Should haves, could haves, and would haves are the lifeblood of sports discussion. This team should have punted. That team could have won if that 3-pointer fell. That generational talent would have broken this record if he stayed healthy. These questions are typically unanswerable, paving the way for sports talk shows and media coverage, in general.
The Indians’ 8-6 loss on Tuesday night feeds the should haves, could haves, and would haves. The game was dominated by a homer happy Tribe offense, but the homers staked a mere three run lead heading into the final inning. The ever dependable Brad Hand was called upon to close the door, but left the thing swinging wide open after allowing five consecutive hits which were capped off by a grand slam off the bat of Hunter Dozier.
The question quickly surfaced with regard to whether or not Hand should have been available. He had pitched in four of the previous five nights. He had not looked sharp in his last couple outings, despite glowing results. In fact, if not for an incredible Tyler Naquin play in the outfield, Hand probably would have gotten his first blown save out of the way over this past weekend. There were legitimate red flags around calling on him last night. But at the end of the day, he is still your potential all-star closer who had been rock solid all year.
So, Hand gets called on for the fifth time in six nights. He enters and hits his velocity threshold of 93-94 miles per hour. His slider spin rate was right around his typical 2600 rotations per minute. The team and player assessed the situation and concluded that Hand was not fatigued. Case closed, right?
Not so fast. It is asinine to conclude that Hand was definitively not fatigued based on the available information. A player can maintain velocity and spin rate on a handful of pitches and offer that he felt fine all he wants — it is still an impossible conclusion to reach.
Anyone who has watched Brad Hand in 2019 could see something off last night, regardless of how hard the balls were hit. He was decidedly unlucky according to the results (outside of the grand slam):
Brad Hand allowed four consecutive hits that each attained differing levels of improbable. Two bloop singles, a pop-up double that should have been an out, and an infield single. The probability of each of these four batted balls falling for hits in succession is likely lower than the stumbling into a $50 to $100 winner on a scratch off ticket. Hand was still limiting contact authority aside from the deciding blow. His command wavered, however, and he left a lot of balls over the middle of the plate.
This is not indicative of what we normally see from Brad Hand. He usually flirts with the edges with everything rather than leaving multiple pitches out over the middle of the zone. While we cannot conclude either way whether he was fatigued or not, it is decidedly obvious that something was off.
The question turns into a simple one. Why even bother pitching Hand? The Royals offense is lowly and he could use a day off. What better day to give him the opportunity than when sporting a three run lead against a bad offense? Further, why carry nine relievers if you do not plan on utilizing them? Jon Edwards and Josh Smith keep doing the I71 shuffle between Columbus and Cleveland but rarely pitch. So rarely, in fact, that it seems utterly pointless to carry them on the big league roster. If you get into a bind one night, you can call them up the following day to give your bullpen some rest.
Pitching Brad Hand last night was questionable, at best. The bigger mismanagement, though, lies in carrying a nine man bullpen that is never going to be fully utilized. Especially when considering having one player banged up means an extremely short bench and playing an infield lifer in left field.