So, Eric Karabell and I had a good discussion today about what happened in the eighth inning of the Braves-Dodgers game on Monday night.
His question to me: Is it fair to rip Fredi Gonzalez when no other manager would have used Craig Kimbrel to start the eighth inning? And: Is it fair to rip Gonzalez when David Carpenter had a very good season (1.78 ERA, 74 strikeouts in 65.2 innings)?
Well ... I argued yes, my point still being:
(A) I don't want to lose the game without my best reliever appearing. By managing to the save -- the ninth-inning save (or, as in Game 2, the four-out save) -- Gonzalez used Kimbrel for just four outs in the series. Five other Braves relievers were used more in the series. Kimbrel threw 25 pitches in five days.
(B) Kimbrel is special, making it even more important you find a way to use him.
Still, Eric's point is fair: Gonzalez is managing like everyone and it's not Carpenter like was horrible; maybe there's no shame in losing a game with a reliever who had a sub-2.00 ERA.
To the point about two-inning saves, I checked the past five postseasons, 2008 to 2012. There were only four two-inning saves: Jason Motte in Game 3 of last year's NLCS, Phil Coke in Game 2 of the ALCS last year (with a three-run lead) and Mariano Rivera twice in 2009.
There were also a few other instances when a closer, or a one-inning setup guy, pitched two innings. Motte had another two-inning appearance last year where he got the win (Game 5 of the NLDS). Sergio Romo had one for the Giants, although that was the ninth and 10th innings of a game that was tied. But Eric's point is basically true: Two-inning saves are exceptionally rare.
Managers have been a little more willing to go to four-out saves. In those five seasons, there were 13 four-out saves and four five-out saves (although one of those came in a 10-3 game was broken up in the ninth). Motte had three of those 13 four-out saves. (These numbers don't include blown saves or other instances were a closer may have gone more than three outs in a tie game.)
So, four outs is sort of OK. But five or six outs are basically off-limits.