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Thursday, October 15, 2015

How Chase Utley's Slide Helped the Mets Win

When I first heard about Chase Utley's slide, which broke the leg of Ruben Tejada, the first thing I thought of was when Matt Holiday slid into Marco Scutaro in the 2012 playoffs and provided the Giants with an emotional boost that helped them beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs and eventually win the World Series championship for the 2nd time in three years. So, my immediate thought was that the Mets had the playoff series against the Dodgers in the bag.

And then I read an article on FiveThirtyEight ("Chase Utley’s Illegal Slide Changed Everything For The Dodgers"), which argued that by taking Tejada out of the series, Utley had substantially improved the Dodgers' chances winning the series against the Mets:
[Utley's] seventh-inning single off Noah Syndergaard increased L.A.’s win probability by 11 percentage points — and by subsequently breaking up a potential Mets double play with his aggressive take-out of Tejada, he lifted the Dodgers’ chances of winning by 40 percentage points. No position player in the playoffs has added more than 28 percentage points to his team’s tally in a single game, so Utley had an enormous individual effect on the outcome of Game 2. And considering that the Dodgers’ odds of winning the series rose from 35 percent to 52 percent with the victory, the slide will probably go down as one of the most pivotal plays of the entire postseason.
It was at this point that the limits of sabermetrics hit me: they simply can't capture the role that emotions can play in a short series. I confess that I'm a big fan of sabermetrics (in fact, I'm currently working on an article using data from Pitchf/x), and they are remarkably accurate over a long season since factors such as emotions tend to even out over the course of a long season. However, in a short series like the playoffs, they can provide a team (like the Mets) with an advantage. To be sure, it is empirically difficult to capture such emotional advantages, but that doesn't mean they aren't real. They are somewhat akin to home field advantage, except that home field advantage can be empirically captured. So, yes, Chase Utley's slide did change everything for the Dodgers -- however, it was for the worse, not the better (unless, of course, you're a Giants' fan).

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