Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Poor Choice

The Twins haven't given me much to complain about on their recent hot streak, but after watching last night's game, a 1-0 loss to the Red Sox, I simply had no choice but to express my displeasure.

There's no shame in getting shut down by Daisuke Matsuzaka. There's no shame in losing to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Heck, there's simply no shame in losing when you've won 18 or your last 21 games. It was the manner in which the Twins lost last night that really got under my skin.

After getting seven fantastic shutout innings from Scott Baker, Ron Gardenhire was hit with a dilemma in the eighth inning. The game was still scoreless, and the Red Sox had their Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters due up. Gardenhire has generally done a good job of managing the bullpen this season and over the course of his tenure, but I can say without hyperbole that what he did last night was the single worse managerial decision he has made all year. He called on Brian Bass to pitch the eighth inning of a scoreless game. Bass, who should be the very definition of a mop-up man, was Gardenhire's first choice out of the bullpen in the eighth inning of a tie game against a very powerful lineup.

Bass surrendered a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia, who moved to third on a ground-out by J.D. Drew in the next at-bat. Next, Manny Ramirez hit a single to right field, scoring Pedroia with the go-ahead run. Mike Lowell walked in the next at-bat, and that was the end of Bass' night. Great outing.

Let's take a look at some of the clearly superior options to Bass in this situation, followed by reasons as to why they are superior:

Leave Baker in. Baker's pitch count was only 94, and he had allowed only two of the past 13 batters he'd faced to reach base. He reportedly told Gardenhire he was gassed after seven innings, but if push came to shove he probably could have gone out for the eighth.

Jesse Crain. Had not pitched since last Wednesday, and he held a 2.80 ERA on the season. Crain came in after Bass had allowed three of four baserunners to reach and finished the inning without further damage. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Mind-boggling that Crain was not simply called upon to start the inning if Gardy intended on using him anyway.

Boof Bonser. Granted, his numbers overall this season aren't good, and he got off to a bit of a rocky start in the bullpen, but over his past four outings he'd pitched five innings while allowing only one run on four hits and a walk while fanning seven. He also has good enough stuff that one could logically believe he'd be able to retire tough hitters like Pedroia and Ramirez.

Joe Nathan. He's the team's best reliever, why not use him as early as possible to make sure you can extend the game? I've always been an ardent supporter of the notion of using relievers based on descending order of talent in a tie game.

Craig Breslow. Has been effective enough against right-handers this year that we can reasonably believe he could have retired Pedroia, and then he would have gotten the left-handed Drew. Bing bang, two outs.

Dennys Reyes. Is not Brian Bass.

The only guy who really wasn't an option was Matt Guerrier, who'd pitch in three consecutive games over the weekend. Yet, instead of one of the aforementioned logical options, Gardenhire decided to call on Bass as his top option out of the bullpen. Predictably, the results were ugly. Even still, Gardenhire compounded the poor choice of putting Bass in the game by making another misguided managerial decision, which was to have Bass pitch to Ramirez with Pedroia on third and one out.

Ramirez is one of the great RBI men in modern major-league history. And if there's one thing Bass has done a decent job of this year, it's inducing ground balls. So the logical choice with the go-ahead run on third while Ramirez batted with first base open would have been to intentionally walk Ramirez and pitch to Mike Lowell with hopes of a double play. Instead, Gardenhire had Bass pitch to Ramirez, and the result was an eventually game-winning RBI hit.

Here was Gardenhire's reasoning for pitching to Ramirez:

"How's Manny been doing lately?" Gardenhire said.

Ramirez had batted .161 (5-for-31) with 13 strikeouts on Boston's just-completed 3-7 road trip.

This response represents a fatal misconception held by Gardenhire, which is that 31 at-bats represents any type of meaningful sample.

It's a decent bet this game would have remained tied going into the ninth inning had Gardenhire gone to any reliever other than the worst member of the bullpen in the eighth inning. At that point, who knows what might have happened. It's entirely possible that the Twins would have ended up losing anyway. But Gardenhire clearly has formed some sort of ridiculous image of Bass as a reliable option in close games, and last night that really hurt the Twins. For the first time all year, I'm going to have put a loss squarely on the shoulders of the manager.

17 comments:

Twins Fix said...

Squarely? Minnesota needed a run to win the game. The offense, or Daisuke, can be blamed for that.

I completely forgot about Breslow. He would have done just fine. Just not Bass. Anybody but Bass would have worked fine tonight.

Good jon, Nick.

Dwade said...

Why Bass is with the team at all boggles my mind. Boof! is a much better option in long relief and someone like Korecky is better suited for shorter stints.

Having Bass in a game like tonight's is indefensible, I agree with you completely. It is almost as though Gardy is still playing for next season, letting Bass see time in different situations to evaluate him. I can't see any other reason that Bass would be in there over Breslow or Crain.

Good stuff, Nick.

Peter said...

Well written again Nick,

You don't even mention pinchhitting for Jason Kubel (who might wish he would have been drafted by a franchise like the A's) with the bases loaded and one out in the eight. Free Jason Kubel was a great campaign but that will only happen once they traded him.

beth said...

I might be the only person who isn't complaining about Bass. Prior to last night, Bass hadn't allowed an earned run in 12 innings (nine appearances). Bonser's relief WHIP is 1.98; Bass's is 1.51. Slugging against is nearly equal (.468 for Boof; .473 for Bass). Granted, Boof strikes out a lot more players and he has been getting better, I'm just not sure it was a situation for him.

I've been wondering if Breslow is fighting an mild injury/soreness. He's not pitched in over a week now.

twins fix said...

I've been wondering if Breslow is fighting an mild injury/soreness. He's not pitched in over a week now.

If Breslow isn't allowed the opportunity to pitch against his old team, we'll know somethings up.

SoCalTwinsfan said...

Crain has been hit pretty hard recently, so I think Gardy doesn't trust him right now as an eighth-inning guy. Prior to last night's game, opponents were hitting .444/.474/.556 off Crain in his last five outings. I think the fact that Crain hadn't pitched since Thursday (while Guerrier pitched in three straight) and Crain still wasn't the first option out of the bullpen in the eighth inning of a tie game speaks volumes. Also, Breslow has been fighting a sore back, but if he hasn't been available for a week, he should have already been on the DL.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised Gardy didn't leave Baker in for the right-handed Pedroia , go to Reyes or Breslow for Drew and THEN to Bass for the next two consecutive righties.

The bullpen strategy last night didn't frustrate as much as when acting manager/Gardy pawn Ullger took Perkins out in favor of Crain in the 5-4 loss to Detroit a week or so ago...

Nick N. said...

You don't even mention pinchhitting for Jason Kubel (who might wish he would have been drafted by a franchise like the A's) with the bases loaded and one out in the eight.

I really didn't have any problem with that decision. As much as it annoys me that Kubel is getting benched against every single left-handed starter, pinching Monroe for him against a tough lefty reliever late in a game is probably the right move. It's the reason that Monroe is on the team.

Leslie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leslie said...

Pitching Bass in a tight spot at Fenway is an example of putting a guy in a position to fail. You don't go use a guy, who has not pitched in awhile, at Fenway for a tight spot. You just don't. First of all, why was Scott Baker taken out? He was cruising all night last night, and now he is gone. I don't get it. Two more innings could not hurt him. With the way he was pitching, you go get nine innings out of him not seven.

I know the Twins run a pitch count on their starters. That's a good thing and a bad thing. It's a good thing because you want your arms to be healthy for the long haul. Still, this is a big series for the Twins. They are playing an elite team on national television at a hostile environment. This is a signature series. Sometimes, you need to break the philosophy and go for it here. If you lose with Scott Baker, so be it. You don't go lose the game by using a reliever who has not pitched in quite some time at Fenway Park. You just don't.

Reportedly, Baker claimed that he was gassed, but I am not buying that. He is a competitor. Why would he want to take himself out of the game at Fenway Park? It just doesn't make sense. I bet Gardenhire told him to say it because after all, he and Rick Anderson like to pamper their starters.

No question Guerrier was unavailable. I get that. With that said, there were many better relievers out there.

The Twins should have gotten a run here in the first inning or in the eighth inning, but really, the Twins lost this game based on what happened in the eighth inning.

It was dumb to use Bass in this spot.

Twins Fix said...

Why would he want to take himself out of the game at Fenway Park? It just doesn't make sense.

That's not being entirely fair. I would want to take myself out of Fenway if I knew I had nothing left in the tank. I would much rather walk out of the game with a 7 IP, 0 ER line than a 7.2 IP, 3 ER line.

He could have actually been thinking of the team when he made this decision, so I don't think it's fair to say that, "it doesn't make sense."

Nick N. said...

Reportedly, Baker claimed that he was gassed, but I am not buying that. He is a competitor. Why would he want to take himself out of the game at Fenway Park? It just doesn't make sense. I bet Gardenhire told him to say it because after all, he and Rick Anderson like to pamper their starters.

I dunno. Baker said (and others echoed this sentiment) that the game felt like a playoff match, so I think he was throwing at a pretty high level of intensity. It's not terribly unrealistic that he could have been feeling worn down after 94 pitches. The key here is that even if Baker didn't have anything left in the tank, there were numerous other options out of the bullpen.

It was dumb to use Bass in this spot.

Heh, I could have saved myself a lot of time and energy last night by just writing this sentence as my post.

Anonymous said...

i got the joy to see Gardy's brilliant game management in person. Monreo PH, not PH for LNP/Span in the 9th... and Bass.... ugh

-Shawn in Binghamton

Ajnaran said...

Middle relief is probably the most difficult area to secure in a major league lineup. That being said, I am absolutely baffled at the fact that many people generally think Ron Gardenhire has managed the bullpen well during his tenure as manager here.

I am a Twins fan because I like to become emotionally invested in joining a winning cause, and joining others around you in that fight. I'm not one to bask in losing or rebuilding years. It’s about snatching victory at all costs, 100% of the time. Sometimes you have the means and luck to go all the way, sometimes you don’t. The effort and purpose should remain intact at all times.

Baseball is a long season. Errors will be made. Both managerial and those made on the playing field. What is to be avoided is to make consistent errors that can be avoided.

Clutch (and close) games demand a certain level of mental toughness and fortitude from relievers. I think many of you don't realize that in trying to win games ERA and many other stats become more or less irrelevant. It’s about talent, approach, and confidence. Stats simply follow the act. Livan Hernandez is the perfect poster child for a winning player whose stats stink. He simply has what it takes to win, and he's confident every time he steps on the mound of what he has to do. Unfortunately we only have two players currently in our bullpen apt for clutch appearances in tight games to pitch an inning+. Joe Nathan and Dennis Reyes. To digress slightly, and prematurely offer one of my final solutions to our bullpen woes, F Liriano should be brought up to help in that regard immediately.

That Gardenhire balked after Reyes faced a single (and very tough) batter in the 8th inning tonight at Fenway is unacceptable. I don't care how many pointless stats people throw about--Reyes is a guy you have faith with because he will get the job done in tough spots day in and day out. He’s figured out how to succeed. But for you stat hounds, Reyes has exactly ONE LOSS during his TWO 1/2 SEASONS with the Twins. I'm sorry, can you repeat that? One loss in 2+ years and we're up 3 runs in the eighth inning with him on the mound?

Jesse Crain is an anti-clutch pitcher. Those of you who missed the Twins bullpen blow-up in our last playoff appearance, let me remind you it was he that gave up 3 runs, getting only 3 outs in 2 games. He cost us the first, he made sure we couldn't come back in the last. He looks defeated when he gets to the mound, like a scared child performing their first time on stage.

Matt Guerrier has given up 33 home runs pitching effectively two full years of relief. Confidence anyone? And it’s visible. Those of you bold or attentive enough to realize how much information one can yield from body language know what I speak of. Both Guerrier and Crain have been given too many chances to get it done in big games, and its time to make way.

Every other newbie in our bullpen can't be trusted other than Breslow who appears confident, but we haven't really thrown him into any clutch positions yet.

The Solution?

Nathan should be used more than one inning in especially close games. Those where we lead by 1 run or are tied and heading to extra innings.

Give Breslow a shot.

Bring up F Liriano for relief and to help acclimate him back onto the team gearing up for a stretch run where he might be used as a starter but at the least will be used as a clutch reliever for a CONTENDING TEAM.

Pitch Reyes more in clutch positions; tell him he is our #1 guy to get to Nathan. Let him PITCH.

Nick N. said...

Livan Hernandez is the perfect poster child for a winning player whose stats stink. He simply has what it takes to win, and he's confident every time he steps on the mound of what he has to do.

Give up five runs and hope that his offense has a good night? What a winner!

I don't care how many pointless stats people throw about--Reyes is a guy you have faith with because he will get the job done in tough spots day in and day out. He’s figured out how to succeed. But for you stat hounds, Reyes has exactly ONE LOSS during his TWO 1/2 SEASONS with the Twins. I'm sorry, can you repeat that? One loss in 2+ years and we're up 3 runs in the eighth inning with him on the mound?

Interesting that you say you "don't care how many pointless stats people throw forth" regarding Reyes, then go on to throw out a completely pointless one like that. Reyes has thrown fewer than 10 pitches in 20 of his 40 appearances this season. He's a guy that you can maybe count on to get one out, but I don't think he's proven to be a reliable out-getter from the pen any more than Guerrier or Crain have done so. It's pretty easy to avoid giving up earned runs or getting charged with losses when you only face one batter per outing who is typically an advantageous match-up (in his case, a lefty).

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