Friday, June 13, 2008

Right Decision, Wrong Reason

The party might be starting this weekend, and if so it could be even more raucous (pronounced raw-shiss) then the one when Dallas Green finally got the ax.

Ken Rosenthal is reporting that our man Willie is back on thin ice again and might be getting the pink slip as early as this weekend. Omar Minaya put this team together and belongs on the same train out of town that Willie will eventually be getting on, but Randolph's mismanagement of this team since Day 1 has been an unending source of my frustration.

That said, Rosenthal's claims that Randolph's machinations on Wednesday night with Mike Pelfrey and Billy Wagner may be the final straw certainly strike me as rather odd. Willie made one mistake, and that was not giving Pelfrey more rope in the ninth inning before going to the closer. Rosenthal - and presumably his sources for this article - apparently see things differently.

From the article: "The Mets had taken a 3-0 lead into the ninth, but the Diamondbacks tied the score on a three-run homer by Mark Reynolds off closer Billy Wagner on a 3-2 count with two outs.

For Randolph, that was the fateful inning.

First, he allowed second-year right-hander Mike Pelfrey to start the ninth after Pelfrey had thrown 110 pitches."

And what the hell was wrong with that decision? Pelfrey had just pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and needed only eight pitches to do so. Willie did EXACTLY what a manager should do in that situation. He went up to Pelfrey and asked him, fully prepared to bring on Wagner if he didn't like the answer or if he didn't like the way the answer was given. Pelfrey gave the right answer, in the right way, and Randolph showed more faith in his pitcher than in an unproven, anachronistic way of calculating pitcher fatigue.

There are plenty of starting pitchers today who let the manager know when they've reached the end of the line, mainly because there's no longer a sense of bravado about a pitcher's expectation to complete what he begins. For better or worse, the seven-inning/100-pitch outing has become the standard, and no one is expected to exceed it. Mike Pelfrey convinced Willie Randolph that he wasn't afraid of the big, bad ninth inning, and to his credit Randolph gave him the opportunity to rise to the challenge.

More from Rosenthal: "Then, after a leadoff single by Stephen Drew, Randolph summoned Wagner, even though statistics suggest that Wagner is far better starting an inning than when summoned in the middle.

Since the start of 2007, Wagner has entered games 84 times at the start of an inning, but only seven times in the middle.

He is 44-for-50 in save opportunities when starting an inning, according to STATS, Inc. His ERA in those situations is 2.05 ERA, and he has allowed six homers in 88 innings.

When entering in the middle of an inning, Wagner is 3-for-6 in save chances. His ERA is 7.11, and he has allowed three homers in 6 1/3 innings.

Those statistics do not excuse Wagner for allowing the three-run homer by Reynolds. But Randolph's choice of Wagner in the middle of an inning — combined with his decision to start Pelfrey in the ninth — left him open to second-guessing."

Wow. Surely Rosenthal understands the concept of sample size issues, so I'm not going to insult his intelligence by explaining why making assumptions based on 6.3 innings of work is absolutely ridiculous. I will instead assume that this is simply a situation where Rosenthal was reaching for an explanation for what happened on Wednesday night and reached a little bit too far.

I will say this, though: if this small sample size is actually indicative of how to "properly" deploy Billy Wagner, then Minaya should deploy Wagner to some other outpost in Major League Baseball and be done with him. We've already heard that he can't enter a game in the eighth inning to get one or two critical outs and pitch the ninth inning as well. We've also heard that Wagner can't pitch with a lead of more than three runs. Now he can't enter a game mid-inning and pitch effectively?

So then am I to understand that Billy Wagner can only be effective when he enters a game at the beginning of the ninth inning with a lead of three or fewer runs? If that's the case, the man is not a closer - at least not by my definition of the word. He is more accurately a relief specialist, and those aren't as hard to find as people think.

I was against making Willie Randolph the manager even before he got this job, but even I won't trash him when he doesn't actually make a mistake. Long story short, the only criticism Randolph deserves for his handling of the pitching staff on Wednesday night is for getting knock-kneed when Pelfrey gave up a soft single to lead off the ninth inning. Pelfrey deserved at least one more batter, maybe two, before the manager called on Wagner.


Coop said...

I like your assessment here J but I do have to bring up one thing - I wonder how much of Wills taking out Pelf after the base hit had to do with Soul Glo Peterson whispering in his ear? I mean, no one ever makes mention of that, I guess it's fair b/c it's ultimately the manager's decision but on the flip side I guess it is Will's weakness as a manager who needs a strong coaching staff that's exposed here. Anyway, just a thought...

tim said...

Your argument, like, as always, your pronounciation of the word raucous, is flawed. you don't think its telling that in only 6.3 innings pitched Wags gives up 3 homers and in 88 innings pitch he gives up a total of 6? OK, its a very small sample size, but I think your assessment of Rosenthal's use of these stats is as much a reach for your argument as it was for his. I think as small as the sample size may be that's quite a lot of homers to give up in such a short period time for anyone and it deserves closer scrutiny as to who was batting, where the game was played etc before you can dismiss it the way you do.

Willie did cost me two wins and two possible complete games this week in our fantasy baseball league, the very week I face off against my arch nemesis, Foads. He must go imediately.