The Blue Jays came out swinging in Monday's game four matinee against the Rangers. Before the game was even seven pitches old, Josh Donaldson crushed a two-run home run en route to a clear and easy 8-4 victory for the Jays. Forty-one year old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey started the game but was taken out with two outs in the fifth inning despite only allowing five base runners and one run. At the time, the score was 7-1, and curiously, the Blue Jays skipper chose to relieve the UCL-less (and consequently, generally pitch-count-less) Dickey despite having the game well in hand.
Gibbons called on southpaw ace David Price to relieve a seemingly fine R.A. Dickey, despite a 95 percent win expectancy. Sure, we can use the Astros as a counter example, but as improbable as the collapse was against the Royals, a similarly spectacular disaster would have had to occur in Arlington. Per FanGraphs, here's a look at the win expectancy and leverage chart from Monday afternoon's game:
Price came in to the fifth, pitched three full innings of less than stellar ball, before handing it off to Aaron Sanchez to get the last out of the eighth, and closing the game out with Roberto Osuna who quietly threw the final inning of relief in a game that was never in jeopardy. Adding to the bizarreness of it all, there was a point in the game where Marcus Stroman was warming up, conjuring up images of a World Series or LCS Game 7 -- in a game that was not a clincher, that the Jays were leading by multiple runs!
With a leverage index at virtually zero, and a win probability near 100 percent, John Gibbins wasted 50 bullets from Price, who is now unavailable for game five and for inexplicable reasons, warmed up Stroman in the bullpen. Although Price does maintain he is available to pitch Wednesday. Alex Anthopoulos traded for Price specifically to help them in the the stretch run and to presumably pitch in high-leverage situations in the playoffs, and he is now unavailable to pitch in game five.
Price did not pitch spectacularly in game one of the LDS, he tossed seven innings and gave up five runs on five hits; he walked two and struck out five batters, but he still has a better track-record than most of the relievers in the Toronto pen. Even with his recent struggles, Price could have provided another much-needed left handed option. Here's the Toronto bullpen as it currently stands:
*Replaced an Injured Brett Cecil
It's unlikely we see Dickey or Estrada in game five, so starting Stroman leaves Gibbons with a ‘pen consisting of six available righties, one of whom is only on the roster because of an injury (Tepera) and one whom will soon qualify for social security (ok, so Hawkins is 42, still though).
Additionally, he left himself short one left handed relief pitcher as well because besides Price, only Aaron Loup fits the bill.
|Pitcher||Career wOBA v. LHB||Career wOBA v. RHB|
Aaron Loup is not David Price, and it is extremely unlikely (and unwise) to put him on the mound against a right-handed batter. While a bullpen game may make sense in theory, it's hard to do that when there is only one left handed option, specifically against the mixed Rangers' lineup.
With Beltre healthy, the Rangers probably will put up the same lineup they posted for game four against Dickey. The lineup consists of no more than two consecutive left-handed hitters. What happens now if Gibbons wants to use Loup against Choo? He either is stuck blowing his only southpaw on one batter, or having Loup against Adrian Beltre ----- there's no great option here. With Price available, he would have been able to bring in Loup against Choo, take him out and have a righty such as Sanchez face Beltre, and then bring in Price for Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland and the rest of the bottom of the order. That's at least an inning+ right there.
|Project Game 5 Lineup|
|1. Delino DeShields (R) CF|
|2. Shin-Soo Choo (L) RF|
|3. Adrian Beltre (R) 3B|
|4. Prince Fielder (L) DH|
|5. Mitch Moreland (L) 1B|
|6. Elvis Andrus (R) SS|
|7. Josh Hamilton (L) LF|
|8. Rougned Odor (L) 2B|
|9. Robinson Chirinos (R) C|
Coming off a 50 pitch outing Gibbons cannot use an interesting Stroman / Price tandem to start the most important game in Toronto in nearly a quarter century. Stroman is a fine choice to start, but what an advantage it would have been to have him and Price go through the order twice each. With the Jays strongest pitcher unavailable after throwing three innings in game four, the Jays put themselves at a disadvantage they could have easily avoided, and for minimal-to-no gain.
Price has the ability to get out lefties and righties alike, can go several innings, and would have been a valuable weapon out of the bullpen. Instead, Gibbons chose to waste him in a game that the Jays were extremely likely to win anyway, and is playing the most important Blue Jays game in a quarter century a man short, limiting his maneuverability. Probably not what Alex Anthopoulos had in mind when he traded for an ace.
[Ed's Note: the original article had a misprint in the final score. It has been corrected]