But one thing I didn't know about was that the Reds, leading 9-3, missed out on chances to add to the score in both the eighth and ninth inning. In both cases, the Reds had runners on first and second base with no outs, but the third batter hit into a double play and the fourth struck out. It seemed unimportant at the time - up until the Braves remarkable comeback.
The lost opportunities were a topic of analysis in the local SABR forum. (I'm including the link because I think you can sign up, and I'm guessing most of my readers probably would like some of the topics. I hope you can sign up. I'm not really sure how - it's been so long since I joined. And please, be nice.) The question is whether the Reds should have tried playing "smallball" to push an extra insurance run across in those two innings.
Some folks may find this interesting. Below is the URL for something called the Win Expectancy Tracker, which shows the probability of winning a baseball game in various situations, based on historical results.
Using it, I find that from 1997 through 2006, there were 1993 games where the home team entered the bottom of the ninth losing by six runs. They won three of them. So the visiting team won in that situation 99.85% of the time.
How much more would an extra run have helped? During the same time period, there were 4224 where the home team entered the bottom of the ninth losing by seven OR MORE runs. (Sorry about the OR MORE, but the tool just lumps everything over 6 together.) The home team came back to win just four of those, so they lost 99.91% of the time.
So getting that extra run across would've helped in approximately 0.06% of all games, and that's being generous. How insignificant is that? Let's take a look at another seemingly trivial situation and see how it would rank.
If the lead off batter of the visiting team just gets on base at the beginning of the first inning, he's improved his team's chances of winning 4.4%, or about 70 times more than that single extra run should've helped in the ninth inning.
One could do a similar analysis on the question raised yesterday - at what point do you really need a closer? So, if there wasn't a "save" statistic, at what point does the percentage chance of winning a game justify putting in someone other than your best reliever? So let's use the Win Expectancy Tracker to see historically what percentage of games were won by the home team carrying various leads or deficits into the top of the ninth.
Leading by 5 - win 99.7% of the time
Leading by 4 - win 98.8% of the time
Leading by 3 - win 98.0% of the time
Leading by 2 - win 94.5% of the time
Leading by 1 - win 86.6% of the time
Tied - win 52.2% of the time
Losing by 1 - win 15.2% of the time
Losing by 2 - win 6.3% of the time
Losing by 3 - win 2.9% of the time
Losing by 4 - win 1.3% of the time
Losing by 5 - win 0.6% of the time
Looking at those odds, I suppose you can make a pretty good case that whoever tries to hold a three run lead should be the same guy that tries to hold a four run lead. But I would argue that you don't need your best reliever to try and hold a three-run lead, either. 98% of the time a three run lead is safe, for chrissakes.
For the home team, the times a closer should be used include holding a one-run lead and a two-run lead. It also certainly includes a tie game, where giving up a single run decreases the chances of winning by 35%. I suppose one could even make a case for using him when losing by a run, since that second run decreases the chances of winning the game by almost 9%.
So I think it's a fair question to ask what the difference is between protecting a three-run and a four-run lead. But to claim that a closer needs to be used to protect a game that is already won 98.8% of the time seems a little severe.