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Behind the Bullpen Management



By Mike Silva ~ October 31st, 2011. Filed under: Morning Digest, New York Mets.

We argue about the utilization of bullpens here all the time. It’s probably the most important and difficult part of managing a team. We often look at it scientifically; evaluating platoon splits when we make our second guesses. We never have the complete information, however, as the manager, catcher, and pitching coach know how the individual pitchers feel. They also have secondary data about the hitter that we may not realize at the time.

On Sunday, Mark Hale wrote a look-back at Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. One of the decisions that Willie Randolph had to make was keeping Oliver Perez in the game with 1-out and a runner on in the sixth inning with Scott Rolen at the plate. Rolen had a terrible series, going 5-24.

After walking Jim Edmonds to open the sixth, Perez was visited by Randolph and also Wright, Lo Duca, Reyes and Carlos Delgado. Perez had 87 pitches, and Scott Rolen was due up.

PETERSON: “I thought his stuff was still good. I do remember we had Bradford ready. When the inning started, I said, ‘Willie, let’s get Bradford up. Let’s make sure he’s ready for Rolen.’ He says, ‘OK, great.’ He kind of nods. Right when he walked Edmonds, I said to Willie, ‘Willie, I would go get him right now.’ Something along those lines.” ”Willie said, ‘I think he’s still got good stuff.’ He went out to just check the temperature.”

RANDOLPH: “That meeting was pretty much just calm everything down and just get focused on what we’re doing.”

Lo DUCA: “Rolen fit him perfect. Because one thing about Ollie was, he could get a ball in to a right-handed hitter. And I thought, ‘Let’s try to go right after him.’ Rolen was struggling a little bit on balls inside half. I remember Willie asking me and my response was, ‘Yeah, let’s go. He’s OK.’ One thing about Willie that was good, he trusted in his players. And he left him in.”

Rolen drilled the first pitch — 91 mph over the middle — to left field. Endy Chavez raced to the wall and leaped, arm extended over the fence.

Perfect process versus result situation. You have Perez going through the order a third time and Chad Bradford warmed up to potential face Rolen. At least that was the intent earlier in the inning. Bradford was equally good against both sides in ’06, but historically he was significantly better against RHP for his career. Rolen was not going to be pinch-hit for by Tony La Russa, and had a .648 OPS against RHP in 2006. Add in the fact that he looked terrible in the series and there was a small chance that Rolen would beat Bradford; much less hit the ball out of the ballpark. Bradford had given up only 1 home run the entire ’06 season. His underhand delivery made it hard for anyone to elevate the baseball.

The end result was one of the greatest catches in postseason history. Again, it might have been Randolph, not Heilman, that ended up the goat of Game 7 if Rolen’s ball was just a couple of inches above his glove.

I can’t blame Randolph for trusting his players. That is a good trait to have at various points of the regular season. When it comes to the postseason, you need to be much quicker with the trigger. You saw La Russa go to the bullpen early and often this October.

Look back, this is a bad process, good result.

***

It appears Twins reliever Joe Nathan has the Mets on his radar. This is the kind of low cost/ high reward reliever that I believe would help improve the Mets bullpen.

He is a full season removed from Tommy John surgery. He struggled early last season, but improved in the second half. I think his uneven season will bring his cost down to a reasonable level.

I Split W L ERA G SV IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9
1st Half 1 1 5.82 24 3 21.2 20 14 4 9 21 1.338 8.7
2nd Half 1 0 3.91 24 11 23.0 18 10 3 5 22 1.000 8.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/31/2011.

Nathan is has a slider and curveball to complement his mid-nineties fastball. His velocity has dropped on average to around the 92mph range, but he was starting to reach his traditional 93-94 later in the season. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering he had the surgery in March of ’10, so his recovery time bled into the season.

Nathan is in good company the last decade. Using Baseball-Reference WAR (2001-2011), he ranks 3rd behind Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodriguez. Taking away his post-surgery 2011, Nathan became the Twins closer in 2004 and for 6 years posted a 1.87 ERA, WHIP under 1, 11 Ks/per 9, and 41 saves per season on average. At various points he was probably the second best closer to Mariano Rivera.

What would Nathan command on the market? His injury history makes it unlikely he gets more than a 2-year deal. If he did, I would bet that second year is vested in some way. Perhaps a 1 year deal for $7 million plus incentives that could equal to about $10 million might be reasonable and realistic. The closer market is tricky due to the glut of relievers out there this offseason.

A return to New York would also be a great story as he went to Stony Brook University on Eastern Long Island. Earlier this year the university opened up “Joe Nathan Field,” which I wrote about and showed a video.

***

Ken Davidoff concurs with my thoughts process on Jose Reyes.

We know the Mets letting Reyes test the market is largely due to the financial situation of the team. If the Mets were in pre-Madoff solvency status I suspect the 5th and 6th years of a contract wouldn’t be a big deal. They are not, and the team also has a history of being burned with such deals.

Davidoff wrote:

All things being equal, I think that Reyes would like to stay a Met. Shoot, if the Mets even make an offer to Reyes in the same ballpark as other clubs, I think Reyes would stick around.

Right now, though? My hunch is that the Mets’ offer won’t be in the same neighborhood as other clubs. He should get six years from someone. Would the Mets go even five years? I don’t think so.

That’s why I went with the Marlins, who seem like they want to make a splash as they open their new ballpark. Hanley Ramirez can move from shortstop to third to accommodate his pal Reyes.

And the Mets? They’ll survive. Again: Reyes was on the team in September, and Citi Field was a ghost town. At the stage where the Mets are, they can’t be worrying about attendance. They have to worry about putting together a team that will consistently contend and draw fans that way.

The fans must remember the goal. It’s not to sell a few season ticket packages, make you feel good in December, or hold on to homegrown nostalgia.

The only way the fans will come is with a consistently winning team, not gimmicks.

If Reyes wants to play here its needs to be on the Mets financial terms, which I suspect might not be all that off from what other teams offer.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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1 Response to Behind the Bullpen Management

  1. Stu B

    Hale’s piece is long. Slow news day at the Post.

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