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Why not Burke Badenhop?

Let's have a conversation about high-leverage relief appearances.

Mike McGinnis

Michael Gonzalez has been a consistent topic of conversation the last few days, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't piled on a bit:

I operate under the theory that every season needs one lightning rod reliever, and this year Gonzalez has been it. But just how bad has Gonzalez been? Let's take a look. After Gonzalez allowed an inherited runner to score on his first pitch against the Cardinals on Tuesday, Adam McCalvy posted this:

It's actually 18 of 38 now, after Gonzalez inherited a bases-loaded jam last night and allowed all three to score. That's 47% for the season, or slightly less than half. Among Brewers who have inherited at least ten baserunners this season, that's the team's second worst percentage:

Pitcher Inherited runners Runs scored %
Michael Gonzalez 38 18 47%
Burke Badenhop 37 14 38%
Brandon Kintzler 20 4 20%
John Axford 19 8 42%
Alfredo Figaro 15 4 27%
Rob Wooten 14 7 50%
Donovan Hand 13 1 8%
Tom Gorzelanny 12 1 8%

So yeah, that's pretty bad. It gets worse when you tack on the fact that Gonzalez is being consistently used as a situational lefty, but he's been really poor in that role. Gonzalez has faced 107 lefties this season and they're batting .268/.330/.443 against him.

Thinking about last night's game made me wonder about what happened to Burke Badenhop. Coming into the season we were led to believe that Badenhop would be the "ground ball guy," which means he'd make sense in a situation like the one Gonzalez was called in for last night. The Brewers were in a bind with the bases loaded and one out, and the best possible outcome was a double play to get out of it. Why not go to the guy most likely to get that outcome?

For the most part, though, that hasn't been Badenhop's job this year. 16 of his 60 appearances have come in the sixth inning or earlier. The Brewers are 17-43 in games where they've used him this season, demonstrating that they've frequently turned to him when the outcome is no longer in question. He recorded the final out after the game had gotten out of hand on Tuesday, worked the final inning of a 9-3 win on September 4 and pitched the final inning of a 5-0 loss on August 30. Those are his only appearances in the last two weeks.

This is happening despite the fact that Badenhop has been pretty effective when used. His 3.60 ERA is above average. Among Brewers that have thrown at least 50 innings, the only guys with better walk rates than his 1.8 per nine innings are Kyle Lohse and Alfredo Figaro. He's the second-best reliever on the team at getting ground balls (51.6%, trailing only Brandon Kintzler). Yet somehow the Brewers have relegated him to mop-up duty when they use him at all. He's gone four or more days between appearances on eight occasions in 2013.

This is not to say Badenhop's game is without flaws, of course. He struggles against lefties, with a very significant platoon split this season. His ground ball rate is good, but also the worst it's ever been in the majors. He will give up some home runs. He may not throw hard enough to be the traditional late inning fireballer.

But, with all of that said, Badenhop is a better pitcher than his 2013 usage pattern would suggest. And if his current role is all the Brewers think he's good for, then maybe they should just non-tender him this winter and give this job to a league minimum-type guy.