Saturday, April 9, 2011

Great Job, Jim!

People say I'm a Jim Riggleman hater. I'll prove you wrong. Here's a heaping helping of praise for Jim's bullpen management last night.

Picking things up in the 6th inning, the Nationals were up one lonely run with one out and no one on when Jordan Zimmermann gave up a double to Carlos Beltran on his 99th pitch of the game. With left-handed hitters Ike Davis and Willie Harris coming up, Riggles decided to pull his starter and go to lefty specialist Doug Slaten. (Now, I might have stayed with Znn a little longer, but that's a small quibble.) Slaten did his job and strikes out Davis.

With two outs, Mets manager Terry Collins pinch-hit right-handed Scott Hairston for Harris, and Riggleman went to RHP Chad Gaudin. Gaudin got the K to end the threat.

In the seventh, Riggleman let Gaudin stay in to face the bottom of the Mets order--Eamus/Thole/Hu. These seem like reasonable match-ups, but Gaudin walked the first two guys anyway. Collins used Hu to sac bunt, giving away an out and moving the runners to second and third.

Then, Riggleman pulled a trick that he's used several times in the first week. He called on Tyler Clippard to get the team out of a big jam in a middle inning. Clippard is probably the team's best reliever and clearly the guy with the best strikeout ability (11.1 Ks/9 last year). Most managers reserve such a pitcher only for one-inning outings in the 9th in games where the team has a lead of three runs or less, even if that means using the ace reliever for fewer and less important innings.

Clippard again came through, striking out Jose Reyes and getting a groundball out to end the inning from Angel Pagan. Because he's being used so intelligently, Clippard has already stranded 7 of 9 inherited runners this year and racked up a win probability added of almost a full game (0.92)--easily the best in MLB.

In the top of the 8th, the Nationals got three insurance runs to go ahead 6-2. But with the heart of the Mets order (Wright/Beltran/Davis) coming up, it wasn't quite mop-up time. So Riggleman went to Drew Storen (as part of a double-switch to avoid having the pitcher's spot come up again, just in case the Mets rallied). Storen was probably his best available reliever and a good match-up for the right-handed Wright, and he worked a 1-2-3 inning.

Finally, in the 9th, with the bottom of the Mets order (Hairston/Eamus/Thole) due up, Riggleman went to Todd Coffey to finish things up. Coffey did allow a runner with two outs, which would have created a save opportunity had Riggleman decided to change up again and go to "closer" Sean Burnett. A lot of managers would have done just that, allowing the dumb save stat to dictate the decision. Riggleman didn't do that.

There isn't anything here that's amazingly brilliant here. Riggleman used his pitchers in a way that was dictated by the situation, not by some misguided fealty to the save stat or by what inning it happened to be.

What's amazing is that so few managers do this--and that Riggleman himself says he plans to move away from this approach as soon as he can decide which pitcher should be blindly assigned to which inning, regardless of match-up or situation. Let's hope he doesn't do that, because we've seen in this first week of the season that when Interim Jim chooses to use his brain, he can make some decently smart decisions.


Snivius said...

I surfed in from a link on Nats Insider, fully expecting that the headline was sarcastic, and expecting a snarky post. I absolutely agree that Riggleman flipped all the right switches yesterday. I also agree that it is unfortunate the Riggs seems intent to abandon optimal situational match-ups, and instead adopt robotic inning assignments to his relief corps.

Jenn Jenson said...

Good for you Steven. I'm racing over here to offer my support for your mostly supportive post.

I agree that the situation should dictate the pitcher or pitchers, and hope it continues. From what I read, it sounds like our bullpen is sufficiently team-oriented that they would want situational (as opposed to pre-determined) assignments as well. After all, odds are that approach would help them be more successful both as a team and as individuals.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this post. Positive reinforcement from such a tough grader always let's me know somebody did something right.

I've always liked Riggleman's bullpen management. I think it's a significant part of the reason we overachieved out of the pen last year. Not a fan of Riggleman's tactics sometimes. Pudge's sac bunt last night made me feel queasy.

But the bullpen management is usually solid and the people skills feel right to me too. I don't know if Interim Jim is the long term solution, but I'm glad he got that game right.

Harper said...

I think the turning point will be the first blown save by someone other than Burnett. "Why'd you use our closer in the 7th!" Baseball people love their "roles".