Re-Examining Washington’s Curious Bullpen Management

Everyone would say, especially in the playoffs, put in your best pitcher. Who is the Rangers best pitcher? Well, it depends on what you’re looking at. Darren Oliver has the best FIP (2.68 to Feliz’s 2.96) and xFIP (2.86 to Feliz’s 3.68) of anyone available, but you also have to look at platoon-splits at this point because it’s so late in the game. Both pitchers are death to left-handers (Feliz is surprisingly better against LH this season … interesting), but Oliver has been much worse against RH. Feliz’s FIP against LH was 2.58, but his xFIP is 3.58 against them (xFIP, remember, standardizes HR/FB to 10.6%). Feliz prevents HR pretty well, but at a 2.3% clip? Oliver, on the other hand, is just completely different against the different sides of the plate with a 2 point difference in xFIP (1.74 vs. LH and 3.90 vs. RH). Feliz is clearly the best choice, right?

Well, what about the future? Feliz has gotten 6 outs before, but he only pitched the day after that once. Guess what happened—August 11th (the day after the famous August 10th 6-out save against the Yankees) and Feliz blows a lead by giving up 2 runs and getting one out. That’s only one game, but it can’t give anyone confidence that Feliz could go back-to-back now and against the same team. If he pitches 6 outs in Game 1, he probably doesn’t go Game 2 (some would argue that you can’t think that way, which is valid, but don’t you have to somewhat? If you have similarly good options, isn’t it best to ensure Feliz could pitch today in Game 2). Oliver, though not as great against RH, is not awful against RH, and a 3.38 BB/9 against them isn’t enough to think that the strike zone becomes the problem it did. Let’s also remember that Feliz “caved under the pressure” in Round 1 by walking 3, striking out 2, and giving up a home run. Oliver, unfortunately, isn’t much better with a 4.45 ERA in 30 career postseason innings. So while Feliz is the best pitcher for this place in time, it may not be the clear-cut best decision.

Next is ARod, and Washington brings in Darren II (O’Day). If you want to bitch, now is your opportunity. O’Day is a side-armer, which should make it difficult for RH, but Alexi Ogando is actually the much better pitcher against RH. His FIP (2.07 to O’Day’s 3.62), xFIP (2.90 to 3.73), and K/9 (10.36 to 7.57) are far superior to O’Day’s (that just looks weird with the two apostrophes), and even disregarding Feliz, Washington had a better choice. For what it’s worth, Ogando is better than Feliz against RH.

I also can’t explain bringing in Clay Rapada next instead of Derek Holland, who also would have been a better choice than Feliz against LH (FIP and xFIP—1.39 and 2.44—are better than Feliz’s—2.28 and 3.58—against LH). Holland then has to face Thames, but he’s the best choice against Granderson and Gardner, who he actually gets out to end this miserable inning for the Rangers.

Okay Mark, so what is your conclusion? Take a side. Washington’s move to not bring in Feliz was not clearly awful. With the two switch-hitters coming up, Feliz is the better option, but I don’t know that Feliz could go 2 innings and then come back today. After that, the match-ups actually favor using other pitchers, though I’ll admit they’re all based on small sample sizes, but I’ll blame Washington for using the wrong ones. However, why did Feliz have to pitch 6 outs like so many have suggested? Why not bring in Feliz for the inning and play match-ups in the ninth? If you want my opinion, this is where Washington (AND EVERY OTHER MANAGER) screwed up. Bring in Feliz to end the eighth and bring in Ogando and Holland to pitch the ninth. But, as I said, no manager is willing to do it. Because of that, I don’t blame Washington for doing what he did. He did what he’s been taught to do. I blame GMs and front-office people who are supposed to be able to see past this and make decisions based on better information for not pushing their managers to do more of this, but GMs don’t want to lose their jobs, either. No one loses jobs for going with orthodoxy, but bucking it might get you canned. Criticize the move if you want but don’t blame Washington. He put in guys, except for Rapada (really? WTF, Washington?), who could get the job done, and they didn’t, though I’ll admit that bringing in Feliz for 6 outs could have been the better decision. Hats off to the Yankees.

9 thoughts on “Re-Examining Washington’s Curious Bullpen Management

  1. I don't really have a problem with trying to get some outs with your middle relievers, but I think once A-Rod came up, and certainly for Cano, it's really inexcusable to not bring in your best reliever. I don't really disagree with your point about having to look ahead a little, but at that point you're staring down a total disaster right then and there, and you've got to get yourself out of there with the lead, if at all possible.

  2. "With the two switch-hitters coming up, Feliz is the better option, but I don’t know that Feliz could go 2 innings and then come back today."

    Why would he have to return to pitch the ninth inning, Mark, as stopping the Yankees rally then and there would have meant that anyone, yes, anyone else could have pitched the ninth with a three-run lead. The "save" statistic strikes yet again!

  3. Brien, the thing is that he wasn't necessarily the best pitcher in those situations. Ogando would have been the better choice against A-Rod and Holland versus Cano. Feliz is the closer, but that doesn't make him the de facto best choice in those scenarios, though I'll admit he "could" be. He's certainly an excellent pitcher and a good choice, but I don't know if he's "clearly" the "best" choice.

    JE, why did you stop at that sentence? Two sentences later, I state your exact point. :) What I was trying to get at there was the main argument other people are making. Most people stated that Feliz had pitched 6 outs before and could have come in there, though Washington had stated the contrary. But I completely agree with you. Bring Feliz for the eighth if you think he's the best pitcher, and then, let Ogando and Holland have the ninth to finish it. I don't think Feliz needed to pitch 6 outs. Though, the problem is that no manager would do that because it's really unorthodox, and knowing what the manager would do once bringing in the closer (keep him in until the end), we have to focus on that scenario and what would be the best choice, which I'm not convinced was bringing in Feliz for 6 outs. But I'm so glad you pointed out what you did because it's one of those things that irks me to no end.

    • LOL, Mark! My bad.

      By the way, I just noticed that MGL re-hashed some cogent "4th time through the order" criticisms at Inside the Book.

      • Not a problem. I just thought it was funny.

        As for the 4th time through the order, it pretty much just stands to reason. Pitchers have the advantage early because the batter has to adjust to movement, arm angle, and release point, but as they get accustomed, they should get better. Add in the fatigue of having thrown enough pitches to get to that point in the game, and it's no surprise that it's just a bad idea to leave a pitcher in unless he's just the absolute best option available. Peter Hjort at Capitol Avenue Club (Sweetspot Shout-out) talks about this a lot as well.

        • Agreed with both comments…

          …wanted to add that it's also on the Umpires too, who dictate where the strike zone is early on, so if they stay consistent, the hitters can adjust to what the future calls will be and can swing accordingly….

          … Good Post. Great Game.

        • Agreed, Mark. I also wish we could do away with the TV/radio-booth chatter, supported by scant evidence, that teams must get to certain pitchers the *first* time through the lineup, lest they not get another chance. As you point out, the "familiarity" factor is a far more important factor.

          • Worst problem is simply people not realizing that they make arguments based on the results, not the process. If your argument changes based on how it ends up, you're making a bad one.

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