Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Not a fan of the bullpen management last night


Why leave your best reliever in a game you're winning by 5 runs?

I promise this is not “hindsight is 20-20” analysis; had you been in my basement watching last night’s game with me, you would have heard me yelling all the things I’m about to say.

I have a real problem with Riggleman’s bullpen management last night.  Now, perhaps the off-day on Monday 4/11 enabled all the relievers to get enough rest to enable what we saw last night.

Here’s the sequence of events i’ll be commenting on:

  • Livan Hernandez starts the 7th with a 4 run lead and having only thrown about 75 pitches at the time, but is facing the top of the Phillies order.
  • We see Brian Broderick warming up.  (see comment #1)
  • Suddenly Livan gets into trouble.  We see Tyler Clippard jump up and start throwing.
  • Livan loads the bases, looking as if he had run out of gas.  Clippard comes in and gets out of a bases-loaded jam.
  • We look back and Todd Coffey is warming up.  (see comment #2)
  • To start the 8th (by which point the Nats have scored again, giving the team a FIVE run lead), Clippard comes back out!  (see comment #3)
  • He can’t get out of the inning though, so Riggleman brings in his closer Sean Burnett to get out of an 8th inning jam.  The score is now 6-3 though.
  • The Nats score another run in the bottom of the 8th to make it 7-3.  That’s a 4 run cushion going into the 9th inning.
  • Riggleman leaves Burnett in!  (see comment #4).   Burnett gives up another run but finishes the game, getting a save for his troubles. (see comment #5).

Comments in order:

  1. Ok, I was happy to see Broderick warming up.  This was the perfect game to bring him in; a 4 run lead on a colder night when the Nats seemed frisky.  Unfortunately, Livan got into trouble so quickly that Clippard had to be pushed into service.
  2. Why did Coffey warm up?  He clearly wasn’t going to come into the game, since the dangerous hitter in the Phillies lineup is Ryan Howard, and Slaten is the loogy.
  3. Why did Clippard return for the 8th inning??  Coffey had warmed up, as had Broderick.  You have a 4 run lead.  I suppose the reasoning was because the meat of the Phillies order was coming up.  But its a 4 run lead with 2 innings to play; the odds of a team coming back from that deficit are relatively small (remember, teams score 0 or 1 runs in an inning and no more a very large percentage of the time; 86% per this 2007 study).
  4. See point #3: why bring back your closer, who you’re going to need for the next 6 days, with a 4 run lead in the 9th inning??
  5. General point about the uselessness of the save situation: Burnett came into the game in the bottom of the 8th inning and allowed 2 of the 3 base-runners he inherited to score.  That’s the definition of a failure as a reliever.  Then, given a 4 run lead in the 9th he allows another run but eventually closes out the 9th and gets a save.  Yes, by virtue of the bases being loaded with a 5 run lead, the tying run was on deck therefore it was a save situation by definition.  But how exactly was his performance on the night worthy of any “positive” statistic whatsoever?  I have a post coming up about the use of relievers in general where I touch on the definition of the Save, and this game highlights everything I can’t stand about the stat.

In summary, in a game where the Nats held the lead by 4-5 runs most of the night, we pitched 2 of our 3 best relievers, both throwing more than an inning.  Burnett threw 28 pitches, enough for 2 innings.  We also warmed up Coffey and Broderick (which may not show up in the box score but they certainly were throwing).  We never bothered to use our LOOGY against one of the most susceptable lefty-lefty matchup hitters in the league (Ryan Howard).  We have two more games against the Phillies, games in which we face their two aces and certainly would expect the games to be closer.  Does this mean that Clippard and/or Burnett won’t be available later this week because they pitched on tuesday?  Wouldn’t you want to save these guys for better opportunities?

Written by Todd Boss

April 13th, 2011 at 10:43 am

21 Responses to 'Not a fan of the bullpen management last night'

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  1. I thought the exact opposite.

    Riggleman didn’t hesitate to use his best reliever (Clippard) in the highest leverage situation. That was outstanding.

    He also didn’t hesitate to use his “closer” in another high leverage situation in the 8th rather than the usual save him for the 9th inning only strategy.

    You cannot create a save situation. A save situation is determined when you enter the game. Burnett entered the game in a save situation with the tying run in the on-deck circle. If a reliever enters the game with a 4 run lead and no one on and gives up a home run it isn’t a save situation for that pitcher.

    Lest we forget, Burnett was victimized by a bad Danny Espinosa toss on a potential double play ball and was clearly screwed by a horrible Denkinger-bad call on the bunt single.

    Riggs had a very winnable game against the best team in his division and is facing Halladay and Lee over the next two nights. I can’t blame him one tiny bit for going all in to win that game.


    13 Apr 11 at 11:13 am

  2. As I mentioned, I completely agreed with bringing in Clippard initially. I completely disagreed with bringing him back out for the 8th. Likewise I can’t argue bringing in Burnett to fix the jam, but completely disagreed with bringing him back out for the 9th. I’m a huge fan of using relievers in the proper leverage situations. But in my opinion, a four run lead in the 9th inning against the bottom of the order is NOT the place to bring back out your closer.

    Todd Boss

    13 Apr 11 at 11:19 am

  3. And another one who TOTALLY disagrees with this blog post. Riggs handled it perfectly.


    13 Apr 11 at 11:24 am

  4. So you agreed with warming up both Broderick and Coffey, only not to use them. And you’re ok with extending your two best closers into multi inning appearances in a game where you had a 4 run lead in both the 8th and 9th inning? These guys can’t throw 3 nights in a row; what happens if we’re looking at a 1-run game either tonight or tomorrow and Storen’s already been used. Who are we gonna put out there?

    Todd Boss

    13 Apr 11 at 11:27 am

  5. Yep… Relievers warm up all the time and don’t get used.

    Coffey gets paid just like Burnett, Storen and T-Clip. And he’s used to throwing 3 nights in a row when called upon.


    13 Apr 11 at 11:42 am

  6. I agree with you and more over if Riggs doesnt trust Coffey or Broderick in those situations why are they on the team. Where’s Bally? Bring him up already. We’ve seen these situations to many times last year and this year. Clip, Burnett & Storen can do some heavy mowing in one inning but bring them in for a second one and oye! It like playing russian roulette. Bang band you lose Riggles..just because you have a thing doesn’t mean you have to use a thing over and over and over again! Oh well, it’s early in the season, hopefully he’ll learn but probably he won’t.


    13 Apr 11 at 11:48 am

  7. We may have to agree to disagree. I actually loved the move bringing in Clippard to fix the problem in the 7th; he’s our best reliever and that was the highest leverage situation. HOWEVER, Riggleman has to manage not just to win TONIGHT, but to win the rest of this week. And he has to manage his bullpen specifically to get Broderick opportunities (since he’s a rule5 guy and essentially is on a season-long-player evaluation).

    You think relievers can throw 3 nights in a row all the time? I think you’re wrong. Here’s Clippard’s 2010 game log: He threw 3 nights in a row exactly once (june 8-9-10), then threw once in the next week. If you lookup Burnett’s 2010 game log you’ll see a few more times where he pitched 3 nights in a row, but in almost all those cases he was acting as a loogy and facing one guy, not pitching an inning and a third. Late-inning relievers generally can go two nights in a row but not three. So by burning both Clippard and Burnett on longer outings last night we’re going to be hamstrung in a tight situation either tonight, tomorrow or the next night.

    In my opinion he should have brought out Broderick to pitch the 8th. Plain and simple. He had a 4 run lead and you still have both Storen and Burnett in the bullpen to bail him out. That should have been the plan. We NEED to find times for this kid to pitch to determine if he’s worth keeping or if we should return him/engineer a trade.

    That’s why I thought last night’s bullpen end-game was mis-managed.

    Perhaps Riggleman’s thought process went something like this: “well i’ve got Clippard out there to finish the 7th, might as well throw him in the 8th.” And he never planned on bringing in Burnett. And then Clippard gets into trouble and he’s forced to bring in Burnett to clean up Clippard’s mess (which he really didn’t by the way, allowing 2 of 3 inherited runners to score). That is a totally believable story. And as the game unfolded you can’t argue with either move. But i don’t think he ever should have been in that position to begin with.

    Todd Boss

    13 Apr 11 at 12:02 pm

  8. I agree it seemed strange to bring Clippard back in when he had a somewhat lengthy layover in the bottom of the 7th thanks to multiple walks from the Phillies bullpen. With Broderick and Coffey warming up I would have brought one of them in to start the 8th and left Clippard in the dugout and saved him for the other games. It was a 5 run game at that point.

    I don’t mind the way Riggs used Burnett. The ump extended his outing a bit by missing the play at first base. That cost him a good 8-10 pitches in the inning.

    As far as the comment above, Burnett actually did do what he was supposed to do to clean up the runners, he got a double play ball but Espinosa fed the ball poorly to Desmond who did the smart thing and sat on it instead of throwing it away. That however should have been the end of that inning.


    13 Apr 11 at 12:09 pm

  9. I see his point. Over use of Clippard, Capps, and Storen got Riggleman into trouble last year. If Riggleman is afraid to use Broderick, Coffey, and Gaudin (Have to admit against the Phillies lineup I would definitely be skittish.) then why are they on the roster at all? They could easily be replaced by KImball, Balester, and Wilkie/Stammen. Why? Why? Why? Why did Rizzo put the Nats in exactly the same fix they were in last year?


    13 Apr 11 at 12:36 pm

  10. I don’t have a problem with the way Riggleman used his relievers last night.

    1. They were rested after an off day.
    2. The Phillies are the hottest hitting team in baseball. They have the capacity to have huge innings against our weaker pitchers.
    3. The chances of us building a lead in tonight’s game are slim, therefore using Clippard and Burnett to actually preserve the first game of the series is thinking ahead one game.
    4. If by some strange chance we are ahead tonight in the ninth we still have a fresh Storen.
    5. Warming a pitcher up is not the same as using him in the game in terms of his exertion. I think getting the same pitcher up multiple times in a game is not smart though.


    13 Apr 11 at 1:26 pm

  11. Todd – You seem to not understand the rules for when a Save is in play. It is based on the situation when the reliever enters the game. Burnett did not pitch himslef into a Save situation. That’s not possible. You either enter in a Save siutation, or you don’t.
    Burnett entered in the 8th, with a 5 run lead, but with the bases loaded. That means he entered the game with the tying run on deck.
    And that is one of the criteria for establishing a Save siutation.


    13 Apr 11 at 4:02 pm

  12. Yeah, Realized that after the fact I phrased the post incorrectly. It doesn’t change my opinion of his performance or of the faults of the save statistic though.

    Todd Boss

    13 Apr 11 at 4:13 pm

  13. Well the Save stat is clearly goofy. And Riggleman leaves plenty of room to be second guesed. But it seems to me with the lousy staff we handed him last year, somehow they did pretty well and Riggs has got to get some credit for that. My main issue with his staff management is that he’s too quick with the hook for his SP’s.


    13 Apr 11 at 4:40 pm

  14. One thing I normally like about Riggleman’s pitcher management is the roles he seems to define before each game. Pitcher1 is the long man if the starter gets in trouble, pitcher2 is the 7th inning guy, pitcher3 is the matchup-guy, pitcher4 is the closer for the night, etc. But you cannot be a slave to that plan if the game unfolds in a way that presents an opportunity to use someone else that may need innings. If your team has lost 7 straight and your closer hasn’t seen action in a week, at some point you need to give him an inning or two just to keep him fresh right?

    I don’t know if I have an opinion on starters getting yanked too early. Clearly Livan last night hit a wall so you can’t fault that. For the most part his starters have pitched relatively the same amounts of time into games (averaging 5 2/3, we’ve yet to have a pitcher fail to reach the 5th or pitch into the 7th). I wonder if we’ll start to see guys stretching out and being allowed to go > 100 pitches as the season progresses.

    Todd Boss

    13 Apr 11 at 4:49 pm

  15. Well as a Phillie fan chiming in… Polanco was first due up in the 8th (bats right). J-Roll was 2nd due up, and while his lefty/righty OPS splits are pretty even as a switch hitter, I *THINK* (not 100% sure of this) he has a lot more power hitting righty against a lefty over his career. So perhaps Riggleman figured he would allow Clippard to face Polanco and keep Rollins on the left side. Why he allowed him to pitch to Howard after Rollins singled, however, I have no idea. I would definitely bring in the lefty for that matchup. Although then you could also speculate that they didn’t give Howard anything to hit (i.e. pitch around him), and then you have Francisco up with 2 outs and two men on down 6-1. Here you are saving Burnett for Ibanez to avoid a REALLY big inning (if need be.) Lots of speculation but fun to discuss.


    13 Apr 11 at 5:12 pm

  16. Count me in the Riggleman camp for this game, I thought he handled it tremendously. Broderick and Coffey may well have been getting some work in. Clippard in the high leverage situation, and he had Burnett up in case Clippard faltered. When he did Riggleman had Burnett ready to go, and as noted he had Storen still in the bank.

    Yes, you manage with a long view. In this situation the relievers were rested coming off an off day, the forecast for the next day was dicey (in terms of weather) and dicey (in terms of matchup). This was a game that he was in a position to go all out to win, and that’s how he used his assets.

    I’m not Riggleman’s biggest fan, although I think he gets more abuse than he deserves. But last night I thought he was right on with the way he handled the bullpen.

    John C.

    13 Apr 11 at 11:19 pm

  17. Well, hindsight is 20-20, right? And observing how he setup last night’s (4/13) bullpen may answer questions about how he used the 4/12 game that I criticized so heavily. Last night neither Burnett or Clippard moved from their seats all night; when Lannan struggled in the 5th he got up Broderick, then brought in Gaudin in the 7th. He brought in loogy in the 8th to face Howard, then after retiring Howard literally on one pitch (If memory serves; it was getting cold in the stadium by then) Riggleman left him in to face Francisco before he easily retired Ibanez in another lefty-lefty matchup. Then, facing a 3 run deficit in the 9th he brought in Broderick, who got a 1-2-3 inning. Coffey warmed up briefly during Lannan’s struggles but never appeared, as did Storen.

    So, I suppose Riggleman all along planned on using Clippard & Burnett only on Tuesday.

    Which is fine; i like pre-planning bullpen roles nightly b/c it allows your relievers to prepare properly. If Gaudin knows he’s the long-reliever only, he can prepare as if he’s going to throw 3-4 innings and then relax by the 6th if the starter’s not knocked out. And if Storen knows he’s the closer on the night he can start mentally juicing up in the 7th/8th in a close game. BUT, you have to be flexible in these roles and take advantage of the situation. If you’re winning (or losing) by a large margin why waste your best arms? That was always the gist of my complaint on 4/12’s game.

    Todd Boss

    14 Apr 11 at 9:43 am

  18. Hey Droop. What’d you think of last night’s game? Halladay was at 100 pitches at the end of 8 innings, having only given up 2 hits (both to Adam LaRoche, who had to beg to get into the lineup b/c of a slight groin injury). Manuel sends him up to bat in the bottom of the 8th and there was nobody in the pen.

    Then it takes him 20-some pitches to get through the 9th, by which time he had given up 2 runs and had runners on 1st and 2nd (tying and winning runs) with one out facing Matt Stairs. Manuel never made a move and left him in to get the CG and the Win, but I was positive that Stairs was going to hit a bases-clearing double for the walk off win at that point.

    Question is; is the complete game THAT important to Halladay? Because once the Nats scored the first run his shutout is blown and he was clearly tiring and was sitting (at that point) at 110 pitches in a relatively meaningless game early in the season. For me, i’d probably have let him start the 9th but yank him the second he gives up the leadoff double.

    Todd Boss

    14 Apr 11 at 10:22 am

  19. Halladay has earned the right to make that call, Todd.
    Now, I think there are only 5-10 pitchers in all of baseball who deserve that right, but Hallady’s one of them.

    Mark L

    15 Apr 11 at 3:10 pm

  20. Yeah, Pitch counts are funny things. For some they’re applicable, for others perhaps not. Keith Law in his chat yesterday said he had no problem with the 123 pitch outing b/c Halladay “throws with little effort” and has a history of durability ( This is the same guy who calls for college coaches jobs when they abuse their pitchers over high pitch counts.

    Manual seems old school enough to allow a veteran like Halladay make that call, and I totally agree he’s earned it. On the flip side; i was at the Ramon Ortiz near-no hitter game a few years back. Ortiz gave up a single in the top of the 9th, then gave up a towering homer to Pujols. Before the ball Landed Frank was out tot he mound to yank him. The win is the most important thing; not a shut out, not a complete game. Nobody’s gonna earn more money because they had one or two CGs in their stat line. When Halladay had the winning run on first base with Matt Stairs at the plate, having just given up two or three *shots* that inning … i’d have been out there to bring in my fireballer closer.

    Todd Boss

    15 Apr 11 at 3:29 pm

  21. […] note on this start; I had a real problem with the way Riggleman handled the bullpen this night; see this post for my […]

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