Francona’s Playoff “Mistakes” Were Overblown
Much has been made over Terry Francona’s supposed mistakes in the 2022 playoffs. These centered on his use of challenges, specifically using challenges liberally early so they were not available late, and missing a challenge in Game 4 against the New York Yankees. There was also discussion about pitching decisions, including his management of the bullpen – avoiding his biggest relievers when the Guardians were down in a close game – and starting pitching decisions, such as not going to ace Shane Bieber on short rest in Game 5 in New York.
While it is fair to second-guess and wonder what could have happened if different decisions had been made, all of these “mistakes” need to be taken in context. First, in the context of a much larger body of work, Francona has to be given some measure of the benefit of the doubt.
Beyond that, the Guardians’ management of replays was impressive this year. In the playoffs, the rules change and an additional challenge is given to each team, allowing them to be used more liberally. We also need to remember that challenge recommendations are relayed to the manager, who has to rely on very quick decisions by the replay team. Using replay more liberally in the playoffs is both understandable and expected, and one mistake should not overshadow a much larger body of success.
As for the pitching decisions, it is hard to second-guess Francona. He managed the bullpen just about perfectly all season, leading a very young and inexperienced group to be consistently dominant by putting pitchers in positions to succeed and not being afraid to make changes when needed. Bieber has long been known as a creature of habit, and has seen his velocity decrease. Aaron Civale was added to the ALDS roster to start, and Francona was able to quickly pivot when it became clear that he was not going to give the Guardians the best chance to win the deciding Game 5.