I read a thought-provoking article on Bleacher Report by Joseph DelGrippo last night. In it he called Mets manager Jerry Manuel the "stupidest man in baseball," essentially for pulling his starting pitchers from games they were performing well in.
It was highlighted by the fact that Johan Santana was yanked from a game against the San Francisco Giants on Saturday after eight innings of one-run ball, only for the Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez to blow the save.
The fact that the Mets won that game, whether by luck or judgement, was ignored. I have no problem with this, because the process was more important than the end result.
I'm a fan of Jospeh's work and I think he's a fine writer, but I just couldn't get on board with his conclusions. While I can't necessarily say that I agree with Manuel's decision to pull Santana, I don't think it's worth calling him "stupid" for.
But here's my thing, specifically looking at Santan's outing.
So far in 2010 there have been 294 games when a starter has pitched eight or more innings. The pitcher is 203-48 in these situations, and the team has won 222 of these games. That's an .808 winning percentage for the pitcher.
That leaves 43 no decisions, presumably when the pitcher left in a tied game, when he left with the lead only to see his team lose the game, or left on the hook only for his team to rally and save him.
The fact is that on only 11 occasions this year has a manager pulled his starting pitcher after eight innings and in line for the win, only to see his closer blow the save. Eleven times in 1,390 games, or 0.7 percent of the time.
Specifically looking at the Mets, in the two-and-a-half years that Manuel has been with the club, the team has won almost 90 percent of games where the Mets manager has gone to the bullpen to protect a lead by one of his starters who went seven innings or more and allowed two or fewer earned runs.
Sure, there is an argument for leaving him in to finish the job he started, but the facts don't really support that theory.
As for Jerry Manuel mismanaging the Mets more than other managers, you could easily look at Cincinnati or Seattle and say the same thing.
Remember that Don Wakamatsu pulled Doug Fister in back-to-back starts after eight innings after he had thrown exactly 100 pitches and gave his team the chance to win, only to see David Aardsma blow the save. The Mariners lost both games. Fister is no Santana, but a dominant start is a dominant start, right?
As for the Reds, Dusty Baker pulled Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake in favor of Francisco Cordero, who blew the save both times.
Leake had only thrown 101 pitches but he had given up five runs. Was it the right decision? How about with Arroyo? He had thrown 115 pitches but only allowed two runs. He would have been pitching with a 4-3 lead in the ninth. Cordero blew the save, but the Reds won in extra innings. Does that make Baker's decision correct?
Mike Scoscia did the same thing with Joe Saunders two weeks ago in a game the Angels eventually lost against Kansas City, and Charlie Manuel went to his bullpen against the Braves after Kyle Kendrick had produced eight shutout innings only to watch his closer give up three runs.
When you add Milwaukee, San Francisco, the Cubbies, and Arizona to this list of identical scenarios, you can see that it's not just the Mets who make these mistakes. It's a part of the game, and as much as it sucks if you're a fan of these teams, it's part of baseball.
It is ridiculous to call Manuel and the Mets out for pulling Santana and bringing in their closer in a save situation. It is even more absurd when you look at how infrequently this kind of move backfires, or how people try to play it off as a regular faux pas.
It was the right decision with the wrong result. That happens sometimes. It is easy to second guess the manager after the game, but the fact is that if K-Rod picked up the save, everyone would have been happy.
Yes, Santana is the ace, but Rodriguez is the closer.
It's not like Rodriguez is unaccustomed to these roles. You can look at how many times Santana has had to protect a one-run lead for a complete game in the ninth inning after already throwing 115 pitches, or you can look at your specialist stopper who has made a living off of one-inning shutdown innings.
May 4th in Cincinnati, May 17th in Atlanta, June 4th against Florida, and June 6th against Florida are all instances this year when Rodriguez has been brought into a game the Mets have been leading by one run in the ninth inning. The Mets won all four games.
It's like when a team has runners on first and second with no outs and the pitcher is asked to bunt. The fact that he bunted the ball back too close to the pitcher who was able to get the lead runner at third base doesn't make it the wrong strategic move. It is just poor execution, and it is only newsworthy when it doesn't turn out as planned.
Regardless of the outcome, most managers would be shelled if they had let their pitcher swing away, or even more so if he had rolled over one into a double play.
Santana looked good this weekend and I would have had no problem seeing him pitch the ninth. But he was already 10 pitches over his season average. You could realistically add 15 more pitches if he had pitched the ninth, which would have given him 130 for the day.
Not once in his career has Santana thrown 130 pitches in a single game.
Even more, Santana was already facing guys for the fourth time.
After he has been through the order that many times, batters are hitting a collective .243 against him—almost 30 points higher than the first time through the lineup. That kind of logic is true of many pitchers, even if the numbers differ from player to player.
Had Johan pitched the ninth and the Mets had lost, Manuel would have been criticized for not trusting his closer.
You can't just base opinions on results with a blind eye towards logic and strategy. Hindsight is 20-20, but that doesn't necessarily make Joseph's opinion correct. All it shows is that he's quick to judge once he knows how history turned out.