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Saturday, December 31, 2011
ESPN Stats & Info: One fateful Game 6 pitch

By Richard Durrett

OK, I can't promise this won't be the last post you see here related to Game 6 of the World Series, but as ESPN.com looks back at the 2011 baseball season just before 2011 ends, ESPN Stats & Info took a look at the 1-2 pitch thrown by Neftali Feliz to David Freese in the bottom of the ninth. Feliz threw a 98 mph fastball on the outer third of the plate. You know what happened next. But here's part of Mark Simon's post:
In replicating this situation -- a two-strike pitch to a right-handed hitter in which Feliz threw a fastball -- we found six pitches, prior to the one to Freese, thrown to that approximate spot. Three of the pitches were fouled away. The other three were at-bat enders.

On May 7, the Rangers led the Yankees by the same 7-5 score with two outs in the ninth inning. Feliz had a little bit of breathing room in that one, with no one on base. He threw a 96 mph fastball that Derek Jeter grounded harmlessly to short for the final out in a Rangers win.

In June, he got Jason Bourgeois of the Houston Astros to ground out to second base; in July, he got Josh Willingham, then of the Oakland Athletics, to fly out to left center. Additionally, on June 12, 2010, Feliz gave up a pair of hits to Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks of the Milwaukee Brewers on 1-2 counts.

Since then, he had thrown 84 pitches on a 1-2 count to a right-handed hitter. He allowed a man to reach base on only one of those pitches, when he hit Allen Craig with a 1-2 curveball three days prior. He got 36 batters out (two hit into double plays) with those 84 pitches and allowed no hits. Of those 36, 16 struck out, most recently Austin Jackson, who swung through a 101 mph 1-2 fastball in Game 1 of the ALCS.

Simon then looks at the second aspect of the play:
The ball took off on a path between a line drive and fly ball to right field. It had a velocity of 101.4 mph and reached an apex of 60 feet; I’m told neither number rates particularly high. It hung in the air for four seconds. And it stayed in the ballpark, and that gave Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz a shot at catching it.

What was Cruz’s chance of catching that ball? That’s a great question, and while we can’t answer it exactly, we can touch on a few pertinent pieces of information related to it.

Cruz rated above-average via BIS's Plus-Minus metric, at catching balls hit to the deepest part of right field. Over the previous three seasons, Cruz saved his team 29 bases on balls hit to the deepest parts of ballparks, though in 2011, he was only a plus-three. There was a time in his career in which Cruz had difficulties with right-field walls. BIS has logged 12 instances since 2009 in which Cruz either went back to the fence, and missed a ball that rolled past him, or had other wall-related issues trying to make a catch. However, only one of them came in the 2011 season.

Twice in the postseason, Cruz made a catch going back on a ball hit to deep right field, once against Brandon Inge in Game 6 of the ALCS, and then again against Albert Pujols in Game 2 of the World Series.

In this instance, Cruz reached for the ball. He came very close to it but missed.

Just another example of how one pitch can change a season. Now, the Rangers must resolve to get back to the World Series and put themselves in this position again. Of course, this time, they want to finish the job.

We'll take a look at some New Year's resolutions for the Rangers next week.