Baseball's Most Crucial Strategy

As the World Series heats up, NPR's Mike Pesca reveals the most important behind-the-scenes method to success in baseball: Don't screw up. He joins host Rachel Martin.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's time now for sports, and can we really talk about anything besides baseball today? Game 3 of the World Series last night - the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox in dramatic style to go up two games to one. That's the big story. Here to bring us the side plots, the footnotes, the scholarly literature, if you will, NPR's Mike Pesca. Good morning.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Endnotes are all in vogue these days, Rachel.

MARTIN: Endnotes. OK. So, seems like the story of this series is defense, in particular sloppy defense - a lot of errors by both teams. You can say last night's game was lost on a bad throw to third base by the Red Sox. So, if defense wins championships, which defense is less bad in this situation?

PESCA: Right. yeah. This is what we're going for - put that on the banner - less bad defense. So, the strange thing is - I agree with you defense does often - well, we forget about it until we don't forget about it and everyone focuses on, you know, throws into left field and guys stumbling over third basemen. But it seemed going into the series, hey, the Cardinals, they're a good team. They had the fourth-fewest errors in baseball, so they're a good defense. They actually aren't a good defense. It's just that that metric of errors, I mean, that's the one we've had forever, but it's not - when you think about it - well, not only is it not that accurate, but it's not even that logical.

I mean, if we kind of use that thinking to evaluate, say, CEOs, Steve Jobs wouldn't seem like a really good head of a company because he had a bunch of errors, you know, he had a lot of missteps along the way. So, the fewest mistakes, maybe not the best way to evaluate a defense. So, of course, in baseball, you know, all these advanced stats - there's one thing called the ultimate zone rating, which is pretty cool. Instead of thinking about how many balls you muffed, they look at all the balls that were hit near you and they say how many could you have gotten to? You know, they look at all the balls and say why not instead of asking with the muffs. And when you look at that, the Cardinals are actually fourth-worst.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK. So, the Cardinals did have one advantage last night, though, right? They were the home team, which mean - in National League rules - no designated hitter. Did that help them out?

PESCA: Yeah. Not only did it help them out, strangely, when they did have the DH in Boston, which you would figure would help Boston out, the Cardinals benefited as well, because that guy who's a little gimpy - Craig, who was scrambling home - he got to play DH. But the big thing is, either David Ortiz or Mike Napoli have to sit, and they're great hitters, but only one of them can play first base. And there' a problem, because neither one are great first basemen. And we saw that come into play. There was a play that "Big Papi" couldn't really get to. It was a hard play. But if you look where he stretched to reach the ball might not have been the most optimum place to stretch. Perhaps a great first baseman could have gotten the ball. Hard to criticize David Ortiz. He's such a great bat. But, yeah, you add both those things up - advantage Cardinals.

MARTIN: Real quick - curveball.

PESCA: Yeah. I have a cause. It's good to have a cause. So, it's Halloween season and we always talk about ghosts and...

MARTIN: Goblins.

PESCA: Yeah. There are no goblins. I did this huge - I'm not just saying there are no mythological figures; we know that. But the costume store...

MARTIN: You never see goblins at your front door.

PESCA: They never come. They're too ugly. Costume stores don't sell goblins. I did a search on all the mascots, there are only two schools in America nicknamed the Goblins.

MARTIN: No goblins. NPR's Mike - besides NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike. Yeah.

PESCA: Oh, thanks. Thanks a lot.

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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