Poor Decision, Take One

The Atlanta Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies this past Sunday, on national television, to start the entire major league season. For all intents and purposes, Derek Lowe dominated the Phillies en route to a 4-1 win. On Tuesday, sophomore Jair Jurrjens toed the rubber and held the defending champs scoreless throughout his 5.2 innings of work. Yesterday, Javier Vazquez made his Braves debut and pitched very well outside of a 2-run homer surrendered to Raul Ibanez. The bullpen that looked sharp in the first two games of the season fell off a cliff in the game, however, which helped turn a 10-3 deficit in the seventh inning into a 12-11 win for the Phils.

The poor decision belongs to Bobby Cox, for using his ace relievers in the first two games when they were not needed at all and then not being able to use them in a game that merited their services.

In the first game of the season, Lowe was cruising and the Phillies looked beaten at the plate. In fact, the Braves led 4-0 at the time of Lowe’s exit, and the Phillies only scored when Gonzalez came in and gave up an RBI single to Jayson Werth. Other than simply wanting to get his designated closer into a game, there was no reason to go with Gonzalez in the ninth inning. Not to say that Lowe needed to complete the game, which he seemed perfectly capable of doing, but a 4-0 lead is usually pretty safe in the last frame of a game, as shown by The Book.

In the Jurrjens game, the Phillies threatened on several occasions but ultimately failed to score a run. After Jurrjens left in the sixth, Jeff Bennett and Eric O’Flaherty held down fort in the sixth and seventh innings, sustaining the shutout. Then, with a 4-0 lead, Cox used Rafael Soriano in the eighth, and Mike Gonzalez once again in the ninth.

I can understand the usage of Soriano especially given the offday between these games and the fact that he had not pitched in a bit, but did Gonzalez really need to pitch again? A closer does not need to follow these age old usage patterns with leads greater than three runs and he probably should not even appear in a lead of exactly three runs. Are you telling me that Blaine Boyer or Peter Moylan could not have handled that ninth inning?

Yesterday, Cox wanted to get the remaining members of his bullpen yet to appear into the game, which ultimately led to an absolutely horrible loss. Boyer, Moylan, and O’Flaherty combined for 0.1 IP, 3 H, 8 ER, 4 BB, 0 K. Jorge Campillo completed the inning but did not get an out in the eighth, meaning this foursome combined for 1+ IP, 5 H, 9 ER, 6 BB, 0 K over the seventh and eighth innings. Bennett came in and relieved Campillo in the eighth, but you might have noticed that neither Soriano nor Gonzalez got into this game.

I can understand the need to get pitchers work over the course of a season and why that would merit relief aces appearing in 4-0 games, but hopefully this situation teaches the Braves a lesson. Relief aces are used for situations that really require top-of-the-line pitchers to get the job done. Moylan or O’Flaherty likely could have handled end of the game work in the first two meetings, and if they got into trouble then you turn to Raffy or Gonzo. Yesterday, when all of these pitchers did get in trouble, both Raffy and Gonzo were nowhere to be seen. Bobby Cox is a tremendous manager but he dropped the ball here by steadfastly sticking to the idea of a specialized bullpen.





Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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Justin
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Justin

I hear what you’re saying, but keep in mind this all happened in the 7th inning. How many times do you bring in your closer to get out of trouble in the 7th inning? That’s what they would have done by bringing in Gonzalez. Who pitches the 8th and 9th in this scenario? Its a bit of a stretch to lay this loss at the feet of Bobby Cox. The fact is that the entire bullpen laid a huge egg in this one.

RoundRock15
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RoundRock15

If you’re on the ropes like that, you bring in your best reliever. This is why the term “closer” is so absurd. You need a guy who can shut down the other team… hanging on to him in case you happen to have a lead of three or fewer runs in the ninth inning is a joke. I cannot fathom how this closer concept continues to linger.