It was sunny today in Arlington. 73 degrees. Clear. And the wind was blowing. As such, the conditions favored the offenses, which subsequently seemed to tilt the odds in our favor — being that we had the better pitcher on the mound: Matt Harrison.
Then the game started and kind of fucked up the best laid plans.
It only took 3 batters before the Angels led 2-0. It only took 5 batters before the Angels led 4-0. With two outs in the top of the first inning, Derek Lowe was warming up in the bullpen; it was one of those days.
It’s not that I dislike Lowe on a personal level; I’m just not comfortable watching him pitch because he’s not very good.
Before the Rangers even saw a pitch — down 4-0 — WPA had their odds of winning the game at a less-than-inspiring 21.4%. Trailing by four runs isn’t exactly insurmountable (and we’ll more likely than not see the Rangers come back from down by 6 a couple-few times this year), but it isn’t a position you look forward to if you’re watching the game at your house.
For his 2nd consecutive start, Matt Harrison’s closing stat line doesn’t look pretty. He labored through 5 innings, allowing 5 runs on 8 hits with more walks (4) than strikeouts (3).
What I found mildly interesting was which pitcher Ron Washington decided to use in the top half of the 6th, when the Angels were only leading 5-2 — a manageable deficit to come back from. Rather than taking a page out of conventional wisdom, Washington chose RHP Jason Frasor, who at least up to this point was assumed to be Joe Nathan‘s primary 8th-inning setup man.
Now, Frasor eventually gave up two runs that inning (both via the long ball), but I’m not opposed to the idea of Washington utilizing one of his better relief options that early in the game.
The way traditionalists view bullpen deployment is simple: Each team has a 7th inning man, an 8th inning setup man, and a closer, typically sprinkled in with a long-man and and a LOOGY. Traditionalists think it’s a mistake for a team to use its closer — or in this case, the setup man — in a game in which his team is losing. They think — either use the 8th and 9th inning men with 1- 3-run leads, or don’t use them. You know, because imaginary, pointless statistics like a “hold” or a “save” clearly mean something that I’m not deep enough to comprehend.
The traditional way of thinking has its utility in the game today, as the majority of managers continue perpetuating these antiquated, deeply flawed bullpen tactics.
In 2013, people are getting smarter and realizing the three most important outs don’t always come in the 9th inning. If Jason Frasor is the Rangers’ supposed 8th-inning guy and he’s pitching in the 6th inning down three runs, that’s the smart strategy. The plan is, try to hold the other team down for another inning, maybe the offense increases the team’s odds of winning the game, and go forward with your best bullpen option from there. I’m not saying this is a trend with Ron Washington and the Rangers — because it’s only happened once — but it’s a trend I would like to see develop.
If the game is on the line in the 7th inning, or the 8th, use your best pitcher. Period.