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October 9, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Four Recap: Tigers 8, A's 6

by Sam Miller

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Guess the MLB.com headline!

  • A-Jax, Max Help Send ALDS Back For Final Act
  • Max Effort, Max Results In Tigers Stunner
  • A’s Held Down By Tigers’ Maximum Security
  • Odd Series Gets Even, As Scherzer Has A’s Number
  • ALDS Goin’, Goin’, Back, Back To Cali

The hardest part of managing in the playoffs has to be trying to figure out exactly how good the ace starter is going to be as a reliever. Clearly, Max Scherzer is a better pitcher than Drew Smyly or Joaquin Benoit. But is he a better pitcher in relief, having come out of the pen just once since 2008? Is he a better pitcher on short rest, even if he’s only asked to throw a couple dozen pitches? If he is a better pitcher in relief, and he is a better pitcher on short rest, how much better is he? Good enough to stay in even after putting on five of the first eight batters?

With the bases loaded, nobody out, a pair of left-handed batters coming up and a one-run game in the eighth, Jim Leyland stuck with his reliever, Max Scherzer. It was an aggressive move (or non-move), but it wasn’t universally praised:


Leyland isn’t afraid to go to Benoit in the eighth, though. The closer came into the eighth inning of Game 1 (with two outs). On September 23rd, he came into the eighth (with one out). He had a five-out save in August and, since becoming the closer for good in early June, has entered no fewer than six games in the eighth inning. Phil Coke had a two-inning save for Jim Leyland last October. Leyland’s not, then, averse to using his closer in the eighth inning. He is averse, we might imagine, to taking out the better pitcher to do so.

Scherzer made him look good, which isn’t the same as making it the right move, but will suffice for Leyland’s purposes. Scherzer struck out Josh Reddick with the bases loaded on a changeup inside. The ridiculousness of that pitch requires a little backstory. First, here’s the pitch chart:Scherzer threw six fastballs in a row, all at about the same latitude, before throwing, on a 3-2 count where a walk would tie the game, a changeup off the plate inside and low. Reddick was rightfully shocked (and swung), but particularly shocked considering this:

Scherzer and Reddick have faced each other 14 times and Scherzer has never thrown him that pitch. He’s never thrown a changeup inside to Reddick; he never thrown any pitch as far inside as that pitch; and, for that matter, he’s really only thrown two pitches anywhere near that location, and it’s reasonable to suspect that one or both might have been a mistake. Shoot, the location of this pitch was a mistake; Scherzer was trying to go outside, and yanked it. We don’t know what goes on in the minds of hitters, really. But we can safely assume that Josh Reddick has accepted that he doesn’t need to look for a changeup inside.

The Leyland move paid off. Bob Melvin’s moves in the inning didn’t. Once Seth Smith was walked intentionally to load the bases, Melvin had three shots to get at least one run in; two would have been nice, but one was absolutely essential. Had Jim Leyland pulled Scherzer for Drew Smyly (warm in the bullpen), then Derek Norris, Chris Young, and Alberto Callaspo might have been called upon as pinch-hitters, but with Scherzer in the game Melvin could keep his three scheduled left-handed batters in the game. Except this:

  • Josh Reddick: 4.9 PA/K against RHP, career
  • Stephen Vogt: 6.0 PA/K against RHP, career
  • Eric Sogard: 8.2 PA/K against RHP, career

and the switch-hitter on the bench:

  • Alberto Callaspo: 10.9 PA/K against RHP, career

It would have made all sorts of sense to pinch-hit for Reddick. (For what it’s worth, Reddick had struck out in seven of 13 previous plate appearances against Scherzer. Probably not worth much; probably something Melvin looked at, though.) It’s almost certain Callaspo puts the ball in play; the Tigers, at least against Reddick, appeared willing to trade two outs for a run, so almost anything would get the run in. Reddick struck out.

Then it would have made sense to pinch-hit for Vogt. The A’s are carrying three catchers, after all; if not to get a better bat on the field in a late high-leverage situation, then why? Again, Callaspo would be a much better bet to get the run home. Vogt struck out.

Finally, Callaspo pinch-hit for Sogard, by which point the value of contact wasn’t so great. Callaspo hit the ball hard and could have been the hero, but his skill set, the one thing he does exceptionally on offense, matters disproportionately in situations that the A’s had face four and two minutes earlier.

This game will be remembered, though, for one reason: the call upholding Victor Martinez’s game-tying home run in the seventh. Here’s the video,

which seems to contain an optical illusion as the ball soars away from Reddick and toward the fans. In an early frame, it seems clear the ball is going to land short of the wall;

in a later frame, it seems more clear that the ball would have (and did) land over the yellow line, or at least on the yellow line.

I’d have upheld the home run call, and I wouldn't have spent much time on it. Looks to me like the fan probably kept Reddick from catching it, but "it" was a ball over the wall, where fans are allowed to grab. What was fascinating to me was that the A’s radio team, to which I was listening, was certain that the wrong call was made. Not just “what a shame, smdh” but, like, talking about what rules the commissioner’s office needs to implement to keep this from happening again, discussion about whether Bob Melvin might be playing this game under protest, and such. Literally, Ray Fosse wants to bar the crew chief from the replay room because of this call. I listened to the final three innings of this game feeling that the A’s had been badly taken advantage of. Then I saw the play. Radio is the best way to consume the game, in my opinion, unless you want to have anything approaching an accurate description of it.

Gary Darling’s home run call was suspiciously aggressive.

Settle down, son.

Headline answer:

In the hierarchy of awful headlines, the only thing worse than bad pun is rhyme.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Oakland Athletics,  Playoffs,  Detroit Tigers,  Alds

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