Ozzie Guillen's decision to allow Jesse Crain to pitch to Miguel Cabrera in the ninth was a good one. Unfortunately, the result didn't work in the White Sox's favor.
Listening to the White Sox postgame show on The Score generally angries up the blood like a good sasparilla, but I figure more than the callers Chris Rongey—who, by the way, has more patience than Mother Teresa—had to deal with were questioning Guillen's move.
While Cabrera had two hits, one of which was a home run, in nine at-bats against Crain coming into the ninth-inning matchup, those stats aren't too reliable given the sample size. What's more reliable is Crain's 3.66 career FIP in over 250 innings against righties. And while Cabrera holds a .929 career OPS against righties, he struggled against pitchers with roughly similar fastball-slider repertoires in Sergio Santos and Edwin Jackson this series.
For those who wanted to walk Cabrera, they seem to ignore the fact Victor Martinez stood on deck. Crain has been significantly worse against left-handed hitters—which Martinez would've been had Crain stayed in the game—in his career with a 4.59 FIP. And, against right-handers, Martinez has a career OPS of .857.
Walking Cabrera would've been meant trading a matchup of good success vs. great success for mediocrity vs. very good success. I'll take the matchup in which Crain has the best chance of getting an out, regardless of who's at the plate.
And the Sox were not about to walk Cabrera and Martinez for Andy Dirks, no matter how light-hitting the left-fielder may be. Crain's 4.81 BB/9 tells us there's a halfway decent chance he would've walked in the go-ahead run, so that was out of the question.
Here's the kicker: Crain was one pitch away from this being universally accepted as a good decision by Guillen.
Image via Brooks Baseball's pitch f/x tool.
All four pitches were sliders. Crain got away with the first one because Cabrera was expecting a fastball. The second one Cabrera chased like he did on Sergio Santos' slider Friday night. He laid off the third one, but that pitch made Crain's strategy clear to Cabrera: he was going to see another outside slider in the hopes he'd chase the pitch.
Unfortunately, Crain left the pitch belt-high and out over the plate. Cabrera, being the elite hitter he is, belted it over the right-field fence for a two-run homer.
It was a bad pitch from Crain, no doubt about it. But given the way he battled back after Austin Jackson's leadoff triple—along with all the other factors mentioned above—the Sox were right to trust him to get Cabrera out. I'd bet if Guillen were presented with the same situation, he'd pitch to Cabrera with Crain. And, barring another hanging slider, Crain would probably get Cabrera out.