Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis is providing analysis of the World Series to the L.A. Times. In a column posted yesterday prior to Game 2, he wrote about how Red Sox manager John Farrell is trusting his gut over the numbers in a short series lasting between five and seven games. The Red Sox are one of the teams most overtly reliant on analytics, which made Farrell’s decision to start Jonny Gomes in left field against two tough right-handed starters, as opposed to the left-handed Daniel Nava.
Ellis writes that it is Gomes’ playoff experience and energy, rather than proficiency against right-handers, that Farrell wanted in the first two games of the World Series against the Cardinals:
These immeasurable factors of chemistry are loathed by sabermetricians, who tend to scoff at these claims. Undeniable even by the most stubborn supporter of these new metrics is that in the postseason, the Red Sox are 1-3 when Nava starts games and 7-0 when Gomes does, heading into Game 2. To players, managers and fans, that is the only stat that matters in October.
They are 7-1 now, of course, as the Sox lost Game 2 by a 4-2 margin. Gomes is hitless in seven trips to the plate in World Series play. Farrell announced earlier that Nava would be starting Game 3 against Cardinals starter Joe Kelly.
As a self-described “sabermetrician”, I have two thoughts on this: Ellis is relying on a very small sample size, of course. Four starts for Nava and eight starts for Gomes is representative of very little. Secondly, while it is curious for Farrell to abandon the very tactics that helped bring his team to where it is today, it is unlikely to make any noticeable difference in a short series. Nava’s proficiency against right-handers, or Gomes’ deficiency against them, won’t be the sole reason why the Red Sox succeed or fail once you account for myriad other factors, plus the ever-present effect of randomness, even more stark within a smaller sample. In the big picture, there’s nothing wrong with Farrell trusting his gut, but it does set him up to be the fall guy if things don’t work out.