Bullpen Management

Every year, I seem to pick up a pet cause. In 2009, it was Cole Hamels; last year, it was Ryan Madson. This year, that cause is bullpen management. I’ve made no secret that I think Charlie Manuel‘s bullpen management leaves a lot to be desired. In particular, I’ve stressed that J.C. Romero needs to be used exclusively against left-handed hitters as there is such a disparity in performance depending on the handedness of the batter. Additionally, I have been critical of Manuel’s willingness to leave his starters in the game unnecessarily (particularly Roy Halladay).

The last two days have seen some bullpen meltdowns, both literally and figuratively. If you recall, a “meltdown” is a statistic that goes hand-in-hand with a “shutdown”, measuring the effect a reliever had on his team’s chances to win the game. From FanGraphs:

In short, if a player increased his team’s win probability by 6% (0.06 WPA), then they get a Shutdown. If a player made his team 6% more likely to lose (-0.06), they get a Meltdown.

The Phillies entered tonight’s game with the second-fewest meltdowns in baseball with 18, trailing the Cleveland Indians by two. They also had the ninth-most shutdowns with 54. On the whole, the bullpen had been doing a great job in the relatively few innings required of them thanks to the impressive starting rotation.

The last two games, however, have been a different story. After Kyle Kendrick was removed from the game following a rain delay, the Phillies bullpen slowly brought the game back to the Cubs. Eventually, the Cubs would tie the game at 3-3 on a Geovany Soto ninth-inning home run against Ryan Madson. They very nearly took the lead when Tyler Colvin hit a fly ball to right field that was touched by a fan. Initially, it was ruled a home run but was overturned upon video review. David Herndon allowed the fourth and game-winning run in the 11th when Placido Polanco made a poor throw to first base. Herndon and Madson earned meltdowns with -.172 and -.208 WPA, respectively.

Tonight, the Phillies staked Roy Halladay to a 7-0 lead and it looked like smooth sailing going into the eighth. Manuel removed Halladay for pinch-hitter Ben Francisco, figuring his bullpen was adequate for the job. The combination of a not-quite-right Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero (who faced two right-handed hitters) allowed five runs in the eighth inning and were lucky that was the extent of the damage. Michael Stutes came in to get two outs in the eighth and two outs in the ninth before Bastardo finished the game with a strikeout.

In the last two games, the bullpen has pitched ten innings and allowed nine runs. Yet, despite the results, I was mostly pleased with Manuel’s bullpen management. Let’s take a look at the specifics:


– Used Danys Baez after the rain delay. Conservative; smart. Asking Kendrick to go back out after a 77-minute rain delay would have been completely unnecessary.

– Used Romero (LH) to face Carlos Pena (LH) in the sixth inning with a runner on second base and two outs in a 3-1 game. This is how you use Romero properly.

– Used Stutes to pitch the seventh inning. Nothing wrong with that.

– Used Bastardo to pitch to the left-handed pinch-hitter Brad Snyder. Cubs manager Mike Quade countered with right-handed pinch-hitter Lou Montanez. Nothing you can do about that, since the manager of the batting team gets the last “move”. Besides, Bastardo is somewhat good against right-handed hitters, unlike Romero. Manuel left Bastardo in to start the eighth inning against Kosuke Fukudome. Smart.

– Used Contreras to finish out the eighth, as three of the Cubs’ next four hitters were right-handed. Unfortunately, Contreras didn’t have his best stuff and allowed a run on two consecutive two-out doubles.

– Used Madson in the ninth. It sucks that he allowed the tying run and almost allowed the go-ahead run, but Madson had been lights out up to this point. Absolutely nothing to complain about here.

– Used Herndon, his last reliever in the bullpen, to pitch the 10th and 11th innings. You manage the game assuming regulation. In retrospect, it would have been nice to have additional depth going into extra innings, but if you manage in anticipation of going extra innings, you will unnecessarily lose more games in regulation. This is essentially what I was asking for when I criticized Manuel earlier in the season when Madson was left sitting on the bench against the St. Louis Cardinals.


– Took Halladay out after seven innings and 107 pitches. Smart move. No need to leave Halladay in there with such a high pitch count in a game that the Phillies were 95% to win. To leave Halladay in there would imply that the Phillies’ bullpen has the collective skill level of a 31.50 ERA pitcher (seven runs in two innings) or worse. I will take selective match-ups in the final two innings than Halladay after 107 pitches, with all due respect.

– Used Contreras to start the eighth inning. Again, he didn’t look sharp. Fortunately, it was a low-leverage situation — he started the inning with a 0.06 leverage index — so he had room to work through his struggles. He faced five batters, four of them reached base on two walks and two hits; two of them scored.

– Manuel went to Romero to face Blake DeWitt (LH). Romero walked DeWitt. That should have been the end of his night right there, as the Cubs had the right-handed Geovany Soto (career .407 wOBA vs. LHP) due up. The Cubs had the bases loaded and one out, and were clearly not going to pinch-hit for Soto. Perfect opportunity to use Michael Stutes. However, Romero stayed out there and promptly allowed an RBI single. Quade pinch-hit for Tyler Colvin (LH) with Montanez (RH), who sliced a two-run single to right field, bringing the score to 7-5.

– Finally, Stutes was brought in and the game was calmed down. He recorded the next four outs. Bastardo (LH) was brought in to face Pena (LH) and struck him out to end the game.

Overall, the bullpen was managed optimally by Manuel. The only hiccup was leaving Romero in the game against Soto. It is unfortunate that Manuel’s good decision-making was punished, as it may deter him from making these decisions as often in the future. Despite the results, I was encouraged as it shows an evolution in Manuel’s managing style. Of course, it could also be completely random, but I’m betting on someone — maybe even Charlie himself — influencing his bullpen management.

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  1. kmart

    June 10, 2011 10:11 PM

    Figures that the Phils nearly blew this lead. I fear that Halladay will never leave a game before the 8th the rest of the year.

  2. Dave

    June 10, 2011 10:15 PM

    Good analysis. Underlying problem is Romero. He’s done unfortunately. Even though everyone wants a hitter look for the one trade next month to be for another lefty in the pen. Sean Marshall would look great in red.

  3. Mratfink

    June 10, 2011 11:22 PM

    I agree that the game we lost was actually handled well, but this game we won i was dissatisfied by. I have no problem starting with Contreras since we are trying to get him work and get him back to where he was pre-injury, but I thought it was obvious early that he didn’t have it. I thought not having another arm besides romero ready was a big mistake, in other words he should have gotten stutes and romero up at the same time and gotten them ready to take over earlier. But yeah this was better than he had been doing before.

  4. Jim

    June 11, 2011 08:44 AM

    My only qualm with Thursday’s game was pulling Stutes instead of letting him finish the inning. True he walked the previous batter but two of the Balls were borderline and I have complete faith he would have gotten out of the inning unscathed.

    Then I would have let Bastardo pitch the entire 8th inning. This would have left us with two pitchers in extras instead of one, and also allowed us to pinch hit for Contreras/Herndon and drastically increased our chances of winning.

  5. Richard

    June 11, 2011 09:21 AM

    I mostly agree, but I thought it was unnecessary to bring in Contreras in relief of Bastardo with no one on base in the 8th on Thursday. Not because of how he pitched, but because you do need to leave somebody available for extra innings, just in case.

    I’m also not so sure about not sticking with Kendrick, but that’s just a matter of taste.

  6. John

    June 11, 2011 11:43 AM

    At some point, we are going to have to come to terms with the fact that Romero is, indeed, this bad. You can’t afford just a one or two batter specialist if he isn’t getting the job done. Sub .200 OBP vs LHB in 2008.
    Since then:
    2009, .438
    2010, .323
    2011, .346

    .346 OBP vs LHB puts him .002 in front of Kyle Kendrick and .006 BEHIND Danys Baez. Nobody would let near a LHB in a leveraged situation with any other options available.

  7. Bill Baer

    June 11, 2011 01:58 PM

    Sample sizes…

    2008: 111 PA
    2009: 32 PA
    2010: 97 PA
    2011: 27 PA

    In 2010, Romero had been coming off elbow surgery.

    I’m going to trust the larger sample sizes from 2008 and prior, rather than the small and biased samples of 2009-11.


    June 11, 2011 02:33 PM

    Honestly I really don’t like the way Charlie uses Romero, but i’m also equally frustrated that J.C can’t seem to get it done VS lefties as well as he used to either.

    His control is pretty dreadful, and i’m tired of seeing him walking the left-handers he was brought in to get out, and then FREAKING CHARLIE leaves him in to face Righties who he’s absolutely terrible against to help the game get out of hand. Charlie wants to use a lefty that can actually go an inning+? Then use Bastardo, and save J.C as the LOOGY(although he’s not very good at that role anymore either).

  9. John

    June 11, 2011 03:11 PM

    I’m sure there is an interesting debate about how far into the past a positive, larger sample trumps a negative, smaller, more recent sample. Suppose everyone has a different tipping point.

    For me, its going from plausible to probable that he just isn’t the same pitcher he was in in 2007 (with Philly, not Boston) and 2008. He averaged 75 games or so from 2002 to 2008, so there is a strike against him for useage. He had elbow surgery in 2009 and has about 7 BB/9 since then.

    If I was optimistic, I would say that you could squeeze him into 2-3 games per week until he finds his rhythm, but this team isn’t going to hit enough to create positive non-leverage situations. And they aren’t going to be hit enough to create negative non-leveraged situations.

  10. Chris

    June 11, 2011 05:19 PM

    Romero LHB PA: 27
    RHB PA: 45…
    Something smells fishy…

    Also, Romero BABIP vs LHB: 0.357
    BABIP overall on GB: 0.346

    Yes, he has walked a fair number of the LHB he’s faced, but he’s struck out twice as many (11.37 K/9, 5.68 BB/9 vs LHB). I think it’s fair to say he’s been misused by Charlie, and his perceived struggles against LHB are, at this point, more to do with SSS than anything else definitively.

  11. LTG

    June 11, 2011 06:41 PM

    7-1 in the 9th today, why not use Baez?

  12. Bill Baer

    June 11, 2011 09:27 PM

    That was Friday, right? Romero faced Soto and then Montanez (PH for Colvin). He shouldn’t have faced Soto and, consequently, Montanez.

  13. hk

    June 12, 2011 08:13 AM


    1. Why does Herndon get charged with a meltdown when a passed ball and a throwing error were the primary reasons for the run scoring?

    2. After Stutes K’d Castro and Chooch threw out Barney, shouldn’t Charlie have left Stutes in the game? If you have a 2-run lead and a LHB coming up followed by a RHB, shouldn’t you leave the RHP in since the LHB does not represent the tying run?

  14. Bill Baer

    June 12, 2011 02:51 PM

    @ hk

    1. WPA based stats aren’t interested in making exceptions. While I agree in theory that Herndon getting a meltdown there is a bit unfair, that is not the purpose of the stat.

    2. Charlie may have over-managed there, but overall, it’s not a big deal.

  15. jack

    June 12, 2011 03:09 PM

    bill, here’s something tangentially related that really bothers me. i’m watching the phils/cubs right now, and stutes just struck out ramirez with three beautiful sliders. before that, he blew a fastball by pena for a strikeout. altogether, in the 8th, he threw 10 pitches. he’s grooving. but you already know he won’t throw the 9th. why? he just buzz-sawed the best part of the cubs’ lineup. he threw 10 pitches! let the kid finish!

  16. Scott G

    June 12, 2011 07:44 PM

    Don’t pay any attention to the fact that he walks people at a Romero-ian rate, and his babip is pretty low.

  17. jauer

    June 12, 2011 08:25 PM

    4 years and manuel still hasnt learned how to use the primary left-handed option he’s had in the bullpen all this time. its just sad.

  18. Matt

    June 12, 2011 09:32 PM


    This doesn’t have anything to do with bullpen management, but its an interesting statistic nonetheless. Right now, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee are 1,2, and 3 respectively in the NL in K/BB. Has a team ever had three starters ranked 1-3 in K/BB? All the best.

  19. SJHaack

    June 13, 2011 10:21 AM

    Bill I respect your analyses, but you see something in JC Romero’s numbers and Charlie’s bullpen usage that I don’t.

    Yes overall he did fine, except when he left Romero in the game in a horrible piece of mismanagement and got torched for it.

  20. John

    June 14, 2011 08:48 AM

    First off, JC Romero has faced more RHB than LHB every year of his career except last year. Diminishing returns compared to past years seems to support diminishing abilities.

    Second, shouldn’t a LOOGY should be your best left handed reliever? Brian McCann or Prince Fielder is coming up in a critical spot, Bastardo and Romero are both rested. If you aren’t going with Romero, and we’re saying his only role that returns value to the ball club is to get 4 or 5 LHBs per week out, doesn’t that mean the only justification for his roster spot is his salary?

  21. SJHaack

    June 15, 2011 03:14 PM


    Your LOOGY isn’t your best lefty. He’s the guy that warms up, throws 4 pitches, and heads to the shower.

    Think Dan Plesac (LOOGY) vs Rheal Cormier (a bullpen pitcher that is left handed).

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