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Cubs manager Joe Maddon only made one truly impactful move in the larger story of the series in Game 6. With a 7-2 lead and two on with two outs in the seventh inning—a fairly low-leverage spot, likely to produce even lower leverage eighth and ninth innings—Aroldis Chapman entered the game. Maddon likely could’ve made it all the way through using his medium-leverage pitchers like Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, Travis Wood, and Hector Rondon, and of course saving Chapman at that exact moment hardly precluded asking him to pitch later if a higher-leverage situation arose.

Furthermore, asking Chapman for everything left in the gas tank in Game 6 obviously hurts your chances in Game 7, and could’ve even left a lesser pitcher (or a gassed Chapman) in a higher-leverage situation in later innings of Game 6. There is a somewhat persuasive counter-argument: you have to get to Game 7. Even if Cleveland’s chances to come back and win Game 6 with more conventional bullpen management were low as of Chapman’s entry–Fangraphs’ live win probability estimated them at 3.1 percent–that low chance definitively ends the Cubs' season if it hits.

It also would’ve kept rising exponentially with each additional baserunner. There’s no backsies here if Cleveland rallies. I would’ve preferred Maddon at least wait until the tying run got to the plate to use Chapman, but we should recognize that Chapman’s not a human cheat code that definitely gets you out of the game in that scenario. In a far more puzzling move, Chapman remained in the game to start the bottom of the ninth inning after the Cubs extended the lead to 9-2.

As Tom Tango noted on Twitter, Cleveland’s chances at that point were reduced to around a one-in-a-thousand shot, certainly enough to let it ride on other relievers. In a postgame interview Maddon attributed this to a failure to get another reliever warmed up quickly enough, which is a bad error on his part, and he ultimately lifted Chapman at 20 pitches after a leadoff walk. Strop and Wood finished the game without creating too much additional agita.

Maddon did have a more obvious positive impact, as the Cubs shook up their batting order for Game 6. He slid designated hitter Kyle Schwarber, who only got one plate appearance in the three National League rules games in Chicago, into the two-hole. That pushed Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Ben Zobrist all down a slot from their usual placements. All of them mashed the ball, so this was a well-executed change, and I’d expect to see the same kind of lineup in Game 7.

If there was a slightly curious positioning in the lineup, it was that the Cubs hit the apparently powerless Jason Heyward eighth and free-swinging slugger Javier Baez ninth. Typically you’d want those reversed in an American League lineup, with Heyward fitting better in the “second leadoff hitter” role, but the rest of the lineup hit so well that nothing Heyward or Baez did mattered.

Josh Tomlin, like the entirety of Cleveland’s non-Corey Kluber starting staff this postseason, had a justifiably short hook in Game 6. Cleveland manager Terry Francona had action behind Tomlin as early as the first inning. The second and third runs scored against Tomlin were technically “earned,” which is a failure of how we classify these things, as Tomlin induced a weak pop fly to right-center that should’ve gotten him out of the first inning at 1-0. It’s hard to criticize Francona much for staying with Tomlin through that.

Where you might be able to quibble with the length of Francona’s hook is in the third inning. Tomlin issued a tough leadoff walk to Kyle Schwarber, then got Kris Bryant to pop to right. Anthony Rizzo then lined a single. Francona let Tomlin, who by this point really didn’t seem to have much, pitch to Ben Zobrist. For most of the playoffs, Francona has lifted his starters a hitter too early instead of a hitter too late, but here Zobrist singled. This was probably a batter late.

Francona went to righty Dan Otero with the bases loaded following Zobrist’s single, looking for a double play. Otero is roughly fourth on Francona’s relief pecking order after the vaunted Andrew Miller/Cody Allen duo and reliable setup man Bryan Shaw. In 2016, the sinkerballer was one of the groundball-heaviest pitchers in the majors, and allowed only two home runs on his way to a 1.53 ERA and 3.06 DRA in the regular season.

Otero was certainly the right choice for Francona to bring into the game over a long reliever like Ryan Merritt or Mike Clevinger, and Francona should be praised for using one of his legitimate short relievers that early to try to get out of a key jam. That Otero gave up a backbreaking grand slam to Addison Russell was, from a managerial perspective, the kind of bad outcome with good process that Cleveland has avoided for the past month.

Francona turned the game over to Danny Salazar in the fourth, and Salazar delivered two scoreless innings. Salazar missed most of September and the first two rounds of the playoffs with forearm and elbow issues, and was dreadful when he did pitch in the second half of the regular season. But if healthy, Salazar is clearly Cleveland’s second-best starter after Kluber, and placing him on the World Series roster would indicate some level of confidence in his health, which all raises an interesting question: should Salazar have started this game over Tomlin to begin with? In an ideal world Tomlin would’ve provided length Salazar couldn’t, and Tomlin had pitched well coming in, but out-for-out Salazar might’ve been a better choice.

Jake Arrieta, as the reigning Cy Young winner, deserves a far longer hook than Tomlin does. With the benefit of a seven-run cushion, Maddon let Arrieta work out of a jam in the bottom of the fourth, allowing one run and stranding the bases loaded by striking out Naquin. Had Naquin reached, Maddon might’ve been faced with some tough decisions. A Jason Kipnis solo homer in the fifth followed, but overall Arrieta pitched well while dodging trouble, ultimately being lifted after a walk with two outs in the sixth at 102 pitches.

Maddon opted to use southpaw Mike Montgomery behind Arrieta, and Montgomery got out of the sixth before allowing the baserunners in the seventh that caused Maddon to go to Chapman. Montgomery was as good a choice as anyone else to relieve Arrieta.

After Salazar, Francona emptied Cleveland’s bullpen of more low-leverage relievers that under no plausible circumstances will be pitching in a close Game 7: Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, and Clevinger. Outside of disaster striking, it’s honestly hard to see nine-inning scenarios in which anyone but Kluber, Miller, Allen, and Shaw pitches in Game 7, given that all three of those relievers should be ready and able to go multiple innings if necessary.

That’s been Cleveland’s formula for success so far, and with Chapman being leaned on so hard over the past three days, Francona starts Game 7 in the managerial driver’s seat. Whether he can stay there might determine which team ends their drought and raises the greatest baseball flag of them all.

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oldbopper
11/02
The thought that I got out of watching the game was that it looked like it should have been played in Williamsport. The first inning outfield screwup was disastrous, the catching by Contreras left a lot to be desired and Perez, though the game had been decided, topped it off with a baserunning blunder for the ages. Tomlin was clearly the right choice. He had been outstanding in his last several starts but was going on short rest, an unavoidable trade-off but a reasonable one. Maddon's use of Chapman is the obvious point of contention. Maddon simply has no confidence in his pen beyond Montgomery so going with Chapman in the 7th was debatable but defendable. There is no defense for not having a couple of arms ready for the 9th. 20 pitches hardly negate his availability for tonight's game but they were certainly wasted pitches. Let us hope that Game 7, the best moment in any sport, is a better game.
bhacking
11/02
One other thing to consider is that the Cubs will have Jon Lester available for game 7 so the need for Chapman to go multiple innings tonight is reduced.
Deadheadbrewer
11/02
To play Devil's Advocate--why not Miller or Allen in the third? An out with the bases loaded, and there's a decent chance that there is no Game Seven. That reliever gets you though the heart of the Cubs' lineup the next inning or so, and then you still have your other ace reliever if one team doesn't break things open in innings five or six. It's not quite the same as not using Britton against the Jays, but I don't know that one can expect a higher-leverage situation than bases loaded.
jarrettseidler
11/02
Interesting idea. I don't know that you'd want to burn Allen or Miller for multiple innings down three runs for similar cascading reasons as to why having Chapman sit down and get back up twice up five isn't great, so you're probably using whichever one for just two outs. Otero's a pretty good fit for Russell there as a righty groundballer; with Schwarber running at third you've got a better-than-usual chance to cut down the lead run and maybe turn two on anything to an infielder. Certainly wouldn't have had an issue had Francona went to his bigger guns, but I think Otero's fine given the overall situation too.
lichtman
11/02
"There is a somewhat persuasive counter-argument: you have to get to Game 7. Even if Cleveland’s chances to come back and win Game 6 with more conventional bullpen management were low as of Chapman’s entry--Fangraphs’ live win probability estimated them at 3.1 percent--that low chance definitively ends the Cubs' season if it hits." It's not a persuasive argument at all. One, the only way for the Cubs to win the WS is to win 2 games. So the correct strategy is always to maximize the chances of winning both games. If you increase the chances of winning game 6 by X percent (even if were to take you to 100%) and at the same time decrease your chances in game 7 of X + something, that's an incorrect strategy. Second, the entire point of leverage is that it tells you the impact of one player over another. While the Cubs at one point had a generic 97% chance of winning using Chapman rather than another reliever does not make it 100% or even 98%. Using him barely moves the needle at all. It changes that 97% to something like 97.1%. That's why it was 100% (to keep with the percentages theme) incorrect to use him. One can argue whether using him will have much an effect on tonight's game (and I think one would have to conclude that it will have SOME effect - either in effectiveness, longevity or both) but the important point is that there was virtually NO gain from using him in game 6. So if your "counter-argument" (that you MUST win game 6 to get to game 7, therefore...) were correct, which it is not, then you're still not gaining anything since using him in game 6 barely increases your chances of winning said game as opposed to another relief pitcher. That was especially true as Maddon brought Chapman in to face Napoli and Ramirez, both RHB!
jarrettseidler
11/02
Maddon brought Chapman in for Lindor, a switch-hitter who has been (slightly) better both in 2016 and over his major-league career hitting left-handed than right. I agree that the game situation in and of itself was at least two batters reaching away from dictating a Chapman appearance, and that Maddon was unlikely to ever actually need Chapman in this game. Any defense of Maddon's usage of Chapman relies on the so-called "soft factors" like his ability to warm, ability to stay loose for several innings after warming, emotional reactions from the team, etc.; things like those noted in the comment of cubsker below. I'm not particularly persuaded by them, but I'd also err on the panic overuse in using my best relievers if the alternative is Craig Kimbrel or Zach Britton cursing up a storm in your bullpen as the season ends with your ninth best pitcher on the mound. Obviously you'd prefer a better understanding of overall leverage and strategy from your manager and not have to choose between suboptimal options, but... If I thought we had a better handle on whether there was a real cost to Chapman's Game 7 effectiveness or length I'd feel much more strongly about this one way or the other, FWIW. But it's outlier usage over the course of a just a week for a pitcher that is, generally, an outlier. Thanks for the thoughts, been reading your work for what feels like decades.
davolson01
11/02
No lifelong Cub fan believes the chances of the Cubs losing the game when Chapman was brought in in the 7th inning were 3.1 percent. Our models are fine-tuned by a lifetime of experience, and include an additional nonstandard Sabrmetric item we call "the Carlos Marmol factor".
cubsker
11/02
the issue with chapman is that if say they had brought someone else in and the Indians had cut it to 7-4. OK, then you want Chapman. Well, Chapman has to warm up for quite awhile to be ready. So in order to bring him in, he needs time. Well, if he's going to warm up, you're going to bring him in. We've seen what happens when he gets up and sits back down and then gets back up again. It does not go well. As soon as he warms up, that means he's coming in. End of Story. The 9th....no idea what Joe was doing there. Even if it was 7-2, I would have relied on Strop and Wood to get the job done.