Jonathan Papelbon and Leverage Index

I know it seems ungrateful to gripe about reliever usage in the wake of a comeback win against a division rival, so I’m trying not to do that here. Instead, this is more about a head-scratching moment in the ninth inning last night, the latest episode of bizarre…no, I’m sorry, patently suboptimal yet completely orthodox usage of Jonathan Papelbon by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

To recap: the Phillies won a game last night in which more than half the runs were scored in the ninth inning. The Phillies, who traded blows with New York all night, scratched out a run in the top of the 8th, held that lead through Jose Contreras in the bottom of that frame, and then hammered three Mets relievers into tiny pieces to the tune of six runs in the ninth.

Now, the Phillies had Jonathan Papelbon up in the bullpen at the start of the inning, because in all likelihood, the Phillies were not going to score and they’d head into the bottom of the inning up one run. For all the griping we do here about the save rule, up one run in the ninth inning is precisely the kind of situation in which you’d want to use your best reliever. But after Jimmy Rollins‘ home run stretched the lead to four runs, using Papelbon became less of a necessity. Even with a four-run lead, though, I probably would have used Papelbon anyway had the Phillies gone down quickly, just because he was already warm. I forget exactly when Papelbon sat and Valdes started warming up, but I think it was sometime after Rollins’ home run. Correct me if I’m wrong.

But then the Mets started booting the ball around the infield and the Phillies tacked on three more runs. At this point, Uncle Cholly called for Valdes because you don’t need your relief ace to pitch when you’re up seven runs. Valdes struggled mightily, just as we’d expect from someone who looks like Danys Baez and is named after Raul Ibanez and Wilson Valdez.

Thus, we found ourselves with a runner on second, two out, and the Phillies up five runs, and the lilting strains of Every Time I Die’s “Ebolarama” start piping over the television as Papelbon was recalled from the bullpen. To get one out in a five-run game. I know the Mets had scored two runs in a hurry and someone who couldn’t do math might describe the bottom of the ninth inning as a “threatening rally,” but come on. Here’s the win probability chart from last night’s game:

The nice thing about such charts is that they allow you to see if the game hangs in the balance in so many terms. Valdes’ three-run (Papelbon let his inherited runner score), 2/3 IP performance actually resulted in a WPA for Valdes of -.001. When he entered the game, the Phillies had a 99.7 percent chance of winning. When he left, that had dropped to 99.5. Manuel used Papelbon over Valdes (or any other pitcher) to get one out before surrendering four runs, plus Andres Torres on second. I think that I would place an even-money bet on almost literally any pitcher at any level of professional baseball to record one out before allowing four runs against the Mets. Papelbon’s WPA, by the way? .002. Glad the Phillies panicked over a rounding error enough to use their best reliever to fix it.

I know it seems like Papelbon nipped a rally in the bud, but he didn’t need to. And while he only threw eight pitches, he spent a lot of time warming up, which causes fatigue on its own. So because he had to warm up twice, we might as well count this as if he’d had to register a three-out save. Again, not necessarily the end of the world, but another instance of Jonathan Papelbon playing when he should have sat or sitting where he should have played.

Oh, and in other bullpen weirdness, Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma was credited with a save for successfully protecting a 12-run lead last night. Here’s the graph.

Source: FanGraphs

Good job, Statistic That Determines All Reliever Usage in MLB.

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21 comments

  1. nik

    May 31, 2012 09:43 AM

    So many words about 8 pitches preceeding an off-day. Remember the Cubs game where the game was out of reach until it wasn’t?

  2. K

    May 31, 2012 09:54 AM

    FWIW they sat down Papelbon after the lead made it to 8-3.

  3. jordan629

    May 31, 2012 09:55 AM

    Yeah, they sat down Papelbon after it was 10-3.

  4. Gaël

    May 31, 2012 09:58 AM

    Which makes sense: before that, it would still have been a save situation.

    @nik,
    I would agree if yesterday had been an isolated incident. Obviously, it wasn’t.

  5. Cutter

    May 31, 2012 10:08 AM

    I’m OK with this one. Papelbon hadn’t pitched on Tuesday, and with the off day, he won’t pitch today. Considering he had already warmed up, there really was no harm in using him. If anything, it prevented him from too long of a layoff.

  6. Noah

    May 31, 2012 10:11 AM

    I agree. He didn’t need to come in but there was no harm with an off day and not having pitched the day before. Especially since he had already warmed up.

  7. Ryan

    May 31, 2012 10:24 AM

    I point to the off day and the fact that he was already most of the way warmed up (and needed the work anyway). He didn’t have time to completely cool down in that part of an inning, so using him was fine by me. I usually hate Charlie’s bullpen management, but he was fine this time.

  8. Bill Baer

    May 31, 2012 10:42 AM

    But five days from now, Papelbon will have been used “too much” and we’ll see Qualls in a high-lev spot.

  9. Eric

    May 31, 2012 10:48 AM

    It’s interesting about that save. I follow baseball but not completely geeked out into it and I never knew that there were more criteria for a save than just whether you were not the winning pitcher, protecting a 3 run lead and you pitched at least more than 1/3 of an inning.

  10. Michael Baumann

    May 31, 2012 11:00 AM

    Right, this isn’t a big deal in a vacuum, but it’s part of a pattern of Papelbon being used in lower-leverage situations. Even so, I didn’t mean to write 700+ words, but I couldn’t help myself.

  11. d fresh

    May 31, 2012 11:05 AM

    If anything, Papelbon should have been used in the 8th inning against the Mets better hitters with only a one run lead.

  12. Jonny5

    May 31, 2012 11:28 AM

    I don’t know, once he’s warmed up you might as well use him. Basically being warmed up is pitching so it makes little difference to have him throw a handful more pitches. Nothing to get excited about or criticize from my POV.

  13. Brad.

    May 31, 2012 01:21 PM

    I am not doing this in a snarky way, but out of concern. I keep hearing (esp. including from Wheels on the TeeVee) that once Pap is warming up in the bullpen, it is the same as if he is brought into the game. So the “equation” is: warming up in the bullpen = warming up in the bullpen, warming up some more on the field, and then pitching to a couple or many Major League hitters in a Major League game. Those two things don’t seem the same for me, and the strenuous part of all that on a pitcher’s arm is undoubtedly the all-out throwing done during the game.

  14. ease

    May 31, 2012 02:40 PM

    i never seen another season where “warming up in the pen” was used so much as it is this season.

  15. jauer

    May 31, 2012 02:45 PM

    Entering the game with a 10-5 lead and a runner on base means youre out there until the game is over, or until the score is 10-10. Had Papelbon allowed a couple walks and a couple hits to allow the Mets to cut the score to 10-9, you know for a fact that Manuel is keeping Papelbon in the game to try to hang on for the victory.

    Therefore, it’s not “a couple more pitches”, it’s “up to 40 pitches.” It’s certainly possible for Papelbon to throw 40, or even 50 pitches before the Mets even tie the game. Obviously, this is a significantly higher workload than simply warming up in the bullpen. Had that occurred, I would guess he’d need two days off, and wouldn’t be available until Saturday. I believe it was Madson last year who was unavailable for two days after throwing an insane number of pitches (I think the game was in Washington).

    Every time Wheeler says “well, he’s warmed up, so youd might as well use him,” he’s contaminating the minds of every post-2008 Phillies fan trying to learn the game.

  16. Bliz

    May 31, 2012 03:23 PM

    Seems like an non-issue to me. Especially if you want to say that by warming up he already put wear/tear on his arm. In that case, putting him in to get one out doesn’t seem like asking all that much additional work – weather today was an off day or not.

  17. Gaël

    May 31, 2012 06:06 PM

    If warming up is basically the same as pitching, why not put Papelbon in to start the ninth, then?

  18. Dave Gauntt

    June 01, 2012 09:57 AM

    Your articles really are starting to drive me crazy…. You will complain about anything regarding this team. Are you ever happy with a win, or do you like start controversy. The Phillies won, they are only 3 games out of first, a game and half out of the wild card. The whole team has been on the disable list except Rollins. Enjoy the team is hanging in there, once we get some starters back in the line up the team could take off. Let’s just hope they hang in there and stop bashing every move. Sorry I don’t have any fan graphs to back this up, or some weird stat to show how the philles will get to 85 wins this year. Or how the decline of Halladay and Lee can’t win.

  19. jauer

    June 01, 2012 10:00 AM

    You’re right Dave, complaining about hideous bullpen management should be reserved only for fans of last place teams.

    Wait, what?

  20. jauer

    June 01, 2012 10:10 AM

    @ Dave,

    If this site did not point out Manuel’s frequent bullpen mistakes, and then Papelbon got injured in September in a similar situation (or the Phillies blew a September divisional game because he was unavailable due to a similar situation), then people like you would say “well I didnt hear any comaplaints all year, and now youre just complaining because he’s injured!”

    Using Schwimer instead of Papelbon in the 12-9 Atlanta game in the 8th inning undoubtedly cost this team 2 games in the standings relative to the Braves. Perhaps if Manuel displayed anything resembling a grasp on reality for the first 2 months of handling this bullpen, we would overlook situations like Wednesday night.

  21. Bill Baer

    June 01, 2012 11:07 AM

    Dave Gauntt’s comment is like the polar opposite of 610 WIP callers. Instead of complaining about irrelevant stuff, DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT RELEVANT STUFF EVER. EVERYTHING IS SUNSHINE AND LOLLIPOPS.

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