The Dodgers defeated the Brewers in Game Seven, 5-1, of the NLCS last night, moving on to the World Series for the second straight year.
The Brewers could have won this game... had they started Josh Hader.
I know, I know — that’s quite an irrational argument to make. Nobody ever knows what would have happened in an alternate universe, but Milwaukee’s odds of winning Game Seven would have been much improved had Hader started, or at a minimum been managed more effectively.
The argument is so simple, yet it’s really under-appreciated in Major League Baseball. Hader pitched three scoreless innings tonight and posted the highest win probability added among any pitcher on either team. The problem is, though, Hader came into the game with the Dodgers already winning, 2-1. Hader was used to stop the bleeding, rather than to prevent it from ever occurring.
In an alternate universe where the Brewers started Josh Hader, they would have likely been able to bank on three scoreless innings to start Game Seven. So, instead of Hader coming in with the Brewers losing, he would have pitched with the score tied at a minimum.
Why is this a big deal?
Hader starting Game Seven would have given the Brewers the opportunity to build and pad an early lead. If you recall correctly, the first blow of the game came from Christian Yelich in the first inning on a home run. (I must continue to provide the caveat that we would never know if this actually would have happened in our alternate universe, but we can pretend it did.) Thus, Hader would have pitched the second and third innings with a lead, giving the Brewers more opportunities to pad the lead rather than play from behind.
Protecting a lead is easier than trying to create one. Teams to score first this postseason were 21-6 coming into tonight’s game, good for a .778 winning percentage. It was .671 in the regular season. Starting Hader would have given the Brewers the opportunity to protect a lead from the get-go.
And there is no better lead-protector than Josh Hader. During the regular season, Hader allowed a .114/.197/.242 (.438 OPS) slash line to hitters when pitching with the lead. It’s not that the Brewers couldn’t have expected Hader to shut down the Dodgers — in fact, he even did so in reality.
Here is Brewers manager Craig Counsell’s reasoning as to why he doesn’t start Hader:
Counsell’s answer every time he’s been asked if Hader will ever start: “If he starts, the other manager chooses the matchups. If he doesn’t, I choose the matchups.” https://t.co/6uw7qokO0u— Jaymes L (@JaymesL) October 20, 2018
I understand Counsell’s point, to a degree. By starting Jhoulys Chacin (a right-hander), the Dodgers went with more favorable platoon match-ups in their lineup before Hader (a left-hander) came into the game. This idea goes hand-in-hand with what Counsell did with Wade Miley in Game Five.
Let’s assume that the plan was to bring Hader into the game during the third inning all along. I’d argue that the Brewers mismanaged Hader in a second way last night, that being not having him throw a fourth inning.
That’s where the game really got out of hand. When Hader exited, Counsell brought in Xavier Cedeño for one hitter — Max Muncy, who singled — and followed him up with Jeremy Jeffress. Nothing against Jeffress—he’s a great pitcher—but he just hasn’t had the it-factor this postseason, pitching to a 5.40 ERA (four earned runs in 6 2⁄3 innings) across seven appearances. The Dodgers’ big blow, the Yasiel Puig three-run home run, came off of Jeffress.
Perhaps the poor decision making on Counsell’s part was by bringing in Jeffress, but having Hader out there for a fourth inning couldn’t really have been worse. The reason Counsell’s hand was forced, anyway, was because Hader was due up to hit in the bottom of the fifth. Still, though, it wasn’t like the Brewers were threatening to score and a big bat was necessary. They still had ten outs to work with, only down a run.
All in all, no matter how you look at it, the Brewers mismanaged Josh Hader. They would have started him, or they could have left him in for a fourth inning. Either way, a critical error on Craig Counsell’s part may have kept the Brewers from going to the World Series.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter, @DevanFink.