The Irrationality of Modern Bullpen Usage

SEATTLE - JULY 17: Closing pitcher Neftali Feliz #30 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on July 17, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Rangers defeated the Mariners 3-1. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

There was one thing in particular from yesterday afternoon's game that sticks out to me...

In the 8th inning, with the Rangers up 3-0, Josh Bard led off with a double off of starter Matt Harrison.  Chone Figgins grounded out, then Jack Wilson singled to bring home Bard.  Ichiro struck out, bringing Franklin Gutierrez to the plate with Texas up, 3-1, two outs, and a runner at first.

At that point, Ron Washington went to the bullpen and brought in righty Mark Lowe.

This, in and of itself, highlights how foolish modern bullpen management is, since Gutierrez is representing the tying run in the game.  Seattle's best chance of winning the game involved rallying at this point.  It would seem only rational, only logical, that Washington would turn to Neftali Feliz, the team's best reliever, to retire the most important Seattle hitter of the game (to that point).  

Now, Feliz pitched the previous two nights, so it may be that Washington didn't want to unnecessarily tax Feliz by asking him to get four outs, rather than three.  Of course, you would then be justified in asking why Washington used Feliz in four runs games in each of the previous two games, thus limiting his usefulness on Sunday.  But that's a separate issue...we know that, in today's game, you only use your closer for the final three outs of the game, and if that means using an inferior reliever in the most critical situation of the game because it is the 8th inning, rather than the 9th, be it.

Anyway, that's not what stuck out at me.  Rather, it was the fact that Darren Oliver was warming up when Lowe came into the game.  Tom Grieve (or maybe it was Dave Barnett -- one of them) noted that Oliver was warming so that he could come in to face the lefty swinging Dustin Ackley, should Gutierrez get on.

As it turns out, Lowe retired Gutierrez.  And with Ackley set to lead off the 9th inning, and Oliver already warmed up, Ron Washington chose to start the 9th inning with...Neftali Feliz.

Now, this is what I don't understand.  Ackley would have been the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 8th.  Darren Oliver gives you a platoon advantage with Ackley.  You were prepared to bring Oliver into the game to face Ackley with, at the very least, the tying run on base -- possibly scoring position -- and the go-ahead run at the plate.

And yet, when it is the 9th inning, a less critical situation, rather than bringing in Oliver -- who, again, was already warmed up -- to face the lefthanded hitting Ackley, you go with your closer.

I fail to see how this makes any sort of rational sense.  I don't understand why, if you are comfortable having Oliver come in in the 8th to face one batter, a lefty, because of the matchup in that situation, you wouldn't bring Oliver in to face Ackley in the 9th inning.

The response, I am guessing, would be that Oliver would come in in the 8th because he's your 8th inning guy, but Feliz is the closer, and the closer's job is the get hitters out in the 9th.  And that you don't want to bring Feliz in in the middle of an inning, that you want him to start the inning with no one on base and all that.

But why?  If Feliz pitches best in that situation, if he's going to be mentally out of whack because he's coming in with one out in the 9th -- or with no one out and a runner on base in the 9th -- then isn't the only reason that's the case because he's been conditioned to think that way?  Conditioned, for that matter, at the major league level, where he's taught that his job is to come in in the 9th inning and get three outs?

It doesn't make sense.  It is a completely irrational way to manage a bullpen.  If Darren Oliver was the best guy to face Ackley in the 8th inning as the go-ahead run, he was the best guy to face Ackley as the leadoff hitter in the 9th inning.  There's no reason to not use him because it is the 9th instead of the 8th.

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