Should the Phillies Have Pulled Cliff Lee With A Big Lead?
The Phillies found themselves in a 3-1 hole going into Monday night. Luckily for them, they had their ace, Cliff Lee, on the mound for them. But the Phillies bats went into overdrive for them as well, putting up six runs in three innings.
After three, the Phillies had a commanding 6-1 lead, and Cliff Lee had thrown just 50 pitches. Should Manuel have pulled Lee at that point, saving him so that he had the ability to throw more innings in a potential Game 7?
The conventional wisdom of course, is that you have to win Game 5 to even get to a Game 7, so Lee should stay in the game as long as he can. Had Manuel removed Lee and had Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Co. blown the game in the late innings, he would have been run out of town on a rail. There's no doubt about it that sticking with Lee was the safe choice, in terms of job security and avoiding criticism. But was it the right move in maximizing the Phillies chance of winning the World Series?
The Phillies chances to win the game at that point were approximately 93%. If they won that one, they'd have to win games 6 and 7 as well, giving them an overall series probability of .93*.5*.5 = 23.25%. Now, let's exaggerate things a bit, and assume that Lee is a perfect pitcher who will not allow a run. If Manuel lets him throw 7 strong innings, allowing no additional runs, he'll have increased the Phillies chance to win the game from 93% to 99%, raising the probability that the Phillies win the series to 24.75%. That's was the option Manuel chose.
His other choice was to remove Lee from the game, with the tradeoff that Lee would be able to pitch an extra couple of effective innings in Game 7 if it went that far - quite a reasonable assumption considering he had thrown only 50 pitches in Game 5. Again assuming Lee's perfection, two innings of scoreless work in Game 7 would have raised the Phillies probability of winning Game 7 from 50% to 60%. Therefore, the overall probability of winning the series would be .93*.5*.6 = 27.9%.
As we can see, removing Lee in order to allow him to pitch two additional Game 7 innings would have been a much better move than allowing Lee to throw seven innings Monday night. The move increased the probability by 4.65% whereas leaving Lee out there in Game 5 increased the probability by just 1.5% - making his use in Game 7 about three times more valuable than his continued use in Game 5 (since Lee is of course, not a perfect pitcher, these absolute percentages are larger than they are in real life, however, the ratio between the two choices should be about the same).
Even if you assume that Lee would be able to pitch only one additional inning in Game 7, removing Lee would still be a good idea, raising the probability to 25.6% (vs. 24.75% when letting Lee continue in Game 5).
Had the Phillies been leading 3-1 rather than trailing 3-1, Manuel would certainly have made the right move, but the fact that the Phillies needed to win all three games makes it a better idea to spread out their advantages throughout the series. Since Game 5 was already nearly in hand, the Lee's continued presence on the mound didn't help the Phillies a whole lot, while a couple of scoreless innings in a potential Game 7 would be a decided advantage.
It seems that removing Lee and saving him for Game 7 would have been the right call. Still I wouldn't have liked to be in the hot seat all-winter long had I pulled Lee and the Phillies gone on to lose Game 5.