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Bullpen Management: 11 Game Analysis

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Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
“I’m going to...well, anyone else.”
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Bullpen management is one of the most visible aspects of a manager’s game, because it is one of the most tangible. Bob Melvin, to start 2018, was dealt a strange deck in that he was given a roster with 8 relievers without a true long man. How has he done so far? Here’s one fan’s views of the “pluses and deltas” in Newbob’s tactical game...

Blake Treinen

Here I think Melvin has done a very good job, bucking conventional wisdom to get the most out of his best reliever without overusing him. With the A’s sadly not having an abundance of save opportunities, Melvin has gone for some quantity with Treinen’s outings, letting him pitch 2 innings on Opening Day as the A’s won in 11 innings, and getting a 5-out save the next series.

Then in a move I thought was outstanding and should have worked out, Melvin targeted the end of the 7th and the 8th on Friday night with Oakland trying not to blow a 6-0 lead that was 9-7 during a critical bottom of the 7th. Melvin acknowledged that someone else (probably Chris Hatcher and/or Danny Coulombe) would have pitched in the 9th, but clearly the game was on the line big time in the 7th and I thought going to Treinen was absolutely the right move. Only a would-be strikeout ruled to be a foul tip, and Matt Chapman’s unlikely throwing error, prevented the A’s from taking a two-run lead into the 8th.

Despite these unorthodox requests of his closer, Melvin has not stretched Treinen — after 11 games, Treinen has appeared in just 4 and thrown a total of 6 innings, and the A’s have days off Monday and Thursday this week. Overall, I would characterize the use of Treinen so far as near perfect.

Emilio Pagan

Going into the season I thought Pagan was the A’s best choice for a set up man, but at the same time one has to factor in that he has just one season under his belt. So I understand easing him into the role a bit, especially in light of the fact that Pagan did not throw so well in his initial appearances (he has struck out just 2 batters in his first 6.2 IP).

Recently, Pagan’s appearances have gotten to be higher leverage and that gives me hope that the A’s view him as one of their plus relievers going forward. The only negative I see is that Pagan has already worked in 6 of 11 games, but some of the heavy workload on Oakland relievers is inevitable given that only Sean Manaea has completed the 6th inning this year.

Yusmeiro Petit

I’m not as sanguine about the use, so far, of Petit, though I laud Melvin for twice bringing Petit in early to try to preserve leads in games that were threatening to get away from the A’s. Had Petit pitched — or fielded — better on Friday night the decision to bring him in would have looked a lot better.

However, Petit has not only worked 6 times already, he has pitched 4 times in A’s losses including today when Oakland was looking primarily for mop-up work. Part of that is that the A’s haven’t had as many late leads as they had hoped, and also Petit has unfortunately contributed to a couple of those games going sideways, but games like today’s are ones he should be nowhere near, just as he didn’t need to be used for the third time in the series back on April 1st (a 7-4 loss).

Chris Hatcher

I don’t get the A’s infatuation with Hatcher as a high leverage option, but in Melvin’s defense the problem has been more words than action. The fact is, for all the talk of Hatcher being a good set-up option, he has actually been used about right.

He followed Petit and Treinen in the 11th inning Opening Day, with Pagan tuning up to work a possible 12th, he was used in the 9th with the A’s trailing by a run against the Rangers — which was frustrating when he served up a 2-run HR, but it was still the right time to use a medium leverage reliever — so while I will be the first to criticize Melvin if he bypasses an available Petit or Pagan to try to protect a small 8th inning lead, that hasn’t actually happened. Hatcher has worked just 4 times and I have no issue with those times.

Ryan Buchter/Danny Coulombe

I am lumping these two together because using one is a decision not to use the other, and here I think Melvin has made some poor choices — usually in the choice to go to Buchter. Buchter has been much used (6 appearances already) while Coulombe hasn’t, and my feeling is that Coulombe is the better option to come in to face a LH batter in a crucial situation, while Buchter is the superior choice for a longer outing facing “all kinds”.

At least two of the times Melvin opted to bring in Buchter to face a LH batter, that call should have been for Coulombe, even if only for a “one batter” assignment (which would have left Buchter still available later in the game). So while Buchter has been heavily leaned on, Coulombe has yet to pitch in a game the A’s win. In this series Coulombe soaked up an inning today but was not summoned to face Calhoun or Valbuena in a key situation in either of the two previous games.

Liam Hendriks

I think the Melvin has largely missed the boat on Hendriks. You do not bring him in to a tight game with the bases loaded to face Ohtani, nor do you ask him to mop up all of 2/3 of an inning in a game like today’s.

Hendriks should have been asked to pitch 3-4 IP today and should be kept away from high leverage as someone who, despite his decent looking peripherals, reliably pitches worse as the situation gets more intense. He actually has some value as a reliever who can go longer than some of the others, yet even having been used little before today he was not asked to do enough the one time you actually wanted to see him on the mound.

Santiago Casilla

The use of Casilla has been good: low leverage, letting him soak up a couple innings at a time if needed. I had major issues with his being anointed the closer last April, but I have no issues with his use so far this season.


In sum? First off, this is a difficult bullpen to manage simply because so many of the starting pitchers cannot get more than 12-15 outs. In that context, Melvin has not done a bad job at all. However there is ample room for growth, in particular better utilizing Coulombe in high leverage LOOGY situations and not relying so heavily on Buchter (whom I think the A’s are slightly overrating), getting more quantity out of Hendriks in low leverage, and saving Petit more exclusively for winnable games (something easier to do if Hendriks soaks up more innings in the other games).

If I were grading I would probably settle on a “B” so far. Here’s hoping for an “A” going forward, using this constructive feedback, playing more winnable games, and getting them to the house as wins.

Poll

How would you asses my assessment of Melvin’s bullpen management so far?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Too charitable
    (74 votes)
  • 65%
    Right on
    (219 votes)
  • 12%
    Too harsh
    (42 votes)
335 votes total Vote Now