ALDS Game 1 Review

As I explained in the preview, “The team that has more power usually wins in the post season.”

Tonight that team was the Indians. If that also proves to be the case in two of the next four games, they win.

It might be for two reasons.

1. In September of 1971, I was having an argument with my grandfather about the Orioles. When I pointed out that they had four 20 games winners, he scoffed “No they don’t.”

When I showed him the statistics, he replied “Dobson? Don’t make me laugh. I don’t care what numbers he got. That Dobson guy always been a bum and he always will be.”

I don’t think Pat Dobson was a bum– but let the record reflect that (a) he did lead the league in losses the following year, (b) he was traded for Earl Williams that winter, and (c) he was on the Cleveland Indians by 1976.

My grandfather’s point– that I should look at the whole of a player’s career, rather than solely at the most recent year has stayed with me. Sometimes it serves me ill– I was the last person in the world to acknowledge that Cliff Lee had become a really good pitcher– but more often it has served me well.

I do not believe that Rick Porcello is a bum. That said, going into this season, he was 85-78 with a 4.39 career ERA– with hit, walks, strikeout and home run totals normally associated with a .500 pitcher whose ERA was around the league average.

In 2015, Porcello went 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA for Boston, and you could have made oodles of money betting on him leading the majors in wins.

Porcello, as I fortunately noted in the preview, was 0-2 with a 4.41 ERA in the playoffs going into the game.

Obviously he could pitch brilliantly in game 4 or game 5. Just as obviously, he could tank in one of those games– or not even pitch, if Baltimore panics.

2. Jason Kipnis might be the most streaky player in baseball. Almost every season, he will will have a 4-6 week stretch where he makes Babe Ruth look like Mario Mendoza’s kid sister.

This season, for example, he hit .356 in the 40 games played between July 3 and August 19th, with an OPS of 1.044. But he will offset that production with stretches where he makes Mario Mendoza’s kid sister look like Barry Bonds playing tee-ball.

There’s no ramping up or tapering down– it’s like an on-off switch. If you want to win at fantasy baseball, you look for it.

In his last 10 games of the regular season, Kipnis hit .243 with an .826 OPS. But he went 2-3 with two doubles in the final game of the regular season.

When he hit Porcello’s second pitch over the fence in his second at-bat, I explained all this to my wife. His hits in the next two at-bats were not a surprise.

If Kipnis is about to go on one of his tears, he could end up as the ALDS, ALCS and World Series MVP.

I have always disliked criticized managerial chess. The most important thing a manager does is pick the roster– identify the players who he thinks can help him, even if nobody else thinks they;re any good.

His second task is to pick the lineup that can best help him win over the course of a season. I don’t mean one game– I mean long term. Sometimes staying with the rookie who is off for a 2-28 slump is the most important decision he makes.

A few years ago, there were a handful of people in the greater Cleveland area who thought Carlos Carrasco could pitch. I was one of them; Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Calloway were among the others. Now all the people who wanted him cut are weeping that he isn’t available.

I know people (in the words of the old drinking game, “Hi, Bob!”; you too Ken) who will fly into a screaming rage because a batter takes a 3-0 pitch for a strike in the sixth inning of a tie game. Or they’ll claim that the decision not to use Dan Otero in the bottom half of the seventh outweighed every other game event. They assume a series of events that they can’t prove, then get outraged by a manager who doesn’t agree with their projection.

I would prefer to have a great tactician, but the two things I’ve mentioned matter a lot  more to me. The only other things I care about are (1) the ability to maintain discipline in the clubhouse and (2) the ability to teach– or hire coaches who teach– the fine points of the game.

All of that said, I have no clue what Francona was thinking when he let Lonnie Chisenhall face Drew Pomerantz with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom half of the fifth inning. I would even argue that he was not thinking.

1. By pulling Trevor Bauer in the top half of that inning and going with Andrew Miller, Francona had made it clear that he was going “all in.” He was going to make Miller unavailable for game two– and it was pretty easy to guess that Cody Allen would be coming in the minute Francona got twitchy, so he wouldn’t be able to pitch in game two.

I don’t agree with the decision to go all-in that early– but if you’re going to do it, then do it. Pull the trigger.

2. The Indians were up 5-3. One run had scored. This was the point where the Indians could blow the game open. Kipnis was on third. Mike Napoli was on second. Jose Ramirez had just been intentionally walked to load the bases.

A single would score at least one run– maybe two, if it was hit to the right spot. A double would have cleared the bases.

3. An intentional walk is almost always a really, really stupid play. The math is very easy to explain. In order for an intentional walk to be a good play:

  • The batting average of the player you walk (Ramirez) must be higher than the on-base percentage of the following player (Chisenhall), and
  • The walkee’s batting average in that base-out situation (in Ramirez’s case, men on second and third with two outs) must be higher than the next hitter’s batting average in the post-walk situation (Chisenhall with the bases loaded), and
  • Your pitcher’s chance to get the next man out must be higher than his chances to not give up a hit to the man you’re walking.

There are players who are so good– David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper– where it does make sense to walk them. But Ramirez isn’t one of them.

Unless, of course, the next hitter is Lonnie Chisenhall facing a lefthanded pitcher whose best pitch is his breaking ball.

Brandon Guyer is a journeyman– but his career average against lefthanders (.289) is 55 points higher than his average against righties. His slugging percentage (.47) is 133 points higher. His OPS (.861) is 217 points higher.

The only reason not to pinch-hit Guyer is that Farrell will almost certainly pull Pomerantz if you do. But if Farrell changes pitchers, he loses a very effective reliever after only one out (Pomerantz ended up pitching two more scoreless innings) and maybe the next pitcher doesn’t have it.

Or, if you want a safer bet, pinch-hit Rajai Davis. Davis has also hit lefties well over his career (.288 lifetime) but he also hits .256 against righties (22 points higher than Guyer).

Davis is a much less dangerous hitter than Guyer, because all he does is hit singles at this point (.he had a .388 slugging percentage this year and a .306 on-base percentage). But the bases are loaded, so a single is all you need. You get at least one and maybe two runs.

Plus the alternative is Chisenhall. This year he hit .217 against lefties, with 10 strikeouts  and only five walks in 46 at-bats. His OPS against lefties (.642) is so low that it almost makes sense to walk Ramirez.

So of course he strikes out, ending the inning. Then the very next inning– with one out and nobody on base– Francona pinch-hits Davis for Tyler Naquin.

For what reason? Because Naquin is a worse centerfielder than Davis? Because Naquin’s throwing arm is weaker? Because Naquin– who hit .250 against lefties this year with a .775 OPS– is going to be less effective than Chisenhall?

If you’re scared about going with Guyer, then pinch-hit Davis for Chisenhall and then put him in center , with Naquin moving to right. That actually helps you defensively, since you now have three centerfielders in the outfield.

As I say, I don’t normally do this… but there is no logic by which that decision makes sense.

The good news is that Francona the Indians got away with it. They could have been down 0-1 with home field gone and their two top relievers shot. But they won, and the media and fans on Boston are in panic mode. They have David Price going against a former Cy Young Award winner and what if they’re down 0-2 by tomorrow evening?

Plus the Indians have Terry Francona– and Mike Napoli was the first baseman the last time Boston won a playoff series.

Red Sox fans can make Hillary Clinton supporters seem laid-back. I haven’t checked, but I am guessing there are already people saying that Farrell can’t let Eduardo Rodriguez pitch game three– that they need to go with Pomerantz– or that maybe Pomeratz, not Porcells, should pitch game four.

The great thing about people who you know go psycho at the slightest provocation is that the hysteria works in your favor. It takes a certain mindset to be able to play in either New York or Boston, and the players who break in with the team tend to handle ti best. You never know if the people you import will be able to hack it until you see it.

I still expect Boston to win– now in four games– but the odds just dropped a bunch.


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