Not Again!

Tie game on the road, use any reliever but the guy earning $50 million, the most ever for a relief pitcher. That’s been the M.O. of Phillies manager Charlie Manuel all season and the wayward strategy bit his team again yesterday when the Phillies lost 6-4 to the Baltimore Orioles. Vance Worley went six innings, followed by Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo with one inning each. With the game tied 4-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, Manuel turned to struggling right-hander Chad Qualls for two innings, followed by last night’s call-up B.J. Rosenberg, making his Major League debut. The game ended in Rosenberg’s second inning of work when Adam Jones hit a walk-off two-run home run. Three of the five at-bats involving Rosenberg had a leverage index above the 2.00 threshold.

It marked at least the sixth time this season that Manuel has opted not to use Papelbon in a tie game on the road and the Phillies went on to lose. The list:

  • April 7: Starter Joe Blanton took the mound in the tenth. Why was Blanton in the bullpen? The odd early-season scheduling allowed the Phillies to skip Blanton’s spot in the rotation without disrupting the other starters’ rest. Blanton allowed a lead-off double to Rod Barajas. Michael McKenry pinch-ran for Barajas and was successfully moved over to second base on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, the winning run scored on an Alex Presley infield single. Pirates 2, Phillies 1.
  • April 8: Manuel chose to go with David Herndon in the bottom of the ninth here. Another lead-off double and another sacrifice bunt set the Pirates up with the winning run on third base and one out. After Jose Tabata struck out and it looked like Herndon could see his way out of the jam, Andrew McCutchen “singled” to center to drive in the winning run. Pirates 5, Phillies 4.
  • April 18: Cliff Lee pitched ten scoreless innings, but the Phillies couldn’t muster any offense against Matt Cain, who went nine scoreless. Manuel sent Antonio Bastardo out for the eleventh inning, a questionable move since he wasn’t nearly as sharp then as he is now. With one out, Brandon Belt singled, then advanced to second when Ty Wigginton misplayed a ground ball to third base. Melky Cabrera, who is having a fantastic season, laced a single to right-center to score Belt for the walk-off win. Giants 1, Phillies 0.
  • May 2: Slugfest of the year. Ahead 12-8 going into the bottom of the eighth, Jose Contreras and Michael Schwimer combined to allow five runs. The Phillies, fortunately, were able to tie the game in the top of the ninth just in time to allow Papelbon to stop the bleeding. Excuse me, I misread that. Manuel sent Brian Sanches out for the ninth inning. And the tenth. And the eleventh, when he finally cracked. Dan Uggla led off the inning with a single, then scored on a Chipper Jones walk-off two-run home run. Braves 15, Phillies 13.
  • May 4: Going into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Phillies were ahead 3-2. Manuel sent Chad Qualls to the mound which, in and of itself was not a bad call. However, Papelbon should have been warming up in the event Qualls got in a pickle, which he did. Chad Trady singled to lead off the inning, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Rick Ankiel was intentionally walked to set up the double play and bring up Jesus Flores. Flores doubled to left, scoring Tracy and sending Ankiel to third base. Qualls intentionally walked Xavier Nady to set up another double play. Qualls escaped the threat with two consecutive ground ball outs, 6-2 and 4-3. Like Sanches against the Braves, Michael Schwimer took the mound for three innings: the ninth, tenth, and eleventh. After getting two quick outs in the eleventh, Schwimer cracked, allowing a single and walking two to load the bases for Wilson Ramos. Ramos singled to center to win the game. Nationals 4, Phillies 3.
  • June 9: Tied at 4-4, Chad Qualls came out for both the ninth and tenth innings and doesn’t have any trouble. B.J. Rosenberg, called up the night before, made his Major League debut in the eleventh, retiring the Orioles in order. In the twelfth, Rosenberg led off the inning with a walk to Chris Davis, followed by an Adam Jones walk-off two-run home run. Orioles 6, Phillies 4.
  • June 10: Tied at 4-4, Manuel called on Michael Schwimer for the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. Joe Savery came out for the tenth. After getting one out, Ty Wigginton booted yet another ground ball, allowing Adam Jones to reach base. Matt Wieters doubled to right field to bring Jones around to score the winning run. Orioles 5, Phillies 4.

In all of the above six games, there were clear and obvious opportunities to use Papelbon that simply went unnoticed. Papelbon, recently signed to a four-year, $50 million contract and easily the Phillies’ best reliever, sat in the bullpen without so much as getting up to stretch because the Phillies’ manager is too entrenched in baseball orthodoxy to put his team in a better position to go home with a victory.

The Phillies are 29-32, seven games out of first place. You can’t assume that the Phillies would have won all six simply by using Papelbon, but even if they win only four of them — which is quite reasonable — they are instead 33-28 in third place in the NL East and only three games out (two if the Nationals game is one of the victories). While the Phillies’ bullpen has been awful (fourth-worst ERA in baseball, 4.32), the relievers individually can be leveraged according to their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Qualls has been atrocious against left-handers (.180 wOBA platoon split; .120 last year and .121 in 2010), but his usage has not changed to suit this flaw: 47 percent of Qualls’ batters faced have been lefties.

Likewise, none of the relievers have Papelbon’s elite skill set that makes him so valuable in high-leverage situations: the ability to consistently miss bats, limit walks, and induce weak fly balls in the infield. Manuel is actively harming the Phillies by not having Papelbon so much as throw a baseball out in the bullpen in high-leverage situations. There have been many factors involved in the Phillies’ disappointing 2012: injuries, poor roster construction, and general under-performance. Right up there with them, however, has been Manuel’s misuse of the bullpen.

EDIT: Updated with today’s game.

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43 comments

  1. sixerfan1220

    June 10, 2012 07:14 AM

    whe the rays come into philly next week, i will be crying myself to sleep at the end every game because im 100% certain joe maddon will out manage Manuel

  2. JA

    June 10, 2012 07:14 AM

    Beating a dead horse here…..

  3. Shift

    June 10, 2012 07:39 AM

    Which inning?

  4. Kurt Smith

    June 10, 2012 08:13 AM

    I don’t know about the other games, but I suspect Charlie’s motivation was to use Papelbon to pitch the bottom of the inning if the Phillies pulled ahead. Not saying that’s right or wrong, but that was probably the thinking.

  5. Frank Reynolds

    June 10, 2012 08:14 AM

    I am pretty sure this is not going to change. I also looked at how other managers handle the same situation. I struggled to find a manger that used the closer on the road in a tie game in the ninth. They are pretty much do the same thing as Chuck.

  6. JD

    June 10, 2012 08:15 AM

    Blog it about this some more. Really fresh topic with cutting edge analysis, you guys.

  7. hk

    June 10, 2012 08:16 AM

    Kurt Smith,

    You are right, that is what Charlie is thinking. However, the logic of entrusting a tie game (no margin for error) to a lesser reliever because he has to save his closer for the save if an opportunity ever arises is flawed. Especially when the difference between the lesser reliever(s) and the closer is so significant.

  8. Mike

    June 10, 2012 08:27 AM

    I agree that Charlie has been under-using Papelbon this year, but can you help clarify for me the “right” time to use him last night? It was a “tie game on the road” for several innings last night. If you put Papelbon in to pitch the 9th, the Phillies don’t score for several innings, and Rosenberg still gives up the homer in the 12th. Same thing for the 10th and 11th.

    Given hindsight, you could of course argue that Papelbon should have pitched the 12th, but how was that tie score situation any different from the previous 3 innings?

    Again, I agree that Papelbon is being misused, but how do you determine when he should have been brought in? If you bring him in at any point from the 9th to the 11th, he doesn’t change the outcome of the game, simply because the Phillies couldn’t score.

    Or am I misunderstanding things?

  9. hk

    June 10, 2012 08:36 AM

    Frank Reynolds,

    I’m not sure whether Joe Maddon has used his closer (Fernando Rodney) in a tie game in extra innings on the road, but he has used Rodney in a couple of not-by-the-book ways. In one game at NY, he brought Rodney in in the bottom of the 8th, done by 1 run. Rodney held the Yanks scoreless and, when TB scored 4 in the top of the 9th, he left Rodney in to finish the game. In another game vs. TOR, Maddon used Rodney in the top of the 9th and top of the 10th to keep a 4-4 game tied before TB eventually won it in the bottom of the 11th. It is important to note that both of these games were division games and Maddon saw the importance of what is effectively a two-game swing when you play a division opponent.

    With Charlie, I am not as upset about the games in which he did not use Papelbon in extra innings in tie games as I am about those games – particularly against division opponents – in which he did not use him for 4 or 5 outs to save games in which the Phils had the lead. All other things being equal, if the Phils only won two of the games mentioned in the article, the May 2 game at ATL and the May 4 game at WAS, they would be 4 behind WAS and 3 behind ATL.

  10. Bill Baer

    June 10, 2012 08:39 AM

    @ JA/JD

    Would you prefer I write about games that didn’t happen? We can discuss the results of my MVP Baseball 2005 season. Greg Aquino has been really lights out!

    @ Mike

    The first time you face a tight spot late in the game, when you could really benefit from a strikeout or an infield pop-up to freeze base-advancement, is when you want to have Papelbon at least get up to toss the baseball around.

    You don’t even have to get into leverage index or anything super complicated. Just look at the situation, assess how best to approach it, and react accordingly.

    As for the other part of your question:

  11. hk

    June 10, 2012 08:40 AM

    Mike,

    In response to your question and further to my point above, I agree that using the closer in tie games on the road probably only slightly increases the team’s chances of winning (or delaying the inevitable) because the offense still has to score. The ideal use of Papelbon would have been in the 9th (before Qualls and Rosenberg), but doing so would have only slightly increased the Phils chances of winning. Actually, better bullpen management would have had Bastardo, who only threw 8 pitches, pitch the 9th and Papelbon the 10th. If they still hadn’t scored, the 11th and 12th would have been Qualls’s and they could have held off on using a pitcher in his MLB debut until the 13th.

    Again, to me, the more egregious misuse of the closer is not bringing him in to protect leads in the 8th inning, especially against division opponents.

  12. Bill Baer

    June 10, 2012 08:42 AM

    @ hk

    Good point, I’ll have to go through and find the games when Papelbon wasn’t used in the eighth inning.

  13. JA

    June 10, 2012 08:51 AM

    Bill I think we can all agree that Papelbon is being misused. I just don’t get the point of continually harping on it as if something will change. Charlie Manuel isn’t going to read this. It’s not right, but at some point it is what it is, and in my opinion, it is wasted effort.

  14. Bill Baer

    June 10, 2012 08:53 AM

    My target audience is not Charlie Manuel. Do you think Ricky Bottalico decides to not show up for the CSN post-game show because he doesn’t think Manuel is going to tune in?

    The bullpen management is a thing that happened, and it is a thing that has happened repeatedly, so I will discuss it because it is real. If you’re not enjoying the content, I won’t be offended if you go elsewhere for Phillies analysis.

    EDIT: BTW, your post two years ago would have been: “Saying that Ryan Howard’s $125 million contract is stupid isn’t going to undo the contract so why discuss it?” :-P

  15. Ryne Duren

    June 10, 2012 08:59 AM

    i agree with hk on this! manuals handling of the pen all year is horrible! the other day kk was over 100+ pitches and he has no pitchers warming up at the begining of the inning. kk gets into trouble , all of a sudden valdez is in apparently not fully warmed up cause he proceeded to give up a hit and the lead. but after that wasn’t touched! and this isn’t the first time crap like this happens. and his refusal to have bastardo on a few occassions to pitch another inning after a 5 or 10 pitch inning is flat out dumb!

  16. Frank Reynolds

    June 10, 2012 08:59 AM

    HK no Joe Maddon has not been in the situation that is in question. I am also aware that Maddon has used Rodney in not-by-the-book ways. For the record I looked at every extra inning game in April and May in both leagues no one single manger used his closer in a tie game on the road in the 9th inning. They only brought the closer in extra innings when it was still tied after the pen was depleted or runners were in base.

  17. Frank Reynolds

    June 10, 2012 09:05 AM

    Chad Qualls was on fire yesterday. Two scoreless innings.

  18. Frank Reynolds

    June 10, 2012 09:16 AM

    Bill
    I realize that Maddon has used Rodney in the 8th inning. Are you telling me that the six games in question are a Parallel situation? Because I don’t agree.

  19. Bill Baer

    June 10, 2012 09:26 AM

    In that game I linked, the Rays were up 1-0 going into the bottom of the eighth, with the meat of the Yankees’ lineup due up (Granderson, A-Rod, Cano, Teixeira). That’s pretty much the best spot to use Rodney and it completely goes against traditional closer usage.

    Here are a couple more…

    Jason Motte:

    www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN201206040.shtml

    www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/HOU/HOU201206060.shtml

    Brett Myers:

    www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PHI/PHI201205150.shtml

    www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/COL/COL201205282.shtml

    (Funny because the Astros lost both of Myers’ appearances. Also, not sure if he came in so much due to good strategy as desperation in the second link.)

  20. hk

    June 10, 2012 09:28 AM

    Frank,

    Maddon is one of the few managers, if not the only one, who is willing to ignore “the book” in his decision making. However, Tampa has not played an extra inning road game this year, so we don’t know how he would play it. The last extra inning road game that Tampa played was 7/23/11, a game in which his closer Farnsworth blew a lead in the bottom of the 9th. The last one prior to that was 6/13/11, a game in which Farnsworth pitched (and lost) when the game was tied.

  21. LTG

    June 10, 2012 09:42 AM

    Not that I agree with the ‘dead-horse’ comments, but after yesterday’s game, a post on the Phillies team defense (is it as bad as it looks?) would also have been relevant.

  22. Frank Reynolds

    June 10, 2012 09:44 AM

    Bill
    I apologize I did not look at any game that involved the phillies(Myers game). The second Myers game was a double header so no strategy there. I think you and I are misunderstanding eachother.
    hk
    I am aware that Joe does things not-by-the-book. He is my favorite manager in baseball.

  23. LTG

    June 10, 2012 10:13 AM

    If only reading something could improve Wigginton’s defense…

  24. JA

    June 10, 2012 10:58 AM

    Hey Bill can you stop taking digs at me? I stated my opinion. Which you responded to and I responded back. I didn’t insult you personally. I told you to have a nice day. Is it not ok for some of your readers to have differing opinions on things?

  25. JA

    June 10, 2012 11:03 AM

    #tryagain :)

  26. Ken

    June 10, 2012 11:36 AM

    One big reason the Angels have gotten back in the race is because of their bullpen. A year ago, Jerome Walden closed, and even with 95 plus, failed to hold 10 leads. When they saw similar problems this year, they gave the job to Scott Downs, who the Phils were said to be interested in at one time. And Downs didn’t blow the job, they just found Ernesto Fieri to be useful depth, and started using him in back end situations, freeing Downs up to pitch against 8th inning artillery. As Bastardo continues to pitch better, as Diekman develops, if Stutes comes back, and hopefully is effective, the Phils have more depth, and the 6 games Paps didn’t pitch in turns to 3-3, 4-2 keeping Papelbon fresher, or usable in different situations. It’s not like he’s a Mike Marshall ironman. Rather than use Papelbon in the “right” situations all the time, somebody else has to do the job. Lidge had his Madson, Papelbon’s waiting for his running mate. Use him better some, but at least 1 other guy has to step up. Now whether Charlie would be flexible enough to use his pen like Mike Scosia seems to….can we let it go at maybe? But I suspect that staying in search mode for a Papelbon complement is more proper than overusing Papelbon. Except if Qualls is part of the search effort.

  27. LTG

    June 10, 2012 01:44 PM

    Chris Wheeler: Stuck in the 70s or stuck in the 80s? Discuss.

  28. LTG

    June 10, 2012 03:46 PM

    I just assume now that a ground ball to Wigginton at 3rd will be a hit or an error, definitely not an out.

  29. Frank Reynolds

    June 10, 2012 03:51 PM

    Same story today. We also had an error from wigginton. He also should have charged with 2 more in this series. Wheeler trapped in the 70s.

  30. Gaël

    June 10, 2012 04:11 PM

    This series was the most 2012 Phillies baseball ever.

  31. Noah

    June 10, 2012 04:29 PM

    Bill, Instead of editing this post. I believe you should of posted an identical one with todays game labeled “Not Again, Again!”

  32. Jim Z.

    June 10, 2012 07:01 PM

    Did Wheeler spend an inordinate amount of broadcast time rationalizing Manuel’s outdated bullpen strategy? I didn’t see the game today.

  33. Allen

    June 10, 2012 08:39 PM

    deadhorse.jpg

    Resign Hamels: Agree
    Use Papelbon more: Agree
    Start playing moneyball with contracts tying up a good chuck of change: Agree

  34. LTG

    June 10, 2012 11:18 PM

    Wheeler spent an inordinate amount of time complaining about head-first slides. I was having flashbacks to my childhood.

  35. Willie

    June 11, 2012 06:34 AM

    Can’t wait to see Deikman develop, he was great while he was with the BlueClaws. Same with Rosenberg, I think the mechanics are there for him he just needs the experience. Great to see some former Claws up there, now if only they would all get healthy.

  36. Cutter

    June 11, 2012 08:10 AM

    While I feel that in some of these games, there were clear spots where it would have made sense to use Papelbon, I feel this is oversimplifying things.

    As many have pointed out, you can only use Papelbon in one (MAYBE two) innings. After that, you’re going to have to use the other releivers. And in many of these cases, even if Papelbon did shut them down, the Phillies would still have to score, and then someone else would have to come in for the bottom of the inning.

    Also, you’re assuming that Papelbon will instantly be able to come into the game as soon as the Phillies get into trouble.

    Well, a pitcher needs to warm up first. And it is not healthy for a reliever to have to warm up mutliple times in a game, or for an extended period of time.

    So it isn’t like Manuel can instantly just snap his fingers at any time and bring in Paps.

    The REAL problem is that the Phillies lack more dependable relievers and that the hitters haven’t come through in these extra inning situations.

  37. hk

    June 11, 2012 08:24 AM

    Cutter,

    I agree with many of your points, especially the one about using Papelbon in tie games on the road would only serve to extend the games, but that eventually the offense would have to score a run before one of the lesser relievers, used after Papelbon, surrendered one. I also believe that Charlie should not use Papelbon in every situation of this sort and that he should take into account how much Papelbon has been used in prior games and when they next have an off day. However, to lose yesterday’s game without at least trying to have Papelbon extend it against the heart of the order is inexcusable, especially considering that Charlie didn’t use him Saturday and the team is off today.

    I also agree that the players deserve a lot of the blame here as well. However, the ineffectiveness of the GM has been well documented on this site in other pieces, and it does not absolve the manager of using sub-optimal strategy.

    Where I disagree with you is in reference to Charlie’s failure to use Papelbon in the games where Contreras / Schwimer (at ATL) and Qualls (at WAS) blew 8th inning leads. In the Atlanta game, Schwimer had plenty of time to get ready and it should have been Papelbon, not Schwimer, getting ready in case Contreras blew up. In the Washington game, Papelbon should have started getting warm as soon as the lead-off hitter reached 1st base. After that, between Charlie sending Dubee to the mound to stall, Dubee instructing Qualls to throw a few pick-off throws to first and the obligatory sacrifice bunt, Papelbon should have been ready. If not, he surely would have been ready after the intentional walk to Ankiel.

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