Franklin Morales, the Rockies closer, was brought in to protect a four run lead on Sunday. Normally, this type of move would lead to criticism of Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy for wasting Morales’s powerful arm on a low-leverage relief situation. However, this was not a normal outing for Morales. Tracy inserted Morales in the 8th inning with one out and runners on first and second.
Appearances SUCH as these are rare – typically the closer will not enter the game in the 8th to only face two batters, especially not with a four run lead and two runners on base. This isn’t exactly the optimal situation for a closer to appear in, either. The leverage index was 1.47 – certainly an important situation in the game, but below the roughly 1.80 LI that is typical among major league closers and well below the target of 2.30 LI set in The Book (page 225-226).
However, I feel this was a great move by Tracy. First of all, Morales hadn’t pitched since April 28th – he was working on 5 days rest, and likely needed to get some work in this game either way. This reason is why it’s unrealistic for every appearance by a closer or relief ace to come in a super high leverage situation. Tracy found a spot, without regard for the inning, that would prevent Morales from becoming rusty and still allow his best reliever to help his team.
Secondly, the Giants were at the number two spot in their order. John Bowker and Pablo Sandoval were the next two hitters due up. Bowker is projected as slightly above average by the updated ZiPS and as solidly above average by preseason CHONE. Sandoval is clearly the Giants’ best hitter, projected for wOBAs in the .380-.390 range. The quality of hitters effectively raises the leverage index, making the situation even more crucial to the flow of the game. Morales, a left-handed pitcher, also held the platoon advantage over Bowker. The issue is null against Sandoval, a switch hitter.
Morales successfully navigated through pinch-hitter Andres Torres and Sandoval, retiring both via the strikeout. Manny Corpas replaced Morales in the 9th with the game at a 0.39 LI and managed to finish the game, despite allowing a leadoff home run to Aubrey Huff. Many managers would have flipped the two roles, allowing the inferior reliever to face the superior hitters in the higher leverage situation simply due to the other pitcher being labeled the closer.
For those of us who hate the roles that the save statistic and risk-averse managers have pigeonholed relief aces into, this game by the Colorado Rockies and Jim Tracy was a breath of fresh air. This was an example of exactly how to correctly manage a bullpen, and other teams and managers should take note.
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