Wil Crowe in the 10th Inning Was the Right Decision on Sunday

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I never thought when we began this season that supporting a decision to put Wil Crowe in for a high leverage situation was the hill I would choose to die on.  But here we are.

The Pittsburgh Pirates forced extra innings yesterday in St. Louis in an attempt to take three of four games from the Red Birds.  The Pirates put one on the board in the 10th with the help of the ghost runner on second base, and some small ball.  Carlos Santana moved Andrew McCutchen over to 3rd base on a ground ball to the right side, and then Canan Smith-Njigba also grounded out to score Cutch.  

The Pirates threw everything, or really everyone, they could at the Cardinals, with Duane Underwood Jr., Colin Holderman, and David Bednar stalling the St. Louis offense in the 7th, 8th, and 9th, respectively.  This led to the tie game going into the 10th inning.  

Unfortunately it also left the Pirates with very few options for the bottom of the 10th.  When head coach Derek Shelton went with Wil Crowe in the 10th, many Twitter users and arm-chair head coaches were not happy.  But I ask those people, who would you have went with? 

Some may argue that Bednar should have pitched a second inning.  These were the same people, however, that also blamed Shelton for running Bednar into the ground last season leading to injury.  So I don't mind pulling Bednar after pitching Saturday and the 9th inning on Sunday. 

That left Robert Stephenson, Jose Hernandez, Dauri Moreta, Yohan Ramirez, and Crowe.  Moreta was likely unavailable since he, too, has been used heavily already to start the 2023 season.  Moreta has appeared in half of the Pirates' games, and the Pirates are on a stretch of 19 straight days without an off-day.  

Yohan Ramirez was probably also unavailable in a high leverage situation, given he had just joined the team on Sunday, having been recalled from the minors.  Not sure if he was even in the stadium, honestly.  

Some argued with me that nobody should be unavailable when trying to win a baseball game.  In an 162-game season, it's simply silly to think that way.  The phrase, "it's a marathon, not a sprint" can be further taken to be " it's six ultramarathons, not a marathon" when discussing regular season baseball.  Pitchers have to be deemed unavailable at times to last the whole season.  They're only human.

Jose Hernandez could have pitched to start the 10th, but he is a left-handed pitcher.  Logic would dictate that a right-hander pitch with the Cardinals starting the inning with two right-handed hitters.  Nolan Arenado, the leadoff hitter of the inning, is a great hitter against anyone but especially crushes lefties.  Willson Contreras, the second hitter up for the Cardinals, also has a much higher OPS against lefties than he does righties.  So, Hernandez is out of the discussion, in my opinion.

That leaves Stephenson and Crowe.  Stephenson is having a good season with the Pirates so far, and performed well with Pittsburgh at the end of last season.  However, he has no experience in high leverage situations and has been pretty bad his whole career in general before joining the Pirates.  Perhaps, given hindsight, Stephenson would have been the better choice, but it was really a coin flip between Stephenson and Crowe, and given Crowe's experience in save situations, I didn't mind going with him there.  Also, while he hasn't seen high leverage situations this season, he had pitched well so far with just a .179 batting average against.

Unfortunately, this time, it didn't work out.  However, not all losses are because of a manager's decision.  Crowe got passed Arenado, the largest hurdle of the inning, and then had an 0-2 count on Contreras.  He was unable to get Contreras to chase any, and he ended up walking.  Eventually the Cardinals picked up the two runs needed to win the game.

Those who question every move Shelton has ever made in his Pirates' career, of course questioned this one as well.  However, given his options, I'm not sure there was a winning formula.  Once the Pirates only put one run across in the top of the 10th, there was no right decision.  I believe, given the circumstances of the game, the Pirates' probability of winning was low despite being up one run.  

ESPN Analytics gave the Pirates just a 53% chance to win even being up one run going into the bottom of the 10th.  So like I said, a coin flip.  The Pirates' best chance to win all game, after giving up two runs in the 6th, was actually a 70% chance to win after Crowe got Arenado out.  And that came after the decision everyone is so upset about.  

Sometimes teams just lose.  And I remember when splitting a series in St. Louis wasn't something we complained about.  I just can't fault Shelton here given the choices he had.  And in today's game who even knows if it was Shelton's decision anyway?  He may have just been following the metrics everyone seems to love nowadays.