High leverage Robo: That’s my boy

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

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

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.

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

  1. Hat-tip to Adam Burke for the line. []

  • Chris

    Bunting didn’t win that game – bad defense did. Also, very convenient timing for Moreland to be out.

  • scripty

    So while I was fighting off the slime of Sawx fans at the Jake last night, I kept churning the Tribe roster over. This is the best I could come up with:

    This offseason I think it’s time to take Urshela and attempt to mold him as a low strikeout rate guy that cedes power for contact. I think that’s the opposite of the way MLB is going at large, but I think that can mitigate his offensive limitations. I think we’ve seen all we need to see from Urshela. His approach at the plate isn’t bad, he just can’t achieve more than a AAA replacemennt level player at the plate on a good day. I think they need to find some offensive role he can provide some value, like a late career Jose Vizcaiano (sic) did for the Yankees when they had him hitting behind Jeter during the peak of the Knoblauch mental block days.

  • jpftribe

    Stellar defense has been the difference for this team all year, and really going back to Ursh and Lindor’s callup in 2015. That was when this team turned the corner. Just my own humble opinion, but the gap between good defense and elite is massive and wins games. Kipnis is good, Ursh and JRam are elite. Throw in a Gomes/Perez combo, Zimmer in center and Santana in a contract year marketing to NL teams and these guys can make a difference all over the field.

    Manning takes a lot of heat for his old school opinons, and he says some stupid stuff. But at least he is not the pontificating, condescending dolt that Lewis has become. I can’t stand the guys voice anymore.

  • jpftribe

    Love this thought, and Vizquel immediately comes to mind. Shorten that swing, make a lot of contact and hustle on the bases.

  • scripty

    The Sox have poor leadership and it seems they have a fundamental inability to play in the moment subconsciously. Their infield and battery seemed in analysis paralysis, which is exacerbated by Farrell’s mental fog. I was not suprised to see their late game meltdown. Hopefully this continues for them. Also, I would have loved to see a quick pitch against Hanley, who has gone to Manny Ramirez levels of unneccesssary stepping out of the box. Sadly, the guy that took over the plate had poor control of the game and the pace deteriorated last night. It was truly an awful experience of pace of play in the 2nd half of the game last night, the umpire getting brained notwithstanding.

  • scripty

    I think the Tribe would love to keep Ursh out there but it turns them into a NL style “awful bottom of the order” team with the present offensive production from Robo and Gomes. It’s an issue that won’t go away until Meijas supplants somebody behind the dish.

  • scripty
  • jpftribe

    I hear ya scripty, and I am constantly torn between the Kipnis bat and Ursh D. I am biased towards the defense, but that is likely more the fan in me. Have no idea how the FO looks at the math.

  • mgbode

    Moreland was out also thanks to Brock Holt (who hit him in the neck w/ his forearm this past weekend).

  • JM85

    Great game. Great defense.

  • mgbode

    Kipnis is flawed defensively. When he’s healthy, he has good range but it has been down this year. His transfer and throws are wretched (always have been).

    Defense is certainly a huge factor in close games. Be interesting in how all this shakes out.

    And yeah, Lewis is just a troll at this point, which is tiresome.

  • mgbode

    It is not just the umpire. The Red Sox bullpen purposefully does everything they can to mess with the hitter’s timing including quick pitches (technically illegal but Kelly attempted to get one in while Santana was checking on the home plate umpire before his AB) and dragging out between pitches to incredible lengths. I loathe Boston for these antics.

  • Steve

    “cedes power”

    He doesn’t have power to cede.