Charlie Manuel Unnecessarily Taxing His Pitchers’ Arms

The Phillies played their 40th game of the season last night against the St. Louis Cardinals. Cliff Lee threw 122 pitches, marking the 11th time a Phillies starter has thrown 110 or more pitches in a game thus far in 2011. For those of you keeping score, that’s 27.5 percent. Only the Houston Astros have been more taxing of their starters’ arms. The average Major League team has six 110+ pitch performances on record; the Phillies are at nearly twice that total.

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc aLI
Roy Halladay 2011-04-24 PHI SDP W 3-1 GS-9 ,W 8.2 5 1 1 1 14 0 130 83 .852
Cole Hamels 2011-04-22 PHI SDP W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 4 0 0 3 8 0 126 79 1.245
Roy Halladay 2011-04-13 PHI WSN W 3-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 6 2 2 2 9 0 123 74 1.553
Roy Halladay 2011-05-15 PHI ATL L 2-3 CG 8 ,L 8.0 8 3 3 2 7 1 119 59 1.339
Cliff Lee 2011-05-06 PHI ATL L 0-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 9 3 3 1 16 0 117 62 .724
Roy Halladay 2011-05-10 PHI FLA L 1-2 CG 8 ,L 8.0 5 2 1 2 9 0 115 73 1.225
Cliff Lee 2011-05-01 PHI NYM L 1-2 GS-7 7.0 8 1 1 2 5 0 113 60 1.203
Roy Halladay 2011-04-07 PHI NYM W 11-0 GS-7 ,W 7.0 6 0 0 1 7 0 113 71 1.016
Cliff Lee 2011-05-16 PHI STL L 1-3 GS-7 ,L 6.1 6 3 3 6 4 0 112 53 1.416
Roy Halladay 2011-04-19 PHI MIL L 0-9 GS-7 ,L 6.2 10 6 6 2 3 1 112 31 .790
Cliff Lee 2011-04-02 PHI HOU W 9-4 GS-7 ,W 7.0 4 3 3 0 11 1 111 68 .710
Roy Halladay 2011-05-05 PHI WSN W 7-3 GS-7 ,W 7.0 6 2 2 0 10 0 110 67 .757
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2011.

The pitch count debate is anything but finished. Current information is limited in scope and conclusions are very hazy. Some pitchers, like Roy Halladay, seem to be well-conditioned to throw as many pitches as necessary while others are gasping for air before they ever reach 100. And, of course, the 100-pitch marker is itself arbitrary. Why 100? Why not 103 or 98 or 112? You get the point.

Still, I think we can all agree that each pitch is riskier than its precedent. By exactly how much is anyone’s guess, but it is non-zero. If a manager has the opportunity to allow his starter to throw fewer pitches, he should take it, generally speaking.

That was very clear yesterday when Lee was having a lot of trouble locating his pitches, setting a career-high with six walks in six and one-third innings. Lee, of course, is known for his pinpoint control, leading the Majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio last year at 10.3, and led the Majors for this season, going into last night’s game at 9.1.

Lee needed 25 pitches to escape the first inning, and was at 86 pitches through four innings, at which point he had allowed five of his six walks. He should not have taken the mound for the fifth inning. Baseball purists and macho men reading this should experience heightened blood pressure after reading that sentence. Taking out your $100 million starter after 86 pitches and four innings?!

Yes. Eliminate risk. As it turns out, Lee had fairly easy fifth and sixth innings, allowing him to pitch into the seventh, but situations like that are why you have arms in the bullpen capable of pitching multiple innings. It is exactly the reason why the Phillies still carry Kyle Kendrick on the roster. If you are not comfortable using your relievers in that situation, then when are you comfortable using them? Why are they taking up a roster spot, instead of a more useful bench player?

One need only go to this page and search for “(P)” to get an idea of the risk involved. Is getting an extra two or three innings out of Lee, rather than the rarely-used bullpen, worth risking losing him to injury? Even if the risk of injury is one percent rather than, say, 40 percent, the answer is still a resounding “no”.

In the fifth inning until he was pulled in the seventh inning, Lee faced sub-1.00 leverage index situations with seven of ten batters, and of course the other three situations were his own doing — a result of his lack of stuff. Going into the seventh, the Phillies were facing four-to-one odds to win the game. Manuel either has a remarkable lack of confidence in his bullpen or was not cognizant of how much he was asking from his starting pitcher.

The average leverage index, for the games in which Phillies starters accrued 110 or more pitches, was 1.04. As the FanGraphs Saber Library explains, an average LI is 1.00, so it isn’t as if these starters are in super-important situations. And, lest we forget, it is May — we are just now arriving at the one-quarter mark.

Even when we look at the peak leverage index, the decision-making isn’t justified. The average max-LI for the 11 110-plus-pitch games is 3.07, with a max of 7.13 in Halladay’s start against the Washington Nationals on April 13. The rest fell under 4.00, with four registering under 2.00. The two most egregious over-uses both involved Halladay: on April 7 against the Mets, when Halladay pitched seven innings as the Phillies won 11-0; and April 19 against the Milwaukee Brewers, when Halladay went six and two-thirds innings as the Phillies lost 9-0.

If the starters being overworked were Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt, to whom Phillies owe nothing in the long term, that would be somewhat justifiable. But the Phillies owe Halladay as much as $60 million from 2012-14, and Lee as much as $124 million from 2012-16. Winning regular season games in May is nice, but protecting long-term investments is more important.

Going into last night’s game, the Phillies led the league in average innings pitched per start by starting pitchers at 6.5 (roughly six and two-thirds innings). As a result, the Phillies had also called upon the bullpen the least, at 100 and one-third innings, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers by about eight innings.

We expected this situation to occur, given the hype around the starting rotation going into the season. When you have four legitimate aces, the bullpen will end up used less and less. There is, however, the smart way to ration innings and there is the dumb way. Thus far, I’m not so sure Manuel’s use of his starting rotation falls under the former category. Oswalt has his own health problems (recently, his back), while Halladay and Lee have not had the cleanest bills of health over their respective careers — both heading into their mid-30′s as well.

There’s a reason why you keep your Porsche(s!) in the garage and your Toyota parked on the street. One represents an investment; the other, convenience. You use the Porsche only on special occasions, not for everyday driving. Manuel should use his rotation and bullpen accordingly.

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25 comments

  1. sean

    May 17, 2011 07:19 AM

    devils advocate, does pitch count really matter? i mean i’ve seen the studies such that ever pitch after like 110 has an increased risk of causing injury compared to below it because of possible mechanics change from being tired. But if dubee or manuel doesn’t see a change, and they are the experts on what a change would look like, such as a lower arm slot, who are we to question them.

    you change your mechanics if you have an injury and you don’t even know it when you do it sometimes. last year toward the end of the eyar adam wainwright was throwing at a lower arm slot causing more stress on his elbow and thus tommy john this year. Not to sound simple minded but this is an elite starting staff made up of elite arms, you ride them as long as you can and because they are elite they can go longer then our average starter.

    i think it’s clear manuel trusts his starters more then his relievers at this point. chuck left lee out there to try and get through the 7th which of course none of us thought he could do, but he had a reason to do it looking at the circumstances. top of the 7th was the 6-7-8 hitters, if any of them get on base it gets to lee, who is pinch hit for most likely. manuel didn’t want to burn a reliver if he didn’t have to. if any of those three get on base that inning this whole arguement(if you call it that) is moot

  2. Tyler

    May 17, 2011 09:09 AM

    Devils avocado here, Bill. But Manual could have let Lee pitch into the 150′s and it still wouldn’t have made me as mad as I was to see Romero pitch to multiple right handed hitters.

  3. Scott G

    May 17, 2011 09:28 AM

    The Romero vs. RHBs stuff is ridiculous. I’ve been ranting for it for years now. It’s just insane. I could see MAYBE, MAYBE if he had been having a good stretch vs. RHBs, but he hasn’t. He’s failed very recently. I guess a 2 run deficit is too much to expect your team to be able to overcome. Anyone besides Romero makes sense there. Except maybe Baez.

  4. Dan D

    May 17, 2011 09:56 AM

    Bill,

    First time posting, I love the site. To say that Lee should have been taken out after the fourth is a bit absurd. I was listening to the ESPN announcers last night (I live out of the region) and Sutcliffe was going over the top with his criticism of Lee also. Having him pitch the fifth and sixth innings is not adding an undue amount of risk, as I believe he was at ~105 pitches after 6 (sending him out for the seventh was a mistake). And whether or not Lee is having control issues, I do not want to see Kendrick on the mound, really, in any circumstances other than 10-run blowouts.

    I do not have a statistical argument to back this up (nor, frankly, do I know how to go about formulating one) but I was under the impression the strike zone was unusually small last night. Yes, Lee’s customary control wasn’t where it usually is, but I still feel the high BB number was a bit misleading.

    It is reasonable to say “why keep reliever X on the roster if you don’t trust him to come in and relieve in this situation,” but I think that’s a straw man in this context. The reality of the situation is Cliff Lee with control issues was still having a fairly successful night, and is still a better option at 86 pitches than all but the best relievers on the roster (who would presumably be saved for the late innings).

    tl;dr questioning why he came out for the seventh is cool, questioning why he came out for the fifth is unrealistic.

  5. Matt D

    May 17, 2011 11:30 AM

    Re: the strike zone. I checked Pitchfx this morning, and Lee was definitely getting squeezed. Out of 122 pitches, just ONE was out of the zone and called a ball, and it was inside (to a right handed hitter) by about 1-2 inches. Conversely, 8 pitches that were in the zone were called balls, including 4 that were at least 3 inches from the edges of the zone. Another 8 pitches were within ~2 inches of the zone and also called balls. Definitely a squeeze job, though Davis was fairly consistent for both teams, and credit the Cardinals with realizing the small zone and laying off pitches while the Phillies (as usual) continued to hack away.

    Also, re: Romero. The 7th batter due up that inning would have been left handed (John Jay), so it’s not entirely unreasonable to assume J.C. wouldn’t have gotten to face a left, given his usual results. (Removing tongue from cheek.)

  6. Bob Snyder

    May 17, 2011 12:07 PM

    I can’t agree that “each pitch is riskier than the next” but I can agree that each pitch is riskier than the one preceding it.

  7. Brad

    May 17, 2011 12:22 PM

    Given that Oswalt is on a pitch count tonight, and assuming that you have more faith in Oswalt at less than full strength than any combination of Baez/Kendrick/Romero, why not let those three somehow get through 3 innings, then bring in Oswalt to start the 4th? Other than being completely uncoventional, doesn’t this make sure you use your less dependable pitchers in lower leverage situations?

  8. Scott G

    May 17, 2011 01:18 PM

    Brad,

    I honestly like the idea. (Now inserting sarcasm) That way when those pitchers let up 40+ runs in the first 3 innings, I can confidently turn the TV off and go to sleep because this offense has only managed 12 hits in 3 games.

  9. Css228

    May 17, 2011 02:23 PM

    @Bill – I just can’t agree on pitch counts. I’m of the Roy Halladay school on those. It depends how stressful your pitches are (i.e. baserunners). Now admittedly Lee was in a lot of stressful situations last night. BUT, I don’t think it was so much a lack of stuff from being tired as Lee getting squeezed by Davis (how was Holliday not rung up) and as a result trying to pinpoint locate each pitch even more, as a result making his pitches less controlled. Honestly, it might be the first bright thing I’ve ever heard Sarge say on the air, but the biggest issue last night was not Lee or Manuel’s handling of Lee. If I sit and watch 6 1/3 innings I should know what the umpire’s strike zone is. I’ll be more than willing to bet the pitch F/X from last night is all over that map. I’m even fine with Lee going out for the 7th, because 7 innings is what I expect from a guy like Lee. If he throws 120 pitches he should take 20 off of whatever else he was going to throw later that day. 120 pitches is a lot of pitches. I’ll agree to that. But even throwing in the 119 Halladay threw, there are only 4 120 + games this season. Its a waste of Halladay (who’s repeatedly shown he can and wants to do this), Lee and Hamels to take them out after 105 pitches. The 100 pitch mark is way to big a deal. These guys have proven durable. It’s not like Charlie was sending Cole out to do this on a regular basis at 24. He’s sending Roy Halladay out to do this at a regular basis at 34. You talk about Halladay’s health, but over his career he’s only missed time with an arm injury once. Appendicitis and a broken leg due to a line drive are fluky injuries that have nothing to do with pitch counts. And other than the abddominal strain last year, I can’t find a long medical file for Lee either. And Hamels really isn’t on that list way too much. Honestly, there are bigger concerns than Charlies use of the pitchers, like when Dominic Brown is going to come up. Anyway, rant over.

  10. Css228

    May 17, 2011 02:29 PM

    @MattD – I was impressed that Howard didn’t go up and start hacking though. Good plate discipline last night (12 pitches his first two at bats)

  11. Richard

    May 17, 2011 03:00 PM

    I think, given how easy the 5th & 6th were last night, I can see where it made sense for Lee to start the 7th inning, but I thought Charlie should have gotten him out of there quicker than he did.

    Getting Lee out of the game after 4 is just silly. No manager in the game would do that.

    I’ll say it again: a major component of these pitchers’ value is in the number of innings they pitch. It’s certainly important to not abuse them, but our “abuse points” system is extremely unscientific (citing leverage index is not scientific). 110 pitches is simply not a big deal for these guys, so for that to be your cutoff is no more helpful than 100. The only starts so far where I thought Charlie left the guy in too long were last night (where he either shouldn’t have started the 7th, or should have been lifted after the last walk), and possibly Sunday’s Halladay start, but I didn’t see past the 4th, so I’m only going by what I’ve read about him looking gassed in the 6th or 7th.

  12. hunterfan

    May 17, 2011 03:34 PM

    I bet nobody thought they’d see Gene Mauch managing the Phillies again.

  13. Frank K

    May 17, 2011 03:48 PM

    The Phillie starters are better than almost all others so that partially explains why they have more innings. And the bullpen makeup on opening day had an average age of 72 so no wonder Charlie was managing for the complete game. Still, watching Lee labor into the seventh inning last night reminded me for the 100th time this year that the Phillies need a big change in on-the-field management. Lee was out of gas before the inning started. He was also exasperated with the home plate umpire and that lead to some ugly pitches where he was trying to put even more on the ball. Oswalt starting tonight instead of Worley is assinine since Oswalt is a complete unknown right now after a miserable rehab start last week. To paraphrase Casey Stengel…”can’t anyone in the Phillies dugout manage this team?”

  14. Chris

    May 17, 2011 03:57 PM

    Maybe he didn’t want to use Kendrick for multiple innings or use his bullpen for 4-5 innings knowing oswalts going tonight and he was on a low pitch count (~65 I think)/he’s more likely to get hit around coming off injury and he would need his full bullpen for tonight’s game. Or maybe after last weekends braves game Manuel has finally lost all his confidence in Kendrick and refuses to use him in <3 run situations anymore. Despite your sentiments in this post, I know you would not have the confidence in Kendrick to let him pitch 2-3 innings in a 1 run game against the NLs best offense. I will, however, agree that manuals use of his star pitchers after the seventh in a 5+ run blowout is ridiculous and he really needs to stop that.

  15. Scott G

    May 17, 2011 10:07 PM

    How does Charlie Manuel have a job?! It’s absolutely ridiculous. Bullpen optimization isn’t this hard. The two pitchers that pitch in the 9th inning of a tie game are Danys Baez and J.C. Romero!! Ryan Madson didn’t even sniff the field. How the hell can you throw Baez out there against the top of the Cardinals order?! Manuel chose to turn Berkman around to bat RH vs a LHP (Berkman is far inferior RH), but when facing J.C. Romero he is probably equivalent to Albert Pujols.

    He probably still doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Unreal.

  16. sean

    May 18, 2011 08:15 AM

    plus what is a pitch count really. 1: it doesn’t count throws to first or any other base. 2: doesn’t count warm up pitches prior to the game 3: doesn’t count warm up pitches between innings 4: doesn’t tell you the stressfulness of each pitch(situation and pitch type difference). is every pitch the same? obviously not. Sure it’s easy to use pitch counts but really there are hidden elements to it that we don’t know. Just like every hit isn’t the same even though we classify it that way, every pitch is different. we are simplifying something that’s more complex when we use pitch counts.

    from hearing stories about roy halladay i’m fairly certain clubs moniter EVERY throw a pitcher makes but we aren’t privy to that information.

    It’s easy to say cliff lee was struggling but he was probably more just getting unlucky with the umpire’s strike zone then anything else. a different ump possibly brings different results and a different game.

  17. anna

    May 18, 2011 03:35 PM

    if i were pitching a good game i wouldnt want to take the chance of my bullpen blowing it for me, especially after putting all that effort into the game, getting as far as i did, even with lee having a tough game he still kept the team in the game, if the others would hit maybe charlie could take the starters out and give them a break, at the rate the phillies are going the only chance the have is by letting the starters in to keep the score down, can’t trust the bullpen

  18. steve

    May 18, 2011 04:41 PM

    It is time to get rid of Charlie. He manages everything by “gut” feeling, and is risking the pitching staff. Sorry but it has to be said.

  19. JJ

    May 18, 2011 05:18 PM

    Look at Japanese pitchers that pitch consecutive games. MLB babies pitchers. Phillies will prevail this way.

  20. greg

    May 19, 2011 02:27 PM

    The analysis is somewhat flawed because it just looks at a raw number and doesn’t necessarily make an apples to apples comparison.

    For one, the reason the Phils have more outings of 110 or more pitches is because unlike any other team in the league, they have 4 pitchers capable of going 7-8-9 innings. Therefore, it’s not a surprise they have the most outings of 110+ pitches.

    Two, when you compare pitches per outing of our 4 aces with other aces around the league, those numbers are not much different. There is nothing unusual about the average pitch counts for our aces.

    Three, the number of games of 110 or more pitches per starter is not out of line with other aces. For example, Halladay has 7 games of 110 or more pitches. So do Verlander and Lincecum. Lee has four games of 110 pitches or more but so do Josh Johnson, Sabathia and Kershaw.

    So the conclusion that Manuel is risking the pitching staff because we have 12 outings of 110 or more pitches appears to be flawed.

  21. Joe Redden

    May 19, 2011 03:06 PM

    I hear quite a bit about pitch count recently. It has become the hot topic on just about every show on the MLB Network and any game discussion on ESPN. It’s kind of getting insane. I can see that Nolan Ryan will never again be asked his opinion about pitch counts because it makes all the other commentators seem like whiners. Nolan Ryan doesn’t believe in pitch counts, just like his pitching coaches didn’t when he pitched. Look back at the history of babseball. Did anyone worry about pitch counts? Were those pitchers not dominant? Pitching records set back then still stand because our pitchers today are soft, not because of science.

    As Nolan Ryan stated, “The only reason we have to worry about pitch counts is because we are a soft society today.”

    I would like to think our Phour aren’t soft.

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