Title says it all. We needed this series, and we more or less gave it away to the San Diego Padres. The first game, the horrific Chris Volstad loss, was over before it even began, but Game 2, the Ricky Nolasco start, was salvageable before the bullpen threw it away. The Marlins were very lucky that the San Francisco Giants went ahead and swept the Wild Card leading Colorado Rockies and kept the Marlins within shouting distance of the Wild Card chase. As you can probably already tell, the division race is no more.
Sean West saves the Marlins from embarassment.
It was against the anemic Padres offense, but they did not look so anemic against Volstad or our bullpen the previous evening, so I was very happy to see Sean West perform the way he did in yesterday’s game. West put up a very Nolasco-like start, striking out seven while only walking two. He was in the strike zone the whole time, to the tune of a 65% strike%, with 11 of those strikes being of the whiffing variety. In addition, he was able to go six innings, which is a huge relief for a team that’s got a very tired bullpen.
When the Mets series started, I talked about the key to West’s effectiveness being getting his breaking pitches over. Using Brooks Baseball’s Pitch f/x tool, let’s see if West was able to do just that.
His changeup’s movement was all over the place, but the slider seems like it’s breaking correctly, akin to Josh Johnson’s slider. Let’s check out the results. First his changeup.
Now the slider.
While the changeup had some crazy break, West was able to get a few of them over for called strikes, likely early in the count. In addition, when placed correctly away from the righties, it caused ground outs. The slider was surprisingly in the zone, and West a bit lucky to get most of those middle sliders to get fouled off instead of hit hard. Still, he mostly kept it low and was rewarded with some meekly hit balls. The four sliders put into play consisted of one pop up and three grounders, one of which caused a Jorge Cantu error, another resulting in a single. He also got the Padres to whiff at three of those pitches.
While West’s breaking balls aren’t quite up to par with the major league level, in this game his stuff was just good enough to support the fastball. His fastball got six whiffs, so it seemed to be working as well. There is some ongoing concern regarding West’s velocity. He averaged in the high 80’s yesterday, topping out 91 mph, which is way down from his pre-labrum injury days. I’ve noted this before, and it should be a concern for the team, given that West is the club’s best pitching prospect. This reeks a bit of Scott Olsen’s issues with velocity when he was still around; Olsen’s fastball velocity dropped precipitously, and as a result his strikeouts disappeared. This is something to keep an eye on.
Why are we throwing Luis Ayala in these high leverage situations?
When Ricky Nolasco left the sixth inning with the bases loaded and only one out in the game two nights ago, the Marlins were facing a leverage index of 3.52. That’s the type of index you expect your ace reliever to come out in. Fredi Gonzalez brought in Tim Wood. Later on, after Wood had manufactured his own sketchy situation with runners on first and second and the Marlins up 4-3, the leverage index was 3.21, another high index that afforded Fredi the opportunity of bringing somebody good in. He brought walking replacement level pitcher Luis Ayala. It was only after Ayala threw away three runs that Fredi finally pulled him from the game.
Judging relievers is hard work. You never know who’s going to be good or bad every time out. But if Ayala, fresh off a stint in the minors because he was killing the big league club, is your option when the game is on the line (and that’s what high leverage situations are), you’re not doing your job as a manager.
I understand that the previous day, Fredi had to work his bullpen for 7 1/3 innings, and as a result he probably did not want to play his guys from the previous day too hard. But he chose to send out Kiko Calero, one of his better relievers, out to pitch after Ayala anyway. In addition, he sent Nunez out to pitch the ninth inning, when the game was already lost. I doubt that Fredi thought Ayala and Wood could have finished the game, so at the very least he would have had to work Nunez anyway, given that he was the only “rested” arm in the pen. Why didn’t Fredi trust Nunez WHEN THE GAME WAS ON THE LINE, rather than in a meaningless ninth inning?
That situation right there was the epitome of terrible bullpen management by managers nowadays. Sure the leverages get higher in the ninth, but it doesn’t mean that you have to save the closer for a high leverage ninth when there’s a high leverage seventh staring you in the face. Games can be lost earlier than the ninth too, Fredi. To trust Wood and Ayala in those critical situations when it was likely you had to bring someone better in later on in the game anyway is absurd.
Let’s get this straight folks. Relief affords a great tool for managers, in that they actually get to make impact decisions during the game. They get to pick and choose when to bring their set of relievers in the best and worst times. Why on Earth would you pick your worst reliever (likely Ayala) to throw in a situation you would want your best reliever throwing in? You have a choice, and that’s your choice! How did Fredi win a “Manager of the Year” award last year?