Ronald Martinez/Getty Images; Eric Espada/Getty Images
Joc Pederson, left, of the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Ryan Sherriff of the Tampa Bay Rays: It could happen!Ronald Martinez/Getty Images; Eric Espada/Getty Images
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The Jewish World Series

Could the Rays and Dodgers have the first Jew vs. Jew pitcher-batter showdown in championship history?

by
Chana Weinberg
October 23, 2020
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images; Eric Espada/Getty Images
Joc Pederson, left, of the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Ryan Sherriff of the Tampa Bay Rays: It could happen!Ronald Martinez/Getty Images; Eric Espada/Getty Images

The LA Dodgers-Tampa Bay Rays World Series, currently underway, presents Jewish baseball fans with a unique treat: the potential to present the first ever Jew vs. Jew pitcher-batter matchup in World Series history. Relief pitcher Ryan Sherriff, one of the Rays’ last-minute roster additions, is Jewish and, in the opposite dugout, Dodgers fourth outfielder Joc Pederson is also a member of the tribe.

Of course, it’s impossible to prove that this would be a first, but it looks that way. According to Jewish baseball historian and author Robert Wechsler, the 1915 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies was the first World Series in which a Jewish pitcher, Erskine Mayer, appeared. In his 12 World Series innings, Mayer never threw a pitch to a Jewish batter. Nor did Sandy Koufax in his 57 World Series innings. As far as Wechsler knows, there has never been a World Series plate appearance with a Jew on the mound and a Jew in the batter’s box.

This potential matchup, Weschler said, “is a big deal for the people who like to follow Jewish athletes. In the scheme of the World Series this will probably not even register. … But I love this kind of stuff.”

Before now, the closest we came to Jew vs. Jew was in the 2004 World Series, the year the Red Sox beat the Cardinals, breaking the Curse of the Bambino. Jason Marquis pitched for the Cardinals, and Gabe Kapler, now manager of the San Francisco Giants, was a bench player for the Red Sox. Kapler and Marquis both played in Games 2 and 4, but lightning never struck: Marquis pitched the seventh inning of Game 2, when Kapler took over for Manny Ramirez’s questionable outfield defense in the ninth; Marquis started Game 4 and pitched six innings, when Kapler came in to pinch-run for Trot Nixon in the top of the eighth.

For the completists, we have to mention that in the 1974 World Series, Ken Holtzman of the A’s pitched to Steve Yeager of the Dodgers—but Yeager was not yet Jewish. It’s widely reported that Yeager converted after he retired (one source has him being circumcised at age 40).

The bottom line is, a matchup like our potential one between Pederson and Sherriff deserves some analysis. Which raises the question: What should we expect, if we get that lucky? If these two veterans of Israel’s World Baseball Classic team face one another?

The well-built 6-foot-1, 220-pound Pederson was an 11th-round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2010. Batting from the left side, the outfielder made his debut with the Dodgers in September 2014 and has been on the team ever since. He is known as a power hitter; his career high in home runs came in 2019, when he hit 39. Over his career, Pederson has hit well against righties, not so well against southpaws.

Sherriff is a lefty with only 30 major-league innings under his belt, giving Pederson the edge in experience. Drafted by the Cardinals in the 28th round in 2011, Sherriff spent six seasons in the minor leagues before making his debut with the Cardinals in 2017. Cut by the Cardinals in August 2018, the Rays picked him up in November 2018. Sherriff throws his fastball 91 miles per hour: not too great for a Major League player, not too shabby for a layman. He does not blow batters away but deceives hitters with his sweeping slider. In 10 innings for the Rays this season, Sherriff allowed no runs and had two strikeouts.

So, what could happen, besides a worldwide explosion of bubbes with nachas? I turned to the baseball projection system ZiPS, created by FanGraphs writer Dan Szymborski; ZiPS uses player performance and aging trends to predict future player performance. Szymborski was kind enough to run a simulation for the Sherriff-Pederson matchup. And the results heavily favor the pitcher.

Zips/Dan Szymborski

According to ZiPS, the probabilistic batting average of the faceoff would be .212, lower than Pederson’s .230 career batting average and lower than Sherriff’s career .243 batting-average-against. In this matchup, Sherriff would perform better than his average self, while Pederson would perform worse than usual. This is true for the other stats calculated as well: Pederson’s career strikeout percentage is 24, Sherriff’s career strikeout percentage is 16.4, so the 29% strikeout rate for the Sherriff-Pederson matchup favors the pitcher as well.

At this point, Jewish Dodgers fans might be getting nervous. But the thing is, this matchup will only happen if things have gone very wrong. Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts is unlikely to let Pederson, with his mere 345 career at-bats against lefties, step into the batter’s box against a southpaw, no matter how inexperienced. Pederson’s job is to hit against righty pitchers, so if the Rays bring in a left-handed pitcher, Pederson will be pinch-hit for. This matchup might happen if the games go to many extra innings or a long Series wears out the Rays vaunted bullpen, so it remains highly unlikely.

But any sports fan knows a hypothetical matchup is worth getting excited over—like so many Talmudic arguments (sukkah on an elephant, anyone?), it’s an opportunity to think in terms of what-if. Even if Sherriff and Pederson don’t face off against one another, someday, some Jewish batter will face a Jewish pitcher in the World Series. May it be in this one.

Chana Weinberg is the host of the upcoming podcast Designated Hitters: The Story of Team Israel, and was a Fall 2020 Tablet journalism fellow.

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