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The Curious Case of Bob Geren’s Bullpen

April 2, 2011

On Athletics Nation there was an interesting discussion regarding the use of the bullpen in last night’s opening day mess. While I am excited about this bullpen because I think there is a lot of talent there, there is a hidden problem (that is true of many bullpens, but that to a degree can keep ours from being viewed as elite) and that is the OOGY problem. Commonly we refer to LOOGY’s (Lefty One-Out-GuY) and to a lesser extent as they are less common ROOGY’s (Righty-One-Out-GuY) well the A’s have a few of them, namely Jerry Blevins (LOOGY), Brian Fuentes (LOOGY) and Brad Ziegler (ROOGY). The other guys while they have splits common to most pitchers of being better to one handedness batters versus the others, aren’t as extreme.

Yesterday, the Mariners who executed a great approach against Trevor Cahill of taking a lot of pitches, and making him get a high pitch count very quickly, managed to knock Cahill out of the game after four and two-thirds innings simply because he was throwing too much (at that point he had hit 105 pitches more than Felix Hernandez threw in getting a complete game victory). What I found curious though, is given that situation of having four and one third inning left to secure what was at that point a 2-1 lead, is that Bob Geren went to Jerry Blevins, a LOOGY.

Blevins got the job done to get out of the inning which was great striking out Ryan Langerhans who despite a better batting average against lefties than righties, overall has a better wOBA that is not a reverse and so I’d say he hits righties better than lefties as is common. But let’s look at the lineup Mariner manager Eric Wedge used yesterday (the “Hits Better vs.” column is generated simply by taking the player’s career wOBA versus each handed pitcher – aside from Ichiro everyone locked to one side of the plate performs as expected):

Player Bats Better vs. OOGY
Suzuki L L
Figgins S R
Bradley S L
Cust L R
Smoak S R
Olivo R L Ziegler
Langerhans L R Blevins
Ryan R L
Wilson R L

Using Blevins to get rid of Langerhans made sense. That is the exact point of a LOOGY, to get one key out, in this case Blevins came in with men on first and second, and a one run lead and left-handed Ryan Langerhans up. He got him out on a strikeout. Mission accomplished. But then Geren made a strange move, he left Blevins in to start the next inning and face Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson. Now neither of those two hitters will light the world on fire, but still Blevins is a guy with an FIP split L/R of 2.38/4.75. Not what you want in a one run game against Felix “Getting Two Runs Against You Is Tough Enough” Hernandez. Needless to say, Blevins walks Ryan, and following a sacrifice comes up to face Ichiro when Geren pulls him to put in Craig Breslow a guy who faces lefties and righties more evenly (his FIP L/R split is 3.57/4.16). So Geren was right in pulling Blevins prior to his facing Ichiro, but why did he go to a lefty in Breslow? Ironically this a time when you would have wanted to use a right-handed reliever or even a ROOGY like Ziegler.

The next OOGY to enter the game was Brad Ziegler, a ROOGY with an FIP L/R split of 5.47/2.60. His use was a bit more appropriate as he came in to face Miguel Olivo (a right-handed hitter). But he came in to face Olivo with nobody out. So he had more outs to get, and the next hitter was a lefty in Ryan Langerhans. Just not the time to use an OOGY.

Eventually in this game Bob Geren put in Bobby Cramer, a true longman, a guy who is typically a starting pitcher and therefore has to face numerous players of both handedness. Cramer went one and two-thirds innings of shutout ball. Why wasn’t Cramer put in earlier? With a 2-1 lead, had Geren put Cramer in first (and I realize this isn’t a typical use of a longman commonly used in games that have gotten out of hand) with the nature of our bullpen with guys with such extreme splits it simply doesn’t make sense to go to these guys so early, we might have gotten out of this thing earlier. Or if you need to go the piecemeal route, why not go to guys like Michael Wuertz, Grant Balfour or Craig Breslow first?

We have a good pen, but we also have a unique one, it needs to be used differently and while ultimately any game where you face a pitcher like Felix Hernandez could be considered a lost cause from the get go, when you have a lead you need to do everything you can to hold it. Putting in OOGY’s early is not the way you do that.

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