On Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles, the Indians sent Zach McAllister to the mound with a 3-3 tie. Anecdotally, McAllister ran to the mound as an effective relief pitcher. While not a complete shutdown option in the bullpen, he'd entered several games in the sixth or seventh innings and provided a bridge to the closing duo of Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. Statistically, McAllister entered the game with a 2.87 ERA, 15.2 IP, 17 SO, 8 BB, allowing a run in his last two appearances.
McAllister climbed ten inches and toed the rubber. When he finished warming up, the following occurred:
Strikeout: Hyun-Soo Kim
Double: Manny Machado
Double: Chris Davis
Home Run: Mark Trumbo
Reinhold Messner Nolan Reimold
Fly out: Jonathan Schoop
When McAllister descended ten inches that now felt mountainous, the Indians trailed by three and would not threaten the Orioles again in the game.
Social media and various message boards claimed that McAllister should never have pitched in the game. The Orioles are a fastball-hitting team, and McAllister's primary pitches are the fastball, the heater, the gas, and the cheese. It's an interesting way of looking at the meltdown after the fact, but it doesn't quite make sense. Would Indians fans complain if McAllister's heat touched 101 on the radar gun?
The complaint that McAllister shouldn't have entered the game in the seventh is valid, but not because he was ill-suited to the team he pitched against. Rather, the Indians had the opportunity to use their best reliever — Cody Allen — during a tie game in the late innings against the two, three, and four hitters. They chose not to.
BUT CODY ALLEN IS A CLOSER HE IS NOT ALLOWED TO PITCH BEFORE THE EIGHTH INNING AND EVEN THAT IS FRAUGHT WITH COMPLICATIONS AND POTENTIAL DISASTER BECAUSE CLOSERS ARE A RARE CAGED BIRD THAT ONLY SING WHEN THEY CAN EARN A COMPLETELY ARBITRARY STAT lol duh
Yes, Cody Allen is labeled as the closer for the Indians. He is regarded as such because he is believed to be the best reliever. A team should use their best reliever in the highest-leverage situation in order to maximize their chance to win. I didn't invent this idea. I acknowledge that the fastball-shouters aren't completely off-base; Cody Allen's spiking knuckle curve is a potentially devastating pitch against an aggressive group of hitters. Know this, however: McAllister is suffering from awful luck in high-leverage situations. His BABIP is well over 400 when pitching games that are tied or late and close.
It's impossible to know now whether Allen would have struck out the side or given up a grand slam while completely tearing apart his UCL, ACL, and labrum. It is possible to see that the Indians made a suboptimal choice by not using the best available pitcher. It's exceptionally rare for a manager to make the right decision in this case since the cult of the closer lurks like Hydra in the clubhouses of the league. This doesn't mean it's a losing fight; sacrifice bunting used to always be Playing the Game the Right Way. Now, we understand that there are only incredibly specific times when it should be used. Examples: when a pitcher is hitting; or, when the game is tied in the bottom of the ninth and you have runners on first and second with nobody out and a weak bat at the late so trading the additional probability of a single run for the decreased probability of multiple runs by moving the runners to third and second to enable the sacrifice fly is beneficial rather than idiotic and the guy at the plate is good at bunting and won't hopefully Bunt Straight Up Into the Air Like a Nincompoop (BSUIALAN, or "Bee-Swee-uh-Lawn".
The Indians have even partially drowned out the siren song of sacrifice bunting. Francisco Lindor, who led the league in sacrifice hits last season, has only sac bunted once this year. I am hopeful that the Indians might be able to see other numbers and also make better decisions based on those. Then again, the Tribe made another poor decision on Friday: they allowed Chris Gimenez to hit in the bottom of the eighth with one out and the bases loaded. How did social media sound?
SERIOUSLY ARE YOU KIDDING ME I DON'T HATE GIMENEZ HE IS A GOOD GUY PROBABLY GREAT CLUBHOUSE GUY TAKES HIS KIDS TO CICI'S OR WHATEVER BUT DARREN O'DAY IS A RIGHT-HANDED PITCHER AND GIMENEZ IS A RIGHT-HANDED HITTER AND THAT'S A THING SO WHY NOT LET MARLON BYRD HIT OR MAYBE A LEFTY AND THEN HAVE YAN GOMES CATCH THE NINTH BECAUSE SERIOUSLY WHEN SOMEONE INTENTIONALLY WALKS LONNIE CHISENHALL YOU NEED TO MAKE THEM RECONSIDER THEIR EXISTENCE hah 2 ez
All valid points, here. Lindor led off the eighth with a home run, Mike Napoli walked, Juan Uribe struck out, and the Orioles did indeed walk Lonnie Chisenhall to get a platoon matchup against backup catcher Chris Gimenez. For his career, Gimenez hits .197/.273/.314 against RHP. Meanwhile, Marlon Byrd hits .229/.295/.429 for his career. Michael Martinez's entire offensive production has come off of RHPs this season. Are these phenomenal options? Is it Tito's fault that a healthy 27-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. isn't just hanging out on the end of the bench? The answer to both is no, but the Indians could have put themselves in a slightly better position to win the game. My only thought is that perhaps the Indians were worried that if the game stayed tied, Yan Gomes might need to catch an extended stretch of extra innings, nullifying his rest time.
There are other areas where the Indians can increase their win probability as well. Look for a feature from Let's Go Tribe sometime soon on wrong decisions the Indians have made when intentionally walking hitters. Preview: it might be all of them. For now, though, witness how much pain even slightly poor decisions can bring upon a baseball team.