The Second Guess: Leyland ‘thrilled’ to allow run on double play with infield back

David Brown
Big League Stew

When appropriate, Big League Stew reviews key decisions in the postseason to see if the right one was made.

The Issue: In Game 2 of the World Series, the San Francisco Giants loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh inning and the score tied 0-0 against the Detroit Tigers. With Brandon Crawford batting against left-hander Drew Smyly and the pitcher's spot due next, Tigers manager Jim Leyland decided to not play the infield close in order to cut off a run at home plate. Instead, the Tigers positioned themselves at double play depth, conceding the run and the lead with six offensive outs remaining to catch up. As the Tigers hoped, Crawford grounded into a double play, scoring Hunter Pence from third base. Pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot struck out to end the inning with the Tigers trailing 1-0.

The Question: Did Leyland do the right thing, or should he have played the infield close in order to stop the run from scoring at any cost?

The Case For: A defense that plays close makes it easier exponentially for a hitter to get a grounder or a liner through the infield. The game had not gone to the ninth or 10th inning — when one run couldn't end it — so the Tigers could have been hurt worse by a big inning. Crawford's double play actually lowered San Francisco's win expectancy.

The Case Against: With only two innings to go, the Tigers were putting mondo pressure on their hitters (like they needed any more) to score immediately, or soon thereafter. Sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder weren't due to come up again unless the Tigers got some base runners. Allowing your team to get behind at all seems foolhardy. Sure, a big deficit is worse than one run, but could the Tigers afford even that?

Their Say: As the video above shows, Leyland said he was "thrilled" to get the double-play result."

"We played double-play depth because we felt like we couldn't give them two runs. ... To be honest with you, we were absolutely thrilled to come out of that inning with one run. Absolutely thrilled. I mean, we had to score, anyway. ... We felt like we didn't want them to open it up. We got the double-play ball, we got out of it and it actually worked out really good for us."

Stew Verdict: The sabermetric number-cruncher crowd seems to agree with Leyland. Old and New School philosophies jibe — because Leyland ain't no saberhead. If the Tigers had a stronger defensive club, maybe Leyland could risk playing the infield in and try to maintain a tie. But he got the best possible outcome there: Two outs and just one run behind. The Giants added another run in the eighth and won 2-0 with Cabrera on deck and Fielder in the hole in the ninth.

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