I am going to first start this off with full disclosure. I didn’t watch the Nationals game last night. I was at the Rangers vs. Orioles game, and was only able to follow the Nats game on the out of town scoreboard. What I did see though were the updates on my phone that told me who was pitching. I wasn’t all that surprised the Gorzelanny started the sixth inning. Up until that point the only hitter that did anything against him was Carlos Beltran. There is no reason to take a guy out that is throwing well, especially when the Nationals bullpen is starting to get over worked. The problem I have with Jim Riggleman’s managing was in leaving a rule 5 draft pick in for an inning too long.
I don’t care who the reliever is. It is a true tempting of fate to try and push a reliever to two innings, but to get 1 2/3 innings out of the last guy in the pen in a two run game is damn lucky. To then send that reliever out for a third inning is pushing luck to its breaking point. The move is inexcusable for a number of reasons.
The effect of a manager has been long debated. Most believe that the biggest effect a manager can have is only one or two victories, but from last nights game it is clear that winning the game wasn’t Jim Riggleman’s first priority. Riggleman will point to the bullpen and how it already threatens to become over worked. A more savvy stat oriented person might point to the fact that at that point in the game the Nationals only had less than a 5% chance to win.
There is a small problem with those stats how ever. The sample size is too large, and this is where a good manager comes in. When Manny Acta managed the Nationals he let the stats rule him, a 5% chance was a 5% chance. It wouldn’t matter to him one bit if it were Brad Lidge or Mike Gonzalez on the mound. He would treat them like they were Mariano Rivera. The problem with this game was the Mets had to bring K-Rod in to get the last out of the 8th inning as the Nationals once again had the bases loaded and failed to plate a run. This is at the same time an encouraging and disturbing trend, but that is a problem for another discussion.
Not only had K-Rod had to come in for a four out save he is also K-Rod, and he was going to have to face the Nationals top of the order. Desmond has heated up nicely since starting the season 0 – 13, Jayson Werth is a tough out, and Ryan Zimmerman is Ryan Zimmerman. I for one didn’t think the game was out of reach at that point in time. The problem is Jim Riggleman had made up his mind that saving the bullpen was more important than winning the game, and in order to do that he made a reckless, irresponsible decision.
Brian Broderick is a pitcher that won a spot on the team based on how he performed in Spring Training. It is obvious that the Nationals see something in him that they like or they would have sent him back to the Cardinals by now. His MLB debut didn’t go exactly as planned and he turned a four run deficit into much more against the Braves. It is early in the year so people latch onto small sample sizes like they are tablets brought down from a mountain top. Many judge Broderick as a pitcher that can’t get an out and doesn’t belong in the major leagues. The last part might be very true as the rules of the rule 5 draft or that the Nationals have to keep him on the major league roster or send him back to the team he came from. Broderick is a player the Nats should be hiding in the bullpen. Being down by four to Tim Hudson is a good time to bring that type of player in.
Instead Riggleman brought him in down by one after Gorzelanny had failed to hold the lead in the 6th inning by allowing David Wright to reach base, followed by a Beltran double, and an Ike Davis triple. I don’t fault Broderick for allowing Davis to score. That is a tough situation for any reliever. I actually don’t fault Broderick for anything that happened last night.
It is a managers job to put the players he has in the best possible position for success, and that is not the situation for Broderick. Getting the 1 2/3 innings with only the one inherited runner scoring was damn lucky, but it is beyond irresponsible to try and extend that luck an extra inning when the game at that time is still perfectly winnable. K-Rod has been very shaky this past couple of seasons, and Broderick was in the game to save the pen then why bring in Slaten when the deficit is in danger of growing. The thought process in Riggleman’s mind should have led him to either starting the inning out with Slaten or Coffey. It was obvious to me that pushing Broderick for an extra inning wasn’t a good idea and one way or another a different reliever was going to end up in the game when Broderick couldn’t get out of the inning.
I watched the other day as Tony LaRussa lucked into getting a runner on third with one out into a run down in the bottom of the 9th and then proceeded to give the giants two IBB to put the winning run back on third. When the Cardinals pitcher got to a 3 – 2 count I was hoping he would walk in the winning run so I could write something about how bad of a managing decision that was, but at least it takes a little bit of guts and thinking outside the box to make a decision like that. Jim Riggleman’s decision was designed to backfire, and I wouldn’t be half surprised if it leads to him losing the team and his job.
I have never been in a major league clubhouse, but I know what a leader is supposed to do. What Jim Riggleman did is the opposite of that. The example he set is that of a loser. He conceded a winnable game and if he isn’t going to try hard to win games then why should the players. If Riggleman is ready to concede another losing season then the players should too.
People often point to the game when Guzman dropped a line-drive to end a game in Houston as a terrible managing decision. At that point in time Guzman had played a few successful innings in right and the short stop is supposed to be the most athletic player on the field. There is no reason not to believe he could survive in right. Managers of the pedigree of Bobby Cox have put worse players in the outfield and survived. If Bobby Cox wanted to continue to use a right handed pitcher after he brought in his lefty he might send them out to left for the AB. That decision is questionable but understandable. There is little to no logic in leaving a reliever in well past the time he should have been taken out when others are available and will likely have to be brought in anyway. That kind of move sends the message that not only is winning the game not the priority, but that losing is acceptable.