July 22, 2006

Francona And Flexibility

Terry Francona has made some strange bullpen decisions in the two Seattle games.

On Friday, Boston led the Mariners 8-2 after five innings. For the final four innings, Francona used Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen and Mike Timlin -- the #2, #3 and #4 arms in the pen. Seattle scored twice off Hansen in the seventh, but the Red Sox still won easily, 9-4.

With the game tied 2-2 on Saturday, Kason Gabbard allowed two singles with one out in the bottom of the sixth. At this crucial part of the game, who did Tito call on? Julian Tavarez, one of the worst pitchers on the team. Tavarez allowed one of the inherited runners to score (which wasn't really his fault) and then was left in to surrender two walks, two singles, and two runs in the seventh. Rudy Seanez (the other bullpen liability) pitched a scoreless eighth, and Seattle won the game 5-2.

(The first single in that inning should have been an out, but first base umpire Larry Poncino blew the call, claiming that David Ortiz's foot had come off the bag as he stretched for Mike Lowell's throw. If that call gets made correctly, Seattle has two outs and no one on. (Poncino blew another call at first in the next half-inning, calling Alex Gonzalez out even though Richie Sexson's foot came off the bag.))

So Francona used his best arms when he was up by six runs and then relied on his worst pitchers in a tie game? Needless to say, this is completely backwards. (Some fans might call this Tito 101, but I'll just say it's not unprecedented for the Boston manager.)

If I had to guess, I'd say that Francona looked at the pitching matchups for this series, knew that Gabbard was making his debut opposite King Felix Hernandez this afternoon and figured he should make damn sure the Friday game was in the bag. He'd go with his strengths on Friday, maybe have the dregs follow Gabbard, and then have the big boys ready again to back up Lester on Sunday.

It's not the worst way to look at things, but it shouldn't be carved in stone, and once the Red Sox grabbed an 8-0 lead on Friday, Francona should have altered his plans. He should have been flexible enough to know that he didn't have to use his best arms (or at least not three of them) in the near-blowout.

So when the time came today to stop the Mariners' rally in its tracks, Tito couldn't go to the guys he would normally rely on in a high-leverage spot. On Friday, Hansen had thrown 30 pitches and Delcarmen had thrown 32. Their unavailability -- which was completely Francona's fault -- possibly cost the Red Sox the game.


Peter N said...

You are so dead right on in this post, I would hand deliver a copy to Tito directly. In fact, I'm on the way now. Long trip, but worth it. Great job.

laura k said...

Yup. Dead right.

or even Kevin Kennedy

Oh my.

allan said...

One thing I have thought re: Nipper is that his history of working in the minor leagues may be influencing Tito into leaving starters in the game too long.

In the minors, wins and losses are not important. Development of talent is, and one way to develop pitchers is to let them work out of their jams.

I can't help but wonder if Nip is bringing some of that to the big club in Wallace's absence.

Besides Tito's seeming desire to let the starter go five innings to qualify for a win, even if that means losing the lead (and the chance for a "W"), is he also letting the young starters get too deep into trouble before pulling the plug?

A pennant race is not the place for those kinds of lessons.