On Classic Managerial Decisions

I'm one of those geeks that thinks baseball managers have very little to do with things (winning/losing) in the long run, and make relatively few important decisions (the decision to not swing at a pitch out of the strike zone, for example, is probably more important than anything a manager decides in a given night).  At the same time, the decisions that managers do get to make are generally suboptimal, if you judge them based on leverage, win expectancy, and things of that ilk.

In reaction to the Brewers' extra-inning loss to the Astros on September 19th, I said that Cordero should have been brought in immediately to pitch the bottom of the 9th, or at least when Spurling got into trouble.  Zel123 responded:

So Coco comes in and does the exact same thing as Spurling and stetter.  Does he then go out in the 10th?  So even if the brewers score, then who's left to close out the game?  

Ned made the right move with Coco.  It's a classic managerial move to not bring your closer in on the road when you do not have the lead.

This "classic managerial move" derives, mostly, from a simpler paradigm that often prevents managers from effectively using their bullpens: don't bring in your closer in a non-save situation.  

There are a number of problems with this thinking.  First, it is easy to say, "So Coco comes in and does the exact same thing as Spurling and Stetter," in RETROSPECT; we can't judge a risky decision based on its results, only on whether it was an example of effective risk management at the time the decision was made.  At the time that Ned made the decision, it was a suboptimal to bring in either Spurling to start the inning, or Stetter to try to finish it.

Second, by my assessment, the fact that we were on the road actually makes the argument stronger for using Coco in the 9th -- giving up even a single run means that the Crew would lose.  Aside from the fact that we suck on the road and so Ned should be protecting a chance to win on the road like a lioness will rip your face off to protect her young, the very fact that the road team cannot make up for any runs surrendered from the 9th inning on should dictate that Ned enact the best possible scenario to prevent a single run from scoring from the 9th inning on.  Ned won't get a chance to use Coco with a lead if he lets the Astros score when the teams are tied.  To think like Ned did seems backward to me.  Especially because we only had 11 games left after that one, and were tied for first at the time.  He can't fool around with Stetter if he really wants to win in a scenario like that.  

I think that we can all agree at this point that Coco is the only reliable reliever that we have -- the one most likely to post a scoreless inning on any given day, all other things being equal.  Can we all agree that it was very important to do everything possible to win that game?  Why take a bigger chance than necessary?

Coco was on two-plus days rest at that point -- he hadn't pitched since the previous Sunday afternoon -- which means that using him in the 9th does not preclude sending him back out there in the 10th.  He could have pitched a second inning and kept the game alive.  

Even if the offense couldn't muster a few runs, and Ned had to pull Coco to no avail, that's all that a manager could do to win or lose the game, and that's all we could ask Ned for.  He can't make guys hit.  Hell, he can't even make Coco pitch a scoreless inning -- anything can happen once the pieces are set in motion: there's always chance/risk involved.  But it's Ned's job -- and it becomes more and more important everyday -- to align those pieces to to minimize risk as much as it can be minimized.  He got lucky with Spurling and Stetter; he wasn't so lucky with Wise.  He might have gotten unlucky with Cordero, but he would have had to have been FAR UNLUCKIER with Coco than with anyone else.  

Short of mismanaging the bullpen like this or pinch-hitting Laynce Nix for Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun on a regular basis, Ned can't do much to lose games.  As it stands, it seem like he does his damnedest sometimes.

The sooner Ned gets it out of his head that Coco = Save Opp. Only, the sooner we eek out a few extras wins that help us win a division title.  Even throughout the year, why pitch Coco when he have a 3-run lead in the 9th?  Let someone else pitch and get a "save" -- let's "save" Coco for the one-run games, the tied games.  Let's not lose stupid.  

It's one thing to plan for next week in May when you're 15 games over .500.  It's another to do it when a loss today could be you're out of the playoff picture.  It's getting to that point.

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