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slave to the save

after shane victorino's game-breaking double in the 8th yesterday, brian gunn (of redbird nation fame, for any who don't know) paid a rare but welcome visit to the VEB game thread with a concise critique of la russa's bullpen usage --- or mis-usage, in this case. suffice to say that flores was not the right choice there, as a number of VEBbers pointed out in real time. which reliever was the right choice? i'm with brian on this one:

I know it's too much to ask of an old schooler like La Russa, but frankly Isringhausen should've been brought in to face Victorino -- bases juiced, tie game, 8th inning: that's when you use your ace (especially since Izzy probably wouldn't be facing a save situation today anyway).
i'd even take it a little further, and suggest that izzy ought to have come in to face chase utley. just to re-set this: after jimmy rollins led off with a hit in the 8th inning of a tie game, michael bourn came to the plate and the phils' two best hitters --- utley and howard --- were on deck and in the hole, respectively. at that moment, under a logical system of bullpen deployment, the best pitcher in the bullpen --- izzy --- would have started getting warmed up. indeed, there should have been a superfluous trip to the mound by the catcher, and if necessary another by dave duncan, to ensure that izzy would be warm in time to face utley. not a save situation? so what; as brian pointed out, izzy almost surely wouldn't be getting a save opportunity anyway --- there was only a half-inning window in which it could happen, ie only if the cards took the lead in the bottom of the 8th. if they took the lead in the 9th inning or later the game would be over; they'd walk off with a win. so holding izzy back to protect a lead was a pretty low-percentage play; he almost surely was going to be brought in to preserve a tie in the 9th inning or later. why not, then, bring him in to preserve a tie in the 8th, with the phils' most dangerous hitters coming up?

izzy already has logged four outings this season of 1.2 innings or longer, with no loss of effectiveness --- he's combined for 7.1 innings in those games, yielding just 4 hits and 1 run. and in one instance, he came back the next day to pitch one inning for the save. nor has is'hausen suffered any loss of success in non-save situations: he has thrown 12.1 innings in non-save conditions and allowed just 1 run. this isn't really a critique of la russa; as brian intimated, that's not the way the game is managed in this day and age. i also know that the boston red sox, at bill james' behest, experimented with their bullpen in 2003, eschewing the now-traditional "designated closer" role for a theory based on situations and matchups. the experiment failed, deepening the already entrenched belief that proper bullpen management requires reserving your best reliever out for save situations. but it's a bogus theory, and one that only recently (the last 20 years or so) became universal. as rich lederer put it two years ago at baseball analysts:

They used to call these relievers firemen rather than closers. Their job was to put out the fire when needed, not necessarily to literally close out the game. . . . . Choosing your best reliever to come in and close out an inning during a threat in the seventh or eighth--even if it means using a lesser option in the ninth--is generally a more prudent use of your bullpen than calling upon your so-called closer for the last three outs of the game when nobody is on base.
yesterday provided an object lesson: as the phillie threat mounted and the game slipped away, the cardinals' best relief pitcher --- nearly unhittable this year --- never even took off his jacket. i used to rail about this type of thing often but rarely do anymore because the "saves-only" theory of closers is so blindly and rigidly practiced; there isn't a manager in the big leagues who would have gone to isringhausen in that situation. they all would have sat there and let their third or fourth or fifth best reliever decide the game. nutty.

* * * * * * * * *

i haven't watched the entire start yet, but from what i can tell kip wells made one major adjustment yesterday: he stopped trying to pitch to spots and started throwing everything right over the plate. if you have a chance, go back and look at where stinnett was set up yesterday. most of the time, you'll see the catcher shift position from pitch to pitch --- inside corner, outside corner, off the outside corner if they're trying to get somebody to chase. but stinnett hardly moved yesterday when wells was on the mound; he just sat there behind the plate most of the time, dead center. that's a sensible approach with wells, whose pitches have so much natural movement that they'll end up off-center even if he throws it right down the pipe. the other change he seemed to make --- again, i haven't run the chart yet, so this is just an eyeball-level impression --- is that he seemed to pitch more off his fastball, particularly against the weaker hitters in the philadelphia order. when facing utley and howard, he led with his off-speed pitches --- changeups and curves --- but he started almost everybody else off with a fastball, sometimes two or three fastballs, and then reached into his well-stuffed quiver and shot off a change or a hook or a sinker to get the guy out. i've charted this guy all year, and he can make the ball do so many things that he sometimes makes the game too complicated; he tries to use every trick in his bag to keep hitters off-balance, but only ends up unbalancing himself. i think his changeup and curve are far more effective when hitters only see them once an at-bat --- both pitches really come as a shock, throw guys' timing way off. and when he uses them selectively, wells doesn't have to throw either pitch to the perfect location; he can throw them to the fat part of the plate and let their (off-)speed, rather than placement, do the work.

it was only one outing, and a short one at that; he did give up two walks in five innings, and he did get tagged for a triple and a couple of long, loud outs. but for just the third time all year, wells yielded fewer than 3 runs in a start; if not for the rain delay, he probably would have recorded his fourth "quality start" of the season. you gotta start somewhere.

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