Analyzing Bobby Cox's Bullpen Management

James HulkaAnalyst IJuly 4, 2009

6 Apr 1997: Manager Bobby Cox of the Atlanta Braves during the Braves 11-5 win over the Chicago Cubs at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

Bobby Cox is a smart manager, but his old-school approach to managing a bullpen cost Tommy Hanson a win on Saturday.

A big reason why the Boston Red Sox have won two World Series in the last five years is because a bunch of arms in the bullpen are rested after they've pitched two or three days in a row.

The Braves do have that luxury—as Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez are closers. Both have been very good this year, but Cox has for years depended too heavily on his most reliable relievers.

Saturday afternoon's game in Washington was a prime example.

I didn't have any problem with Cox taking out Tommy Hanson after seven strong innings, in which he allowed only three hits, no walks, and the scoreless streak ended at 26 when Adam Dunn launched a solo home run to right in the seventh.

Boone Logan pitched a perfect 1.2 innings the day before. The trio of Moylan, Soriano and Gonzalez had pitched at least one inning in each of the two previous games.

In the seventh inning, Cox had Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty warming up in the bullpen just after Dunn had closed the gap to 3-1. Hanson quickly settled down and retired the next three hitters to get out of the seventh without any further damage, finishing with 105 pitches, about 70 percent of which were strikes.

Moylan had pitched the two previous games, while O'Flaherty hadn't worked on Friday, and thrown only four pitches on Thursday, retiring the only batter he faced.

I screamed while listening to the webcast when it was Gonzalez who came in to start the eighth, facing the bottom of the Nats order.

Four batters later, Gonzalez exited after giving up a single and two walks to load the bases, with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn up next.

I was screaming again, but knew that Bobby Cox would call in Moylan to try to get Zimmerman to hit a ground ball for a double play. Zimmerman hit a ground ball, but up the middle for a single to tie the game at three.

Cox finally brought in O'Flaherty with two runs in and two runners still on. Dunn and Josh Willingham followed with RBI singles before retiring the last two hitters as the Nats took the lead 5-3.

Cox should have brought in O'Flaherty to start the inning. The Nats still would have likely pinch-hit Ronnie Belliard for Anderson Hernandez, and Josh Bard for the pitcher. O'Flaherty still would have been in the game if it got past Nyjer Morgan and Nick Johnson (two lefties) that Cox would have still had Gonzalez ready if Dunn came up in the eighth.

The rested lefty would've been the better choice, and I believe would have gotten through the eighth with the Braves still leading.

If it was me, the ninth would have been Gonzalez closing, as Rafael Soriano wasn't sharp on Friday, despite getting the save. Using your closers for the bottom of the order instead of saving them, if necessary, for the middle of the order (especially Adam Dunn) would have been the more prudent move.

Moylan, Soriano and Gonzalez had been used in four of the previous five games of the Braves winning streak, only getting rest on Monday's off-day and Wednesday's blowout of Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, Manny Acosta, he of the 97 mph fastball and 2.84 ERA, had only thrown one inning since the Yankees left town last Thursday night. The same was true for Kris Medlen, as the only game each had pitched since June 25 was one inning each in the 11-1 victory on Wednesday.

If the Braves really are going to make a run at the playoffs this year, which they could conceivably do, Bobby Cox has to stop overusing his favorite arms in the bullpen and spread the work around a bit more to some other relievers to give his best guys more regular rest.

Cox has pushed a lot of the right buttons lately, but his stubborn, old-school approach to managing a bullpen cost the Braves a shot at getting back to .500. It cost Tommy Hanson a perfect 5-0 record in his best start this season, and ended the Braves winning streak at five, instead of giving Derek Lowe a chance to extend it to seven on Sunday.

While it was only the second time this season the Braves lost a game they were ahead in after 8 innings (the other was a loss at New York in 10 innings in which a blown call at third cost the Braves the lead), this one falls on Cox, despite the fact that the relievers called on didn't get the job done.

Now, the Braves have to win on Sunday to avoid losing a series they should be trying to sweep.