This is the first article in a five-part series looking at the biggest plays of the year for the Tribe based on Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA measures the difference in a team’s expected probability of winning the game before and after each play, so these were the plays that gave the most significant boost to the Tribe’s chances of winning a game.
The Indians were one of the best offensive teams in clutch situations in 2013, finishing 2nd in all of baseball with a 115 wRC+ in high leverage situations. Ultimately, this was the inspiration for this series. As for each play, I’ll take an in-depth look at the game leading up to the big play.
#5: June 28th (Game 2 of 2) in Chicago against the White Sox
This was the second game of a doubleheader, coming after a wild 19-10 Indians win in which the White Sox scored five runs against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, only to blow the lead in the second inning when starter Hector Santiago gave up five runs of his own. The Tribe scored 6 more runs in the fourth and three more runs in the fifth, good for a 14-5 lead. After Chicago cut the lead down to 14-10 by scoring four in the sixth and one in the seventh, the Tribe’s pitching settled down as Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez each pitched a scoreless inning.
Carlos Carrasco started the second game for the Tribe, the fifth of seven starts he made in 2013. Carrasco had struggled up to that point in 2013, striking out 10 and walking 10 in 19.2 IP. Jose Quintana started for Chicago, going into the game with a 17% strikeout rate and a 7% walk rate, both improvements on his 2012 rookie season. However, an increase fly ball rate led to Quintana allowing 10 home runs in his first 87 innings.
Quintana struggled out of the gate, leading off the game by allowing singles to Michael Bourn, Mike Aviles, and Jason Kipnis. Swisher walked to drive in the first run, Mark Reynolds struck out of the first out, then Carlos Santana walked to give Cleveland a 2-0 lead. With 1-0 count to Michael Brantley, catcher Hector Gimenez set up for a low fastball. Quintana missed with it above the zone, but Brantley swung and missed at the pitch.
Gimenez intitially thought he caught the ball cleanly, but the ball actually bounced out of his glove and rolled to the backstop. While Quintana missed his spot by a considerable distance, Gimenez should have had this one, and you can see it simply pop out of the glove.
Kipnis scored from third, and both Swisher and Santana advanced. Brantley drove Swisher in with a sac fly, giving the Tribe a 4-0 lead and an 84% Win Probability. Quintana ended the inning by striking Ryan Raburn out looking.
Chicago scored one run in the bottom of the first and one run in the bottom of the fifth to make it a 4-2 game, bringing Cleveland’s Win Probability to 79.7% at the start of the sixth inning. On his first pitch to Mark Reynolds, Quintana missed high with a fastball and Reynolds hit it 383 feet for his 15th home run in 2013.
This turned out to be Reynolds’ last home run as a member of the Tribe, as he went 8-66 with one double, no homers, and a .243 OBP before being designated for assignment in August.
After the next three batters grounded out, Carlos Carrasco came back out to start the bottom of the sixth. Gordon Beckham led off the inning by grounding a single up the middle on a 2-2 change up. Carrasco then struck out John Danks looking with a curveball for the first out. He got ahead of Casper Wells 0-2, then threw him a change up just outside of the zone. Carrasco put the pitch right where he wanted, and it wasn’t even in the strike zone, but Wells managed to make contact.
Wells’ ground ball made it by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, moving Beckham to second and bringing the tying run to the plate. Cabrera is relatively sure-handed at short, but his range has always been below average. This is a ball that a quicker shortstop gets to, especially if he is playing further back – Cabrera was only a few feet behind the bag when he dove for the ball which really limited his range to his left.
Hector Gimenez, Chicago’s #9 hitter, came to the plate with one out and men on first and second. Carrasco got Gimenez to chase a first pitch change up out of the zone, but he missed outside with the next three pitches to fall behind 3-1.
On 3-1, Gimenez fouled off a fastball that just above the zone. Gimenez fouled off the next five pitches, four of which would have been strike three.
On the 11 pitch of the at bat, Carrasco threw a fastball that just missed the inside edge of the plate. Gimenez laid off, earning himself a walk and loading the bases.
The walk brought the Indians’ Win Probability to 73.2%, the lowest since they took the lead in the first inning. Chicago’s leadoff hitter, lefty Alejandro de Aza, was due up for the fourth time in the game. Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway made a visit to the mound, but Carrasco stayed in the game.
With the bases loaded and one out, leadoff hitter Alejandro de Aza came up to bat for the fourth time in the game. Carrasco missed outside with the first two pitches, then got de Aza to foul off a fastball on 2-0 and chase a change up in the dirt to make it 2-2. Carrasco followed with another change up out of the zone, this one a few inches outside.
De Aza slapped the pitch down the first baseline, sneaking a line drive just past Mark Reynolds at third base for a two run double, cutting the Tribe’s lead to 5-4 and bringing the Tribe’s Win Probability all the way down to 46%!
Carrasco stayed in the game for one more hitter, getting Alexei Ramirez to ground out for the second out. With lefty Adam Dunn up next, Terry Francona finally went to the bullpen, bringing in the Tribe’s only available lefty reliever, Rich Hill.
In his career, Dunn has posted a 131 wRC+ against righties and a 104 wRC+ against lefties, making it an easy call to go with Hill. Hill started Dunn off with two curveballs just wide of the zone, and Dunn whiffed at both. Hill was poised for a 2 out strike out that would let Cleveland finish the inning with a lead. Hill threw a third curveball to Dunn, this one catching more of the plate than the first two.
It was by no means a bad pitch, even if it was a bit too far over the plate for an 0-2 pitch. Dunn hit a grounder that found it’s way through the Tribe’s half-hearted shift, easily scoring the tying and go ahead runs. This was an especially big play since there were two outs, and the White Sox added 32.9% in Win Probability on this play, giving them a 72.9% chance of victory.
Hill went 1-0 to Jeff Keppinger, then missed badly inside with a 92 mph fastball. Santana had to adjust quickly, and he couldn’t catch the pitch.
The ball may have tipped Santana’s glove as he reached over, but if anything it only hit the webbing as he had to turn his hand to reach the pitch. It was ruled a wild pitch as Dunn advanced to second base.
With first base open and Conor Gillaspie, a career .155/.189.239 hitter against lefties, on deck, Hill threw two intentional balls to put Keppinger on first with two outs. The White Sox pinch hit the right-handed Brent Morel, who walked on four pitches from Hill.
Gordon Beckham came up with the bases loaded and two outs, his second at bat of the inning. Beckham fell behind 1-2, then fouled off three breaking balls in the zone and taking an outside fastball for a ball to make the count 2-2. Hill located a slider low and inside and got Beckham to hit a weak fly ball to center field.
Beckham’s fly ball stayed in the air for 3.9 seconds, more than enough time for Michael Bourn to make a relatively long run from a straight-away position in center field and make the catch to end the inning and keep the deficit at 1.
The White Sox brought Nate Jones in for the seventh. He struck out Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn on four pitches each, then allowed a single to Mike Aviles. Jason Kipnis followed with a routine ground ball to second base.
Hill came back to the mound for the bottom of the seventh. He made 63 appearances in 2013, and this one one of 15 in which he came back out to the mound after sitting for a half inning. Hill struck out the side, sitting down Jordan Danks, Casper Wells, and Hector Gimenez. Hill got some help on his strikeout pitch to Giminez, who thought Hill’s 3-2 curveball was high.
This was the highest pitch that umpire Mike Estabrook called for a strike with a right handed batter up the entire game. He had called about four pitches at that height or lower balls, so you can understand Gimenez’s reaction.
Jesse Crain came in to pitch for the White Sox in the top of the eighth. Swisher grounded out on a first pitch slider, bringing the Tribe’s Win Probability down to 19.6%. Reynolds followed by singling up the middle for his second hit of the game. After Crain went to 3-2 against Santana, he made a quick pickoff throw to first and managed to catch Reynolds for the second out of the inning. Crain made a good throw, though it looked like he actually balked on the play, buckling his front knee before stepping back.
A pitcher isn’t allowed to move once he’s come set, and that type of movement definitely deceives the runner, who assumes that the pitcher is raising his front leg to deliver a pitch to the plate. (Watch this short video from Ump Hub to learn about the illegal move).
Santana singled on the next pitch to keep the inning alive. On 1-0, Crain left a fastball up in the zone to Michael Brantley, who turned on the 95-mph heater.
Brantley sent the pitch into the seats, but the first base ump called a foul ball, keeping Chicago’s lead intact.
The umps called for a video review of the play. When they watched the video, it became clear that the ball fell foul, and the call was upheld.
Rookie Matt Langwell came in to pitch for the Tribe in just his fifth career appearance. He began the bottom of the eighth by walking Alejandro de Aza.
With Alexei Ramirez at the plate and a 1-2 count De Aza broke for second base. In an article I wrote comparing Santana’s defense behind the plate to Yan Gomes’, I found that Santana averaged about a 21/30 second transfer and a 35/30 second throw. Santana’s made a 23/30 second transfer and a 34/30 second throw on this play, so it was about an average throw down to second overall for Santana, but it was a bit high and de Aza was safe.
On the next pitch, Langwell hung a slider in the middle of the plate.
Ramirez kept his hands inside of the ball and hit a soft line drive that eluded a leaping Jason Kipnis. De Aza scored easily as the ball rolled into the gap, and Ramirez hustled into second, hitting the bag 7.77 seconds after he made contact with the pitch. For comparison, Michael Bourn can get to second base in about 7.4-7.5 seconds, but he hits from the left side which gives him an advantage, so Ramirez’s speed here was impressive.
Now trailing 7-5, Langwell struck out Adam Dunn for the first out of the inning. Keppinger followed with a fly ball to right field that Drew Stubbs misplayed, scoring Ramirez and allowing Keppinger to go all the way to third base.
With the White Sox now up 8-5 the Tribe’s Win Probability fell to 1.7%. Langwell got the next two hitters out and sent Cleveland to the plate for the ninth inning.
Addison Reed replaced Crain, starting off Ryan Raburn with four fastballs to make the count 2-2. Reed threw a slider way above his target. The pitch may have been above the zone, but Raburn put a good swing on the pitch.
Raburn hit a hard ground ball straight up the middle for a leadoff single, increasing the Tribe’s Win Probability from 2.9% to 6.4%.
Asdrubal Cabrera came up next, whiffing at an outside first-pitch fastball to make the count 0-1. Reed went with another slider, but missed high again.
Cabrera was early on the slider, so he pulled a ground ball. When Cabrera is hitting lefty and pulls an outside curveball or slider (more than 6 inches from the center of the zone), his BABIP is .182. When he pulls all other sliders and curves as a lefty, his BABIP is .315, and when he goes up the middle or the opposite way with an outside breaking ball his BABIP is .455. But Cabrera’s ground ball found its way past Jeff Keppinger at first and into left field for a single.
After falling behind 1-0 to Michael Bourn, Reed continued his struggles keeping the ball the down, this time leaving a fastball right over the plate.
Bourn took advantage of the mistake, singling up the middle. Raburn scored to make it 8-6, Cabrera made it to third, and Bourn became the potential tying run.
Bourn broke for second on the first two pitches, but pinch hitter Jason Giambi fouled both pitches off. On 0-2, the White Sox pitched out, but Bourn wasn’t running. The next pitch, Reed had another slider get away from him. This time instead of being up in the zone, it bounced in the left handed batters box.
The ball rolled to the backstop, allowing Asdrubal Cabrera to score to bring the Tribe within one run. More importantly, Bourn moved over to second base, putting the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. Despite the White Sox paying so much attention to Bourn, they handed him second base, leading to a 5% boost in Win Probability for the Tribe.
Giambi flew out to center on another high fastball, giving Reed his first out of the inning. However, the ball was hit deep enough for Bourn to advance to third base without a throw.
Jason Kipnis came up with Bourne on third and one out. He worked the count to 2-2, then hit a fly ball to centerfield on a fastball up and in. Center fielder Jordan Danks had plenty of time to set up a throw, but Bourn’s speed made it an impossible throw, as Bourn touched the plate 3.47 seconds after Danks caught the ball.
For comparison, let’s quickly look at was was the only outfield assist to home on an attempted sac fly in Chicago in 2013: Josh Reddick throwing out Tyler Flowers. Reddick makes a fantastic throw, but when we pause the clip 3.47 seconds after Reddick caught the ball, we see that even that throw wouldn’t have beat Bourn since the catcher received the ball as Bourn would have been touching home.
Bourn’s run tied the game at 8-8. With two outs, the bases empty, and the White Sox still with a chance to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the Indians’ Win Probability was up to 41.3%, a huge improvement from the 2.9% they started the inning, but it still put them at a disadvantage. Nick Swisher came to the plate to try to keep the inning going.
Reed started Swisher off with a slider, missing up and away. Swisher took the pitch for ball one.
On 1-0, Reed threw a fastball over the inside half of the plate, just a bit above his target. Swisher was a bit late and he fouled the pitch off.
Reed followed with another fastball, missing badly outside. Swisher bailed him out, chasing the pitch and whiffing for strike two.
Reed tried to finish Swisher off with a slider, but continued his pattern of not keeping it down and the pitch was high for ball two.
Reed missed again on 2-2, this time letting a fastball get away from him.
With the count full and two outs, Reed tried to go back inside with another fastball. However, he made the same mistake he did on the second pitch of the at bat, missing up and over the plate.
In fact, this pitch was in almost exactly the same place as the 1-0 fastball. Look at the two pitches side-by-side (the 3-2 pitch is on the right):
An overlay of the two pitches shows the same thing. I aligned the two pitches based on the location of home plate in order to adjust for a minor difference in camera angle. The pitch target, path, and location were almost identical.
On the second time around, Nick Swisher had more success. Instead of fouling the pitch off, he blasted a home run into the right field seats, giving the Tribe a 9-8 lead and giving the Tribe their 5th biggest play of the year, as his go ahead home run increased the team’s Win Probability from 40.3% to 83.4%, a 42.1% swing. Swisher’s homer travled 414 feet, Swisher’s second longest homer of the season.
Vinnie Pestano closed the door for the Tribe, striking out the side to preserve the lead and help the Tribe sweep the day’s doubleheader. Take a look at the Win Probability graph from Fangraphs to see how back and forth this game was.
Stay tuned for the next four plays in the series!