Joe Maddon's dilemma: When to play the Kyle Schwarber card

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have played three games this postseason with a final score that looks like binary code, and with their 1-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 on Friday, they find themselves down 2-1 in the World Series, just as they were in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Any time a team plays a 1-0 game, there are several moments that can be picked apart from a strategy standpoint. This series has an added element of intrigue when the games are close because of the status of Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber, who has not been medically cleared to play in the field. There will be a constant source of discussion while the series is at Wrigley Field: When should manager Joe Maddon play the Schwarber card?

"Yeah, just got to really pay attention to it," Maddon said after the game. "He was ready the whole game, man. He was ready."

Schwarber entered in the eighth inning, hitting for pitcher Pedro Strop with one out and no one on. At this point, let's consider the topic of leverage index, or the measure of how much potential impact each moment in the game could have on the potential outcome, given the inning, score and base/out situation. Average is 1.00. Above 2.00 is considered high leverage, below 0.85 is low and in between is, you guessed it, medium.

It's a great framework for analyzing player usage and managerial decision-making, though there is one problem: A manager only knows the leverage of the moment at hand, not the moments to come. When you're trying to maximize the value of a single at-bat for a player such as Schwarber, and you keep waiting for that one perfect moment of max leverage, you might end up not using him at all.

"[You have to] be ready whenever," Schwarber said. "I know you pick and choose your spots for certain situations. I just want to be ready at any time. I spent a lot of time in the cage, just making sure I was loose and ready to go."

So it's with the hindsight that a manager doesn't have, along with the leverage and win probability figures from fangraphs.com, that we look at what situations Schwarber could have been used in, some of which occurred before he actually hit, and some after.

Fifth inning

After leading off with a single, Jorge Soler had advanced to second on Javier Baez's groundout. Addison Russell grounded out, so Soler was still on second and the pitcher's spot was due up. Kyle Hendricks had been pulled, so Maddon already was into his bullpen.

Cleveland manager Terry Francona is no fool, so he had Andrew Miller warming up. Maddon had to choose between sending up a righty (David Ross or Albert Almora) or a lefty, such as Chris Coghlan, Miguel Montero ... or Schwarber. The leverage on the play was 1.66, which falls into the medium range. The score was still 0-0.

Though Schwarber faced Miller twice in Game 1 and drew a walk, he still owns a career .481 against lefties. Since it was only the fifth inning, and Francona's bullpen is short on lefties, Maddon had to figure that he'd be able to get Schwarber against a righty later. And then there's this:

"Earlier on in the game, they had every opportunity to walk him and not pitch to him," Maddon said.

Good point. Montero was the choice to face Miller, and he lined hard to right to end the inning.

Seventh inning

The Indians hit for Miller in the top of the seventh, and in doing so, Coco Crisp gave them a 1-0 lead with an RBI single. In the bottom of the inning, Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras were retired by Bryan Shaw. That brought up Soler.

Maddon said after the game that they liked the Shaw-Schwarber matchup better than a potential Cody Allen-Schwarber showdown, which echoes our findings. But Maddon also knew he still had to cycle through the bottom of his order. There were two outs, none on and a one-run deficit. Not the right spot to maximize Schwarber. So Soler stayed in and tripled into the right-field corner.

In a way, that put Maddon in a fix. Baez was up and he not only has been a star in the field all through the playoffs, but he has delivered some big moments at the plate. The leverage in that spot was 3.10, so it was definitely a red-zone situation. The Cubs have a lot of defensive versatility so if Maddon sent up Schwarber there, he could have moved Zobrist to second base and used Coghlan or Almora in the outfield.

Baez batted and grounded to short.

Eighth inning

Shaw was still in, trying to get as many outs as possible before handing off to Allen. The pitcher's spot was due up second for the Cubs. Russell ran a 3-1 count off Shaw but struck out. So up came Schwarber, in hopes of hitting one out on a night when the wind favored the hitters, even if the final score doesn't reflect it.

"Even though there was nobody on base there in that 1-0 game, he's already in scoring position," Maddon said. "And if he were to get on, we were going to pinch run and run it there with the top of the order coming up, which is also a good part of it."

The leverage on that at-bat was 1.81. Even though the score was just 1-0, there was one out and no one on base. If the score remained the same, every plate appearance in the bottom of the ninth would be in the high-leverage range, some potentially almost off the charts.

"Right there the better matchup, according to our work, is even Shaw over Allen, and I just wanted to get him out there," Maddon said. "There were no guarantees that we're going to get to the bottom part of the batting order."

Maddon was referring to the ninth with the bottom-of-the-order comment, meaning none of the hitters the Cubs would send up would be likely to be pinch hit for. So he used Schwarber while he could.

Ninth inning

With Allen into the game, the Cubs got a leadoff single from Anthony Rizzo (3.39 leverage index). Allen got Zobrist and Contreras, then Jason Heyward reached on an error and stole second. So two outs, two on. Baez up. Leverage index: 8.20.

There was no way to know this would happen, and as we said, if you hold Schwarber for an ideal spot like this, you're more likely than not to leave him on the bench the whole night. Baez has been good, and Allen's curveball would be a tough chore for Schwarber, who struggles against that pitch.

Sure, the idea of sending Schwarber up in that spot to win the game has storybook ramifications, but Maddon isn't writing fairy tales. He's trying to win a World Series.

"It's nice that the bullpens are on the field, and you can see what's going on pretty quickly," Maddon said. "But it is a challenge to try to get them into that real sweet spot in order to come through."