The Unlikely Kyle Schwarber Defense

Rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who was stretched past his typical workload in Cleveland’s 1-0 World Series Game Three win on Friday, throwing 31 pitches in a rare multi-inning appearance. Rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who wound up throwing the high-leverage middle relief innings, handling four of Cleveland’s five highest-leverage at-bats before Cody Allen’s ninth inning. And, rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who faced lefty Kyle Schwarber when he came off Chicago’s bench.

Everyone in the stadium was waiting to see when Schwarber would get his at-bat. Cody Allen was warm in the bullpen when Schwarber entered the game at at a time when one swing of the bat would have tied things up, but manager Terry Francona stuck with Shaw. Dave Cameron had written hours earlier about this very tango, suggesting that Francona flip-flop the accustomed usage of deploying Miller first, instead saving him for the later innings to make life tougher on Schwarber and Joe Maddon. What Cameron didn’t consider — and why would he have? — is that it wouldn’t be Miller or Allen facing Schwarber at all.

Especially considering Shaw had just faced Schwarber in Game Two, and Shaw promptly allowed an RBI single. Especially considering Shaw exclusively throws cutters and sliders that break in toward the barrel of a lefties bat, and, then, in theory, would be just about the worst possible option against a left-handed slugger. But, theory isn’t always reality.

And in this reality, the Indians know that Schwarber needs to get his arms extended to drive the ball, and that, in particular, he doesn’t handle velocity well in on the hands. The Indians preferred the matchup with Shaw, as opposed to Allen, due to Shaw’s ability to cut his hard fastball into Schwarber’s hands. When Schwarber got the hit off Shaw on Game Two, it was when they tried to go away:

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“I faced him two days ago at our place, and we went in on him and it was for a strike,” Shaw said. “We tried to go away on him and he hit the ball up the middle off me, so our plan today was to just stick with in and if we got deeper into the count we’d change it up.”

So they came in.

They came in, and up, on the first pitch:

They came in, and upper, on the second pitch:

Then still up, and even inner:

And then good ‘ol up and in:

It wasn’t a fantastically high-leverage moment — there was nobody on base, The scouting report said Shaw’s cutters in on Schwarber’s hands would present a problem for the Cubs, and the other half of the scouting report said to come up.

“My strength is pitching to that side of the plate – away from righties, in to lefties – so I just have to make sure I locate it where I did,” Shaw said. “Like to Schwarber, certain lefties are better pitched down, certain ones are better pitched up. We have a great scouting department that helps us out with that. They let us know, ‘OK, this guy you can throw it down but don’t throw it up, this guy throw it up but don’t throw it down.’ So I just have to locate it where they tell us to and hopefully it works out.”

It’s something that can be easy to forget when looking at moves in a vacuum, is that not all lefties are the same. If the scouting report says Schwarber doesn’t handle pitches coming in on his hands, well, Cody Allen can’t move a pitch in on Schwarber’s hands the way Shaw can, no matter what the projected splits say, and maybe, in fact, against conventional thinking, the cutter/slider guy is actually the better option against a team’s best left-handed hitter. Bryan Shaw didn’t look like a credible option against Chicago’s secret weapon, until he did.

We hoped you liked reading The Unlikely Kyle Schwarber Defense by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

Hope you keep writing over the weekend! There may not be so much to write about by monday.