Playoff Prospectus: Assessing the Managers’ Moves in Game 6

This piece, written by Baseball Prospectus’s Jarrett Seidler, forms part of the main site’s comprehensive coverage of the postseason, “Playoff Prospectus”.

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.

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Lead photo courtesy Ken Blaze—USA Today Sports

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