An Idiot’s Guide to a Non-Pitching Change

Winston Churchill described a fanatic as follows, “one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Regarding Matt Lindstrom’s blown save against the Philadelphia Phillies last Friday night, Marlins fans resemble the latter and seem incapable of the former.

While talk radio makes us question T. S. Eliot’s assertion about lost causes–that there are no lost causes, since there are no gained causes–we know that complaining fans are at least interested fans, so they should feel free to say whatever they want. However, what they can not do is criticize Florida Marlins manager Freddi Gonzalez’s decision to leave Lindstrom in the game before he faced Shane Victorino and pretend to be knowledgeable baseball fans.

First, let’s highlight the closer role. A pitcher either earns or is given [as was Lindstrom] the role and proceeds to either perform well enough to keep his job or lose the role, as Kevin Gregg did last year. A consensus has emerged in MLB that relief pitchers benefit from having defined roles. In effect, those roles are a way of ensuring that key pitching decisions are not made by the manager’s intuitions. Think of it as a form of mandatory sentencing guidelines for managers handling their bullpens.

A manager’s strategy in handling the bullpen is designed to get the closer in the game to end the game. If the closer fails, then it’s a loss or extra innings, but none of the options are ever considered superior to having your closer in the game with a chance to complete the game. As such, every opportunity is given to let the closer do his job. Matt Lindstrom was the Marlins organization’s, not just Freddi Gonzalez’s, closer on April 24th. A recap of the 9th inning from ESPN:

Philadelphia batting – Top of 9th
Matt Lindstrom pitching for Florida
B Carroll in left field.
M Lindstrom relieved L Nunez.
Score PHI 0 / FLA 3
R Howard grounded out to second.
J Werth doubled to deep left center.
R Ibanez walked.
M Stairs hit for P Feliz.
M Stairs singled to right, J Werth scored, R Ibanez to third.
Score PHI 1 / FLA 3
M Cairo ran for M Stairs.
L Marson walked, M Cairo to second.
E Bruntlett hit for C Condrey.
E Bruntlett struck out looking.
J Rollins walked, R Ibanez scored, M Cairo to third, L Marson to second.
Score PHI 2 / FLA 3

As bad as Lindstrom’s outing was to this point, he is also one pitch away from getting [clearly not earning] a save. But there was another key factor at play here. In all the pathetic whining I’ve heard about this blown save, I have heard no one discuss what Lindstrom’s track record was against Victorino. If my assumption about the people doing the criticizing–namely that they can be found almost exclusively on the left side of the bell curve–is correct, it probably never occurred to them [future Yankee fans?].

Lindstron had retired Victorino all 3 times he faced him in 2008. Given the following factors, it made sense to let Lindstrom face him:

  • Lindstrom’s past performance against Victorino
  • Lindstron was still in a position to get the save
  • Limited options left to the manager when closer fails
  • Closers are typically given every opportunity to complete their job, especially in April

S Victorino homered to right, M Cairo, L Marson and J Rollins scored.
Score PHI 6 / FLA 3

Gonzalez lets Lindstrom face Utley. What reasons would Gonzalez have for not making the change at this point? Gonzalez had Renyel Pinto warming up. Pinto is one of two Marlins left-handers in the bullpen. Pinto had the 2nd most appearances of any Marlins relievers last year and is 2nd in appearances this year. It would make sense for Gonzalez to want to avoid using Pinto.

Why have Pinto warm up if he wasn’t going to use him? With Utley and Howard coming up, there was a chance that Pinto could have been used in a tie or even a one-run game. The grand-slam basically put the game out of reach and Gonzalez was hoping that Lindstrom could get the final out without using Pinto. As we know, it didn’t work out that way, this time.

C Utley homered to right.
Score PHI 7 / FLA 3
R Pinto relieved M Lindstrom.

Pinto ended up facing 3 batters and throwing 13 pitches. He also ended up being used the next day to face one batter. The odds that the same people complaining about leaving Lindstrom in the game for Victorino and Utley will soon be complaining about the overused bullpen are high.

R Howard doubled to deep center.
J Werth walked.
R Ibanez struck out swinging.

Another interesting result of the inning was that it resuscitated the ever reliable Backup Quarterback Syndrome [BQS]. In this incarnation of the disease, any backup who performs well–Leo Nunez had retired the Phillies on 9 pitches in the 8th–has that one performance extrapolated across multiple seasons. Alas, BQS’ers did not even get to enjoy their fantasy for 24 hours, as Nunez failed in the closer’s role the following night.

The most uninteresting thing about the inning is how Gonzalez used Lindstrom. This was 21st century managerial philosophy, strictly by the book. Argue if you wish that he throw that book away, but understand that your argument is with practically all of MLB, not Freddi Gonzalez.

Lindstrom’s night – 7 runs, including 2 home runs — is a spectacularly bad outing. But bad outings happen to all closers. If they happen too often, most teams trade for another one, the Marlins call Jacksonville. Check out the outings two good closers had last year:

Jose Valverde – Houston Astros
DATE — OPP — RESULT — IP — H — R — ER — HR — BB — SO
7/21/08 — PIT — L /9-3 — 0.1 — 5 — 6 —- 6 — 2 —- 1 — 0

Heath Bell – San Diego Padres
DATE — OPP — RESULT — IP — H — R — ER — HR — BB — SO
4/22/08 – @HOU – L 11-7 –1.0 — 4 –4 — 4 — 0 —- 2 —- 1

T.S. Eliot’s logic can be found at end of post.

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.” —T.S. Eliot

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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