I’m not going to berate Jim Leyland for the use of Brad Thomas to begin the seventh inning (even though I think it was a poor choice in a high leverage situation). He was down a man in the bullpen because Ryan Perry had just been placed on the DL and I’m sure he didn’t want to immediately burn Joaquin Benoit or Jose Valverde so soon in a one run game. I would have loved to see Brayan Villarreal remain in the game, but that didn’t happen, and that isn’t what this post is about.
The real mismanagement of the bullpen, in my opinion, was not brining in Benoit after Thomas had allowed the first two hitters of the inning to reach base. According to the Leverage Index chart, the inning had started with an LI of 1.9 (1.0 is an “average situation”), but it quickly jumped up to 3.5 the single and the walk. That’s closer or setup man territory, not long relief or mop-up duty. It’s a nearly identical situation (according to leverage) to having a one run lead going into the bottom of the ninth (3.5 to 3.6).
Why do you bring in Enrique Gonzalez? So that he can diffuse the situation and you can bring in your highly priced free agent reliever the next inning in a less pressure-packed situation? A one run lead in the bottom of the eighth would carry an L.I. of 2.5. That’s still high-leverage, but it’s less critical than what they were facing there in the seventh.
I’m all for having defined roles in the bullpen (closer, 8th inning, 7th inning, long relief, LOOGY), but we can’t be so rigid with them that we end up placing poorer pitchers in the most critical spots. I’m usually a supporter of the things Jim Leyland does, but this one was simply not good.
Obviously Benoit could have entered the game and the Orioles still could have scored a pile of runs, we’ll never know, but at least the Tigers would have been better suited to get out of the inning with minimal damage. A manager is supposed to put his team in the best position to win, and Jim didn’t do that last night.