<
>

Questioning Washington's bullpen moves (again)

Tying up a few loose ends from Monday night's blowout ...

Immediately afterward, I didn't attempt any analysis of how Cliff Lee pitched so well; it still felt too raw, the answers too obvious. However, BaseballAnalytics.org has a a lovely graphical look at what made (and makes) Lee so tough: He puts his pitches almost exactly where he wants them (and with something on them, which too often goes unmentioned).

Instead, I tried to put Lee's postseason history into context. A friend suggested that I might not have given Bob Gibson the credit he deserves, pointing out that Gibson's first eight postseason starts -- Lee now has eight, too -- were fantastic. Also, Gibson averaged nine innings per postseason start, all of them World Series starts, and he won two Game 7s (one of them on two days rest).

Granted. I did tentatively award Gibson a place on my Mount Rushmore of postseason pitching (along with John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, and Mariano Rivera). And I'm not eager to replace Gibson, if only because it would be nice to have someone up there who pitched before 1980. But if Lee keeps pitching like this, it'll sure be hard to keep him off.

This morning, I addressed Joe Girardi's failure (of sorts) to use Mariano Rivera in Game 3, to keep the score close. Ultimately, I agreed with Girardi's decision, as Rivera hasn't pitched in three straight games all season and might be needed in Games 4 and 5.

In his newsletter this morning, Joe Sheehan wasn't quite as charitable. But Joe reserved his real ire for Girardi's counterpart in the other dugout ...

    Ron Washington, bless his heart, raised. Up 8-0, eight relievers at his disposal, he brought in Feliz, who threw 20 pitches in retiring the side. So in three ALCS games, Washington has not used Feliz in the eighth inning as everyone else was blowing a 5-0 lead; used him with a 7-2 lead in the ninth; and used him with an 8-0 lead in the ninth. It was terrible decision, putting 20 pitches on Feliz's arm in a spot where Pedro Feliz could have gotten you out of the game with a win. Using Rivera would have made sense because of the importance of getting three outs without allowing a run, and because you don't know whether the next two days will present a higher-leverage spot. Neither was in play for Washington last night; there was zero leverage and any pitcher alive could get you three outs there, and if they didn't, you'll have plenty of time to fix the problem.

    The defense proffered by Washington was nonsense ending with, "We wanted him to continue to feel good about himself." Feliz saved 40 games this season, has pitched at Yankee Stadium, has pitched in postseason games, has closed out two other blowouts in the past week. Whatever invented rationale for the move, it introduced far too much risk to be justified; what happened last night was actually about the best-case scenario for Feliz, throwing 20 pitches and having no one reach base. What if the Yankees had gotten a couple of hits, and Feliz's pitch count had trickled up to 30? 35? At what point do you have to take him out of the game? At what point is he clearly not available for both of the next two? Or even tonight? Washington risked his best reliever's availability in high-leverage spots for some silly notion of "comfort".

    For the record, Feliz has pitched on three straight days this year, three separate occasions, all without incident. It's possible that Washington knows he can go back to Felix tonight and tomorrow with full confidence. Perhaps, but putting him into last night's game was nonetheless an unnecessary risk, and adds to the mounting evidence that Washington doesn't quite grasp the best way to run a postseason bullpen. The dissonance between last Friday's eighth inning and last night's ninth inning is extremely hard to resolve.

My general position on these matters is that managers know more about their relievers than we do. In this particular matter, though, I've got a hard time defending Washington. Yes, Feliz pitched in three straight games a few times this season. Against the Yankees, though? In the League Championship Series? In the Bronx?

And it's not like Feliz should have "needed the work"; he pitched one inning Saturday night ... when the Rangers had a five-run lead. Oddly, Washington seems eager to use Feliz when any reliever would do, and reluctant to use him when every out is precious.

The Rangers have already lost one close game because their best reliever never pitched. If they lose another because their best reliever pitched when he didn't need to, and ultimately the series, it'll be on their manager.