Jim Tracy’s Creative Bullpen Management

Franklin Morales, the Rockies closer, was brought in to protect a four run lead on Sunday. Normally, this type of move would lead to criticism of Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy for wasting Morales’s powerful arm on a low-leverage relief situation. However, this was not a normal outing for Morales. Tracy inserted Morales in the 8th inning with one out and runners on first and second.

Appearances SUCH as these are rare – typically the closer will not enter the game in the 8th to only face two batters, especially not with a four run lead and two runners on base. This isn’t exactly the optimal situation for a closer to appear in, either. The leverage index was 1.47 – certainly an important situation in the game, but below the roughly 1.80 LI that is typical among major league closers and well below the target of 2.30 LI set in The Book (page 225-226).

However, I feel this was a great move by Tracy. First of all, Morales hadn’t pitched since April 28th – he was working on 5 days rest, and likely needed to get some work in this game either way. This reason is why it’s unrealistic for every appearance by a closer or relief ace to come in a super high leverage situation. Tracy found a spot, without regard for the inning, that would prevent Morales from becoming rusty and still allow his best reliever to help his team.

Secondly, the Giants were at the number two spot in their order. John Bowker and Pablo Sandoval were the next two hitters due up. Bowker is projected as slightly above average by the updated ZiPS and as solidly above average by preseason CHONE. Sandoval is clearly the Giants’ best hitter, projected for wOBAs in the .380-.390 range. The quality of hitters effectively raises the leverage index, making the situation even more crucial to the flow of the game. Morales, a left-handed pitcher, also held the platoon advantage over Bowker. The issue is null against Sandoval, a switch hitter.

Morales successfully navigated through pinch-hitter Andres Torres and Sandoval, retiring both via the strikeout. Manny Corpas replaced Morales in the 9th with the game at a 0.39 LI and managed to finish the game, despite allowing a leadoff home run to Aubrey Huff. Many managers would have flipped the two roles, allowing the inferior reliever to face the superior hitters in the higher leverage situation simply due to the other pitcher being labeled the closer.

For those of us who hate the roles that the save statistic and risk-averse managers have pigeonholed relief aces into, this game by the Colorado Rockies and Jim Tracy was a breath of fresh air. This was an example of exactly how to correctly manage a bullpen, and other teams and managers should take note.

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8 Responses to “Jim Tracy’s Creative Bullpen Management”

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  1. rh146 says:

    The mainstream has taken the role of closer to such a ridiculous extreme that it usually clouds judgment in making the practical solution. I wonder if it would have been the same, however, if Huston Street was healthy and playing successfully. Probably not, but the bright side of this situation is intelligent decision making, and an interesting article

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  2. Lucas A. says:

    That’s ridiculously cool managing right there.

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  3. Brandon M. says:

    I wonder if he made the right decision for the wrong reasons though. The situation (with the tying run on deck) is actually a save situation.

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    • Adam D says:

      I think if he were making that decision simply to get his closer the save, he probably would have left him in the game to finish it out and record the statistic. By pulling him once the hard work had been done, it seems like he knew what he was doing.

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  4. Rockymountainhigh says:

    I think this is also a concession from Tracy that he has 2 talented but too-eratic-to-be-lights-out relievers in Morales and Corpas. It sounds like Tracy is going to let matchups dictate the roles in his bullpen as opposed to designating one guy as the go-to guy. I don’t think he would have played it like this with a healthy Huston Street. I’m all for it, especially if it means less Bettancourt in the 8th. Now if someone could explain to me why Barmes was hitting second last night?

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Reminds me of last season, when everybody got excited about Bobby Cox going by leverage, when it was really a similar case.

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  5. Hank says:

    This was a manager using his closer in a save situation. After getting out of the inning, he made a wise decision not to have him go out back in the 9th, but if he had allowed just 1 run to score is there any question he would have run him back out in the 9th (for a relatively low leverage 3 run save situation)?

    Good decision as they have a game tomorrow and if he pitches 1.2innings he’s potentially unavailable for today.

    I see this as similar to manager’s bringing their closer in in a 1 or 2 run game in the 8th and then pulling them if they tack on a bunch of runs in the 9th

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  6. Chris says:

    I don’t remember where I heard / read it from last season, but one manager (quite possibly Tracy) was quoted as insisting that his closer was to be used in the biggest inning, not just the ninth. If your closer is truly the best pitcher in your bullpen then it makes perfect sense to put him in a bases loaded situation in the 7th with no one out and the go ahead run at the plate than to put in a mediocre pitcher to hopefully work around it.

    I look forward to Tracy getting out of his set ways this season and actually take managing on himself as opposed to letting his cruise control dictate what happens.

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