As Giants win the Series, should the Royals have sent Alex Gordon?

In a World Series largely filled with blowouts and slugfests, Game 7 came down to precise pitching and timely hitting. It’s a style of play the Royals have excelled at all season, embracing sacrifice flies and sacrifice bunts to propel their way to 89 victories.

But all that scrappy play was snuffed out by the left arm of Madison Bumgarner, who pitched his way to a legendary five-inning save, lifting the Giants to their 3rd World Championship in 5 years.

“Truly amazing,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy explained. “Incredible what he did through all this postseason.” 

According to Sports Illustrated, Bumgarner boasted the most dominant World Series pitching performance since 1957. In 21 innings he gave up just one earned run, grabbing two victories and a save. 

The Royal’s biggest threat came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. With an 0-1 count, Alex Gordon shot one into the alley of left center field. In Bill Buckner-esque fashion, the ball inexplicably skipped by Giants centerfielder Gregor Blanco and rolled all the way to the wall. The series of blunders continued, when leftfielder Juan Perez fumbled the ball before finally hurling it to the cutoff man.

Kansas City’s third base coach Mike Jirschele instructed Gordon to stop at third and not to try for the inside-the-park homerun. So the question is, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and a stellar Madison Bumgarner on the mound, should Jirschele have sent Gordon home?

Statistician Nate Silver, who has correctly analyzed everything from presidential elections to the performance of MLB players, decided to mathematically evaluate this scenario. According to Silver, the fact that Gordon held at third meant the Royals had just a 19% chance of tying the game. In addition, there was a 6% chance that the next hitter, Salvador Perez, would also eventually score, which would give the Royals the victory. Assuming the game went into extra innings, the Royals (with home team advantage) would have about a 52% chance of winning the game. 

This all means, as Silver calculated, that if Alex Gordon had a 32% chance of scoring, or higher, it would have made sense to send him barreling towards Giants catcher Buster Posey. 

The problem is, Gordon didn’t have a 32% chance. It would have taken the intervention of a higher power, in the form of another San Francisco error, to allow him to score. By the time Gordon had his feet on third base, Giants cutoff man Brandon Crawford was in a good throwing position from the relatively shallow outfield. Not to mention Crawford is one of the best throwing shortstops in the National League.

“As soon as Crawford secured it and I saw where Alex was I just thought, ‘We’ve got no chance of scoring him,’” Kansas City third base coach Mike Jirschele said.

The frustrating thing for Royals fans is that if their Kansas City star had actually hustled out of the box, he likely could have scored. According to sports writer Andrew Joseph, it took Gordon “an uncharacteristically slow 4.66 seconds to reach first base after making contact.” This added a second to Gordon’s total baserunning time, preventing him from having any real chance of beating the throw from Brandon Crawford. 

It’s still unclear if Gordon would have scored, but it sure would have made for one of the most exciting plays in World Series history. Instead, Madison Bumgarner continued his run of dominance, getting Salvador Perez to pop out on a 2-2 pitch, ending the Royals’ improbable October run.