The situation: Closer Aroldis Chapman successfully saw the Cubs out of a jam in the seventh inning, getting the final two outs after relieving Carl Edwards, Jr. He then pitched a scoreless eighth, helping the Cubs cling to a 3-2 lead. In the bottom half of the eighth, the Cubs had a runner on second base and two outs and Chapman coming up to the plate to face right-handed reliever Cody Allen. As Miguel Montero had already pinch-hit and Willson Contreras was in the game as part of a double-switch, the hitters left on the bench were Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, and Albert Almora, Jr.
Looking to get one more inning out of his star closer, Cubs manager Joe Maddon decided to let Chapman hit for himself. Chapman has taken exactly two regular season plate appearances in his seven-year career in the majors. One resulted in a strikeout, and one resulted in an RBI ground out against the Cubs when he was a Red last year. Not exactly the most experienced hitter but, hey, an RBI!
Maddon is balancing the potential for one more run versus getting three more outs. The Cubs’ win probability going into Chapman’s at-bat was about 87 percent according to FanGraphs. And, per Baseball Prospectus, the average team scored at least one run 27 percent of the time with a runner on third base and two outs during the 2016 regular season. Add in that the Cubs would have to do so against Cody Allen, one of the best relievers in the game, and the probability falls down quite a bit. Theoretically, even if the Cubs were to send up Mike Trout — the on-base percentage leader at .441 — he hits into an out more than half the time and doesn’t get a hit more than two-thirds of the time.
Even if the Cubs were to send up Schwarber, who has already shown himself to be no slouch at the plate despite returning quickly from a horrific knee injury, is it worth the downgrade from Chapman to Pedro Strop or Hector Rondon? No disrespect intended to either pitcher, but they are a level below Chapman when it comes to dominating hitters.
If it were a different situation, perhaps a runner on third base and one out, then pinch-hitting for Chapman makes more sense because the probability of scoring that run is much higher — over 67 percent, to be exact. An experienced hitter is better able to make a productive out as well, as opposed to feebly grounding out, popping out, or striking out. With two outs, Chapman and the pinch-hitter yield the same result most of the time.
As expected, Chapman wound up striking out to end the inning with the Cubs failing to score. And, as expected, Chapman worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to finalize the game in a 3-2 victory. Results-wise, Maddon punched the right buttons. But even if Chapman had blown the save, it still would have been the right call.