Theo's Thoughts

What if Wilmer Flores Didn’t “Swing?”

The Dodgers-Giants game last night was destined to be a historic game: it was the talk of Twitter, and even the great Vin Scully was hyped for the final matchup between the two rivals, saying,

“To my knowledge, tonight’s game between the Dodgers and Giants is the most important game in the history of their rivalry. With nearly identical records, and so much at stake, I believe this to be the case.”

And Vin was right: including the postseason, before last night’s matchup, both teams had 109 wins. The 110th went to the Dodgers, thanks to the brilliant opener strategy, Cody Bellinger’s clutch hit, and… a questionable game-ending call.

Now, what exactly happened, and if this call was reversed, would the Giants’ season have ended differently?

Dodgers 2, Giants 1. Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs. Max Scherzer on the mound, Wilmer Flores at the plate. Runner at first, 0-2 count.

The next pitch, Max Scherzer’s low slider induced a checked-swing (in other words, a half swing) from Wilmer Flores, and the first base umpire declared that Flores did indeed swing, ending the Giants’ season.

Now, the problem with this outcome is not the umpire’s call, but the vagueness of the rulebook. See, interestingly the rulebook says a swing is “an attempt to strike at the ball” (MLB rulebook). Yes, that it is all it says. No, not “the bat must cross the plate,” in fact nothing of the sort. So did Flores attempt to strike at the ball? It’s unclear: the umpire clearly believed yes, many fans believed no.

Tom Tango’s incredible research on run expectancy answers the “what if?” question. According to 2010-2015 historical data, with a man on first base and two outs –the scenario in the game– one run will score 12.7% of the time, which would only tie the game (Tom Tango). According to FanGraphs, the Win Expectancy for the Giants before Flores stepped into the box was 9.4% (FanGraphs).

And these numbers don’t account for two more facts:

  1. The checked swing was on no balls and two strikes, which is a terrible count to be in as a hitter. The likelihood of failure in a 0-2 count is multiplied by a great amount.
  2. Scherzer, one of the best pitchers alive, is on the mound. Flores does not have a single hit in 17 career at-bats vs. Scherzer.

In conclusion, if the umpire had called “safe” and declared that Flores did not swing, the Giants would have most likely still lost (according to statistics). Sorry Giants fans 🙂

Thanks for reading, be on the lookout for another playoff-filled article in the next week!


3 thoughts on “What if Wilmer Flores Didn’t “Swing?”

  1. Agree completely. While I enjoy the Giants’ fans tears does anyone really think Wilmer was winning that battle against Max? The Giants season would have just ended two pitches later.


    Posted by custerdog | October 16, 2021, 2:21 am
  2. So…what were the odds (likelihood) that Bobby Thomson would hit a home run off of Ralph Branca in 1951? Russ Hodges’ ( NY Giant announcer) call certainly rivals any comments by Vin Scully. A bleak day in BROOKLYN Dodger history.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by tcbob | October 16, 2021, 10:13 am
  3. Very well stated–too bad it ended that way–but very likely would have had the same outcome. Your usual great job, Theo.


    Posted by Brad | October 16, 2021, 6:30 pm

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