Save Wags the Jays Into a Loss
As this entry is being written, the Blue Jays haven't yet put the finishing touches on a devastating loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Up 5-3, the home side coughed up a 4-spot in the 9th, as Kevin Gregg walked the population of Mississauga.
Let's not blame Gregg, let's blame absolutely reprehensible bullpen management. Granted, it's completely orthodox bullpen management - that doesn't make it any less idiotic.
To get to the 9th inning, up 5-3, the Jays burned through a total of five pitchers.
Consider the reasons to replace a starting pitcher:
1) He's no longer effective.
2) He's obviously fatigued or has a high pitch count.
3) He's injured.
4) He's being lifted for a pinch hitter.
We're talking American League here, so number 4 is moot, and injuries are relatively rare, so you basically pull a starter if he's tired or getting hit around. Not so for a reliever, for whom we can add three more reasons:
1) You're left-handed and the next batter isn't.
2) You're right-handed and the next batter isn't.
3) You're not our "closer".
The Jays fell victim to all of these tonight. Consider the 8th inning, Shawn Camp had retired all three batters he'd faced, on a total of six pitches. With two outs and no one on, let's bring in Scott Downs, because, hey, the next batter's left-handed. So on comes Downs to battle the promising, but-not-to-be-mistaken-for-Ted-Williams Reid Brignac.
For the record:
Brignac vs RHP: 800 OPS
Brignac vs LHP: 1.010 OPS (just 11 ABs)
Camp vs LHB: 712 OPS
Downs vs LHB: .620 OPS
Does anyone think the extra 92 points of OPS are worth burning a fresh, effective reliever? Worst case scenario, Brignac hits a homer and you still have a lead. But here comes Downs, and he retires Brignac on just 5 pitches. So now the two-run lead is in the hands of Downs, but Downs falls victim to reliever laws 1) and 3), because right-handed B.J. Upton is set to lead off the 9th, and far more importantly
, Scott Downs is NOT the "closer".
To the first point, Scott Downs vs RHB: .605 OPS, but it's the second point that turns baseball managers into complete idiots, and that's the unwritten rule that says the closer gets all the saves. And so the Jays burn through two pitchers, who retired all four hitters they faced on a grand total of 11 pitches, to get to the pitcher who gets all the saves, because, hey, it's a save situation.
Every time a manager pulls a pitcher who has pitched effectively in favour of a "match-up," he's rolling the dice that the next guy will also be effective. It's about the only time in all of sport that a player who is succeeding is taken out of the game. In this case, the Jays went back to the well after finding two effective relievers, until getting to Gregg, who ended up throwing 40 pitches... 14 for strikes.
It's a maddening waste of resources. There was no need to pull Camp in the first place - the odds were very much in his favour of completing the Hurculean task of retiring Reid Brignac. If you'd like to start the ninth with Gregg vs Upton, that's defensible, and then you can still call on Downs once Gregg displays all the control of an incontinent 93-year-old at a prune eating contest. But, no, all the Jays had was Rommie Lewis at the back of the pen once the lead had evaporated.
Make no mistake, managing like this is safe. Your closer is your guy, and it's an easy choice to put him out there. At the post game press conference, just confirm that you believe in him and move on to the next game. If you don't put him on the mound, that invites more challenging questions like, "Don't you believe in Gregg anymore?" "Is he unable to pitch in back-to-back games?" and the like. Never mind that those should be easy to answer with a simple, "Why would I pull xxxx, when he was getting people out
?" That is, after all, the point of the game - not to manage so that your bullpen stats end up with one player having all the saves.
Now the Jays head into tomorrow's game with Gregg almost certainly unavailable, and the series tied 1-1. A more creative approach could easily have a rested Gregg poised to close out a sweep.