Defense is the reason that the Cleveland Indians (69-54) even stayed close to the Boston Red Sox (71-53) on Monday night before Roberto Perez’s fateful bunt (and errant throw by Brock Holt) would send the Tribe to a walk-off victory, 5-4. Each defensive play limited the Red Sox offensive efforts, but, without the culmination of the fielding excellence, the Red Sox would have won in a lopsided fashion.
Giovanny Urshela continues to be under-appreciated for his defense as he makes incredibly difficult plays look routine. A Christian Vasquez slow roller down the line would be a hit against most teams, but Urshela sprinted forward and made a perfect throw to Carlos Santana without slowing down. Two more line drives to the hot corner were also easily snared. Santana matched Urshela’s efforts on the other side of the infield with diving and scooping plays of his own. Roberto Perez caught a foul ball as his arm grazed the netting behind home plate. He nearly threw out Mookie Betts stealing second (overturned on replay). Francisco Lindor raced out to shallow center field to capture a blooper. Bradley Zimmer thwarted the Red Sox late-inning rally efforts by holding Vasquez to a single despite the ball ricocheting off the wall in dead center.
Big night for Robo
Perez has had a miserable season at the plate. Unlike past seasons, he cannot just blame a slow start and few plate appearances for dragging down his overall profile. Perez has struggled each month as his wRC+ by month demonstrates (12 in April, -7 in May, 98 in June, 61 in July, 47 in August). June was the only month that he even approached being a league average hitter. With his great framing and ability to throw out runners, the Indians can get away with a catcher who has a slightly below average bat. Yan Gomes is hitting 81 wRC+ for the season, which is just fine. Slashing .180/.271/.273 with 46 wRC+ on the year though- as Perez has done- doesn’t fly.
The fortunate portion of Perez’s season is that he has somehow saved his best offensive efforts for the most important times of the game. WPA measures the leverage of each plate appearance, which means late-inning at bats in close games become more important. The clutch statistic takes things one step further and measures how much better or worse a player does in high leverage versus their overall profile. For Perez, he leads the Indians in “clutch-ness.”
It is worth noting that just because Perez has saved his best for the most important times of the game, it doesn’t mean fans should want Perez to be walking up to the plate in those high leverage opportunities. The clutch statistic is not meant to be predictive, which means it only tells the story of what has happened rather than trying to guess who will be best in those situations in the future. Also, while Perez has ranked great when measured against his relative paltry offensive profile, his WPA score of -0.03 shows that he is still a below average hitter in those circumstances. Edwin Encarnacion might have a negative clutch score (-0.48), but he is such a great overall hitter that he remains the third highest on the Indians in creating win probability added (1.28).
Jensen Lewis steps in it
STO’s Jensen Lewis has decided to continue his schtick against anyone who wants to understand the game of baseball through analytics. The walk-off bunt gave Lewis what he thought was a perfect opportunity to get a small sample size dig in at the sabermetric community. So, he took it.
— Jensen Lewis (@JLEWFifty) August 22, 2017
The unfortunate part of jokes is that if you do not understand the subject matter that you are mocking, then you are leaving yourself open to look foolish. In the particular scenario the Indians found themselves in- runner on second with no outs in a tie game, bottom of the ninth inning- only one run was needed. The run expectancy charts show that the odds of scoring just one run are higher with one out and a runner on third than no outs and a runner on second. So, a good bunt to move the runner over makes perfect sense from a sabermetric point of view.
Roberto Perez received some good fortune because what he offered was not a good bunt, but, hey, it worked and Holt showed that no Brock throwing a ball professionally in Cleveland had a good night.1