Bill Baer

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17:  Terry Francona #17 of the Cleveland Indians looks on prior to game three of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on October 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Examining Terry Francona’s strategy in the 7th inning of ALCS Game 4


Indians manager Terry Francona chose a seemingly poor strategy in the top of the seventh inning to try and see his team out of a no-outs jam against the Blue Jays and it didn’t pan out. While the choice earned him immediate and widespread criticism — at least from what I saw on Twitter — I think it was the correct choice and I’d like to try to explain why.

First, let’s set up the scenario. Reliever Bryan Shaw was on the hill. He allowed leadoff batter Ryan Goins to reach on a single to left field. Jose Bautista then hit a tapper to the left side of the mound, which Shaw fielded cleanly but threw wildly past first base. Goins moved to third base on the error. With reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson coming to the plate, Francona came to the mound to discuss the situation. Ultimately, Shaw intentionally walked Donaldson to load the bases. This was the controversial move.

It didn’t work out, as Edwin Encarnacion came up and singled up the middle to plate two runs. Donaldson was thrown out at third base on the play while Encarnacion advanced to second. Reliever Mike Clevenger entered the game and was able to see the Indians out of the inning.

The obvious downside of walking the bases loaded is that it increases the Blue Jays’ run expectancy. According to Baseball Prospectus, during the 2016 season, teams scored an average of 1.68 runs when they had runners on first and third base with no outs. They scored an average of 2.27 runs with the bases loaded and no outs. So, generally speaking, the Indians gave the Jays a half-run more with the walk. (There’s some noise included with that number, as pitchers who load the bases with no outs have slightly worse skill on average than pitchers who only put runners on first and third base with no outs. But that’s another discussion.)

The walk did set up a force at every base, giving the Indians a higher probability of getting out of the inning giving up exactly zero runs. That’s the “winning” play as opposed to the “lose less” play. Going into the eighth inning, the Indians’ win probability based on their deficit looks like this, according to The Book by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin:

  • Down by one run: 26.6%
  • Down by two runs: 14.6%
  • Down by three runs: 7.7%
  • Down by four runs: 4.0%

Since the Indians would expect to give up two runs on average, their deficit should be expected to be three runs. And there’s no meaningful difference between a three- and four-run deficit, so putting the third runner on base doesn’t really matter. Meanwhile, if the Indians are able to escape the inning, they’re still very much alive. The difference between escaping the inning unscathed and the expected outcome is nearly 20 percent in win probability.

Beyond the in-game strategy, there are outside factors to consider. The bullpen was taxed heavily in Game 3 as starter Trevor Bauer could only go two-thirds of an inning. Starter Corey Kluber was pitching on short rest in his Game 4 start. Clinching the ALCS on Tuesday and giving the pitching staff potentially an entire week of rest might have set them up well going into the World Series.

Francona’s gamble was worth it. It didn’t pay off, but the Indians weren’t likely winning Game 4 once the Blue Jays put runners on first and third with no outs in the bottom of the seventh anyway.

Blue Jays keep playoff hopes alive, defeat Indians 5-1 in ALCS Game 4

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 18:  Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the third inning against Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians during game four of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 18, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The Blue Jays’ offense brought the offense and starter Aaron Sanchez brought his arm to Tuesday afternoon’s match-up against the Indians, staying alive in the postseason with a 5-1 victory in Game 4 of the ALCS.

Josh Donaldson opened the scoring with a solo home run off of Corey Kluber in the bottom of the third inning. Ezequiel Carrera would tack on another run with an RBI single in the fourth. Those two runs would prove to be the only runs they’d need, but not the only ones they’d score.

Sanchez, meanwhile, was a hard nut for the Indians to crack. The right-hander yielded one run on two hits and two walks with five strikeouts on 95 pitches over six innings. Nine of his 18 outs came on ground outs. The run came around in the fifth when Sanchez issued a one-out walk to Coco Crisp followed by a two-out RBI double to Roberto Perez.

For the Tribe, Kluber — pitching on short rest — went five frames, giving up two runs on four hits and a pair of walks with seven strikeouts on 89 pitches.

Brett Cecil relieved Sanchez in the top of the seventh, getting Jose Ramirez to line out before striking out both Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp for an easy inning of work.

The Blue Jays tacked on some insurance in the bottom of the seventh seventh as Ryan Goins singled off of reliever Bryan Shaw to lead off the inning and Jose Bautista reached on a short grounder that resulted in Shaw throwing the ball into foul territory in right field, moving Goins to third base. Shaw intentionally walked Donaldson to load the bases and set up a force at every base. Edwin Encarnacion proceeded to ground a single up the middle, plating two runs. Donaldson was thrown out at third base on the play while Encarnacion moved up to second. At long last, the Jays got to the Indians’ bullpen.

Shaw was removed from the game and Mike Clevenger entered to make his postseason debut. Clevenger uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Encarnacion to advance to third base. Troy Tulowitzki hit a tapper back to the mound for out number two. Russell Martin grounded out to third base to end the inning.

Jason Grilli took over in the top of the eighth for the Jays. He set the Indians down in 1-2-3 fashion, getting Brandon Guyer to ground out, Perez to fly out, and Carlos Santana to foul out.

The Jays continued to add on in the bottom of the eighth against Clevenger. Carrera tripled to right-center field with one out and came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Pillar.

Closer Roberto Osuna locked down the ninth inning, sandwiching a Francisco Lindor ground out with strikeouts of Jason Kipnis and Mike Napoli.

The Indians will try once again to clinch the ALCS and advance to the World Series on Wednesday at 4:00 PM EDT in ALCS Game 5. Ryan Merritt will start for the Indians against the Jays’ Marco Estrada.

Curt Schilling urges people not to compare him to Trevor Bauer

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Former ESPN Analyst Curt Schilling talks about his ESPN dismissal and politics during SiriusXM's Breitbart News Patriot Forum hosted by Stephen K. Bannon and co-host Alex Marlow at the SiriusXM Studio on April 27, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Indians starter Trevor Bauer‘s stitched-up pinky began bleeding profusely in the first inning of ALCS Game 3 on Monday evening, forcing him out of the game much earlier than anticipated. The bloody hand naturally made people recall Curt Schilling, who famously pitched with a “bloody sock” in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees.

Schilling, however, urged his Twitter followers not to make such a comparison. He wrote, “Please don’t tweet at me about Bauer. He cost himself a start, likely more, AND his teammates, and fans, [messing] around with a drone. #stupid”

Schilling, who had a torn tendon sheath when he pitched in the ’04 ALCS, is most remembered for his performance in Game 6 against the Yankees as he tossed seven high-quality innings to help the Red Sox force a Game 7 which they would eventually win to advance to the World Series.

Schilling also started Game 1 and he got torched for six runs over three innings in a game the Red Sox lost 10-7. All things considered, Schilling cost his team a game trying to pitch through an injury.

Of course, that wasn’t Schilling’s only complaint. The six-time All-Star blamed Bauer’s injury on stupidity because he was repairing his drone. Schilling suffered his injury playing the game, not pursuing a hobby. The argument that players should be castigated for getting injured doing something as a hobby is a slippery slope because we start making arbitrary judgments about what’s an acceptable hobby and what’s not. Riding motorcycles? Playing with your kids? Playing recreational basketball? Athletes have gotten injured doing all of these off-the-clock activities but some we view as more legitimate than others for only subjective reasons.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Schilling’s criticism is unfounded. At best it’s unfair to Bauer, and at worst it’s hypocritical.