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Contrasting Controversial Manager Bullpen Decisions – Maddon Nailed It, Dusty Failed It

Analysis and Commentary

At the time Jose Quintana was pulled yesterday, following Kyle Schwarber’s three-base compound error, I thought it was a no-brainer to pull Quintana.


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Sure, he was pitching very well, but the lead run was now on third base, Quintana was at 96 pitches, and in the middle of the third time through the order. Moreover, the batter was Ryan Zimmerman, who not only had a 162/130 versus L/versus R split this year, but also registered a strikeout just 16.1% of the time against lefties this year (23.8% against righties). Factor in Quintana’s own really significant traditional split this year, and the move to bring in a strikeout righty like Pedro Strop there made plenty of sense to me.

I saw a lot of people ripping the move on Twitter, especially after Strop gave up a double to score the runner, but I’m going to assume a lot of that was heat-of-the-moment stuff, having seen Quintana pitch so well, and allow that baserunner only because of an error.

But the thing is, I’m pretty sure that was going to be his last batter anyway. With Zimmerman set to lead off the 7th if Schwarber makes the catch, I bet Strop was coming in for the 7th inning no matter what. So … why wouldn’t Joe Maddon go to Strop when Zimmerman came to the plate?


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That is all to say, I saw the move from Quintana to Strop as (1) good process yielding (2) bad result. Even if you make the move that pays off 80% of the time, sometimes the dice roll turns up that other 20%. So long as you keep following good process and making good decisions, you’ll win out more often than not.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

By contrast, the managerial move that still has me scratching my head a day later is the one Nationals manager Dusty Baker made. No, not the decision to pull Max Scherzer after giving up his only hit on the day – he, too, was near 100 pitches, was about to face a really bad match-up in Schwarber, and is coming off a hamstring injury. Pulling Scherzer there was eminently reasonable.

Instead, I’m talking about the decision to pitch to Anthony Rizzo with two outs in the 8th. Specifically, the decision to bring in a lefty reliever to face the unfazed, famously split-neutral Rizzo.


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The alternative, better options seemed plentiful for Dusty Baker in that moment. For example, he could have simply lefty in righty Brandon Kintzler to walk Rizzo intentionally, and pitch to fellow righty Willson Contreras (~20 point spread in his splits in the traditional way).

Or, even better, he could have brought in a warm Ryan Madson (.168/.230/.248 against righties this year) to face Contreras. Sure, you’d have an extra runner on base, but you’d have an additional force at third, and you’d have a much better matchup (Perez has gone .227/.301/.364 against lefties this year).

Heck, if you’re absolutely insistent on a lefty to face Rizzo, bring in your best one in Sean Doolittle, who was also warm. Why let yourself get beat in that moment, however it happens, with your best relievers watching *in the 8th inning of a tie game* from the bullpen?


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Dave Cameron took the opportunity to defend Baker’s decisions, and I was hoping he would reveal some hidden mathematical logic in the move … but instead falls on “eh, Perez got the pop up.”

Of course, that just gets into an additional layer of bad process versus bad result. In reality, that 8th inning was a case of (1) bad process yielding (2) good result but (3) bad luck.

In other words, the Cubs are lucky that Rizzo’s pop up found grass, but that doesn’t mean the decision to face Rizzo with Perez was a good one. As we laid out above, there were several better options.


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None of this is to say that Joe Maddon is the perfect bullpen manager and Dusty Baker is a hopelessly flawed one. But we so often dissect every Maddon decision down to the bone that I thought it worth pointing out how things contrasted on this front yesterday. Neither manager got the result he wanted, but the decision on one side certainly looked a lot more sound than the other.


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Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.