Fish Cap: Bad pen management ends split with Cardinals

The Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals were entrenched in a hard-fought four-game series in which many runs were scored yet few runs decided the outcome of the games. The Fish and Cardinals split the series after closely splitting the run scoring, with the Cards getting a slight 25-21 edge in runs. Many of the games came down to bullpen management and performance along with some late-game heroics on either side. This is part of the reason why the final game ended so disappointingly for the Fish, who had a realistic shot at taking three of four games from the NL Central leader.

Series Hero: Gaby Sanchez (0.607 WPA)
Series Goat: Javier Vazquez (-0.450 WPA)
Impressed by: Mike Stanton (19 PA, 5 H, 1 3B, 2 HR, 0 BB, 5 K)
Depressed by: Anibal Sanchez (4 1/3 IP, 4 R, 2 K, 6 BB, 1 HR)

Stanton socks two

Mike Stanton had a hell of a series, both in terms of performance and in clutch play. Twice in the series, he homered in the series, and one of those shots was a critical two-run homer that gave the Marlins the lead in the ninth inning of the third game of the series.

Stanton’s first homer of the series was quite a blast indeed. The Hit Tracker Online chart has the ball going very deep, an estimated true distance of 426 feet. However, just watching the shot makes you truly appreciate Stanton’s massive power; that blast was a line drive down the left field that got out of here in a hurry, clearing the Big Mac deck in Busch Stadium. The ticker tape measurement was shortened by the presence of Big Mac Land, but the true distance shows that it had a ways to go before landing. Let’s not underestimate the game impact of that homer as well; Stanton’s solo shot happened with two outs in the top of the fifth inning with the Cardinals ahead 5-4, so it tied the ballgame. The Fish also picked up 0.152 WPA on that homer, giving them a 45 percent chance of winning the ball game.

But the second homer was the one that came on the most critical of situations and also may have been the most impressive. The homer went to deep left center field, which as you can see from both the series preview dimensions and the stadium overlay on the chart above, extends to just about 400 feet. The Hit Tracker Online true distance traveled was registered at 432 feet, the longest-traveling home run for the Marlins this season. And again, let’s not forget the game impact. Two batters prior to the homer, Hanley Ramirez‘s walk added 0.086 WPA to the Fish’s chances of winning a game that was tied 6-6 in the top of the ninth. Stanton’s homer represented a dramatic increase in WPA, 0.424 WPA in total. That was the biggest play of the game by far and one of the biggest plays of the series (Daniel Descalso‘s two-run homer the night before this game was the biggest of the series at 0.547 WPA).

By the way, here’s what Stanton’s second homer elicited from friend of the Maniac and renowned Pitch f/x-er Harry Pavlidis.

Simple, yet powerful, much like Stanton himself.

Edwin and bullpen management, again

The last game of the series showed more of the questionable bullpen management of manager Edwin Rodriguez. I found some of Edwin’s management of the team odd at times, but the decisions made both in yesterday’s game and the third game made me furious. Twice Edwin allowed the game’s starter to pitch himself past his apparent usefulness, pulling him only after the damage had been done and the game had been tied. On Wednesday evening, Edwin allowed Javier Vazquez to attempt to work through the sixth inning despite the fact that he had proved once again that he was not pitching well. After getting an economical fifth inning, Edwin thought Vazquez could be squeezed for one more inning. However, he walked Colby Rasmus with one out and allowed a single to Yadier Molina which put runners at the corners. At the time, the Cardinals were trailing the Fish 6-4 and the current situation with Daniel Descalso at the plate had a Leverage Index (LI) of 3.0.

At that point, Edwin visited the mound and talked to Vazquez, only to leave him the game, a puzzling move given his struggles throughout the game. He promptly gave up two singles and a ground ball out, yielding the remaining two runs and giving up the lead before Edwin finally chose to pull him. The Marlins were facing situations with LI of 3.0, 1.5, and 3.0 respectively for the last three plate appearances of Vazquez’s tenure, yet Edwin chose to keep him in the game for some unknown reason in favor of bringing in Brian Sanches, who was ready in the bullpen and was likely the superior pitcher at that point in the game. The Marlins won the game, but this ridiculous decision could have cost the team.

Yesterday the same situation occurred with Josh Johnson on the mound. With the Marlins up 3-2, Johnson was sent back out to the mound in the eighth inning. Through seven innings, he had already reached 100 pitches. Johnson recorded an early groundout before allowing singles to Rasmus and Albert Pujols. At that point, Johnson was facing a situation with LI of 5.3. In fact, the Pujols plate appearance itself was 3.3 times as important as the average PA. The two singles weren’t necessarily well struck, but Johnson was well into the game and on his fourth turn through the order. At that point, pitchers are performing worse than normal; in 2010, the average pitcher allowed a .272/.335/.423 line on his fourth turn through the order, an OPS+ of 108; in 2009, they allowed a .278/.336/.440 line, good for an OPS+ of 106. It seems like hitters were somewhere between five and eight percent worse than average on their later turns through the lineup.

If those numbers are true, then a Josh Johnson who was projected to pitch at a true-talent 2.52 FIP / 2.82 ERA pitcher would be between a 2.90 and 3.30 runs per game pitcher by the fourth time through the order. Do you think a fresh Leo Nunez is better than that? I don’t know that answer for sure, but the projections say no. I say if you are going to deem the guy the team’s closer, you need to trust him to deliver five outs for the team occasionally, as he would have been charged to do here if he were brought in. The LI was very high, and it was definitely going to be the last inning at best for Johnson. The batting order had predominantly righties to follow, with one switch hitter and one lefty at the tail end of the order. Why not bring in your best reliever into the most critical situation in the game?

Instead, Edwin allowed Johnson to stay, and JJ allowed a single to Matt Holliday to score the tying run. Edwin then took the ball out of JJ’s hands (apparently, if the other team ties the game, that’s when you know your starter is tired and done for the day) and gave the ball to Mike Dunn, who allowed the three-run homer to Lance Berkman that gave the final score. Instead of entrusting a tie game and a situation with LI 3.6 to your best reliever, you give it to a guy who is worse and allow him to make the game worse. The Marlins faced three high-leverage plate appearances in the eighth inning and did not have their best reliever in any of them. The initial choice with Johnson may be defensible, but the choice of bringing in Dunn was not only moronic, but indicative of the sort of archaic, close-minded thinking the Marlins had with Fredi Gonzalez at the helm. No changes yet.

Tags: Brian Sanches Edwin Rodriguez Gaby Sanchez Javier Vazquez Josh Johnson Leo Nunez Miami Marlins Mike Dunn St. Louis Cardinals. Mike Stanton

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