Throughout the playoffs, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has made a habit of using his two best relief pitchers – Andrew Miller and Cody Allen – in high leverage situations.
Due to a depleted starting rotation that suffered the losses of Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco in the month of September, the Cleveland Indians have relied heavily on their bullpen to keep them ahead late in games during their postseason run. Manager Terry Francona has been quick to pull starting pitchers not named Corey Kluber out of the game when the situation gets stressful.
Much attention has been paid to Francona’s usage of his relievers, and the advanced metrics for situational leverage in games bears out how effective he has at leaning on his best arms.
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Cody Allen has been used as the primary closer in the postseason, just as he had been for the regular season. As a result, his Leverage Index has rated higher than anyone else’s in the Cleveland bullpen.
Allen’s Average Leverage Index (pLI) has rated at 2.03 so far this postseason. Any pLI above 2.00 is considered a high leverage situation.
Since the Indians have only been leading each game by a couple of runs, these situations are naturally even more stressful. For example, if Allen comes on in the bottom of the ninth to start the inning up just one run, he walks into a situation with a 2.4 Leverage Index. If the first batter reaches first base, that Leverage Index raises to 4.6, an incredibly high index.
Luckily for the Tribe, Allen has been very sharp on the mound. To this point, he has thrown nine innings across eight games, with five saves and no runs allowed.
Miller has been more of the same. He has been worked hard throughout the playoffs, and for good reason. This is the reason Cleveland was comfortable giving up so much when it acquired him at the trade deadline.
Miller’s pLI is at 1.53. While this seems low compared to Allen’s, remember that Miller has been used mostly in the middle innings of ballgames, where the pLI is naturally lower.
Let this take nothing away from what they lefty has done. Pitching with a slim lead is no easy task no matter what the inning. It just so happens that Miller does not give up many base runners, therefore keeping his pLI low.
Miller’s pLI is only slightly lower than his averages from the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons, meaning that the middle innings that he is appearing in in the playoffs are nearly as stressful as the late innings he threw for the Indians and New York Yankees during the regular season.
As the baseball media across the country has pointed out repeatedly, Miller has yet to give up a run across his 13.2 innings pitched in the playoffs. In that time, he has racked up an astounding 24 strikeouts and allowed just seven hits.
With most of the Cleveland bullpen being used sparingly throughout the playoffs, Allen and Miller have been seeing the majority of the workload. Without their ability to remain cool through these situations, the Indians would likely not be in the World Series. Whether they can continue this performance in tight situations the rest of the way could go a long way towards determining if the Tribe can bring home a championship.