Monday, July 7, 2008

Billy Wagner Is No All-Star

The rosters for the 2008 All-Star Game were announced over the weekend, which usually ends up to be more of a topic than the game itself. Only one Met made the National League team - Billy "Blown Save" Wagner - and the Mets are pushing hard for David Wright to get the final slot in an online poll taking place this week. Vote for whoever you want, but I chose the consistently underrated Pat Burrell for the last spot on the team.

Maybe I'm being a little hard on Billy - he does have a 2.31 ERA and a 0.971 WHIP and has pitched very well for a good part of the season. He's also blown six saves, second in the entire league, and at this point in his career Wagner is a specialist who only pitches in the situations he's most comfortable in. After giving up the game-tying home run yesterday, Wagner failed to come out to start the tenth inning, even though the Phillies had two lefties coming up and the Mets had already used four relievers. An All-Star gets the extra outs you need in that situation; a relief specialist sits in the dugout and waits for his next save opportunity.

The Mets won the game despite Wagner, thanks to a terrific job by Joe Smith. Maybe Smith should've represented the Mets at the All-Star Game instead of Wagner. His ERA and WHIP may be higher (although at 3.22 and 1.129, still very respectable), but Smith has made more appearances, pitched more innings and can apparently be counted on to give the Mets more than three outs at a time if necessary.

I'm being facetious, of course, and part of the blame for Wagner's continued misuse needs to be laid at the feet of "conventional wisdom," which has chosen the most inefficient path for closer usage imaginable. Until one manager finally shows the brains and the balls to break the mold, closers will continue to be slaves to the save instead of being true relief aces.

Baseball is a cruel game sometimes. Jerry Manuel mismanages his bullpen and the Mets pull out their biggest win of the season. Terry Francona shrugs off conventional wisdom and properly leverages his relievers, only to be rewarded with a loss to a hated division rival on national television.

It came back to bite him last night, but Francona did the absolute right thing by bringing in Jonathan Papelbon to pitch the 10th inning against the Yankees. Most managers would've brought in an inferior middle reliever and hoped to keep the home team off the scoreboard. Francona rightly understood that if you leave your best pitcher in the bullpen until he had a lead to work with, you may never get to use him.

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