Get the hook!

Playoff managers are letting their starting pitchers stay in and get thrashed while huge, rested, effective bullpens watch.


King Kaufman
October 13, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)

What is it that these managers are waiting for when they leave their starting pitchers in to get hammered like bent nails in important playoff games?

At least three times over the weekend, a different playoff manager left his starter in to take a beating while great phalanxes of relief pitchers sat idle. It's a grand slam if you think Joe Maddon left Scott Kazmir in for too long in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, which I don't.

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It's nuts. These teams take 11-man pitching staffs into series in which they'll only use four starters, series that never have games scheduled on three consecutive days. A manager can use five relievers in a game tonight knowing that tomorrow he'll have two fresh arms, and he'll probably be able to go back to all or most of tonight's five because the day after tomorrow is an off day.

And yet starters who clearly don't have it keep getting left in.

Joe Torre of the Dodgers, already down a game to the Philadelphia Phillies in the N.L. Championship Series and really needing a win in Game 2 Friday, stayed with Chad Billingsley long enough for Billingsley to give up eight runs. That was two and a third innings, to be precise, and it put the Dodgers in an impossible hole. They lost 8-5.

Billingsley blamed pitch selection for his troubles after the game, which makes sense if by that he meant the selection of batting-practice pitches he threw to the Phillies. It looked like Philadelphia could have hit triples with shovels.

Yet Torre -- who's only using three starters so he had eight relievers to play with -- stayed with him through a second-inning sequence that went single, double, single, single, single, walk. And he stayed with him into the third, which started out single, double, intentional walk, force at home, single. Only then, with the score 6-2, did Torre choose from one of those eight relief pitchers.

Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel did the same thing in Game 3 Sunday, leaving Jamie Moyer out there when he clearly had nothing. Moyer is the ultimate veteran crafty left-hander and he almost got out of the first inning with minimal damage. He'd started the game by giving up three singles and then hitting a batter. At that point, if I were Manuel, I'd have had somebody warming up and I'd have brought him in if Moyer had given up another hit in the inning, which he did to Casey Blake after striking out Nomar Garciaparra.

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That made it 2-0, and the Phillies had seven relief pitchers who could have taken over. Not your night, kid. Well, not kid. Moyer's 45. But there are seven guys sitting out there, and it just might be their night. Some of them. Why not try to figure out which ones?

It doesn't always work, of course. There are no guarantees. When Torre finally got Billingsley in Game 2, Chan Ho Park came in and promptly gave up a base hit for two more runs, charged to Billingsley. But all four teams still alive have good bullpens, and in the playoffs they have more available relievers than usual. Why leave the starter in to try to find his mojo when there are so many capable pitchers available who might not need to look for theirs?

Moyer struck out Matt Kemp, then gave up a bases-clearing triple to Blake DeWitt. And still he stayed in, long enough to give up a home run to Rafael Furcal leading off the second. The Dodgers won 7-2.

Moyer's line was an inning and a third, six runs. Five relievers went six and two-thirds innings and gave up one run. After Billingsley gave up his eight runs in two and a third innings in Game 2, the bullpen threw five and two-thirds shutout innings.

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In Game 2 of the ALCS, Terry Francona of the Boston Red Sox left Josh Beckett, who obviously didn't have his best stuff, out there long enough for the Tampa Bay Rays to tee off for eight runs in four and a third innings. Once Beckett finally came out, the bullpen took over and gave up one run in six and a third innings, that run being the game winner for the Rays in the 11th inning.

Maddon left Kazmir in that same game long enough to give up five runs in four and a third innings, but I think he gets a pass. That's not a gaudy number of runs, for one thing, and also Kazmir had a shaky first, steadied himself, then came out as soon as he started giving up long balls in the middle innings.

Mostly, though, this round of the playoffs has been one long session of "What's He Waiting For?" Or a better question: Where's Sparky Anderson when you need him?

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King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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