It's easy to second guess after the fact. Whatever didn't turn out right must have been the wrong choice. Hindsight is 20/20. You know that.
However, foresight ruled in the ninth inning of the Tigers' game against the Royals on Saturday. Prince Fielder reached base on a walk to lead off the ninth, and immediately even the television broadcast crew brought the question up for debate: Do you pinch run for Fielder here?
Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn't, and this happened following a two-out double to left off the bat of Omar Infante.
Exciting ending, but a 1-0 decision in favor of the Royals.
Here are the pros and cons of pinch running:
- Because Prince Fielder is a slow runner who has proven again and again that he is bad at sliding and quite susceptible to being thrown out when he takes an extra base, you replace him with a better, faster runner who, presumably, knows how to slide, increasing your chances of scoring.
- If you tie the game but don't take the lead, you've taken Prince Fielder's bat out of the game, to be replaced by someone, well, worse. You have to shift people around a bit to find a fielder for first base, since Don Kelly is already out of the game. That means you could move Victor Martinez there and lose the DH, or move Miguel Cabrera across the field to a position he has not played more than a handful of innings at since 2011. This could increase injury risks. No matter what, you have a worse bat hitting fourth in the order if the Tigers don't win in walk-off fashion before that spot comes up in the order again.
Here's the real issue with that line of thought:
If the pro doesn't work out, you don't have to worry about the con. That is, if the Tigers' pinch runner doesn't score, you've lost. Though you presumably "play to win the game," as a football coach famously said, you've got to tie it first. Fielder running decreased the odds of doing that. To fall back on football, go for the win one the road and tie at home. Leyland should have gone for the tie at home.
(In case you're wondering, yes you pinch run for Cabrera true. Especially now, with Cabrera hobbled and struggling at the plate in September anyway. It's an automatic move to pinch run for Cabrera. But that's off topic.)
And if you do tie the game and head to the 10th, at the worst you use Matt Tuiasosopo at first. Yes, he's slumping hard, but at least he's got some experience at the position this year.
I certainly am sympathetic to the argument that losing a big bat from the middle of your lineup in extra innings makes winning more difficult. But you weigh that against how much more difficult scoring the tying run is with Fielder on the bases.
In this case, Fielder is awful. At 5 runs worse than average (per FanGraphs), Fielder is the sixth-worst base runner in the game. Fans everywhere were saying to the TV, "If you don't pinch run for Fielder, this is going to end with Fielder tagged out at the plate."
Leyland didn't pinch run for Fielder. He doesn't pinch run for Fielder, as he says. So Fielder got thrown out at home. Again.
Third base coach Tom Brookens made the right decision to send Fielder. And maybe Fielder scores to tie the game and remains in the lineup if the Royals don't perform so well on the relay and throw home and catcher Salvador Perez doesn't make such a good catch and tag.
But knowing what we know, and knowing when we knew it, the right move in the situation was to use a pinch runner. Of that, I am convinced.
Leyland made the wrong decision.