Sometimes Bad Things Happen to Good People

Monday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves was ugly for myriad reasons; the bullpen responsible for nearly all of them. To recap, it was a fairly close game after seven innings. Starter Roberto Hernandez yielded only two runs to the Braves, on a two-run home run by Evan Gattis. Mario Hollands pitched a scoreless seventh inning. The Phillies managed just one run off of Braves starter Ervin Santana, which came on a second-inning solo home run by Ryan Howard. Once it got to the eighth inning, things got out of hand.

Reliever B.J. Rosenberg took the mound and the Braves brought the lumber. Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla, and Andrelton Simmons hit back-to-back-to-back solo home runs in rapid-fire succession, putting the game seemingly out of reach at 5-1. Luis Garcia relieved Rosenberg and was able to escape the eighth with no further damage. Entering the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies’ win probability sat at a meager four percent.

Just as the Braves’ bats woke up, so too did the Phillies’. Luis Avilan relieved Anthony Varvaro and was immediately put to the test by the top of the Phillies’ lineup. Tony Gwynn, Jr. walked, and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley both singled to load the bases. Ryan Howard struck out (hey, it was against a lefty!), but Marlon Byrd picked him up with a two-run single to right field. Domonic Brown put the cherry on top of the inning with a go-ahead three-run home run to make it 6-5 in favor of the Phillies. Their win probability stood at 84 percent at the conclusion of the bottom of the eighth.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon had pitched in three consecutive games, so manager Ryne Sandberg opted to have the normally-reliable Jake Diekman close out the ninth, but it was not to be. Diekman could not hit the strike zone whatsoever. The lefty walked B.J. Upton to lead off the top of the ninth, then fell behind Freddie Freeman before he tapped a grounder to Utley at second base, who flipped to second base to get the lead runner, but he was a hair too late. Diekman walked Justin Upton to load the bases. With his back against the wall, Diekman fired some 97-98 MPH fastballs by Evan Gattis and retired him on strikes for the first out, revealing light at the end of the tunnel. But it was not to be, as Uggla joined Gattis in the two-homer party, crushing a grand slam to left field to give the Braves a 9-6 lead. At the conclusion of the top of the ninth, the Phillies were back down to four percent win probability. This time it stuck. David Carpenter closed out the bottom of the ninth with Craig Kimbrel resting with a sore shoulder.


Source: FanGraphs

Now that the recap is over and we have context, time to get into the meat of the matter:

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. The Phillies’ bullpen has not had a good, or even adequate, start to the season and last night’s performance didn’t help. They entered the game with a 4.35 ERA collectively and exited at 5.53. Among all 30 Major League bullpens, they have the 23rd-best strikeout rate at 20 percent and tie for the 13th-worst walk rate, just below 11 percent. They have allowed the second-most home runs with seven, just behind the Angels’ eight. Hitters have been smoking line drives on a regular basis, as the Phillies have allowed them at the tenth-highest rate at 22 percent. And despite that, the Phillies’ bullpen has actually been somewhat lucky with a .252 BABIP — we would expect it to be well north of .300.

By just watching Phillies relievers pitch, you’d get the sense they haven’t been pitching well. That is supported by the stats, both descriptive and predictive.

You know what’s coming next: a spiel about small sample sizes. I don’t need to tell you that a Phillies reliever has yet to cross the eight-inning threshold, which is the equivalent of one good start or two mediocre starts, and that you’d never rush to judgement about a starter after one or two starts. I don’t need to tell you that there’s 149 games left and that the bullpen we see now may not be the bullpen we see later.

What I will say is this: sometimes bad things happen to good people. Few have any confidence left in Papelbon. If fans were given the choice between Papelbon and Diekman prior to the ninth inning last night, Diekman would have won in a landslide. The choice to use Diekman against a slew of right-handed hitters was, perhaps, a bit questionable — I don’t have a huge issue with it given the context of Papelbon’s workload — but the Phillies had already burned B.J. Rosenberg and Luis Garcia. The only other right-hander left in the bullpen was Jeff Manship. It was Diekman’s game and, unfortunately, the 28 pitches he threw were not of the usual quality. It happens. And the Braves deserve credit for being patient and forcing him to have to make pitches in tight spots.

Monday night’s loss is a tough pill to swallow, especially considering how far they had to come back only to fall right back down again. The only way to learn is by making mistakes. Brad Lidge, after all, turned in his perfect season not too far removed from serving up that gut-punching home run to Albert Pujols in the NLCS.

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11 comments

  1. Tom

    April 15, 2014 10:35 AM

    I know Manship isn’t 1999 Rivera, but I’m not sure how Diekman stays in that game. It was pretty clear that he “didn’t have it”. Real question here…is Sandberg not a “matchup” guy? Is he a “gut feeling” guy?

    • Bill

      April 15, 2014 01:28 PM

      Exactly! Who didn’t know that Diekman was seriously off? Was Sandberg trying to spare his feelings by leaving him in the game? What kind of managing is this?

  2. JonCheddar

    April 15, 2014 10:40 AM

    So Mike Adams, Ethan Martin, and Kenny Giles are our saviors? Ok then.

  3. bharring

    April 15, 2014 10:43 AM

    Uggla hit .179 last year in 537 PAs. How is that even possible!?

  4. Bob

    April 15, 2014 11:06 AM

    The myth about Paps is that he is a washed up reliever. Far from it. He’s not the lights-out closer that he was or few can be. But he’s still a good reliever based on his stats last year. Granted, he tailed off at the end of the year and his strike out rate is down due probably to his drop in velocity meaning more balls in play. Yet, looking at the numbers as a whole, he still had a good year. He’s going to have bad games; everyone does. It doesn’t mean he’s ineffective, though.

    Diekman is being put in non-optimal situations. He should mostly face LH bats. Unfortunately, Sandberg has no BP outside of Paps and Bastardo. These three relievers cannot pitch in every game or even 2/3 of the games. Realistically, quality relievers pitch in 1/3 of the team’s games. If Hamels comes back strong and Adams is serviceable, we could see a better BP. The disappointing thing is that RAJ again failed to address the BP in FA. I was high on Lincoln based on 2012. Little did I know he does not have a major league quality secondary pitch. Unlike me, RAJ gets paid good money to know these things.

    • Just Bob

      April 15, 2014 01:01 PM

      Well said.

  5. Paul

    April 15, 2014 12:05 PM

    The problem is (at the risk of sounding like a Monday-morning quarterback), Papelbon should not have been in the game on Saturday, particularly with no pending off days. Perhaps locking down that 9th inning helped secure extra innings, but it was short-sighted and the typical misguided approach of “use your closer at home in a tie game in the 9th.” I’m not a Sandberg hater by any stretch, but there was some clear bullpen mismanagement that ultimately helped lead to the disaster of last night.

  6. Major Malfunction

    April 15, 2014 12:50 PM

    Its not so much that Diekman got rocked that is of interest, its will he get another chance to close and what differences will we see when he does? The guy has electric stuff and could (should?) be the closer of the future. Sometimes, a tough bloody nose is what one needs to bring it altogether and realize what it takes to get to the top. Hopefully he’s bounces back and is ready for the next test.

  7. mark66

    April 15, 2014 04:06 PM

    This team just does not have the chemistry to win on a consistent basis. Sandberg needed to pinch hit for Howard late in the game. His strike out rate is rapidly approaching 40%. He can’t hit to save his life. If you are going to continue to play him he will either hurt you with the glove or the bat. He is the most overpriced player in the game today. The more you play him the more you will lose.

    • hk

      April 16, 2014 12:09 PM

      “This team just does not have the chemistry to win on a consistent basis.”
      What do you know about this team’s chemistry? I would say that this team does not have the talent to win on a consistent basis.

      “Sandberg needed to pinch hit for Howard late in the game.”
      If Sandberg had pinch-hit for Howard at that point, ATL probably would have brought in a RHP since 3 of the next 4 hitters would have been right-handed and the Phils most likely would not have scored 5 runs. I find it odd that you are criticizing the decisions that resulted in a 5-run inning. Also, since Mayberry had already pinch-hit earlier in the game, with whom did you want him to replace Howard?

      “His strike out rate is rapidly approaching 40%. He can’t hit to save his life.”
      Howard’s K% is 31% as compared to 28% for his career. It is not rapidly approaching 40%. In fact, after peaking following the 2nd MIL game, it is dropping. He also has a .351 wOBA and 116 wRC+. I don’t know how much he would need to hit to save his life, but he can hit and has been hitting better than league average.

      “If you are going to continue to play him he will either hurt you with the glove or the bat.”
      I have no quibble with the glove part of this comment.

      “He is the most overpriced player in the game today.”
      If he is not the most overpriced player, he is among the top 3 or 5. However, that’s irrelevant. He’s better than the alternatives that the Phillies have on the roster right now, especially vs. RHP’s. Should they platoon him and use him as DH when they play in AL ballparks? Of course.

  8. Mike B.

    April 15, 2014 10:22 PM

    I’m not sure it was the Phillies who burned Rosenberg. Yeesh.

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