Anatomy Of A Bullpen Meltdown

I truly don’t mean to be such a masochist, but last night’s walk off loss to the Seattle Mariners was such a disaster on so many levels for the Toronto Blue Jays that it deserves being looked at one more time. It was a perfect storm of bad bullpen management, terrible command, horrible pitch calling and awful decision making.

Let’s use Brooks Baseball Pitch FX tool to look at each reliever’s performance and how it impacted the Blue Jays win probability.

Jason Frasor is the first reliever to take the mound, coming into the game with the score 7-0 in the bottom of the sixth. He faces four batters giving up a single walk, but maddeningly nibbles away at each batter he faces despite having a seven run lead and pitching against the offensively lacking Seattle Mariners. By getting through the inning without allowing a run, he actually increases the Jays win probability by .004.

Instead of coming back with Frasor, manager John Farrell decides to bring in Carlos Villanueva to pitch the seventh, who, now that Casey Janssen has been demoted, is the reliever most likely to be put in for multiple innings, especially with a 7-0 lead during the first game of a series. Villanueva picks up pretty much where Frasor left off, getting the first pitch each batter sees in or near the strike zone, but then begins nibbling away from there. Of his 23 pitches, eleven were thrown for balls. And by giving up a home run to Milton Bradley, but still completing the inning, Villanueva neither improves nor deteriorates his team’s chances of winning according to win probability.

Instead of bringing Villanueva back into the game, Farrell again decides to change pitchers, this time calling on lefty David Purcey to face left handed batter Michael Saunders with right handed batters Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson due up afterward in the bottom of the eighth. Purcey had little difficulty throwing first pitch strikes, but as evidenced by not recording a single swinging strike in fifteen pitches, he tries painting the corners instead of challenging hitters. This leads to two hard hit singles, a walk and only a single out. With the bases loaded, Purcey is pulled from the game after decreasing the Jays probability of winning by .018.

This is where things go a little bit haywire for me. We’re all aware of Octavio Dotel’s inability to get left handed batters out, but Farrell brings him into the game with the bases loaded and two switch hitters followed by two left handed hitters due up. Last season, left handed batters put up an astounding .993 OPS against him. Only five batters in all of baseball had a higher OPS in 2010.

Once again, the reliever has no difficulty throwing first pitch strikes, but then holds off and tries to hit the corners with subsequent pitches. I understand the bases are loaded, but the score is still 7-1. Even for Dotel, the odds of collecting a few ground balls and getting out of this inning are in his favour. Instead, he walks both batters he faces, resulting in two runs and further decreases the Jays win probability by .085. This number represents an official meltdown.

Coming in next is Marc Rzepczynski, the pitcher that in all likelihood should have been brought in ahead of Dotel. Once again he throws first pitch strikes, although he does get squeezed a little bit, and then tries painting the corners. With the score 7-3, he walks the first batter he sees and then gives up a two run single to Justin Smoak that puts the Mariners within one run of the Blue Jays and spells the end of Rzepczynki’s night. He leaves having decreased the team’s win probability by .248, another meltdown.

With the score 7-6 and still only one out, Shawn Camp then gets put into the game by Farrell. He collects a double play ball from Miguel Olivo with a single pitch located in South Central strike zone. It’s the fifth time in eight innings that Olivo was the Mariners last batter.

Camp then comes back to pitch in the bottom of the ninth to protect the Blue Jays one run lead. It’s a move I agree with considering that that the only other member of the bullpen available is Jon Rauch and it would probably be foolish to burn Camp after only a single pitch in a game that could very well end up in extra innings.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, the pesky Michael Saunders leads the inning off with a double. He’s then bunted over to third base before Adam Kennedy grounds out with a weak dribbler that allows the Jays hold Saunders. With the team a single out away from the victory, Farrell then calls for Ichiro! to be intentionally walked, bringing up the switch hitting Luis Rodriguez.

It’s a bad call by Farrell that increases the Mariners probability of winning by .034. When Ichiro! quickly takes second base with the Blue Jays not wanting to risk a throw because of Saunders at third, it increases a further .047. What makes the call even worse is that Farrell doesn’t go to the bullpen one last time with Ichiro! on base. By deciding to walk Ichiro! the Blue Jays manager is essentially betting everything on getting Rodriguez out. Would it not make sense to use the best pitcher available in that situation, once you set up the all or nothing scenario? Considering that over the last three seasons, Jon Rauch has had better numbers than Camp against left handed hitters, it should have been a no-brainer.

Instead, Camp is left in and after an epic ten pitch at bat, Rodriguez smacks a line drive into that gap that scores the walk off winning runs for the Mariners and leaves Camp as the third reliever of the night to post an official meltdown with his -.620 WPA.

As much as it’s in our nature to want to fling blame at an individual, last night’s failure to hold a seven run lead was the result of a perfect storm of disaster that occurred because of all the elements I mentioned in the opening paragraph. Fingers can be pointed at each of John Farrell, David Purcey, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Shawn Camp and even J.P. Arencibia depending on whether pitches outside the strike zone were the result of plan (which the number of first pitch strikes followed by balls on the corner lead me to believe) or a lack of command.

It was an awful night to be a Blue Jays fan, but the good news is that despite last night’s results, the Blue Jays do have a good bullpen, a good manager and probably a good catcher of the future in Arencibia. There’s a learning curve here, and as fans, it’s likely better seeing mistakes get punished in a year like this and in early April rather than when more chips are on the table. In fact, if lessons are indeed learned here, it might just end up making the entire team a little bit sharper.

Comments (23)

  1. My only real gripe is that Purcey throws all first pitch strikes (got a real bad call on that high one) and then throws a borderline pitch on each of the 2nd pitches and gets no calls. I mean the dude struggles to throw strikes as is, and now he’s going to get the short end of the stick by getting squeezed. I’m not saying that all 3 of those 2′s should have been called strikes, because that’s not really fair to the umpire. My main point is that to a guy who is walking a lot of batters, there’s an even bigger than average difference between 0-2 and 1-1, especially with the bases loaded.

  2. I Think the honeymoon is officially over for Farrell, I kind of get his “we’re either going to win it or lose it here” mentality especially after the Saturday marathon, but if that really was his mentality he should have just gone to Rauch. The Dotel usage was plain wrong and I think he was overly impressed with his previous appearance. What makes it hurt more is the Jays actually got to King Felix and Jesse Litsch had one of the worst shut out starts I’ve ever seen.

  3. I think it’s interesting how the Jays generally landed their first pitch strikes but then nitpicked into trouble afterward. I can’t wrap my head around the team potentially being too afraid to challenge the bottom half of the Mariners lineup with a multi run lead. Induce some goddamn contact.

  4. I completely agree that the Jays went about the Mariners lineup the wrong way. With Escobar and Hill in the field they shouldn’t be afraid to try for some ground balls. It seemed as though each pitcher was dreading giving up a home run, but the Seattle lineup isn’t that powerful to begin with. The Jays were up 7 runs on a lineup that is not much difference than the 2010 Mariners who scored the fewest runs in baseball by far.

    • There is one guy in the Mariners lineup with home run power and a halfway decent approach at the plate. They are literally the last team in the American League worth nibbling against.

  5. I realize Frasor wasn’t the goat last night, but at the moment he makes $371,800 more than the 5 current starters combined (Morrow excluded). Just a fun fact…sigh.

  6. How about running left on base? Lind had 8 himself. A very bad night for him at the plate.

  7. How about running left on base? Lind had 8 himself. A very bad night for him all around.

  8. Parkes:
    well shit… farrell’s a good manager you say? even after last night’s debacle?
    sorry, but i have to call out your epically biased bullshit.
    farrel did about the worst job possible last night – thats a fucking fact.
    i hated cito too, and he couldn’t manage a bullpen worth shit, but apparently neither can farrel. but at least cito seemed to have some basic knowledge of hitting and how not to fuck things up by needlessly ‘being agressive’ on the basepaths.
    after last night, i’m really trying to understand any positives of ferrel as manager. all i can think of is basically “wow! a second pitching coach… sweet!”
    Despite the constant blowjobs from the media about how great Ferrel is (yeah, I’m including parkes and stoeten with barry davis and jamie campbell) because he gives a good interview, I’ve been really dissapointed with all the shit Ferrel has already pulled this season.

  9. i can’t believe i’m saying this… i used to always hate people who brought this up… but cito won 2 rings (with an amazing team where he pretty much did nothing) while ferrel is just some guy aa found in the gutter (boston).
    i just can’t understand how parkes writes a whole column about farrel totally fucking up, but then ends it by saying ferrel is a good manager.
    it seems this article really shows how blindly loyal you are to farrel and aa when compared to how you treated cito.

  10. Grow up. It’s one game riddled with mistakes that I point out. I’m not blindly loyal. I believe he’s a good manager in that he actually considers the impact of his actions on the team. That’s more than what I can say for Cito.

  11. Yeah, that Boston. It’s some gutter. Seriously, try thinking about your opinion before trying to express it. It will do wonders for how seriously people take you.

  12. GOD PARKES! How come you’re ALWAYS siding with shitty managers who advocate for stolen bases and bunts and whatnot. You’re stuck in the past, damn it! #sarcasm

  13. It remains to be seen what kind of manager Farrell, but when you’re running into outs every game (or at least trying to) and intentionally walking the winning run with two outs in the 9th, you certainly don’t fall into the “good” category for me.

  14. And that’s from somebody that really wants to like Farrell.

  15. Hey Holin, any chance you can make a point without the profanities? That too might allow people to take you seriously.

  16. @Holin: Keep the profanity, lose the idiocy

  17. Parkes you said you agree with bringing Camp back for the 9th because Rauch was the only other RP available and the game could well end up in extras.

    The thing I most fault Ferrell for last night is burning through so many arms with 4 innings to protect a 7 run lead. Rauch shouldn’t have been the only other guy left in the pen. Check the box score from last Tuesday, when he burned through 6 arms to get through 5 innings.

    I think it’s too early to say he’s a good manager or he’s a bad manager. Hopefully after some early bumps he learns from games like last night and then you can say he’s a good manager.

  18. Oh, and Holin – Usually, when you’re dissecting a person’s performance, it helps if you spell his name right more than one fucking time.

  19. so parkes… you always talk about sample size… how can you call him a good manager when we haven’t seen (blank) yet?
    also, i’m sorry you were so offended by the blowjob comment. someone who compares you to barry davis deserves all the scorn he gets.
    i call boston a gutter, not based on the team, but just my biased opinion of boston as a city. it was a joke, i guess.
    but yeah… these replies have been pretty mean… i guess the only comeback i have insults us all… the world is exploding around us and somehow we give two shits about baseball… thats the real idiocy. but hey…. lets play some blanken ball!

  20. I have to jump in here to defend Farrell’s use of the intentional walk. You don’t even need to get into vague generalities of how Ichiro! is “the greatest living hitter.” To lean heavily on The Book, an intentional walk after falling behind 2-0 was an easy call. By their math, the hitter at the plate (Ichiro!) only needed to be about 13% better than the one on deck (Luis Rodriguez). By Fangraphs’ wOBA Ichiro is at least than 27% better. Do it every time.

  21. actually it was a reasonable call to walk ichiro. here’s what you are forgetting. although walking ichiro increased their win probability, it also increased the jays win probability. facing ichiro gave the jays a win prob of roughly 65% at that point. by facing rodriguez instead it jumped to 80% at least. converely seattles win prob jumped from roughly 7% (.350x.200) to 20%. I’m using my own estimates based on their batting avgs but you see the point. the jays increased their win prob by 15% and the mariners by 13% by walking ichiro.

    if they had faced ichiro their win prob would have stayed the same at 65% but the tie probability would have been 15% higher. and if he tied the game then the win prob would have dropped to a 50/50 split or lower given home field advantage.

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