Last week I wrote a piece for this site wherein I expressed displeasure at how John Gibbons, and other managers, ignore leverage when deciding who should be coming out the bullpen at key points in games. I feel that I had good cause to make that point, as the very next night in the sixth inning, Gibbons went to Jesse Chavez (and would have gone to Franklin Morales had he not been hurt) with two outs and the bases loaded and a 7-2 lead. As most of you reading this will well remember, Chavez immediately served up a grand slam to Brock Holt, reducing the advantge from five runs down to one. The Red Sox would score twice more in the 7th inning and hold on to win the game 8-7.
Had the Jays gone to one of their higher leverage relievers like Brett Cecil to face Holt (or likely pinch hitter Chris Young), they could have squashed the rally then and there, and probably would have gone on to an easy victory. It was maddening to see the same issue pop up again, and to have it once again cost the Blue Jays a victory.
However, as I mentioned a few weeks back, we like to think of these relief pitchers as pieces on a chess board to maneuver at whim, when in reality they are very real people with different sets of needs. It turns out the reason Cecil wasn’t brought in is because he wasn’t ready to pitch yet. As for why he wasn’t ready, we turn to the man himself (courtesy of the Toronto Star’s Richard Griffin):
“It’s always nice to have a comfort level, know when you’re going to pitch, where you’re slotted to pitch,” said Cecil, the longest-serving Jays pitcher. “It definitely makes guys more comfortable, especially late in the game, knowing when to start getting ready. If you start getting ready too early, you kind of tire yourself out a little bit. When you don’t know when you’re going to go in, getting caught off-guard when you haven’t even stretched or anything yet. So it definitely gives a lot of comfort knowing where they’re going to be slotted at to pitch.”
We often hear about how relief pitchers get comfortable and tend to pitch better when they “know their roles,” but we never really get to hear what exactly that means. Thankfully, Cecil pulled back the curtain and made some really salient points that I imagine most people have never considered. You certainly DON’T want your late inning relievers getting tired because they started getting ready too early. That’s how leads are blown. And at the same time, you don’t want to bring them in before they’re ready. That might be part of why Hunter was hit so hard in the example I outlined last week. As a late-game reliever, he simply might not have been mentally and physically prepared to pitch in the second inning.
This just further proves why teams need to have a deep bullpen and a corps full of people that the manager can trust to get outs in any situation.
Cecil’s quote wasn’t the only interesting thing in that piece, however. At one point Griffin makes note of how the Jays were planning to finish off their series finale win against Boston:
“As Storen and Osuna finished off Estrada’s Sunday shutout, Cecil had been warming up just in case the lead went to four and there was no save.”
Surely we can take umbrage with that one. The save is just a silly stat that was invented by a writer years ago. Like the win, managers shouldn’t be letting that dictate pitching decisions. It should be decided based on need and merit, right? Well…maybe not. That line of thinking ignores one very important factor: money.
Arbitration may be slowly starting to make advances towards joining the 21st century, but the system still clearly values and rewards counting stats. For hitters, that means runs, RBI, AVG, and home runs, and for pitchers, things like wins and saves go a long way towards determining just how much money a player can make. When you add in bonuses for All-Star game appearances or post-season award voting, both of which are heavily influenced by seemingly archaic counting stats, it’s clear that things like wins and saves still carry a lot of financial weight.
While worrying about payroll is far beyond the job scope of any major league manager, keeping players happy very much falls within their purview, and they’re very aware of money’s influence on player happiness. The money quote on this comes from Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“There are personal statistics that help drive personal achievement as far as salaries go. For us to be completely oblivious to that, I think is a mistake as well. Then you start having some friction,” Matheny continued. “There are outside influences that are constantly pushing these guys toward the statistics that are going to get them paid someday, right?”
Matheny is often criticized for how he deploys his relievers, but the quote above shows a level of understanding of the game that most people never consider. There is just so much more than Xs and Os that goes into every decision made by a major league skipper. At some point, you have probably heard some variation on the saying “managers rarely win games, but they do lose them.” It’s a pretty reasonable statement, as the wrong move is far more likely to hurt you than the right one is to help.
What this ignores is that the managers job is to win the most games over the course of a season, and sometimes, for reasons we can never truly know from outside the clubhouse, that may mean making seemingly questionable decisions for the long term good. If certain seemingly poor decisions become a habit, we can probably rightly criticize. But every now and then, there might just be a hidden wisdom that we were unable to see.
As Joe Sheehan suggested on Effectively Wild last week, “on a day to day basis, over 183 days [in the regular season], whether you pick the right hitter or use the right reliever kind of comes out to a wash for the most part. When you have to win 11 games over three weeks [in the postseason], it becomes very important.” So, let’s just take a step back, and hope we can get to the point where all of this really matters.
Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports