavy and game 1, he opined: “They’re going to go home and enjoy the sunshine and watch the rest of the playoffs on TV. That’s what’s going to happen.”

    And after yesterday’s game, another question: “Is this series over?” Kruk, again, “This series is definitely over. No doubt.”

    I might not have the exact phrases, but close. Kruk (who I loved as a Padre) may be proved right, but I would sure love to shut him up a bit.

    Go Pads.

  12. Okay. You half full guys are freaking me out!

  13. It’s probably some psychological defense. Like when you are drowning, at the end you apparently feel euphoric. Or how shock numbs out your feelings. So as cloud of inevitable doom begins to spread over the land, we feel like busting out a beer and cheering.

    Still, I can’t help myself.

    Go Pads.

  14. Looks like the BoSox caught Padres-disease in the bottom of the 6th tonight …

    - T. Nixon singled to right
    - B. Mueller walked, T. Nixon to second
    - J. Olerud walked, T. Nixon to third, B. Mueller to second
    - J. Varitek hit for D. Mirabelli
    - O. Hernandez relieved D. Marte
    - J. Varitek popped out to first
    - T. Graffanino popped out to shortstop
    - J. Damon struck out swinging

    … YOW! … and they are 3-and-OUT!!!

  15. Red Sox were outscored, 24-9, in their series. Padres would need to lose, 10-2, Saturday to duplicate that differential.