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ALDS Game 1 narratives

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In the postseason, narratives take center stage. The media heavily scrutinize individual players' performances, choices made by managers; every single pitch is watched with an intensity very unlike the regular season. Whether that makes the playoffs more fun, or completely the opposite, is up to personal preference.

An unhappy David Price
An unhappy David Price
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Here's the thing with postseason narratives: they can be neither proven nor disproven by statistical analysis because of the small sample size. There's the game of baseball, uniquely suited to the use of statistics because of its many repetitions, with 162 games played in the regular season, and then you go to the postseason where the winner is decided in only a few games, and throw all previous statistics out of the window. Should all the regular season stats be throw out of the window, just because these are playoff games? Probably not, but MLB does it anyway, and so does the media.

Narrative #1: David Price can't pitch in the postseason and/or had too much rest

Look, David Price certainly wasn't at his best on Thursday, I think we can all agree on that. And Price will admit he had some nerves in the first inning:

"First inning, I was just battling nerves," he said. "I'm nervous in my first spring training start, my first bullpen of the year, here. If you're not out there and not nervous for the first couple of pitches, the first couple of innings, then you're not human."

From ESPN's article

At the same time, Price got out of the nervous first inning and looked great in the second. Nerves were gone by then, and Price was looking good. Whether you think Price can't pitch in the postseason because of nerves, or you think that he was rusty after eleven days of rest, his performance after the first didn't support that narrative.

But what didn't help David Price was a lack of fastball command. He threw only 57% of his fastballs for strikes, which is much lower than even the stubborn Yovani Gallardo averages. Price himself usually throws both two-seamer and four-seamer for a strike around 70% of the time, one of the best in baseball at doing that. But you have to give the Rangers credit: they hardly chased out of the zone, and they hit the mistake pitches when Price made them.

One of those mistakes was a cutter to Roughned Odor, one of four cutters by Price that were completely in the middle of the zone. Then again, hitters had only slugged .375 against Price's "meatball" cutters this season. You can blame Price for not locating his cutter well, but you have to give credit to Odor for being only the second lefty this year, and third batter overall, to take Price's cutter deep.

Now the first, and biggest, home run David Price gave up was against his former catcher Robinson Chirinos on a high fastball:

Chirinos knows Price likes to challenge hitters, which is true. However, during the regular season Price was very unpredictable with his pitch mix to right-handed hitters, throwing 50-56% fastballs regardless of count, and those fastballs were split into two-seamers and four-seamers as well.

Yesterday, Price threw mostly two-seamers all night, and threw 80% (8 of 10) fastballs to righties when behind in the count. It's an extremely small sample, but if you're looking for narratives, throwing mostly fastballs behind in the count on a day where you don't have good fastball command could be seen as a bad decision. I would've liked to see more changeups (Price's best pitch), but that is extremely nitpicky and hindsight-y, and shouldn't start a "Navarro calls games better" narrative. But then if people do take up that narrative and run with it, at least that gives me food for another article.

Narrative #2: Gallardo is a Blue Jays killer

I've already written an in-depth analysis of Yovani Gallardo. What I indicated there was again true for Gallardo yesterday, he kept the ball low and away in a spot where Blue Jays hitters don't like it (except Edwin Encarnacion, who got some cheap hits). Gallardo kept falling behind hitters, but gave them just enough strikes to entice them into swinging at borderline pitches. I'm just going to show you this thing of beauty, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Gallardo's pitch location clinic

The biggest moment for Gallardo was probably in the fourth inning, having given up a single to Ben Revere and a walk to Josh Donaldson. With two man on and no outs, full count, Jose Bautista swung at ball four and grounded into an out where only Josh Donaldson's awful looking head-to-the-knee injury prevented a double play. Instead of a bases loaded jam, Gallardo got an out and ended up giving up only one run in the inning.

Kevin Pillar and Russell Martin finally executed in the fourth, both doubling on low pitches by "going with the pitch" and taking it the other way, something the Blue Jays don't do a whole lot. Right-handed hitters have been able to hit homers to left field only off hanging curves by Gallardo, doing the most damage to center field on most types of pitches. That's very unusual for pitchers, center field is the deepest part of any ballpark, but then Gallardo is a very unusual right-handed pitcher. The Blue Jays just don't have a great lineup to get to Gallardo, and Gallardo sacrificed his longevity by giving the Blue Jays almost nothing but tough pitches to drive, labouring through five innings with lots of hitter's counts but only two runs given up.

Narrative #3: The Texas Rangers beat the Jay with small ball, in addition to the long ball

The most crucial at bat in the game might be the one in the third inning where Delino DeShields was at the plate, and Roughned Odor at second. The Rangers had moved Odor, having been hit by a pitch, over with a hit and run when Robinson Chirinos grounded out, staying out of the double play in the process. With Texas' aggressive baserunning in mind, a preplanned pickoff play backfired:

In the third, with Odor on second, the Jays set up a "back-pick." Price would deliver a pitch to Delino DeShields. Ryan Goins would dart to second base, take a throw from catcher Russ Martin and try to pick off Odor.

But as Goins moved, DeShields hit a grounder to the vacated spot. A routine out became an RBI single.

"It sucks," Goins said. "What can you do?"

(h/t to John Lott of the National Post)

Russell Martin is one of the best throwing catchers, but this attempt at a play came at the worst possible moment. It meant two runs in the third, whereas an out in that situation would mean that Choo, who didn't look good versus Price, would likely have ended the inning without runs on the board for Texas. You can say that Texas outsmarted the Blue Jays, or that the Blue Jays had some bad luck. The fact is that the Rangers are good at running, which may be why some are underestimating their ability to score runs. But I don't think Martin, or the rest of the Blue Jays' staff and players, underestimated their running game one bit.