Ahh, the Bullpen

At the beginning of the season, the Tigers had a plan for closing out games. Kyle Farnsworth in the 7th, Ugueth Urbina in the 8th, and Troy Percival in the 9th. Of course Urbina had to be traded (I am kind of curious who he would have chosen to fight with had he been in the brawl?), and with yesterday’s announcement that Percival is out for the season the Tigers are in need of a new plan. Of course Farnsworth moves into the closer’s role, but what happens beyond that?

Reader Jeff sent me this email (and to his credit this was prior to Monday’s collapse by Chris Spurling)

I think you and I agree on this subject, so you might want to use this as a
topic for a post. I will be very upset if even just once, the following
scenario plays out:

Rodney, German, or Spurling comes in in the 7th to relieve the starter. He
pitches a perfect 7th. The anointed setup man comes in to start the 8th.

I don’t care if the setup man does well, what’s the point in using two guys,
when one is capable of going two innings? You’re just increasing the
possibility of having a pitcher that’s having a bad night. If the first
one’s dealing, run with it.

Jeff is correct in that I do agree with him in large part. In Spurling, Franklyn German, and Fernando Rodney there are 3 pitchers who are all capable of going multiple innings, and who are only recently starting to seperate themselves based on performance.

Player            Games     IP  H HR   ERA    K9 BB9
Fernando Rodney 11 15 2/3 16 3 2.87 12.64 1.72
Franklyn German 12 13 1/3 13 2 3.38 4.05 5.4
Chris Spurling 16 15 2/3 17 4 5.17 3.45 2.87

These stats are since Urbina was traded, when everyone’s role was bumped up. Keep in mind that 75% of the homers, and half of the runs that Spurling has allowed came on Monday. And for Rodney a third of his strikeouts came in that spectacular 7 K performance on Friday night. Up until that point, the stats among the 3 were fairly comparable.

In the same email Jeff sent me a link to an article in which Trammell even seemed open to the idea…

Trammell said generally the same thing about all of them — they could be
used in longer outings or two or three outings, or they could be used to
pitch just the eighth inning. Deciding which pitcher does what, Trammell
indicated, likely comes down to who’s throwing how well and how recently.

…but…

“I’d like to,” Trammell said, when asked if he’d prefer to have one setup
guy. “I think it makes it easier for people to know the roles. But these
guys are all flexible. We’re going to need some time to feel our way through
a little bit, but I feel we’re in pretty good hands.

Now riding the hot hand would indicate that Rodney should be the set-up man, and I don’t think too many people would argue with that. But back to the point that Jeff was getting at, if a guy cruises through the 7th, don’t hand the ball to the annointed set-up man automatically to start the 8th. And just to continue the thought a little further, don’t be afraid to use the hot hand in the 7th if the game is tight or on the line…

Which brings us to the debacle on Monday night. I’m not one of the people who have been calling for Trammell’s head, and I’ve found myself defending him against some of the dumber criticism he has received. It’s my belief that managers have little effect on the outcome of games. That being said, I put Monday’s loss squarely on Trammell’s shoulders.

I don’t fault Trammell for taking out Sean Douglass. While the 6th was uneventful, he had pitched through several jams and was over 100 pitches. The Tigers have had a solid bullpen so it made sense to trust it. I also don’t fault Trammell for his choice of Chris Spurling who had been solid. Trammell had no reason to believe that Spurling would allow a homer on the first pitch, or 3 well hit balls after that. However, after several well hit balls, something needed to be done.

Rodney was throwing in the pen, but he requires a long time to warm up (as we now know). However, with things going down hill quickly, the Tigers need to stall to get Rodney more time. Or at least get one of the other relievers who are quicker to get loose ready. Spurling made bad pitches, and he got hammered. However, he shouldn’t have been out there to give up the last two homers.

I’m not a big fan of hindsight because it typically just frustrates you, and it’s hard to know if someone is telling the truth or not. I know there are no guarantees that whoever would have come in would have been successful. If German comes in and gives up the homer, I’m frustrated with German. Trammell would have done what he could at that point, and it was up to the players to get the job done. Instead, by sticking with a pitcher who didn’t have it, the manager let a game get away.

Now I’m not slamming Trammell as a manager. I don’t agree with all of his decisions, but that is more a matter of having a different philosophy. And really, I should probably give the guy with 30 years of experience in baseball the benefit of the doubt. I’m criticizing him for his actions (or inactions) in this game.

12 Comments

  1. Craig

    July 20, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    I found Tram’s comments dispappointing with respect to Rodney getting warmed up. If he knew he wanted to make a change, then the change should be made. Do whatever it takes; send Cluck out, have a player fake needed glove repair, bring in someone for one pitch (it wouldn’t have to be a strike). Rodney not being ready is not an acceptable excuse for not pulling the hook.

  2. Ian C

    July 20, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    I agree with keeping a guy in if he’s really cruising. Too many managers stick to a set plan (“this guy pitches the 7th, this guy pitches the 8th”).

    However – and I think you touched on this – how much do you have to consider not having one of the relievers for, say, one to two nights because of a longer inning? I suppose you have to manage to win the game you have in hand, rather than look ahead to one that hasn’t even played yet. But what if you win that one game Rodney pitched for 2-3 innings, yet blow the next two because he wasn’t available for the 8th or 9th and could’ve shut down a couple of scoring chances?

    Just thinking out loud here.

  3. Jeff M

    July 20, 2005 at 1:51 pm

    Ian,

    At some point, you have to rely on each guy in the pen. The key is to avoid having to rely on them all in the same night. On any given night, there’s gonna be one guy in the pen that just doesn’t have it. The more guys you use in one night, the more likely you are to use that guy (and risk blowing the game).

    If you put someone in in the 7th and he does well, why take the chance of replacing someone who has it with someone who doesn’t?

    Sometimes it can’t be avoided and it usually won’t hurt you anyways, but it’s still an unnecessary risk.

  4. joey

    July 20, 2005 at 6:22 pm

    This is riduclous. Bottom of the 9th we have a 5 run lead, and Farnsworth can’t get three outs. Maybe Rodney would’ve been a good bet? I’ve been screaming about this stuff all year. Nothing drives me more insane than blind adherance to a prescribed plan. Coaches and managers who don’t adapt to developing situations are not good at their jobs.

  5. joey

    July 20, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Yay Dingman!

    Man I hope Farnsworth’s performance today was just an aberration.

  6. billfer

    July 20, 2005 at 9:49 pm

    I don’t think this was blind adherance. I think Tram wanted to get Farnsworth some work (he hadn’t pitched since Saturday). Plus, he was probably already warming up in the 9th before the Tigers blew it open.

  7. b1gr0ck

    July 20, 2005 at 11:30 pm

    The Cubs didnt “dump” Farnsworth for no reason.

    He was all over the plate today even though the home plate umpire was calling strikes from shoulder to knees. Bottom line, we don’t have a closer, season over, time to sell.

  8. Luke

    July 21, 2005 at 3:40 am

    Farnsworth has been having trouble with his neck so i’m not worried at all… i really enjoy how after he pitches marvelously for the entire season one bad outing makes him terrible and means the team needs to be dismantled. Let’s have a little faith in our players people.

  9. Robert

    July 21, 2005 at 10:02 am

    First of all, I think Farnsworth definitely didn’t have it last night. That doesn’t take away from his excellent pitching previously, however. I’m still pretty confident that he can get a lot of guys out without giving up a lot of runs. I’m also hopeful that Fernando Rodney is finally putting it together coming back from surgery. He and Farnsworth could be a pretty good duo. German’s lack of K’s with his improved control is disturbing and Spurling is up and down. Dingman has had a pretty good minor league career, so maybe he can be effective as well.

    I think it’s obvious that we need some relief help in the offseason, though. Anybody know if Percival retires if his 6 million is off the books next year? That’d certainly help free up some cash for spending.

  10. Joey the K

    July 21, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    Give me a break, Farns has been having a great year, he has one bad outing and people are ready to kick him to the curb. How about a little support?! And we still won the game, taking 2 of 3 from the Sox is sweet.

  11. Jason R

    July 21, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    Joey’s right – you dont vilify the guy for one bad outing after being the best reliever on the staff to date.

    Perhaps Tram was looking ahead and decided Farnsworth needed the work, given that a suspension is sure to come down sooner or later for his planting of Jeremy Affeldt into the CoPa turf.

  12. joey

    July 21, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    I wonder what the suspension will be. If he gets half of what Hernandez gets, I’ll be upset. Is there a standard penalty administered to pitchers who throw at a batter’s head?