Terrific to win a series in Pittsburgh. Even better to do it without using Johnny Cueto. The Pirates have the second-best record in the NL and had a 7-game winning streak at home. The Reds beat true ace Gerrit Cole on Wednesday and got contributions throughout the lineup for a dramatic 5-4, extra-inning win last night. The bullpen is showing signs of stabilizing. The team has won 11 of 17, including two walk-off losses to the Cubs. The Cincinnati Reds are only three games below .500 for the first time since the losing streak.

Warm fuzzies. That context should make this discussion go down easier.

Aroldis Chapman’s One Inning

My charter membership in the Free Aroldis club is no secret. The underutilization of Chapman’s arm during his years with the club is among the worst resource allocations – maybe the worst – since I’ve been following the Reds (who deserves the blame for that is beside the point, but it’s certainly shared). Despite statements of intention from him to the contrary, Bryan Price’s devotion to Closer Rules doesn’t vary one four-seamer from Dusty Baker’s. Somehow, Price’s team survived someone other than Chapman getting a save last night the last two nights.

Thursday night’s game provided another act in the Chapman tragedy. Although probably not quite for the reason you think.

Here’s the setting: Chapman hadn’t taken the mound in a game since Sunday and only once in the previous week. He was fresh and needed to pitch. If there was ever a time to consider using him for two innings – a series-deciding game against a division rival – this was it. One complicating factor was that Chapman had been on paternity leave Tuesday and Wednesday and had raced to arrive in Pittsburgh last night.

Late in the game, the Reds began the practice of warming up two pitchers for each inning, Chapman in the case the Reds got the lead, another pitcher in the event the game remained tied. If you’re thinking that’s a strange way to use up Chapman’s fresh arm, I’m with you. But that’s what Closer Rules dictate.

It turns out, the only reason Bryan Price used Chapman in the 11th inning in a tied game was his concern about the impact of getting Chapman up-and-down so many times. “It just seemed like getting him up and getting him up and getting him up, we’d inevitably get to the point where we couldn’t safely bring him in or comfortably feel like he’d have any bullets left in his arsenal,” Price said (Rosecrans).

To review: Aroldis Chapman had pitched once the previous week. In a big game, the Reds almost wore him out in the bullpen because their slavish devotion to the habits of Closer Rules dictated Chapman, and only Chapman, be used for a save. He became unavailable for the save. In English Lit class, that would be an excellent example of irony.

Aroldis Chapman pitched one inning and faced the Pirates 8-9-1 hitters. Contribution limited to seven pitches. Instead of allowing Chapman to pitch the 12th, Mike Leake pinch hit. Chapman could have hit for himself. While Leake is probably a better hitter than Chapman, that gap is smaller than the difference between Chapman and Pedro Villarreal facing the heart of Pittsburgh’s order in the 12th.

Price could have double-switched when Chapman came in, allowing him to pitch two innings before having to bat. Except Price was constrained by …

The Short Bench

Before Thursday’s game, the Reds sent Kristopher Negron to AAA to create a space on the 25-man roster for Chapman’s return from paternity leave. That meant the Reds were once again carrying 13 pitchers and 12 position players. With eight starters, that leaves four position players on the bench, one of whom is the backup catcher, a glass half-full to be broken only in an emergency. So Price began the game with three arrows in his quiver. Last night, the non-emergency, non-faux-position player bench was Ivan De Jesus, Chris Dominguez and Jay Bruce.

Price used De Jesus in the 7th inning to pinch hit for Skip Schumaker. Schumaker had started in RF in place of Jay Bruce (more on that in a second). With a left-handed reliever now in the game, Price played match-up and used up his first arrow. Then Price used Chris Dominguez to hit for Anthony DeSclafani.

So when Ivan De Jesus came to bat in the top of the ninth in a tied game, with two outs and two runners on base, Bryan Price was faced with the choice of leaving De Jesus in to face a right-handed pitcher, or bring in lefty Jay Bruce, who has been one of the best hitters in baseball in June. (Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had already used his two left-handed bullpen arms.) But using Bruce for De Jesus would have completely depleted the non-emergency bench leaving no regular position player to hit for the pitcher in the very next lineup spot. Bruce ended up batting for the pitcher in the 10th.

Getting back to Chapman, when he entered the game in the 11th inning, the reason Bryan Price didn’t double-switch is there was no one available on the bench to do that. By then, Price had used up all three available non-emergency pinch hitters.

So twice the short bench really constrained Bryan Price’s options – once when he couldn’t use Bruce for De Jesus and once when he couldn’t double-switch for Chapman. Price can often get away with the short bench because most games don’t go into extra innings. And the bench is usually so weak compared to the regulars that Price doesn’t use pinch-hitters for position players. But that wasn’t the case last night because of … 

Jay Bruce vs. A.J. Burnett

Bryan Price decided to play Skip Schumaker in right field instead of Jay Bruce. His stated reason was Bruce’s poor history batting against A.J. Burnett. The widely quoted stat was Bruce batting 3 for 31 against Burnett (for the record, Bruce also had three walks and two sacrifice-fly RBIs).

Price is certainly not the only manager who uses hitter-pitcher histories. But when you hear Price say that he used specific history for a decision, you should cringe a little. Because while he’s using data, it offers nothing but false confidence.

Individual batter-pitcher histories have been proven to be meaningless in predicting future outcomes of that match-up. Mountains of research (presumably available to the Reds’ analytics department and Bryan Price) demonstrate this. For example, Colin Wyers (Baseball Prospectus 2011) studied hitter-pitcher matchup data over sixty years of baseball history. He found that “ten, fifty or even a hundred plate appearances aren’t enough to tell us whether there’s a special edge or sample-size fluke.”

Tom Tango and Mitchel Lichtman (The Book: Playing Percentages in Baseball, Chapter 3) studied major league hitters and pitcher data from 1999-2002. They used 1999-2001 as the “before” period and 2002 as the “after” period. They stipulated the pitcher-hitter matchup had to take place at least 17 times before and at least nine times after. That let them identify 300 pairs of pitchers and hitters. Their findings: “We found thirty hitters with fabulous hitting records against thirty pitchers. And yet, given the chance to prove this skill in subsequent confrontations, they fail miserably.” Looking at the pitchers who “owned” certain hitters, “once again, the identity of the opponent was irrelevant. These pitchers didn’t own these hitters.”

Even if you want to bracket off Bruce’s June numbers (.275/.363/.538) for sample size reasons (91 PA), here is Jay Bruce’s split vs. right-handed starters: .236/.337/.431 (2015) and .255/.328/.468 (career). Skip Schumaker vs. right-handed starters: .213/.293/.303.

Skip Schumaker struck out three times against A.J. Burnett on 11 pitches. Maybe Bruce would have done the same. He did strike out in a role unfamiliar to him of pinch hitter.

Match-up histories give managers an easy statsy-sounding rationale when asked about a specific decision. Last night, it gave us Skip for that.

These are minor issues. Alone, they don’t make a broader case for firing a manager or general manager. Hey, part of being a fan of the national past time is second-guessing the management of your favorite team. Fans do it everywhere, to every manager and every general manager. But each time the Reds fail to grab every inch possible, that they make it that much harder to beat organizations like the Pirates who do. Last night, the Reds tried to beat the Pirates while giving Jay Bruce just one plate appearance and Aroldis Chapman three outs. And they limited themselves for dumb reasons.

Whatever, the Reds pulled it out. No better day to celebrate a big 5-4 win.

27 Responses

  1. Alex

    Great analysis, and thanks for being the one to stay up til 1 a.m. watching it. The Rosenthal and Olney reports (trusted guys) that the Reds still think they’re in this, and will somehow pass two of SF, Pitt, and Chicago, is very discouraging. Bob C’s ego hurts this team every day.

  2. Jeremy Conley

    I had high hopes when Price was hired, because he was younger, and didn’t seem like a traditional manager. I’ve really been surprised by how traditional his moves have been, and it’s been a big disappointment.

    For a Reds team that really had no margin of error, they needed to take every advantage they could get their hands on. In spring training I wrote a piece here about how if they stopped using Chapman as a traditional closer, it would be like getting a free extra high-quality reliever (because Chapman would be taking innings away from some lesser pitcher). How many games would the Reds have won this year if they had had an extra high-quality reliever to go to? 5? More?

  3. redmountain

    The reason that these writers say this is for two reasons: One, the season is not over and they could pass two of those teams I do not expect the Cubs to finish strong unless they get some pitching, plus young teams tend to fade in August and September. Second, it is in their best interest to present the possibility of the Reds doing a move forward in the standings. Will they? Sorry, but my crystal ball is cloudy, but I would not dismiss it at this point. Nor does it mean that they will not make some moves in the next month or two.

  4. CP

    I think the match up thing is just manager-speak for giving Jay Bruce a day off. Most fans accept that type of argument, so managers default to it when they want to do something that could be controversial, like giving a “hot” hitter the day off. Jay has been hitting well, but has played in almost every game in June. I don’t see Price doing a lot of weird matchup decisions (of course, this could be because his bench has such limited MLB experience…thank you Walt).

    I don’t know what everyone here at RN does for a living, but sometimes, you have to sugarcoat things so unreasonable people don’t get upset. Like, if I ask to see someone’s supporting documentation during a review, I don’t tell them it’s because I don’t trust them, I tell them it’s “because I need to document the information for the regulators” or that it is standard operating procedure, something that doesn’t implicate them. .

    Fans and sports media are pretty much the definition of unreasonable, so coaches end up defaulting to these answers that they don’t get a lot of flack for.

    • Nick Carrington

      That is a very reasonable point, CP. That very well may be true. But it makes me wonder why Bruce would need a day off when they had a rain out last week and an off day Monday.

      • CP

        They will play 16 games in the next 17 days until the AS break. Or maybe Bruce is a little banged up. Plus it’s getting hot & humid in the MW. Who knows? it’s a long season.

        I hate reading too much into why guys are doing things, but I also think people just taken whatever the manager & GM say at face value far too much. WJ is basically Johnny Tightlips from the Simpsons, and Price is on record as being openly disdainful of the local sports media (I don’t blame him).

      • i71_Exile

        Agree. If we learned one thing from B. Price’s much-lampooned rant, it’s that he doesn’t want to leak any health-related issue unless he has to. I can’t say that I blame him really.

  5. IndyRedMan

    Price has been bad. We were very lucky to win that one last night despite him. It should’ve been a sweep but he went AAA on Tues and gave it away. He should’ve started Contreras and mix-n-matched when you’re playing a team that you’re chasing like that….or atleast pull Josh Smith after the first 2 guys got on since he was shaky every inning? He barely uses Chapman except for 3 run saves? I will give him props for running more and for batting Votto 2nd at times and Hamilton 9th. Dusty would’ve never done either.

    • greenmtred

      I really can’t attack or defend Price. I don’t know enough about baseball or the players on the Reds to trust my opinion. That said, you and Steve raise excellent points, points worthy of thought and discussion. I will say, as an observation only, that given the adversity (self-inflicted and inflicted by fate)that the Reds have faced this year, it is surprising to me that they are playing as well as they are. They actually do have some good players who appear to have not given up. I’m not certain that Price deserves no credit for that.

  6. kmartin

    I have searched, but cannot find, any statistics on how often a relief pitcher warms up. Does anyone know if this statistic is recorded? I follow Chapman closely and it seems like this year in particular Chapman has warmed up an inordinate number of times. As Marty said he one game, “Chapman is up and down like a yo yo.”

  7. renbutler

    If your next best option off the bench is Negron, it’s almost like not having an option at all.

  8. Aaron Bradley

    Frazier is carrying this team on his back right now. If he goes cold, like he did after the ASG last season this team will drop a bunch of games and fall out of the race surprisingly fast. There just isn’t enough offense without Todd’s hot bat in the heart of the order. Too many injuries and thin depth and poor managing spells a hopeless endeavor this season. They are teasing but nothing more. It’s indefensible how Chapman was used yesterday. It isn’t nitpicking it is a glaring weakness in strategic thinking to let Chapman throw only 7 pitches against the 8-9-1 hitters. This team would be better with 2 guys like Hoover rather than a super closer who has such a specific role that Price is hesitant to bring him in a game or let him face the heart of the order in the highest leverage situations. I am beyond disgusted. Sure it’s nice to win a couple games, but it’s just a tease and will prevent the team from making deals (again).

    • i71_Exile

      I want the Reds to win every game. If they end up with a playoff appearance (and maybe a championship) I am happy with two compensatory draft picks as the booby prize for Cueto/Leake.

      If they are out of it, then sure, move the guys you can’t resign and get on with it. Until then, keep on winning.

  9. lwblogger2

    Yeah, the stated reason for starting Schumaker last night made me a little queezy too.

  10. WVRedlegs

    On Chapman, the reasoning on his usage is so far out there the Hubble Telescope can’t find it.
    On Bruce, I can give Price a little bit of a pass in that the PNC Park outfield had been rained on heavily earlier that morning and afternoon, coupled with Bruce’s knee surgery last year, and with Bruce’s history vs. Burnette, it just may have been a good time to sit him.
    Another stat that is hitter vs. pitcher history that came up last night. The Pirates Sterling Marte was 0-12 with 8 K’s in his career vs. JJ Hoover when he came up to pinch hit last night. Marte promptly lined a hard hit single to RF. I am not sure, but that might have been right before BP’s behind the back double play ball. I had to turn the TV over to the Pittsburgh Root Sports announcers and they were ecstatic and wowed about it. They gave BP alot of props, which I didn’t think they would do. There has been alot of vitriole from the Pittsburgh announcers towards BP in the past few years.

    • pinson343

      Definitely a lot of vitriole from the Pirates radio broadcasters toward BP the last few years. It’s hard to listen to them anyway.

      But that play transcended the usual petty stuff.

  11. WVRedlegs

    Tonight’s lineup looks OK vs. Mets.
    BP, Votto, Frazier, Bruce, Pena, Suarez, Dominguez, Cueto, BHam.
    Byrd’s wrist might be a little sore as Dominguez is in LF.

    • JB WV

      Byrd said as much the other night after he cracked that dinger to cf. Love the irony there. Man is strong. So is Dominguez, maybe he can lift one tonight. Love the grit these guys are showing right now.

  12. pinson343

    All of this is very familiar (but important, worth repeating). I am very disappointed about the Schumaker for Bruce vs. thing: as Chad said on last night’s post, Price is Dusty 2.0.

    And BTW, the called 3rd strike to Bruce was low and outside (as you can see on video), even the Pirates biased broadcasters thought so.

  13. pinson343

    FWIW this business about sitting a good player because of his history against the starting pitcher is not old school. Old school was: The only way you’re going to learn to hit him is by facing him. And we’ve seen pitchers dominate Bruce and then suddenly … not so much.

  14. jdx19

    Just read something in a FG chat suggesting Byrd may actually have some trade deadline value, since he’ll be owed just $1.3M or so and his injury makes it unlikely his option for 2016 will vest. May even bring back a ‘Ben Lively’ type prospect.

    Thoughts? Think we can get Philly to take him back? 😉

  15. jdx19

    Slow Friday at Work Fun Fact of the Day:

    On a per-PA basis, Skip Schumaker has been the least valuable player in MLB (min 100 PAs).

    Name / PAs / WAR
    1) Joyce, Matt / 221 / -1.2
    2) Utley, Chase / 249 / -1.1
    3) Ramirez, Alexei / 280 / -1.0
    4) Asche, Cody / 197 / -1.0
    5) Schumaker, Skip / 113 / -0.8
    6) Morse, Mike / 138 / -0.8
    7) Rivera, Rene / 205 / -0.7

    All the guys around Skip have a lot more PAs, and since WAR is a cumulative stat, it doesn’t bode well for Mr. Grit!

    • ncboiler

      That’s pretty good. Just out of curiosity I created a WAR/100PA and came up with this (worst 10 players)

      Name Team WAR/100PA
      Skip Schumaker Reds -0.71
      Scooter Gennett Brewers -0.63
      Michael Morse Marlins -0.58
      Grady Sizemore Phillies -0.58
      Matt Joyce Angels -0.54
      Nick Swisher Indians -0.54
      C.J. Cron Angels -0.53
      Cody Asche Phillies -0.51
      Jayson Werth Nationals -0.50

      And the best 10 players

      Name Team WAR/100PA
      Bryce Harper Nationals 1.75
      Justin Turner Dodgers 1.53
      Josh Phegley Athletics 1.43
      Jason Kipnis Indians 1.41
      Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 1.35
      Todd Frazier Reds 1.33
      Mike Trout Angels 1.29
      Joc Pederson Dodgers 1.20
      Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 1.17

      Check out who is just in front of Mr Trout – borderline all-star Todd Frazier

  16. redsfan06

    In Grant Freking’s excellent interview with Bill Bray, he asked Bray what he thought about Chapman’s ability to continue throwing at 100 mph without getting hurt. Bray’s career was dotted with injuries and ended early because of it.

    Bray said, that since he was a middle inning reliever, he was up and down warming up in the bullpen a lot depending on the game situation. He thought this extra wear and tear in addition to the innings he pitched contributed to his injuries. Bray said Chapman doesn’t face the same up and down, maybe in, maybe not warming up scenario since he is the closer.

    Apparently he was not familiar with Price’s strict adherence to the closer rules. There have been several times this year where the Reds had a small lead late in the game with Chapman warming up to close it out. Then the Reds rallied to open up the lead by more than 3 runs, eliminating the save opportunity. Since there were no other BP pitcher’s ready to go, Price sent a worn out starter back out to pitch.

    One of those games was Cueto’s outing prior to the one where he turned up hurt. Not sure if it was related, but Cueto went back out after having already thrown 115 or so pitches and sitting for 30 minutes while the Reds were batting. Cueto couldn’t finish and Price brought out a different reliever who worked himself into a jam. Another reliever had to be used to finish the game. So Price ended up warming up Chapman, extending Cueto, and using up two relievers just to keep Chapman from pitching in a non-save situation.

    Bottom line is Price’s usage of Chapman is detrimental to the whole pitching staff at times.

  17. VaRedsFan

    Without me knowing the answer, let’s just say that a week ago, Price was planning to give Bruce a day off. He looked at the future pitchers and saw that Bruce was batting..275, .290, .255, .243, and about .105. Which day would you chose to give Bruce a day off? Sample size or not (unless it was just a game or 3) I know which day I’m setting him.