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Collins Needs to Learn From His 9th Inning Mess

By Mike Silva ~ April 22nd, 2012. Filed under: New York Mets.

I think Terry Collins does a great job holding his team accountable and communicating with his players. Both were huge question marks when he was named Mets’ manager after the 2010 season. After watching him for two years, I have been less impressed with his in-game management and bullpen utilization. I don’t think either is bad enough to cost the Mets in the way that Jerry Manuel did during his tenure, but yesterday was a prime example of where Terry-and a lot of modern managers- fall short. Even more disconcerting is I don’t think he learned anything from what could have been a devastating loss.

Mike Pelfrey breezed through a six pitch 8th inning. With only 102 pitches to that point it should not have been a question about whether he was allowed to pitch the 9th. Pelfrey earned that by matching Ryan Vogelsong all day, and becoming more efficient as the game wore on. When the Mets added a run in the top half of the 9th, it made the decision even more of a no-brainer. Instead, Collins turned to his struggling closer, Frank Francisco, and that is where the fun began.

You could argue that a Kirk Nieuwenhuis dropped fly ball is the reason for this discussion. I would be writing this even if Francisco pitched a clean 1-2-3 ninth. I see two huge negatives from taking Pelfrey out:

1 - You breathe some life back into the opposition. It wasn’t like Pelfrey was laboring and it was a matter of time before the Giants broke through. Pelfrey allowed six hits and there wasn’t many dangerous innings. If I were Bruce Bochy I would be glad to see the starter exit, especially after seeing him breeze through the 8th; doubly so after I beat up the closer the night before.

2- You lose an opportunity to rest a bullpen that has been used heavily. Many look at appearances to judge whether a pitcher has been overused. That only tells half the story as you have to include the times a pitcher warms up and doesn’t get into the game. There is a fatigue factor involved with that. Byrdak, Rauch and Francisco- all who pitched the 9th- have been used heavily in that manner this year. They deserved a day off, especially considering you don’t have a staff that Collins will allow to go into the 9th very often this year. I don’t think you will ever see a better opportunity this year for a starter to pitch into the 9th.

Collins’ reasoning was even more perplexing:

“There was [a consideration]. There were too big reasons [he wasn't sent out there]: Number one, he was in a situation where if a couple of guys got on, … I have to go to the closer. Even though lately he has not pitched in a closing situation, he has pitched pretty good in closing situations. I wanted to get him back out there – I just said last night that the one thing that’s happened to him is he isn’t getting much work. So I wanted to get him back out. I told Mike if we got the extra run, he was going back out. If not, we were going to Frankie. …[Pelfrey] pitched like the Mike Pelfrey we know he can be, and I want that feeling to last. I don’t want him to give up two runs, and  all of a sudden they tie the game, and now I have to go get him. … I didn’t want that to happen it him.”

Let’s dissect this.

First, the idea that Francisco isn’t getting enough work is silly. He’s now pitched in 7 of the Mets 14 games. My math says that’s fifty percent. He also had pitched the last two games in a row when he entered in the 9th. Where is the work issue?

I normally would agree with Collins’ thought process on getting the closer back on the mound after a rough night. The problem with doing this yesterday is the fact this was Mike Pelfrey’s game. So what if the first hitter got on? Pelfrey probably had another 18-20 pitches in him. I would probably give him a chance to get in serious trouble; the kind of trouble that Francisco eventually put them into. The more important mental lesson would have been showing Pelfrey confidence in going back out there. The message I took from Collins’ move is more “we survived your start and let’s not push it” more than “job well done.”

Earlier in the week Tom Verducci talked about closer utilization in Sports Illustrated:

Managers are motivated by the save statistic, throwing three-out save chances to their closer like bones to a dog. The game universally has embraced this idea that a closer can’t come in to a tie game on the road — better to lose the game with a lesser pitcher than run your closer out there without a save in hand.

What makes this groupthink so crazy is that the system isn’t working. Closers are breaking down or losing effectiveness faster than you can say Joel Zumaya. (Quick, look around baseball: show me the high velocity, high energy closer with the obligatory, goofy closer-hair starter kit who has a long career. The job has a bit of planned obsolescence to it.)

Again, it’s the “paint-by-numbers” in-game management that we see. I remember Mike Francesa asking Jerry Manuel about why he didn’t bring K-Rod in a tie game on the road. Manuel stammered (as he often did) before citing that “it’s not the way it’s done.” Collins, like Manuel, would rather fail by going with the book versus doing what logic and common sense dictated.

In taking the safe approach Collins was lucky he avoided a loss. What he did accomplish is blow a much deserved win for Pelfrey and tax his already heavily used bullpen. Maybe the upcoming rain showers in New York will give them  some unexpected rest, but after yesterday’s game Francisco, Byrdak, and Rauch have appeared in fifty percent or more of the games. Each is on pace of 80+ appearances. I am sure there will be another 25-30 games in which they warm up but won’t get an appearance. Is that healthy?

R.A. Dickey and Pelfrey are two pitchers that should be worked hard each and every start. Dickey is a knuckleballer and admits he could go as long as the manager wants. He also possesses a gamer mentality in which he never wants to come out of a ballgame. Pelfrey is a big, strong guy with solid mechanics. He could easily go 120-130 pitches each start ala Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander or CC Sabathia. I think you could even put Dillon Gee and Jon Niese into that category as time goes on. On a staff that features  a 5-inning pitcher in Johan Santana, the deeper that Pelfrey and Dickey go, the better it is for the bullpen.

Yesterday should be a lesson for Terry Collins. Unfortunately, his post game comments tell me he didn’t get the real take away from the 9th inning mess he created.

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5 Responses to Collins Needs to Learn From His 9th Inning Mess

  1. LongTimeFan

    Terry’s decision to pull Pelfrey was a terrible one regardless of outcome. Pelfrey was pitching a gem, in-line for infrequent complete game opportunity which also would have spared an over-taxed pen. And I agree with you, Silva, Colllins’s reasoning made little sense. Sounds more like he made the decision and then needed to rationalize the irrational with lame excuses.

    I also agree he needs to own this blunder as well as learn from it, neither of which is apparent. I like Terry Collins but there are times in which he says and does things without appreciating the negative consequences. This blinder, is just one such.

  2. LongTimeFan

    I meant….This blunder

  3. LongTimeFan

    By the way, Mike Silva, there are factual errors in your piece starting with when Collins was hired to manage.

  4. Joseph DelGrippo

    NEVER pull your starting pitcher when he is dealing. This ridiculous notion that closers have to close games out is based upon managers not having to be second guessed because, “Well, I brought in my closer.”

    Well, Collins is finding out that they can be second guessed. Would always rather win or lose with my EFFECTIVE starting pitcher than any relief guy.

    UNLESS that closer is Mariano Rivera or a Dennis Eckersley who is dominant over several seasons, never pull your effective starting pitcher. I don’t care how many pitches they have thrown.

    If their legs are strong, their arms are still strong.

    Pelfrey could throw up to 150 pitches per game very easily. He has great mechanics and a strong lower frame.

    And relief pitchers should almost never be brought in to the game, “to get some work.” Let them get their work on the side or throw BP before the game.

  5. Mike Silva


    Great catch, I meant to say after 2010.

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