Last night’s game IS a classic

I was scrolling the page here and noticed a tweet last night by Berselius:

A poorly defended, poorly pitched, poorly managed game might be exciting, but it’s no classic. This is a terrible display of baseball. – MO

I couldn’t disagree more. Games don’t become classics because of how well they were played. There’s generally something about each game we consider a classic that stands out. When I was a kid I’d talk about the 1-0 classics. They happened a bit more frequently when I was a child than they do today, but it was ridiculous.

The 1-0 games then and today consists of two offenses that performed horribly. Even a Roy Halladay vs Tim Lincecum matchup should yield more than a run. The Giants may actually be projected to score 0 against Halladay with last year’s offense since it was so bad, but put an average offense on both teams and there would be about 6 to 7 runs scored in that game. If it was 1-0, the offense was horrible.

The batters more than likely swung early and often. They probably allowed the pitchers to get through 9 innings having thrown less than 120 pitches. There may have been as many as 20 strikeouts and 0 walks. Many of the balls they did put in play were easy outs. Whatever runners they did put on, it’s likely some of those were quickly erased on a double play or caught stealing. There may have even been signs missed and the manager undoubtedly allowed his pitcher to hit when he should have been pinch hitting. He left a pitcher on the mound when he was better off having a reliever out there.

In such a game it’s also likely the manager needlessly pinch hit for a catcher or pinch ran when someone got on base. Wouldn’t even be surprising if the pinch runner was immediately picked off. The overall baserunning in these games is terrible. In the average 1-0 game, literally half of it is complete shit.

If the standard for being a classic game is that it’s well managed, well executed, performed at a very high level and one with as few mistakes as possible, we’re talking about a 4-3 game. Some of them are even classics. It entirely depends on how the runs were scored, but I refuse to believe that a classic game has to be one that is played well. It is simply not true.

Albert Pujols can hit 3 home runs in a game. Halladay can strikeout 13 and walk none. An offense can pound out 23 hits and score 18 runs. The pitcher can issue 9 walks. The managers can make mistakes. A defense can make 3, 4, 5 or more errors. All of these things happen throughout the season. Defenses make mistakes, baserunners get caught off guard, pitchers walk too many batters, offenses strike out way too much, and so on. It’s a human game. There is no such thing as perfection.

A well pitched game is a game with good defense and bad offense. A well played game with Halladay and Lincecum on the mound is about a 4-3 game entering the 9th inning. The closer does his job and the everybody goes home. Maybe there’s some great defense along the way, and incredible slide at the plate, a very long home run and maybe even the manager appears to make no mistakes whatsoever. Maybe that happens. I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds awesome and as boring as it sounds entering the 9th and leaving the 9th, I’m sure nobody but a few people would consider it a classic game.

We can look at the average 10-9 game and know it was played poorly in many ways. The pitching was not good. The defense was not good. On defense it seemed like nobody could come through when needed. The manager made mistakes. We can get a really good idea how well a game was by nothing other than the score. And 10-9 has some elements in it which were played very poorly. Kind of like a 1-0 game.

Here’s a 12-11 game that was without a doubt a classic. There was 23 runs allowed, 27 hits allowed, the defenses made 3 errors and there was 21 runners left on base. Ryne Sandberg was thrown out at 2nd trying to stretch a single into a double. The starting catchers allowed 6 stolen bases and not once did they throw anybody out. A batter was hit and 5 were intentionally walked. Both of the teams walked 9 batters. One of the teams struckout 9 times and the other 5. The starting pitchers threw a combined 6.2 innings, allowed 12 hits and 12 runs. One of the best closers allowed 2 runs in 2 innings while another great closer allowed 3 runs in 3 innings. There was a wild pitch and even a balk.

Under no circumstances was this a well played game. The pitching was terrible. The defense was less than average. There was a stupid baserunning mistake. Five guys were intentionally walked. FIVE. What was great about this game was the offense.

What made this game a classic is much the same reason that last night’s game was an instant classic. In the bottom of the 9th inning, the home team trailed by 2 and tied it up. In the top of the 10th the visiting team scored 2 while the home team again scored 2 in the bottom half. Sound familiar? We all remember this as The Sandberg game because Sandberg twice hit game tying home runs off Bruce Sutter who pitched like shit. And the hero of the day, may have cost the Cubs the win in regulation by being thrown out at 2nd base earlier in the game. This was an ugly game, but it was just so fucking awesome at the same time. That game, before it even ended, was a classic. Last night’s game, before it even ended, was a classic. The two games were nearly identical.

The difference? One saved the team from elimination in the World Series. A relatively unknown player having a 1.045 WPA in a game in June in 1984 or a relatively unknown player having a WPA of .953 in the elimination game of the World Series in 2011? If only one of these was a classic, it’s the one last night. It meant something, but we don’t need to pick just one. Both of those games are classics and both of those games were poorly played and poorly managed. But just so fucking exciting.

Maybe you’ll see how similar these games are if you look at the WE graphs.

Source: FanGraphs

Source: FanGraphs