A couple of managerial decisions over the last two days of baseball have confused me in games that I have watched. Both of them involved the management of bullpens. Bullpen management can certainly get dicey as the season progresses, as usage has to balanced very carefully along with injuries, spot starts, and various other issues. However, it should be a relatively simple matter at this point in the season, as all teams are starting fresh. Nobody comes into opening day off a 14 inning, 10 pitcher thriller in the spring training finale.
The first came in the Milwaukee Brewers season opener against the Colorado Rockies, when manager Ken Macha decided to go with left hander Chris Narveson, a pitcher with a 4.22 FIP last season, mostly in relief, and only one year removed from a AAA FIP of 4.91 with the Brewers down 4-2 in the 7th. Narveson barely got out of his first inning, allowing a double to Todd Helton and two fly balls from Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe. He managed to escape unscathed thanks to an Ian Stewart groundout. The second inning did not go as well, though, as Carlos Gonzalez singled and then right-handed pinch hitter Ryan Spilborghs hit a double which scored Gonzalez from first, allowing the Rockies to go up 5-2. They barely avoided a rally, as the Brewers scored one in the 9th to make the final score 5-3. The run allowed in the 8th cost the Brewers about 6% of a win.
The second came in the Seattle Mariners vs. Oakland Athletics game, as the Mariners sent out Rule 5 pick Kanekoa Texeira to start a 1-1 9th inning. Texeira pitched well by all accounts, and managed to get through the 9th inning, even though he allowed a single to Mark Ellis and a broken bat double to Travis Buck. The A’s got to him in the 10th, as Mark Ellis hit a walk-off single to give the A’s their first win of the season. Texeira’s outing had a much larger impact on win probability – in his last inning, he had a -.417 WPA.
In the case of the Brewers, none of their relievers had seen any action in the game, and therefore the season. Is one inning too much for Todd Coffey or LaTroy Hawkins, even if the Brewers are behind? What about Carlos Villanueva, who is a better pitcher and possesses a changeup with which to neutralize opposite-handed hitters. For the Mariners, was the one inning that Brandon League threw on Monday enough to warrant keeping him out of this game? Was it necessary for a Rule 5 pick making his major league debut to throw the 9th and 10th innings of a tie game?
It’s very likely that I’m just making a mountain out of a molehill, but decisions like this irk me. It feels to me that the managers are either outsmarting themselves by trying to save their bullpens at such an early stage or are simply not taking April games seriously enough. Perhaps the rest of the guys in the bullpen just weren’t ready, or the managers felt the matchups were better. From my perspective, though, it seems like weaker pitchers were used in situations which warranted better pitcher’s – Narveson’s .79 entrance LI suggests something more than a mop-up pitcher, and Texeira’s 2.28 entrance LI suggests that it was a closer situation. Even though it’s only April, and only games 1 and 2 out of 162, these situations scream opportunity wasted.