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When it comes to bullpen use in Philly, the tail wags the dog

May 5, 2012, 8:00 AM EDT

Charlie Manuel Reuters Reuters

Twice this past week we’ve watched the Phillies lose in walkoff fashion while their best relief pitcher, Jonathan Papelbon, sat on the bench.  It’s maddening, really, but that’s what has passed for conventional bullpen usage in this day and age: you do not use your closer in a tie game on the road.

Why?  Nothing to be saved! And the closer is there to save games! Never mind that by, you know, not allowing game-ending hits, a game is likewise saved. There’s no statistic called a “save” for that situation, you see, so it doesn’t count.

That’s not an exaggeration. Charlie Manuel, asked about that policy, put it in pretty stark terms last night:

“I’m not supposed to use him … I don’t get a chance to use him. We’re not supposed to use him. We’re not going to burn him out early in the season when we can’t get to him … We never do that.  It’s just not the way it is. Papelbon is in the ninth inning for a save. When we ever have a lead, when we start the ninth inning, he’s gonna save.”

“Can’t get to him?”  “We’re not supposed to use him?”  I’ve never seen such a clear instance of the tail wagging the dog.  It’s your team, Cholly!  You can do anything you want!

I don’t mean to pick on Manuel here, because just about every manager does this.  As Matt Gelb notes in his story from last night, it has become almost unheard of for managers to deploy their closer in anything other than save situations. The teams who get great bullpen work overall get it because they have some awesome relief pitcher who, by accident of seniority and contract, is not officially the team’s closer. Ryan Madson in Philly last year. David Robertson in New York pre-Mariano injury. Jonny Venters in Atlanta.

But Philly doesn’t have that. Not anymore.  They have the most highly paid reliever in baseball history sitting on his keister while people like David Herndon, Antonio Bastardo, Brian Sanches and Michael Schwimer blow games.

Oh, wait. Those games weren’t blown. Because they weren’t lost in save situations. How silly of me.

  1. chasemutley - May 5, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    I’d run through a wall for Cholly, but unfortunately I think it’s only a matter of time until Ryne takes the reigns.

    • phillyphreak - May 5, 2012 at 8:20 AM

      I never really understood this thinking. What has he done to make him the next best candidate (vs if there are other people available when the Phillies are looking)?

  2. phillyphreak - May 5, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    I love Charlie but now that his team isn’t as good, the managerial decisions are more “noticeable.” It’s absolutely maddening that he (and presumably the rest of the Phillies office, or at least the important people in the office), thinks this way.

    • natstowngreg - May 5, 2012 at 8:47 PM

      I could say “Thanks, Cholly” for the Nats’ latest walk-off win. But I can’t say honestly that, in the same situation, Davey Johnson would have done anything different. As it happens, Davey’s closer is on the DL.

    • phillysoulfan - May 6, 2012 at 8:27 AM


      Is it Cholly’s decisions that are bad or is it because he has a poorly constructed team? I agree with him, you do not use your closer in that situation, especially in May. You need guys like Schwimmer, Sanches, and Bastardo to step up. That’s what gets you to the World Series. You don’t get to the World Series by blowing your closer out by June.

      • phillyphreak - May 6, 2012 at 9:14 AM

        It’s both. In those kinds of situations (like have happened at least 5 times this year), the manager should use his best relief pitcher. It so happens that his best relief pitcher is Papelbon. The label of “closer” has obscured this fact for him (and to be fair many mangers). Saves is a stupid stat and adherence to these stupid rules is hurting the team.

        What gets a team to the World Series is winning games. And if to win games the “closer” needs to come in when the situation is more important that the “save situation” then that’s what should happen. If the Phillies are worried that an extra inning or two in April/May will blow out his shoulder/elbow by June (or even August), then they shouldn’t have given him a 4 year/50 million dollar contract.

  3. 18thstreet - May 5, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    It’s especially interesting to see a manager with amazing job security be so, well, insecure in his decisions. This is OBVIOUSLY because he thinks it’s best, not because he’s worried about public or upper management reaction.

  4. mattjg - May 5, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    The way Manuel’s talking, I wonder if this came from the front office. Did Amaro or Montgomery make a tacit agreement with Papelbon that he wouldn’t be used in non-save situations? When Manuel says “we’re not supposed to use him” and “we can’t get to him” it sounds like the decision might be out of his hands.

  5. ame123 - May 5, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    Did the Braves use Kimbrell last night in the 9th or 10th?

    • phillyphreak - May 5, 2012 at 8:36 AM

      Is this your way of defending Charlie’s decision? Because it’s not like Freddi Gonzalez is the world’s best strategist…

  6. ray1950 - May 5, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Boston used their closer in the 9th and 10th last night … lost the game and can’t use him again tonight.

    • proudlycanadian - May 5, 2012 at 8:39 AM

      Boston has a closer?

      • quintjs - May 5, 2012 at 8:46 AM

        Weirdest response just went through my head.

        “yes that’s funny but we do have a closer.. he pitched in middle relief last year… so realistically.. no we don’t. Seriously.. our closer pitched in middle relief last year..”

      • proudlycanadian - May 5, 2012 at 9:09 AM

        Is that the guy with the 7.45 ERA?

    • hammyofdoom - May 5, 2012 at 9:49 AM

      Yeah its the guy with the high ERA, yet has only given up earned runs in 2 outings this year and struck out 6 in 2 innings last night. Relief pitcher ERA is possibly the most easily skewed stat in baseball, its like slugging percentage in the first month of the season

      • cur68 - May 5, 2012 at 11:16 AM

        I’ve watched that guy pitch long relief for years and now as a closer. Aceves has great stuff. Pitches that move all over and mid 90’s velocity. He brings ace SP stuff to the mound and, when I saw him shut down the Beaver Men in their first meeting this season, he was electric, throwing strikes with 4 different pitch types. I just cannot mock that. He’s been unlucky is all. Given more opportunity to save games, he’ll come round & all those inflated numbers will start to shrink back.

  7. dawglb - May 5, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    Cholly has gotten away with under managing for some time, now. If he were in his 50’s, the Phils would have a tough decision to make. Since he is in his 70’s, he can retire gracefully. This needs to be his last year. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all he has done for the Phillies. All good things must come to an end.

  8. ermur22 - May 5, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    How stoooooopid this is why old timers need to retire. Get some young guys in there. Play your best guys!!!!!

    • paperlions - May 5, 2012 at 9:43 AM

      If only it was that easy. I guarantee that managers in the pre-save era understood that you use your best relief pitchers in the highest leverage situations…somehow managers have forgotten that runs count the same no matter when they are scored.

      This phenomenon is an example of mental laziness, just like a sac bunt by the #2 hitter in the first inning (it is the first inning, why are you playing for 1 run), or intentionally walking the bases loaded, or playing lefty-righty match-ups while ignoring player ability….these are all ingrained in baseball managing/coaching culture despite the fact that there are many studies based on decades of data that demonstrate all reduce your teams chances of winning games….and the fact that all of those studies are publicly available.

      Mike Matheny has never managed before at any level….but he does all of these dumb things….Jon Jay is hitting .400 and he keep having him bunt Furcal to 2nd base in the first freaking inning….aaaggghhh.

      • natstowngreg - May 5, 2012 at 8:43 PM

        Of course, in the pre-save era, starters pitched these things called complete games.

        In the early years of the saves era, guys like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Mike Marhsall might pitch 2-3 innings to get a save. Now, it’s a big crisis if a closer pitches beyond one inning.

  9. schmedley69 - May 5, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    The real issue is the offense. You can’t expect your bullpen to string together 3 or 4 consecutive scoreless innings when you go extras. You have to score a run to win, and the Phillies offense just can’t do it late in games. Schwimer gave them a few scoreless innings, but the Phillies offense waste them.

  10. cowartsh - May 5, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    no kimbrell wasnt used last night in a non save situation but he has been used many times last year in tie games. Fredi was also criticized by these same writers for overworking kimbrel and venters. So moral of the story is if youre a manager no matter what you do it isnt right.

  11. Francisco (FC) - May 5, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    The Phillies are just the most recent and obvious example, but I’ve seen Craig rip into Fredi Gonzalez about it as well (last year) not once, but twice, decrying the: don’t-use-my-best-relief-pitcher-in-a-tie-game-on-the-road-in-extra-innings mantra.

  12. Jonny 5 - May 5, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    I was thinking at one point I’d put Papelbon in myself. And really, they were robbed of a run by a terrible call with a ”foul ball” that was really fair with Victorino on base. Then another terrible call where he was ”caught stealing” next when he was safe by a good amount. Of course that was followed by a hit too. Twice in a row they were robbed of driving in a run by terrible calls. They were robbed of the chance to get their save in all reality. This loss isn’t hung on bad bp management, it needs to be hung on a ump not showing up because he was sick and he had no replacement. Of course replay told everyone how bad the calls were too. Along with the call that got Charlie booted that makes it 3 bad calls in one game. And two of them would have been game deciding.

    • phillyphreak - May 5, 2012 at 1:48 PM

      ” This loss isn’t hung on bad bp management, it needs to be hung on a ump not showing up because he was sick and he had no replacement.”

      While this is true to a degree, the manager’s job is to react to what is going on during the game. Those blown calls happened, and the Phillies had the opportunity to use Papelbon (broken record) but just didn’t. That’s on them.

  13. Utley's Hair - May 5, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    I question whether Cholly said this at all. It’s way too Englishy, rather than Chollese. Stop making up quotes, Craig.

  14. racksie - May 5, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    I couldn’t agree more with this assessment. These guys need to be stretched out a bit early in the year, so they can come in early in important situations late in the year. I’ve seen Joe Nathan fail in that scenario late in the year. You didn’t do it with him all year what did you expect? Stretch these guys out a bit.

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