By Christopher Heun
Let’s get two things straight: Managers shouldn’t be fired because of one bad decision (unless they’re named Grady Little). And relief pitchers can be asked to pitch more than one inning per outing.
It’s easy in hindsight to knock Sam Perlozzo for Sunday’s Mother’s Day Massacre in Boston, when he pulled his starting pitcher, leading 5-0 with one out in the bottom of the ninth, only to watch his bullpen blow the game. It’s not the skipper’s fault when his pitchers can’t throw strikes.
But it is fair to criticize Perlozzo for his faulty logic when calling on his bullpen. He needs to stop counting pitches and go with a hot hand.
We don’t want to get too hung up about what happened on Sunday, because the real problem is not that particular game, but here’s how Perlozzo explained why he yanked Jeremy Guthrie:
“He was going into nine innings [of] work, and he had never gone past six. We were pretty much giving him an opportunity - if he could go 1-2-3 - to stay in the ballgame. It was unfortunate that the guy got on the way he did [by an error], but at that point, I thought we had our fresh arms out there and I didn't want anything to get out of hand. Obviously, it didn't work.”
Why fault the pitcher if a batter reaches on an error on a ball that never left the infield? If a pitcher is throwing strikes and getting hitters out with a minimum of pitches, why not leave him in? This applies to Guthrie on Sunday (just 91 pitches, two outs away from a shutout) as it does to every arm in the bullpen.
Perlozzo rarely asks a reliever to go longer than a single inning. We took a look at the work history so far this season of the three new arms in the Orioles bullpen – experienced relievers with proven track records who signed over the winter for a combined $41.5 million.
All three are on pace to pitch in 80 games this season (a career high for all of them), though their total innings would not exceed their previous marks.
What that says to us: Perlozzo is using them more often than previous managers, but he’s not asking them to pitch more innings, necessarily. Is one approach better than another? Would they be more effective if used longer but less often?
Jamie Walker 4.20 ERA, 15 IP, 5 BB, 16 K, 1 HR
Last year with Detroit, Walker pitched two innings six times and was called on to get five outs an additional four occasions. This occurred at about the same frequency the previous three seasons.
This year, he pitched more than one inning for the first time last Friday night at Boston. Meanwhile, he’s on pace to come close to his career high of 65 innings pitched.
Chad Bradford 3.07 ERA, 14.2 IP, 5 BB, 8 K, 0 HR
He’s pitched more than one inning twice so far in 2007. Last year for the Mets he did so 10 times; in 2004 he did it 13 times and 23 times in 2003.
Danys Baez 4.91 ERA, 18.1 IP, 8 BB, 8 K, 4 HR
In nine of his 20 appearances this season, Baez has thrown nine pitches or less. All but four times he’s pitched exactly 1 inning; only once has he gone longer. He pitched more than an inning 10 times in 2006 and 17 times in both 2005 and 2004.
Here’s an extreme example of why this matters: on April 11 vs. Detroit, Adam Loewen didn’t allow a run but lasted just 5 innings; the Tigers won in the 12th on a grand slam by Craig Monroe off Kurt Birkins. Perlozzo used seven relievers that night, each one pitching exactly an inning, even though two (Bradford and Scott Williamson) threw just nine pitches and three others threw 15 or less.
We have no quibble with Perlozzo’s decisions on individual match-ups. In fact, asking a reliever to pitch more than an inning contradicts the conventional strategy of lefties facing lefties. Regardless, setting up those match-ups is a luxury Perlozzo doesn’t have most nights when his starter can’t get past the fifth inning.
We're rooting for Sam Perlozzo, an Orioles coach for 10 years before being named manager. The players were enthusiastic about his hiring and seem to like playing for him (though no one has spoken up in his defense this week while fans cry for his head). He deserves a shot to manage a team with a decent bench and bullpen, two things he didn’t have last year, which made it hard to evaluate his skills as a manager.
He still doesn’t have much of a bench, but he does have a better bullpen in 2007. Is he using it wisely?