Re-evaluating Francona's decision to pull Carrasco

The move did not lose Game 2 for the Indians

Alex Hooper
October 06, 2018 - 10:04 pm
Oct 6, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) is pulled from the game during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros during game two of the 2018 ALDS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park

© Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) - Cleveland Indians Manager Terry Francona did not lose his team Game 2 of the ALDS against the Houston Astros by removing Carlos Carrasco in the 6th inning on Saturday. The team did that to themselves, coming up with three hits for the second consecutive night, and five-or-less base hits for the fifth consecutive playoff game.

At the time of the move, the Indians led by one run, their lone lead over the course of the two games in Houston. It quickly disappeared soon after Carrasco was yanked, the team never recovered in the game, and their hopes of advancing seemed to dissipate along with it.

Francona admitted that the room for error against the dangerous Astros lineup, paired with aces Justin Verlander and Game 2 starter Gerrit Cole, was next to nothing. Cole drove that point home with each high-90s fastball he threw, flustering every hitter outside of Francisco Lindor in one plate appearance.

The results of Francona’s move to Andrew Miller were obviously a game changer, struggling offense aside, but the process was not horribly ideal either.

The skipper claimed that he went to Miller right where he wanted to, which was a one-out situation with runners on second and third against switch-hitting utility man Marwin Gonzalez. Francona cited Gonzalez’s success against Carrasco, and lack thereof against Miller as his reasoning.

“We got to a point in the game where -- oh, boy, with a one-run lead, and with Gonzalez coming up the way he had swung the bat against him prior and Andrew's history, I felt really good about it,” he said. “Didn't work out the way we obviously planned.”

Gonzalez against Carrasco: 3-for-12, HR, BB, 6 K, .250/.308/.500

Gonzalez against Miller: 1-for-7, 5 K, .143/.143/.143

Those stat lines are quite noticeably different aside from the fact that Gonzalez strikes out a bunch against each pitcher.

The fact of the matter is, seven plate appearances, nor 13, are enough to draw a serious conclusion about a hitter-pitcher matchup. Very few of those matchups ever reach enough of a sample size to draw meaningful conclusions, outside of maybe those that are gaudy enough where you feel comfortable. 1-for-7, nor 3-for-12 are that, one way or another.

Never mind that Gonzalez boasted a .753 OPS against lefties in 2018, as opposed to .722 against righties. That is a departure from the 29-year-old’s normal splits, .730 against LHP against .740 against RHP.

The difference was not one that went unnoticed, with a reporter specifically noting it post-game to Astros Manager A.J. Hinch, and one Hinch was happy to talk about.

“He was very pull oriented early -- when I first met him and got to know him early in '15, he was very pull oriented, which this ballpark can do to a right-handed hitter, being how short it is,” Hinch said. “But it's a little bit more well-rounded now. He's got the ability to move the ball around the field. He's gotten to be a smarter right-handed hitter, where he's not just trying to ambush all fastballs. He's into the counts. I think his bat path is cleaner. I think his pitch selection has gotten better, and his production has come with it.”

Throwing matchups completely out the window – again, as they should be – the move was still questionable, only because of its timing.

If Francona’s belief was to stay as far away from the Astros seeing Carrasco for a third time through the order, Miller should have been ready by the beginning of the inning, and used as soon as Jose Altuve reached base. Carrasco’s numbers indicate success the third time through the order, with a .617 OPS against, but Houston boasts a gaudy .834 OPS the third time seeing a starter.

Francona chose to let Carrasco see the first four hitters of that lineup a third time, and two of them reached base before Yuli Gurriel’s lineout to Michael Brantley and Miller’s ensuing entrance.

If you want to consider matchups – which, again, you probably should not – Gurriel was a career 4-for-9 against Carrasco entering Saturday, and 1-for-2 against Miller.

Francona may have gotten the matchup he wanted, but Miller was forced to enter the game with just one out and two on, as opposed to a manageable runner-on-first, no-out scenario. Just to get there, the manager technically put his team at risk by showing Carrasco for a third time.

The sure-to-be Hall of Fame manager has stressed that ‘there is a real fine line between smart and dumb,’ a line that he has walked quite well in his career. The results may have tipped over into the latter side of that road, but that did not necessarily make the process – by Tito’s words – ‘dumb.’

The process had its reasons. The reasons just may need to be reevaluated with the season on the line Monday.