All Right, Let's Get Into It: About Those 8th Inning Bullpen Decisions

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All Right, Let’s Get Into It: About Those 8th Inning Bullpen Decisions

Chicago Cubs

You’re probably thinking about the bullpen decisions this morning after the Cubs blew a 3-1 lead in the 8th inning last night and got perfectly trolled by the Nationals:

I’m certainly thinking about the bullpen decisions. I’ve been thinking about it since Bryce Harper teed off on a hanging 3-1 curveball from Carl Edwards Jr. to blow the Cubs’ lead.

Was it the right call to have Edwards in the game at that point? Don’t you want a lefty in that spot to face Harper?

Here’s where I keep landing, though: Edwards was the fourth best reliever in the NL this year against lefties. He’s great against everyone, but he was particularly brutal on lefties. More than that, he’s the Cubs’ best non-Wade-Davis reliever in my view, so why wouldn’t I want him in there for the biggest spot in the game?

Lefties have hit just 117/.244/.193 off of Edwards this year, and the guy hadn’t allowed a run since September 5. I simply cannot put on my hindsight goggles and say it was the wrong call for the Cubs to use their best reliever against lefties against a big-time lefty in a big-time spot.

(And, yes, I’m very aware of Harper’s splits – he hits righties much better than lefties. Here’s the thing: do you think there’s a chance that some of the lefties Edwards has dominated all year might also have big splits? Traditional splits? They’re called traditional splits for a reason – and it hasn’t been an issue for Edwards all year.)

Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I will always at least want to be intellectually consistent. So here’s my moment of honesty: if Maddon had brought Mike Montgomery in early to face Harper, and if things had gone sideways against Harper or Rendon or Murphy thereafter, I would have been EXTREMELY pissed off today when discussing the decision. I think Montgomery is fantastic as a reliever, and I trust him on those spots. But you have available one of the very best weapons in all of baseball against lefties (against anyone, really) in Carl Edwards Jr. If Maddon had taken him out in favor of a lesser reliever, I would have been so angry.

Maybe it wouldn’t have played out like that. And we can’t know if Montgomery gets out of that inning before Ryan Zimmerman even comes to the plate. But I’m just saying: you win with the best, and you lose with the best. Edwards was, in my opinion, the best guy for that spot. He hung a terrible, terrible curveball, and one of the three best hitters in baseball made him pay. That undeniably sucks, but I’d rather it happened against the Cubs’ best option than someone else.

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The second big bullpen decision in the inning was bringing in Mike Montgomery and sticking with him through the game-losing Ryan Zimmerman homer. On that one, I can accept anyone who’s beefing. I won’t say you’re an idiot if you wish Wade Davis had been up and ready to come into that spot.

But I will point out the four things that make me OK with staying with Montgomery there:

  1. As a reliever, Montgomery held righties to a .196/.341/.286 line this year, and allowed just 2 homers in 41.2 innings (and his .286 wOBA against righties was actually better than Davis’s .304);
  2. You’re really looking for a groundball there to get out of the inning, and Montgomery is a groundball machine;
  3. With the game then tied and your two most reliable non-Davis-non-Montomery pitchers already burned, you probably want to be in a position to let Montgomery go multiple innings; and
  4. In a tie game on the road, if the Cubs don’t take the lead in the 9th, someone was going to have to pitch the bottom of whatever inning the Cubs hopefully take the lead, and you’d be without Strop, Edwards, Montgomery, and Davis.

If you really consider all of that, you can see why sticking with Montgomery in that spot against Zimmerman was pretty defensible. Wrong decision? I’m open to that discussion. But completely defensible. Honestly, it’s probably the decision I would have made, too. As with Edwards, the real crime was a poorly-executed pitch to a very good hitter.

The only other argument I can see is that Davis should have started the 8th inning, or come in as soon as a runner reached base, or something like that. To me, that feels like an extremely hindsight-y argument. Was anyone actually arguing that Davis should have taken the 8th inning before it started? The Cubs have guys like Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, and Brian Duensing specifically for those later innings in close games. And far more often than not, they’re just as effective at getting through them as Davis would be.

So where do I land, having the benefit of sleep, a few deep breaths, and some less angry time to reflect? I probably do everything the same way Maddon did last night. Maybe that makes me – like Maddon – wrong, and I’m open to folks’ thoughts on that. But I think the decisions were correct, based on the entirety of information available at the time, and the contexts in which those decisions were made.

The decisions simply didn’t work out because sometimes good pitchers make bad pitches, and sometimes good hitters don’t miss bad pitches.

Author: Brett Taylor

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