In the Popeye comic back in 1932, character J. Wellington Wimpy uttered the famous phrase, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a cheeseburger today.” It’s a phrase that has since been used to illustrate a lack of foresight — wanting instant gratification for a future cost.
Indians manager Terry Francona played the part of J. Wellington Wimpy during Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox on Thursday night. While his bullpen strategy ultimately worked, it might have ramifications throughout the remainder of the ALDS.
Starter Trevor Bauer found himself in more hot water after allowing a leadoff solo home run to Sandy Leon in the top of the fifth inning, cutting the Indians’ lead to 4-3. After Bauer got Andrew Benintendi to fly out and Dustin Pedroia to strike out, Francona decided to bring in All-Star reliever Andrew Miller. Miller has been one of the best relievers in baseball this season, compiling an aggregate 1.45 ERA with a 123/9 K/BB ratio in 74 1/3 innings this season between the Yankees and Indians. And after we just got done torching Orioles manager Buck Showalter for not bringing in his best reliever, how could we ever criticize Francona here?
The problem was that Miller wasn’t brought into a high leverage situation. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference measure the importance of a situation with the “leverage index” statistic. According to FanGraphs, a “low leverage” situation is between 0 and 0.85, “medium leverage” is 0.85 to 2.00 and “high leverage” is above 2.00. The top of the ninth inning, which was started by Brad Brach, had a leverage index of 2.26 and it only escalated from there to a high of 4.30 when Russell Martin grounded into an inning-ending double play. The 10th and 11th innings started at 2.26. Miller’s first at-bat, against Brock Holt, had a leverage index of 0.57. Of course, Miller increased the leverage of the situation by allowing a double to Holt and walking Mookie Betts, but the Indians could have conceivably worked the fifth inning without expending their best reliever.
Miller also pitched the sixth inning and got the first two outs of the seventh. Those LI’s? 1.21, 0.83, 0.48, 1.32, and 0.88. The lefty finished the night having recorded six outs while throwing 40 pitches, a season-high.
Francona also used closer Cody Allen for a five-out save. Allen’s LI was 1.55 upon entering with one out in the eighth inning and it was 2.83 at the start of the ninth. A one-inning save would’ve made more sense. Allen got his five outs on 40 pitches as well, also a season-high. Allen threw 30-plus pitches only three times this season and had three days’ rest after two of them. Miller threw 30-plus pitches four times and had at least two days’ rest after three of them.
It’s not unreasonable to think that the Indians will look to rely on Corey Kluber for seven or eight innings in Game 2 of the ALDS on Friday. That puts immense pressure on Kluber, but also the rest of the bullpen if Kluber is not able to pitch deep into the game. It wasn’t necessary for Francona to put all of his eggs in the Miller-Allen basket.