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.

Anonymous said...

"The Titocabana"
(Apologies to Barry Manilow)

His name was Tito,
He ran a ball club,
But when Gabbard hit the rocks,
Tito was gazing at his socks,
Instead of Hansen, we got Tavarez,
For Hansen had already trotted out,
During the prior Bosox rout,
But Psycho couldn't shut the door,
And in the 7th, two runs more,
Then Tito looked at Nip and said,
"What are we paying you for?"

At the Tito, Titocabana,
His chaw the size of Atlanta,
Down at the Tito, Titocabana...,
Tavarez and Rudy his own Punch & Judy,
Down at the Tito....Don't hold your breath....

Look, all kidding aside, I continue to scratch my head at how Francona (mis)manages this staff. I agree with redsock that the Friday night game was a critical one and that the game plan for the 'pen made sense. However, when you trot out to an 8-0 lead, why not change the strategy?

The lead would have afforded Tito the ability to showcase Tavarez and Seanez for COL (see Nick Cafardo's Red Sox Notebook column in today's on-line Globe) in a low-/no pressure situation, and he could have always gone to the studs if one or both spit the bit.

I have given up trying to figure out what goes on in his mind, and if Nipper is simply along for the ride as his boon companion or if he ever has any input to these maddening decisions.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Jack Marshall said...

Bingo. At 8-0, it was time for Seanez, Taverez and Van Buren. Typically unimaginative, rigid and illogical. Terry believes that pitchers perform best when they know what days they will be used, but this is nuts.

We can all agree, can't we, that this is an academic dispute, because 1) Julian didn't pitch badly at all...better than Hansen, in fact...and was victimized by bad luck, bad calls and bad bounces
2) The Sox weren't hitting a lick, and 2 runs weren't going to win that game. But the implications of Tito's habits are not encouraging. He's not Grady Little, but he's a long way from Earl Weaver...or even Kevin Kennedy.

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.