With the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the seventh inning on Thursday night, Jim Leyland was faced with a decision: play the infield back and try to turn a double play to hopefully limit the damage to one run or play the infield in and hope to prevent any runs from scoring.
It’s easy to say that the Tigers should have brought the infield in to stop the Giants from plating the run, but the decision isn’t that simple. Here’s the situation:
The bases loaded, no out, tie game situation in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Giants an expected 83% chance to win the game (using The Hardball Times’ win probability inquirer). The worst possible scenarios would have been a Brandon Crawford grand slam (98% Giants win expectancy) or double (96%), but neither of those would have likely been the result of the infield’s positioning, so let’s ignore those. The real scenarios Leyland was wrestling with were: base hit, double play, or getting the lead runner out at home. I guess the hope of bringing the infield in might also be to get the runners at home and first, but that’s probably nowhere near automatic.
A base hit would have likely scored two runs and given San Francisco runners at first and second with still nobody out in the inning. Their win expectancy would have risen to 93% (+10%).
Getting the lead runner out at home would have caused their win expectancy to drop to 74% (-9%).
Turning the double play while allowing the runner to score (what actually happened) caused the Giants’ win expectancy to drop to 80% (-3%).
The first thing to notice is that getting two outs, even while allowing a run to score actually benefitted the Tigers slightly. The Giants scored, which was bad, but it drastically reduced the likelihood of a huge inning, which kept Detroit in the game. The expectation of bases loaded with no outs is that more than one run will score, so anything less than that is like a win for the defense.
So, while I still think it’s fair to argue that Leyland should have pressed the issue to try to get the lead runner out (or, *gasp*, turn the double play at first and home (dropping the win expectancy to 60%), I don’t think it’s fair to say what he did was bad managing or a stupid move or anything. For one, as we’ve seen, the double play increased Detroit’s chances to win the game given the baseline win expectancy, and secondly, playing the infield in would be betting on the Tigers’ defense, noted for their lack of range, to make a play on a ball in a situation in which their reaction time is reduced. That’s not a bet I would be willing to make very often.