It’s the bottom of the third in the Mexico/Korea game. So far, ESPN 2 has shown the controversial call in the Japan/USA game twice. Like the World Series and the ALCS, the umpires have once again taken center stage for all of the wrong reasons.
For those of you who missed the WBC (and seriously, stop missing the WBC! This is great baseball.), in the top of the 8th in a 3-3 game, Japan had the bases loaded and one out. Akinori Iwamura hit a fly ball to Randy Winn in left field. On third base, Tsuyoshi Nishioka tagged up and scored what seemed to be the go-ahead run.
The USA team appealed the call. Second base umpire Brian Knight ruled Nishioka safe. But then Buck Martinez, the Team USA manager I second guessed on Friday, came out to discuss the call with home plate umpire Bob Davidson. Davidson overturned the call and the game went into the bottom of the 8th inning still tied.
It was a shocking blow to Japan. Manager Sadaharu Oh argued to no avail, and Japan eventually lost the key first game in the pool when Alex Rodriguez came through with a 2-out, bases loaded single in the bottom of the 9th. While it’s possible that A-Rod’s single could have plated two runs and Team USA would have won anyway, we’ll never know.
The arguments in favor of instant replay have raged on and off since the A.J. Pierzynski debacle in game 2 of the ALCS. Just like that call, replay could have helped Davidson determine if Nishioka left early. While numerous angles were inconclusive, it did seem that, after ESPN showed the play for the 15 time, Nishioka should have been called safe. He left on time.
So as Major League Baseball continues to ignore technology that, if implemented correctly, could improve the accuracy of umping decisions, it is possible to determine just how costly this blown call was. Through an analysis of win expectancy, I can show how close Japan came to winning and how little of a chance Japan had at winning today once the call was overturned.
In essence, Win Expectancy uses the outcomes of games played over a long period of time to determine how many times a team in a certain situation wins the game. How certain is the expected outcome of a victory given the game situation? I am just going to look at Win Expectancy for the top of the 8th inning in today’s Japan/USA game. Here is the chart for that fated inning:
As the chart shows, at the start of the 8th inning in a tied game, the visiting team wins about 48 percent of the time. As the Japanese hitters got runners on base, their shot at winning so late in the game rose dramatically. When Iwamura strolled to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, Team Japan had a win expectancy of .698. Nearly 70 percent of teams in their position won the game.
Had Iwamura’s sacrifice fly stood, the Japan team with a one run lead in the 8th and runners on first and second with two outs would have had a win expectancy of .744. Team USA would have needed quite a comeback to salvage this game.
Instead, when Davidson overruled the call on the bases, win expectancy shifted significantly in favor of the Americans. Instead of looking at a .256 win expectancy, the Americans as the home team coming to bat in the bottom of the 8th in a tie game had a win expectancy of .634. Conversely, the Japanese team had a win expectancy of .366. It was a remarkable swing of .378 from the run scoring to the end of the half inning.
In effect, one blown call late in the game had a huge effect on the game. In an era when the technology exists that should allow umpires to get these key calls right, it is a sad taint on the game when an umpire can so alter the course of a game. Japan has a right to be disappointed in the outcome of the game, and Major League Baseball once again is embarrassed by its officiating in a key situation of an important game.