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Charlie Manuel has had it easy lately. That tends to happen when you win a World Series. Nevertheless, good strategy should be the goal whether you’re the lowly Washington Nationals or the king of the proverbial hill as the Phillies are. It is blind to name and number and can always be employed no matter what. Good strategy in baseball is like eating healthy at the dinner table: no one’s forcing you to eat that double bacon cheeseburger, but it tastes so good!
Charlie probably felt that way during the Pirates series. Hey, it’s the Pirates, who cares? We can beat them with our eyes closed!
The first game of the series saw Manuel use Lidge for the fourth day in a row. Hitters have an OPS thirty points lower against Lidge, throughout his career, when he’s coming off of a day of rest as opposed to pitching consecutive games in a row. Logic and physiology suggest that using a reliever four days in a row is not the optimum strategy.
Game two against the Pirates was another gut-wrencher. Cole Hamels pitched eight shut-out innings only to have it blown by Ryan Madson, who allowed a game-tying solo home run to Brandon Moss in the ninth inning. Madson, of course, was the substitute closer since Lidge finally got a day off.
Manuel’s fault in this game came not from using Madson, but from not pulling Cole Hamels earlier. Yeah, Hamels pitched great and the bullpen has been lousy, but after eight innings, Cole had thrown 123 pitches, a season high. Hamels only eclipsed 123 once last season, when he threw 125 pitches against the Braves on July 3. Hamels last season had the seventh-highest Pitcher Abuse Points total, according to Baseball Prospectus.
This year, he has the fourteenth-highest total, and if last year is any indication, he’ll make up some ground as the season nears its end. Hamels finished up the 2008 regular season with six consecutive starts with at least 100 pitches thrown. Of course, most of those starts were absolutely necessary to ensure a playoff berth. This year, the Phillies have a luxury of a seven game lead at the end of August. There’s no need to tax their starting pitchers, especially since the bullpen has been so well-rested:
- Tyler Walker last pitched on August 25
- Chan Ho Park last pitched on August 24
- Chad Durbin last pitched on August 23
- Jamie Moyer last pitched on August 18
- Scott Eyre last pitched on August 16
Manuel always talks about giving his bench guys some at-bats because they’ve been inactive for a while. Wouldn’t the same thought process apply to relievers?
Last night’s start would have been a perfect opportunity to use Scott Eyre. J.A. Happ, while he pitched extremely well, threw 114 pitches through eight innings. Again, there was no real reason to tax his arm as if his continued pitching was the only way to ensure victory against the now 53-72 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Scott Eyre had been warming up in the bullpen when Pirates’ left-hander Garrett Jones stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth. As you know, Jones hit the lead-changing two-run home run off of Happ that inning that eventually led to a Phillies loss. Left-handed hitters have a .654 OPS against Eyre this season, 86 points lower than the OPS right-handers have against him. Eyre was fresh, Happ was running out of gas. Why not switch?
Even though the Phillies did not capitalize on the many opportunities they had offensively, good baseball tactics could have prevented both of the losses. Instead of a 1-2 stint in Pittsburgh, it could have been 3-0, and instead of being up seven games, the Phillies could be up eight or nine.
The Phillies have had golden opportunities to essentially knock the Marlins and Braves out of NL East contention, and they just haven’t been able to do it. It is such a luxury to be able to kick back and relax for the last two weeks of the season rather than the way the Phillies are used to doing it in the last few days.
Of course, the poor use of strategy in the Pittsburgh series pales in comparison to the running blunder of not replacing Brad Lidge with Ryan Madson, Chan Ho Park, or anyone else. Just saying, is all.