Monday, October 14, 2013

Contemplating a bullpen meltdown

Beginning the meltdown: Jim Leyland
sends Jose Veras back to the dughout and
awaits the arrival of Drew Smyly.
Back in 2008, when this blog was on a different and far less useful (or searchable) platform on the Free Press website, I started tracking the Twins' multi-pitcher bullpen meltdowns.

Do you remember that season? The Twins wound up losing the division title in a Game 163, but had the bullpen not coughed up a number of big leads, that game wouldn't have been necessary. I can't readily find my tally from that season, but I believe the Twins lost at least four games that year when the starter left with at least a three-run lead and at least three relievers combined to allow a crooked number inning.

The frustration of that season reverberated Sunday night as the Tigers bullpen melted down in the eighth inning. Four relievers combined for 25 pitches and four runs in that frame as Jim Leyland searched for the outs he needed:

  • Jose Veras got Stephen Drew to ground out, then allowed a double to Will Middlebrooks.
  • Drew Smyly entered, walked Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • Al Alburquerque entered, struck out Shane Victorino, then allowed a single to Dustin Pedroia.
  • Joaquin Benoit entered, gave up a home run to David Ortiz.

Enter pitcher No. 5 for the game, and No. 4 for the
eighth inning. Exit, one pitch later, the lead.
And a 5-1 lead turned into a 5-5 tie.

All this matchup playing pretty much follows current managerial convention, except that I doubt that in the regular season Leyland would have used Benoit, his closer, to try to get that last out. Regular-season Leyland might have deployed Phil Coke instead (even though Coke isn't really a lefty killer and Benoit actually has better numbers against lefties.)

It all reminded me, as I say, of Ron Gardenhire's struggles in 2008 (which were, frankly, somewhat self-inflicted; Gardy simply would not use Craig Breslow in game situations and spent months trying to get big outs from Brian Bass, who had no big outs in him).

But it also reminded me of how much the game has changed since I started my fandom in 1969. Managers of my youth didn't indulge in this kind of pitcher shuffling.

In the baseball of my youth — even the baseball of my young adulthood — Max Scherzer doesn't come out of the game after seven innings. Two hits and one run allowed in seven innings? Managers in the 1970s and long into the 1980s would have kept him in the game. I can't imagine Earl Weaver or Walter Alston pulling a 21-game winner pre-emptively like that. They may or may not have been aware of pitch counts (Scherzer was at 108), but they didn't manage with that in the forefront of their minds.

And even if they had felt it best to go to the pen, they wouldn't have made repeated moves. Most likely Benoit, as the best reliever on the staff, would have gotten the call and told to get six outs.

This stuff didn't become managerial convention until the late 1980s and early '90s. The managers who did the most to make it convention were Tony LaRussa and ... yes, LaRussa's buddy, Jim Leyland, who was then managing the Pirates.

If Leyland appeared a slave to managerial convention Sunday night, it's appropriate. He helped create that convention more than 20 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Loved Leyland's attempt to take responsibility for the Ortiz's home run by implying that Benoit wasn't aware of Ortiz's reputation: Paraphrasing: "I should've reminded Benoit that we didn't want Ortiz to beat us." Is Leyland going to back the vehicle over him too?