Another Look at Bullpen (mis)Management
It was brought to my attention that my own research suggests that the Phillies’ bullpen should be more worn out than the Mets’. Yet, the Phillies relievers continue to outperform those wearing orange and blue — as well as every other team in the NL.
So what gives? Do the numbers lie? My theory incorrect?
Let’s look at this in further detail and try to figure this out, comparing the two teams head to head.
From the above, it’s true that the Phillies top seven most-frequently used relievers have accounted for 94% of the total relief innings pitched by the team. The “top seven” Mets relievers, in contrast, have accounted for only 83%.
There are a few flaws with my “top seven” theory, and some things jump out. First being, the fact that one of the Mets’ “top seven” — Jorge Sosa — hasn’t been on the team since May. The second is the number of appearances, which aren’t addressed by my percentage of innings.
The Phillies have only two people who have appeared in more than 60 games. In comparison, the Mets have four, with two of them about to hit 70. So while the Phillies’ top relievers have carried most of the innings load, they haven’t appeared as frequently.
Another issue is the 16 more relief innings that the Mets have had to cover — that’s nearly the equivalent of two full games. So the Mets relievers are getting into more games, and pitching more innings.
Something else strikes me, which goes hand-in-hand with the frequency factor. Looking at the Phillies’ relievers, there are three pitchers with less innings pitched than appearances. One of them is their closer Brad Lidge, but we know he’s not a “matchup” guy. So in essence, the Phillies use only two guys for matchups — J.C. Romero and Tom Gordon (who is currently on the DL). And actually, Gordon wasn’t really a ROOGY, but more of a setup man — he threw at least one inning in nearly all of his appearances.
Compare that to the Mets, who have used Feliciano, Smith, Schoeneweis extensively as “one out guys”, and began using Duaner Sanchez similarly of late. On the one hand, you’d think that pitching to only one batter shouldn’t be such a toll on their arm and body. But on the other hand, they’ve had to warm up in the bullpen for each of their appearances, plus how many other times when they didn’t get into a game? Is it possible that all those pitches thrown in the bullpen take just as much, if not more, of a toll on the human body? Understand that pitchers often “get up” several times in a ballgame. Is anyone counting how many pitches each reliever is throwing — pregame + bullpen + game + between-innings warmups? Every one of those pitches takes something out of a pitcher’s body.
Further, Jerry Manuel made a big deal about “establishing roles” in the bullpen. Looking at the numbers — and watching the games — I’m not sure I recognize a pattern that would suggest roles, other than Billy Wagner as the closer. With Wagner now out, and a month of the season left, all roles go out the window — it’s all hands on deck. Newsflash: it’s been a roleless, “all hands on deck” bullpen since May.
What makes things scarier is that Manuel has publicly stated several times that he will be “going with the hot hand” out of the bullpen. I don’t need to mention that this strategy used to be employed by Willie Randolph, who learned it from Joe Torre. What I do need to mention is that it makes zero sense. HITTERS go on hot streaks — not pitchers. The only time pitchers go into “slumps” is when they are overused and fatigued. So by “going with the hot hand” you are effectively creating the “slump”.
With first place — and his job — on the line, Jerry Manuel has begun managing out of fear. If Smith can’t get a batter out, Schoeneweis comes in. If Scho doesn’t get an out, Feliciano comes in. If Feliciano gets an out, he stays in until someone gets a hit. And so on. This is not a strategy, and certainly not “management”. It’s panic.
Unfortunately, bullpen management is not something that you can suddenly start to do in the last 30 games of the year — it is something that begins on Opening Day. While I still think the Phils are due for a bullpen collapse in September, it appears that, so far, Charlie Manuel’s Phillies have managed their bullpen arms for the long haul, while the Willie Randolph/Jerry Manuel Mets have put the “pedal to the metal” since the beginning. As we move into September, when “every game counts”, the Mets just may push that pedal through the floorboard, snap the accelerator cable, and thereby stop the engine.