Sabermetricians will tell you the best managers in the game are worth roughly 5 wins to their team. Thursday night Terry Francona reminded you why he gets put in the tier that should earn you 5.
The three home run third inning will be what gets televised as home runs certainly are more appetizing to the eye, but the best “play” in leading the Indians to a 1-0 series advantage came from Tito himself.
After 4 2/3rds Trevor Bauer was done and the best pitcher on the Indians entered in Andrew Miller. What followed was 2 innings of filthy sliders mixed with a commanding fastball that amounted to 40 pitches and a confused fan base. Why was he in so early? Cause logic and critical thinking demands Tito couldn’t leave his best off the field when it mattered most.
The failure of teams to use relief aces in high leverage situations and keep them locked up until a certain traditional late inning is antiquated and should be scolded by baseball fans everywhere. Miller came in facing Boston’s 2 hitter in Brock Holt with Mookie Betts and David Ortiz waiting in the wings. Playoff baseball demands coaches use their best in the most critical spots and Francona did just that when the Indians needed it most.
Thanks to WPA (Win Probability Added) we can measure a player’s contribution to a win by figuring the factor by which each specific play made by that player has altered the outcome of a game. Thanks to Francona, Miller posted his highest WPA in his career at 4.79 this season. To put that in context, Mariano Rivera, arguably the best closer the game has seen posted that clip just twice in his final 16 seasons as a pro.
What Francona did wasn’t new to many watching this season, just how early he did it is what took many aback. As the rest of baseball was playing mental gymnastics in wondering what would happen in the later part of the game, Francona understood he could dictate when Miller got those precious 6 outs the Indians needed in a game that demanded work out of the pen.
The southpaw Miller afterwards echoed what Tito had running through his mind and the importance of finding added ways to utilize his skillset other than the traditional 8th/9th inning mold we’ve grown accustom “ Maybe as more and more stats comes out, we realize there’s bigger moments in the game than the eighth and ninth inning and that can be appreciated.”
Anybody that thinks this was coincidence and happenstance needs to evaluate the credit they give to managers, at least the one sitting on the third base side of the dugout. Tito had this game plan outlined if it should come up, and nothing came as a shock to one of the game’s best. With that we got to see a top manager execute while his top pitcher followed in suit.
Fortunately for the Indians Francona has more options than most teams when it comes to the bullpen to supplement his logic. He wasn’t beholden to tossing out any journeyman fungible reliever in the back. He used Allen in the 8th then the 9th and locked down a 1-0 lead in the best of 5.
The idea that saving your best pitcher for an outcome that may never come may set off ringing bells in baseball purists ears as they replay Tuesday’s AL Wild card game in their head. Orioles skipper Buck Showalter failed to do just that and it cost him. Moves like that are hitting on 17 at the blackjack table. Unheard of for those with the knowledge imbedded. For Indians fans, take solace in knowing they have a manager with the C on his cap that knows how to play the cards given.