In the modern game of professional baseball, managers have a plethora of statistics on which to base late-game match-ups.
Sometimes, as this year’s postseason has proven, it is often best for managers not to strictly adhere to these statistics and sacred baseball tradition, but instead to take a more unconventional approach.
Simply put, managers have found the most success this postseason by letting their best pitchers pitch as often as possible and regardless of both match-ups and conventional baseball wisdom.
Take the Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance, who have ridden the best pitcher on the planet to the National League Championship Series.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts elected to start three-time Cy Young award-winner and 2014 MVP-winner Clayton Kershaw on short rest in game four of the team’s opening series against the Washington Nationals.
Although Kershaw did not win the game like he did in game one of the series, there is no one else that should have been on the mound for the team with their season on the line.
Kershaw pitched well enough and the Dodgers ended up winning the game, forcing a decisive game five that would decide the fate of the team’s season.
Again, with the season on the line, Roberts elected to bring in Kershaw when it mattered most in game five.
Despite the fact that Kershaw had pitched on short rest just two days earlier, Roberts bucked conventional baseball wisdom and brought in Kershaw to shut the door on the Nationals’ season.
In doing so, Roberts sent a message loud and clear: if you are going to beat us, you are going to have to beat our best pitcher.
On the other side of the spectrum, Nationals manager Dusty Baker elected to “play the match-ups” in game five of the series instead of putting faith in his best pitcher.
In the top of the seventh inning, the Nationals found themselves up 1-0 with their best pitcher, Max Scherzer, on top of his game.
However, on the first pitch of the inning, Scherzer gave up a home run to power hitting outfielder Joc Pederson, and just like that, the game was tied.
Instead of letting his ace resume his dominance of the Dodgers, Dusty Baker pulled Scherzer out of the game, setting the stage for a bullpen meltdown.
The Nationals would go on to use five pitchers that inning and give up three more runs, bringing the score to 4-1 at the end of the seventh inning.
Despite a commendable push at the end of the game, the Nationals lost 4-3 and their season came to an end.
The question that should be asked is why Baker elected to bring in a bundle of no-name relievers instead of leaving in his ace, and $210 million man Max Scherzer.
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has adopted a similar strategy to Roberts in his use of star reliever Andrew Miller.
Instead of using Miller for one shutdown inning as is typical for late game relievers, Francona used Miller for nearly two innings in each of the first two games of the American League Championship Series.
The results were astonishing, as Miller struck out almost every hitter he faced.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter, on the other hand, did not even use his star reliever Zach Britton in the Orioles’ wild card playoff loss to the Blue Jays, a decision that many critics say doomed the team.
The results have been clear this year: when the lights shine brightest, don’t overthink things.
Just give it to your stud.