And That Happened—ADDENDUM

The point of ATH is to distill the boxscore and give a quick thumbnail of what went on — or at least what interesting to me went on — in a game. Obviously I’m going to miss a lot of interesting stuff in the course of a game with such an approach, so I always love it when someone hips me to something cool that happened.

Last night reader Connor Doyle — whom some of you may know as Diesel — had this observation about the second Marlins-Diamondbacks game:

A.J. Hinch may have justified his hiring with this one move: In the bottom of the 11th with the score tied, Tony Peña (in his second inning of work) put runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs. Hinch called on closer Chad Qualls, who had been warm since the inning before, which immediately brought guffaws from the booth (Mark Grace even went so far as to say, “Even if they get out of this … then what?” as if there were anything more important than getting out of that inning). Qualls proceeded to get two groundballs for a groundout and a double play, which was enough to get the erstwhile critical Gracie to proclaim Hinch a “genius.”

This is the stuff we’ve been railing about for years: When it comes down to winning or losing, you want your best pitchers on the mound in the highest leverage situations. Qualls has been a strikeout and groundball machine this season, and bringing him on was the only sensible move to make if winning — not roles, or orthodoxy, or concerns about the possibility that Qualls might not be available tomorrow — is the primary concern. The sadness is that we’ve grown so accustomed to backward managerial thinking what Hinch did is considered radical. It’s also sorta sad that if Hinch had left Peña out there to lose the game, it’s unlikely anyone would have killed him for leaving his best reliever playing soft toss in the bullpen.

Thanks, Connor.

I thought the Hinch hiring was as strange as the next guy, but really, let’s give the guy a chance to actually manage for more than a week before we bury him. If last night’s bullpen usage is any indication, there’s a functioning brain under that cap, and that’s a good sign for the ballclub.

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  1. J.W. said...

    What’s most remarkable about this is that Hinch brought Qualls in in the middle of an inning. We’ve seen managers go to their “closers” before the end of the game in exta-innings situations plenty of times, but they almost invariably come out to start an inning, not to try to get the team out of a jam. Course, Qualls did go on to surrender a run in his second inning of work. This isn’t EXACTLY what the anti-closer sentiment is all about (the ideal scenario would be a manager going to his best reliever in the 8th to face the 3-4-5 hitters of the opposing team and then letting someone else pitch the 9th against the bottom of the order) but it appears to be a step in the right direction.

  2. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    Quite frankly, the idea that a closer is all that special is <u>bullshit</u>. A pitcher’s job—reliever OR starter—is to throw strikes and get outs. Period. It

    I’m paraphrasing the late Dick Radatz, of course, but this notion that the guy that gets the save is necessarily the best or most reliever that particular night.

    It really shouldn’t be that hard for folks to understand that you want your most effective reliever facing the opposing team’s most dangerous hitter beyond the 6th inning, regardless of how many outs there are. Some guy named Bill James pointed this out about 30 years ago or so, and he may not have even been the first.

    That K-Rod is the single-season record holder (and Bobby Thigpen before him) for saves (number of multiple-inning outings in 2008: zero, same as me) ought to be reason enough for folks to question the merit of the statistic.

  3. Slugger O'Toole said...

    I personally like Bill James’ habit of referring to the best bullpen pitcher as the “relief ace” and just scrapping terms like “closer” and “Setup man” entirely. I think if more people took this approach bullpen usage would get better. Our language shapes reality as much as reality shapes our language after all.

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