I was going to do a Fish Cap for the recent Arizona Diamondbacks series, but I felt that each of the points I was planning on discussing deserved their own articles, so I decided to pass. Today’s piece is more of a rant if anything, and it is directed solely at the head of Edwin Rodriguez. For a long period of time, Edwin had not really developed his “personality” as a manager; indeed, I noticed little to no difference between Edwin at the helm and Fredi Gonzalez managing.
A few days ago, however, when the Marlins lost to the Diamondbacks 5-4 in a very close, winnable affair, I realized why I noticed little to no difference between them: because they were pretty similar managers. The game situation was as follows: start of the bottom of the ninth inning, game tied at 4-4. The Marlins sent Clay Hensley to the mound to face Willie Bloomquist, the pitcher’s spot, and Ryan Roberts.
Immediately one has to question this move, as Hensley was coming off a left fractured clavicle injury and had looked simply awful in his first 14 2/3 innings of the season, striking out just as many hitters as he had walked. Who were the Marlins’ possible alternatives? The Fish had only Burke Badenhop, Steve Cishek, Leo Nunez, and Brian Sanches remaining in the pen outside of Hensley. The current situation warranted a Leverage Index (LI) of 2.3, meaning it was 2.3 times more important than the average plate appearance. Which of the five relievers that the team had remaining would you entrust with a situation more than twice as impactful than the normal situation?
Most of you know that I would say the answer to that question is “your best reliever.” Who does that happen to be? Let’s see what the projections think.
You can see that many of the choices are very similar, with Hensley, Nunez, and Sanches at the top of the choice list. Who do you think the Marlins feel is the team’s best reliever? Given his status as closer, undoubtedly that would be Nunez. So why was he not brought in to face this critical situation? Due to the archaic, “Fredi-like” thought process that Edwin also shares, Nunez was not brought in because he is a closer and closers don’t pitch in tie ball games like these.
"Asked why reliever Eric O’Flaherty didn’t start the seventh, Gonzalez said, “When you’re on the road, you’ve got to push guys back a little bit, because you can’t use your closer on the road in the ninth inning of a tie ballgame.”"
You cannot use your closer in the ninth inning of a tie ballgame on the road, of course, because you have to save your closer for a possible save situation on the rO.D. Gonzalez backs those numbers up with his closer usage patterns; since 2007, Marlins closers like Kevin Gregg and Leo Nunez have thrown in just two outings for more than one inning on the road. In almost all instances on the road, the closers were brought in only when the lead was established or the game was out of hand. In other words, Fredi “stuck to the book” and rarely brought the closer in during a non-save situation.
Edwin Rodriguez has been similar in his usage patterns. Leo Nunez has not had a multi-inning appearance in 2011 and recorded only one multi-inning outing in 2010, under Fredi’s watch and at home. Edwin has used him as a “traditional” closer, protecting him from anything but three-run leads. At home, he has used Nunez willingly in the ninth inning of a tied game, but only because he knows that there is no possibility for a save situation at home in extra innings. On the road, he follows Fredi’s logic that the closer must be saved for a potential save situation in the future, no matter how dire the current situation.
Back to the game at hand. A couple of batters later, with Bloomquist on first base and one out, Hensley exits with an apparent right shoulder injury, which forces a pitching change. At that point, which pitcher would you bring in? Edwin opts for Badenhop, who clearly could not be viewed as the best reliever on the team, seeing as if the Marlins demoted him prior to the season’s start. At that point, the LI had climbed to 3.0, three times as important as the average plate appearance. Edwin entrusted a situation that was three times as impactful as a normal situation to a player the organization did not deem as one of its seven best relievers at the beginning of the season. Taken out of the context of a save or non-save question, how ridiculous does that sound?
The win expectancy of any given situation in the ninth inning will be the same as in subsequent innings, as all extra innings essentially work the same as ninth innings. According to Tom Tango’s Win Expectancy Chart, built for the 2002 run environment, if a pitcher takes a tied ballgame from the bottom of the ninth into the tenth inning, he adds 13.4 percent odds to his team’s chances of winning. If he takes a one-run lead in any extra inning to completion, resulting in a victory, he adds 19.4 percent odds of winning. The difference in the two situations is just six percent, but the difference is that one of them (the tied ninth inning) is actually happening right now whereas the other is a possibility in the future. If you consider that there is a 50 percent chance that your road team will take a lead into the bottom of the extra innings, saving your closer then only adds 9.7 percent to your team’s chances of winning, rendering the benefit of the move nonexistent.
This is all to say the obvious: you play for the win now. Saving your closer for an uncertain future save situation is a ridiculous move, especially when the stakes are particularly high at the moment, as they were in the Arizona game. The results of the game are irrelevant; the fact that Justin Upton won it with a broken bat single that just barely snuck into a gap in right field is not what is important. The process is what is important, and Edwin displayed the same process that Fredi has displayed throughout his managerial career. That move may not have lost the Marlins the game (Greg Dobbs‘s error was more impactful), but when your manager is not helping the cause of winning on the field, what exactly is he doing?