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Second Thoughts: Puzzling Strategy in an Indians Win

Baseball has too much information. Baseball has billions of data points to the point that sifting through the data to make decisions can be a distinct challenge. Yet, the strategic nature of baseball is a reason why it is so much fun. The geek in each of us loves it.

The tempo of baseball is perfect to get caught up in the minutia of decision making. Be it the batter stepping out, or the moments in between pitches. Baseball allows space for conversation. Indeed, before every pitch we get to gather our thoughts and consider the range of outcomes, the range of decisions. This ability to process information, reassess and change course between every pitch allows for great complexity. Watching the players adapt, analyze and shift their plans is central to the game.

I believe this prelude effectively serves to underline why I am obsessing about the decisions made in a 7-6 win over the Red Sox, I simply love thinking about decisions at the margins.

Decision #1: A slow hook for Carlos Carrasco.

Carrasco entered the sixth inning having struggled, while Carrasco was competing as usual, his command and arsenal simply were not as sharp as usual, setting him up to face the middle of the order for the third time through.

Research has shown a near exponential decline of performance by starting pitchers the third time through the order, even exceptional pitchers like Carrasco. When you consider that Carrasco didn't have his best stuff and sat near 90 pitches, a hook or short leash was a reasonable expectation. Especially considering David Ortiz was coming to the plate but Francona left him in.

Following, a home run from Ortiz and Carrasco's continued command troubles, Francona left him out there for Hanley Ramirez who followed with a dinger of his own. Making it a 5-4 game. I could easily have made the same decision as Francona made in this context though a more progressive approach is the correct one.

Decision #2: A slow hook for Ross Detwiler.

Ross Detwiler is the Indians only left handed one out guy, a matchup guy who  Francona employed aggressively in facing multiple hitters. Second, it was the sixth inning, Ortiz had already hit, and Francona was employing his only lefty specialist against the bottom of the Red Sox order while three innings and David Ortiz remained.

Detwiler, rattled by poor outfield play, had little control of the strike zone but Francona struck with him even though he did not even show the ability to induce a bunt when the Red Sox were willing to give away an out. After loading the bases, Francona went to Zach McAllister who did a solid job limiting damage. But be it the long leash or the time of the usage, Ross Detwiler was clearly misused.

Decision #3: The Double Steal Fiasco

In the bottom of the eighth up by one run, the Indians had francisco Lindor on first and Rajai Davis on second with one out for Jose Ramirez. Following Ramirez was Jason Kipnis, one of the Indians two best hitters with Brantley injured. This seemingly set up the Indians with two opportunities with two good contact hitters to score a run from second base to pad the lead.

Instead of playing it conservative and giving an All-Star an at bat Francona pressed down on the accelerator and called a double steal. Rajai Davis appeared to be safe at third and wanted a challenge but Tito decided against it. While some take issue with the lack of a challenge, certainly an problem, the larger issue was the risk of an out occurring when threatening.

The inning ended with a whimper as Davis was sent to the dugout and Ramirez went down swinging, sending the middle of the Red Sox lineup to the plate.

Creating the risk which takes the bat out of the hands of your three hole hitter when you have a one run lead seems aggressive but that is the choice that Francona made. 

Outcome: None of it mattered.

Despite this collection of fairly odd decisions in a close game the Indians came out on top. Further, I am not writing to criticize Francona but I am writing to note my process in between pitches and to display the different strategic possibilities that existed throughout the game. 

In the end, despite all the decisions, the game theory, sometimes bad decisions succeed and sometimes good decisions fail but the process is the really fun part.
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