Johnny Damon’s two-RBI single in the fifth inning had the biggest impact for the Tampa Bay Rays according to win expectancy (WE) Tuesday night. In a tie game, one swipe (quite literally as he extended his arms and push the ball into left-center field) of Damon’s bat increased the Rays’ chances of winning by nearly 15%. It was a game-changer, momentum-swinger, insert your own phrase for big play.
While I enjoy using win expectancy in this space quite often to describe the game-changing moment, like most stats, WE does not include everything. It does not factor in who is on the mound and who is coming to bat. It also does not – nor can it – calculate the atmosphere or how important this particular win would be to a team. Every win is important, but taking down a division rival in their house after a disastrous first week has that certain feel to it. Case in point last night.
Damon’s hit was great, but the true game-changing moment(s) happened in the eighth and ninth inning. Obviously, when you get the final four outs to end the game you are in-fact changing the game. That said, considering the situation, the location, and the players involved, these final outs felt like all 27 rolled into four at-bats.
While win expectancy doesn’t capture everything on it’s own, it does have help in the form of leverage index (LI). Leverage helps us measure how important the situation is when factoring in a lot of the same things as WE (runners on, point of the game, score). According to the leverage index, no moment was more critical than the battle between Joel Peralta and Jed Lowrie.
In general, a high-leverage situation is one that measures at least a 1.5 on the leverage index. With two on and two out in the eighth inning, Joe Maddon brought in Peralta to hold a one run lead. The leverage index read 4.70.
Lowrie, a switch-hitter, would step into the left-handed batter’s. We’ve talked about Peralta’s splits before. Historically, lefties have hit him well; however, in 2010 he dramatically improved. Was it a small sample size or a fundamental change? We don’t know yet, but it appears as if the Rays are willing to find out.
Having used his split-fingered pitch as a neutralizer against lefties in the past, Peralta retired Lowrie a flyball to center field after just three pitches – including two splitters. You could make the argument (as R.J. did) that this situation should have belonged to another pitcher; perhaps Kyle Farnsworth. On the other hand, Lowrie is a weaker batter from the left side. If the Rays were willing to test Peralta’s ability to get lefties out under pressure, here was a good opportunity.
With a 3-2 lead in a hostile American League East environment, Maddon handed the ball to his closer – but not officially – Kyle Farnsworth. A rather polarizing figure among AL East fans, there was plenty of intrigue surrounding this save opportunity. Because of the left arm of David Price, Terry Francona had a trio of lefties – Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew – tucked away on his bench.
Farnsworth has shown less of a platoon split than the other members of the bullpen. You can argue “saving” him for the ninth to face these three lefties was the right call. On the other hand, I’m of the mentality you use your best pitcher whenever and cannot count on what might happen later. That said, Farnsworth isn’t the clear cut best pitcher, and as mentioned above, the Peralta/Lowrie matchup was understandable when looking a bit deeper. Either way, there was no true right answer last night.
Nevertheless, the leverage index was around 3.00 for the entire ninth inning. Farnsworth was cool under the pressure – even after falling behind 3-0 on J.D. Drew. He used all of his pitches to register two strikeouts – including a swinging K of Drew. Although, he gave Rays’ fans a scare and earned a premature “ooooooohhhh” from the Boston crowd, the right-handed induced a flyball from David Ortiz to end the game.
It was the first true test for the back end of the bullpen with a slim margin for error. I’m not one for hyperbole or overreaction, but I cannot imagine the mood in the Bay Area had Peralta or Farnsworth failed to execute perfectly last night. Considering the situation and the opponent, the tandem did a fine job of getting the final four outs and ensuring the Rays had a 100% of victory.