There’s a trend on Twitter (and as a result, in the public discourse) of dunking on players that dare question their managers’ more analytical decisions. Last week, Tyler Mahle was the most recent victim after he had the gall to question why he was pulled in the fifth inning. Mahle’s full quote:

“I haven’t really got the chance to battle through a game, battle through six innings or whatever…Like tonight, especially after the last game when I get pulled at 77 pitches. This game, I know I had 90-something, but in my opinion, I deserve to at least get out of the fifth or get through five or see where that next batter ends up. I get a pop-up and I am one ground ball away. And I get taken out of the game. So, it’s getting pretty ridiculous at this point, but I just got to keep going.”

At the time of his early shower, Mahle had only given up two runs in the first. Runners were on first and second with the next three batters going lefty, switch, lefty. Wandy Peralta, the Reds lesser left-handed bullpenner, was brought in and promptly addressed the three batters by strike out, walk, and grand slam, essentially ending any hope for the Reds afternoon.

Doug Gray wrote after Mahle’s comments came to light about the game and their implications. I both fully support and agree with everything Doug wrote. However, Mahle had a point.

The point of using analytics as a manager is to make in-game decisions with the highest level of information so that your team can win. In other words, analytics allow for smarter managing, presumably in the pursuit of wins. I say Tyler Mahle was right because no manager with that much information at their disposal can bring in Wandy Peralta and still claim to be managing to win.

Just take the analytics: In his third time through the order so far this season, Mahle has allowed a slashline of .241/.302/.431 with an OPS of .733 this season. Not standout by any means, but also not that bad. Against lefties, those numbers are worse: .285/.338/.537 with an OPS of .875. Wandy Peralta, meanwhile, has a .256/.300/.488 with a .788 OPS against lefties this season. Peralta is better than Mahle against lefties yes, but also worse overall than Mahle is on his third time through. Essentially, it was a wash.

If David Bell brought in Amir Garrett in that situation, then I’m all for it. If Wandy Peralta had gotten the outs, then we aren’t having this conversation. But neither happened and Tyler Mahle has a fair gripe.

Since I wrote last week that the next two weeks were crunch time for the Reds and nothing less than a 9-3 record would prove them to be contenders, the Reds have gone 3-3. For them to meet my threshold, the Reds need to sweep the Astros and the Brewers. Even then, the Reds will only be at .500.

More likely than not, the Reds will not be a contender by the trade deadline. That’s okay: Most of us expected this team to be around .500 with a chance to overachieve anyway. But the thing about seasons without playoff aspirations is they still have to be used for something. If it’s not tanking to get a higher draft pick, then it should be letting young players have as many chances to succeed as possible. And part of that is letting Tyler Mahle go deep into games.

Pitchers get worse as they go deeper into games, yes, but battling deep is also a learned skill. The best pitchers across the league know how to adjust their approach for the third time through and rely on secondary pitches to still get outs. Watch Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander: Both guys know how to battle and save their reserves for the late innings.

That skill isn’t innate; it’s something that takes practice. If David Bell is managing to win, sure he should replace Mahle with Garrett or Michael Lorenzen or Robert Stephenson or David Hernandez. Any of the reliable, shutdown arms in the bullpen should do. Pulling Mahle for Wandy Peralta or Zach Duke however isn’t managing to win, it’s just hurting Mahle’s development.

Last night, David Bell managed his pitchers perfectly. When Raisel Iglesias struggled with his command in the ninth, Bell came with the hook, bringing on the Michael Lorenzen for the save. It was an unconventional move, and one that wasn’t necessarily supported by analytics either, but it worked. In that situation, David Bell managed to win. He knew Iglesias didn’t have it with the game on the line and pulled him for someone who could do the job.

In Mahle’s situation, it wasn’t quite that dire. Letting Mahle go another batter or two to see if he could escape the fifth is just the kind of low leverage adversity a young pitcher needs. If Mahle gives up the grand slam, then that’s on him and the result is the same. If he gets out of it, he and the Reds are both better for it.

All of the focus on Mahle’s quote understandably went to the end: “It’s getting pretty ridiculous at this point.” Deservedly, Mahle was chastised for insubordination. But the real focus should have been at the beginning: “I haven’t really gotten a chance to battle through a game.” He’s right, and that’s a failure of the Reds new rigidity to an analytical system. While avoiding third time through the order should be considered, as the rest of the season progresses, pitcher development should start to be prioritized more. After all, analytics can take you far, but in some situations, not in the right direction.

20 Responses

  1. Ghettotrout1

    I really don’t have any issue with Mahle saying that to the media. I mean I get it comes off like an A hole move but it really doesn’t bother me. I like when players are actually honest with how they feel rather than just towing the company “team” line. I mean if they are just expected to say bland generic statements than what is the point of the interviews to begin with. Also I don’t really think that people think about how competitive these players are and when you interview someone who is passionate and competitive immediately after a game like that emotions are still going to be running hot, I think people need to be easy with their judgements, but whatever.

  2. Big Ed

    Agree wholeheartedly. Well done, Wes.

    Bruce Bochy in his interview with Chris Welsh recently said pretty much the same thing about managing being an art and science. Bell trusted his eyes last night on Iglesias, and took him out. I don’t think “analytics” should or even could matter on that type of decision. I saw Nolan Ryan get utterly shelled in Fenway Park one day, not making it out of the first inning. When a guy just doesn’t have it that day, the numbers don’t come into play. Even Secretariat got beat a few times.

    • Steven Ross

      Secretariat also won 16 times and finished in the money 20 times. Only his Maiden race did he finish 4th but he had a great excuse getting bumped hard leaving the gate. The Reds wish they could be this good and have his heart!

      Speaking of the Reds, 100% agreement with Bell lifting Iglesias in favor of Lorenzen. Went with his gut, sent a message and it worked. Mahle was also right. As was Roark earlier in the year. Playing Casali over Tucker is also the right move.

  3. Bill Lack

    Sorry, two different decisions. The decision to take Mahle out was the right decision, the decision to use Peralta was the wrong decision (and IMO, would have been even if he’d be effective).

    I don’t think anything good ever comes out of a player (much less a guy with 200 big league innings) bad mouthing his manager publicly. He could have accomplished the same thing by going to Bell after the game and making his feelings known.

    As for the managing by analytics, it seems to me like you’re managing that ONE game and I’m not sure a manager can do that, it’s a long season and what might be the best decision for that one day might not be for the long haul. We shall see, I guess.

  4. Big Tony

    The only thing that really bothers me is that our pitching IS significantly better than its been since 2012. I truly believe a huge part of this has been pulling guys before they manage to do too much damage to themselves. You go out into the 6th inning, above 90 pitches, and you up back to back base runners? Why wouldnt you get pulled?

    Remember when Price was “killing everyone confident” by leaving guys in too long and they were getting shelled. Now, pulling them when they look shaky is “not giving them a chance to prove themselves”. You dont get to have both narratives.

  5. Brian S Jolley

    I didn’t like the move at all to bring in Peralta. They have enough arms to bring in someone much more reliable in that situation. I didn’t have a problem with most of what Mahle said. However, he can’t say “It’s getting pretty ridiculous.” I think if he could do it over he would not have said that. I don’t like the trend with players feeling comfortable disrespecting their skipper publicly. Go into his office and close the door and say things like that. Don’t tell reporters. What good could it possibly do?

    • JoshG

      I don’t think it was meant as criticism of Bell, I think he meant in baseball as a whole

  6. TR

    Mahle going public with his criticism of the manager is not a positive move in my opinion. The media (everywhere) loves it because they need to fill time and space with information. The better move is a private meeting with the manager or pitching coach. It’s the same in any employment environment where a public outburst only exacerbates the situation. And, analytics has it’s place in baseball for sure, but sometimes a manager has to go with the artistic side and let a pitcher or player work through a difficulty.

  7. Eric Wormus

    I think one of the things that gets lost in Bell’s quick hooks is that the offense pretty much dictates he has to manage innings 4-6 like they are 7-9. When you’re down 2-1 in the 5th with the pitcher due up, you almost have to pinch hit because the offense is so bad you literally can’t give up any more free outs.
    Same thing with being down 2-0 in the 5th. If that lineup turns over for the 3rd time, you almost HAVE to make a move because of how inept the offense is. The issue isn’t the quick hook, it’s who replaced Mahle and the pathetic offense that necessitates it.

    • Roger Garrett

      Excellent points and accurate.Score some runs and problems go away.

  8. Mason Res

    I think his statement may also be frustration from a player on a bad team. The pitching staff has been the only bright spot in another losing season. The pitchers know they can’t allow many runs because of the terrible offense of this team. Also he may have said those things in hopes of being traded. Can’t blame him if that’s the case.

  9. Roger Garret

    Your right and that’s why the Reds are where they are and where they have been for years.No clear cut plan means you don’t have a plan which has to be confusing to the players and everybody else.The built in excuse of well we are trying to win but we want to see at times what the young guys can do and its not all of the young guys its just some of them and its just in certain situations against certain pitchers or hitters etc etc is just an excuse to do whatever you want on any given day and it gets you know where.Mahle’s comments are just a result of what I just said.

  10. redbone

    David Bell has no feel for the game and relies on ANALYTICS too much. The game becomes boring when everything revolves around stats. Emotions and fighting spirit should be part of the game!

  11. SultanofSwaff

    Good post Wes. I guess what rubs me more than anything is the lack of consistency when it comes to balancing development and winning. Certain players lacking a track record get really long leashes (i.e. Peraza, Peralta, heck even Senzel) while others (Winker, Ervin, Stephenson, Lorenzen, Reed) aren’t given the same opportunities.

    • Tv

      Sure if you like players who can’t hit and bull pens who won’t make the season. This does not even figure this kind of style won’t work with rule changes next years. The smart manger would let his guys learn to throw in late innings. At least the top 3 guys. The reason players felt like they could say this is because bell has no control of his team. I never worked in sports but no way someone who ever worked for me would think they could say something like that. Bell is Brian prince with less energy. Also this makes our bench short. Its insane. Its like dusty was not excited enough so we try and get progressively less excited. Who’s next droppy dog?

  12. Curtis Williams

    Analytics is the current “way to win” but in time it will be proven as many other “ways to win” have throughout the years, that players and their determination, and drive cannot be measured and always will be the final factor in winning.

  13. Jack

    I agree, this team is still developing players, a win now mindset is misguided because this team isn’t good enough. Mahle has to get better and taking him out won’t help that. Same with Winker, sitting him every other game or taking him out for a pinch hitter in the 5th is absolute mishandling of one of your top young players no matter what the stats say at this point in his career.

    • Tv

      Exactly. Winker is top 100 who hit 300 last year. Even if his splits are bad no 2 players are going to deliver a 300 average and 400 obp form that side. Its insane. If you are a musician and dont play all the time you won’t learn new songs and the old ones don’t sound as good. If they care about math they could easily see the product when the had 4 outsiders vs when they had 3. When they only had 3 the others hit way way better. Not hard math but overlooked like position in the order

      • Curtis Williams

        Great point, and another example of how sabermetrics is hurting players and the game.

  14. Michael E

    Reminds me of many a LH hitter that NEVER get a chance to show they can hit lefties and righties. One or two months in the minors of lefty difficulty and BOOM, they’re labeled platoon for the next 5-10 years.

    I am sorry, lefties should have no more trouble hitting LHP than righties do RHP. Most righties hit RHP well enough (mediocre or better) even if the splits are better against LHP (for most of them).

    If I were manager and I had a good hitter, I roll him out against every pitcher until we find one or two pitchers that just have his number (like 1-20 with 12 ks number), and maybe rest him a few days a year against those guys.

    If you don’t let them hit, and often against the same-sided pitcher, you’re handicapping them to worth less to your team. That’s just bad business, analytics be darned.

    Same for pitchers, if they get hit hard a few times at 90 pitches or third time around, you don’t immediately say “never again” and be done with it. That’s just bad business, analytics be double-darned. Sometimes you have to use common sense and remember that analytics doesn’t cover learning, improving, maturing and gaining confidence, it just covers past facts…that’s all. Sometimes you have to wad up that nerd sheet and toss it in the used sunflower seed bin.