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Bullpen Misuse Leads to Another Loss

Posted By Bill Baer On May 17, 2011 @ 10:33 pm In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 37 Comments

Game is tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. You have the following relievers left:

That was the situation the Phillies faced tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Charlie Manuel went with Baez to start the inning. Baez, who has not shown the ability to strike out Major League hitters at an acceptable rate. The first three Cardinals made contact, reaching on three singles to load the bases, something that happens against pitchers that can’t miss bats. If Manuel had not intended to use Madson to start the inning, he should have at least considered using Madson as a fire extinguisher — he should have been warming before Baez threw his first pitch to Ryan Theriot. In a situation where you’re pitching to the home team in the bottom of the ninth inning with runners on first and second with no outs, you want to achieve one of two goals: A) get a strikeout, or B) get a double play. Madson, with his elite strikeout and ground ball rates, can accomplish both better than nearly anyone in baseball, let alone on his own pitching staff.

Baez breathed a sigh of relief when he had the fortune of generating a ground ball from Matt Holliday that was hit directly at Jimmy Rollins, who threw to home for the force out. Lance Berkman, a switch-hitter, was due up next, so of course Manuel went with the most logical option: Ryan Madson J.C. Romero. Romero, who struggles mightily against right-handed hitters. Against Berkman, who has an OPS approaching 1.100 against lefties this season. Naturally, Berkman hit a screaming line drive to center field that went over Michael Martinez‘s head to end the game.

This isn’t just Monday-morning quarterbacking. Matt Swartz (@Matt_Swa) was doling out the strategy on Twitter before the inning even started:

With Pujols due up 3rd, Madson should be pitching the bottom of the 9th regardless of what happens in the top

Manuel’s misuse of the bullpen has been noted previously here, but to add a cherry to the dessert of analysis, check out this graph from Chasing Utley (@Phylan) from last week (click to enlarge):

If Madson is the best reliever in the bullpen (and he is, there is no counter-argument), he certainly isn’t being used as such.

I realize that it’s easy to pick on the manager and it’s even cliche at this point, but these are objective reasons why Manuel’s in-game decision-making has been unsatisfactory. His affable personality and clubhouse management are certainly great attributes to have in a manager; if Charlie would be a bit more discerning with his strategy, he could be a great manager.

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