Good teams don’t blow this many saves right?

Geez, can’t a fan’s gut instincts ever be right?

Here are the thoughts of Marlins fans [OK me] after Heath Bell’s blown save on Tuesday:

Good teams don’t lose games when they rally from 7 runs down. Good teams don’t blow these many save opportunities. I mean it’s probably happened before, in the way that everything has probably happened before in MLB, but you probably gotta go way back.

So I set out to find a National League [the DH league is dead to me] playoff team who were at the bottom of the league in terms of blown saves. I had to go all the way back to the 2011 World Champion St Louis Cardinals.

  • 2011 Cardinals blown saves – 26
  • 2011 NL average blown saves – 20
  • 2011 Marlins blown saves – 19
  • 2012 Marlins blown saves – 12
  • 2012 NL average – 10

But surely those Cardinals didn’t have a game were they were down 7, came back and blew the game in extra innings? No they had one where they were down 8, came back and blew the game in extra innings. It happened against the Reds, it happened at home and it happened almost one year to the date of the Marlins loss, on July 6th 2011.

Alright, alright, but before those Cardinals, what other playoff teams …

  • 2010 – Cincinnati & Philadelphia were above the league average in blown saves, but not significantly
  • 2009 – LA Dodgers made the playoffs and led the league in blown saves

I could go on, but its a sunny day. Turns out that blown saves may be a better indicator of a team that has a lot of late leads, more than it is an indicator of whether a team can make the playoffs. So ask not for whom the Bell trolls, Oviedo and Bonifacio will soon be back.

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For whom the Bell gets pounded

John Donne’s best known poetry might hit too close to home for Heath Bell to appreciate right now. No surprise there, everything associated with Bell is hitting well at this point. But instead of visiting a sports psychiatrist, he might be better off googling the 16th century English poet, satirist, lawyer, priest and defier of King James I.

The bad news is that Heath Bell has blown both of his saves opportunities. The good news is that he was practically unhittable is his lone low pressure appearance. See his performance to date in 2012.

Pictured is the rumored, but to date unverified by The Elias Sports Bureau, landing spot of a Jay Bruce home run earlier this season.

For whom the bell tolls a poem — No man is an island
[aka The Reliever’s Lament] — by John Donne
[no relation to Dominick John Dunne]:

No man is an island
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Marlins fan spiritual defense kit

Somewhere outside of Philadelphia on Monday, a goat’s life will come to an abrupt end because Heath Bell couldn’t keep his fastball down on Easter Sunday.  Such are the realities of having a practicing Santero managing a MLB team.  It’s a cut throat business.

Now that some Marlins fans have come to see Ozzie Guillen as an adversary, we need to prepare in case we find ourselves cornered by the powerful Babalao. Fortunately, at a recent Little Havana garage sale, I came a cross a wonderful research paper, ‘A Study of Divination within Santería, an Afro-Cuban Religion, as a Psychotherapeutic System’ by Lawrence J. Levy, M.S. While reading the paper, I alternately imagined myself as Guy Montag and Beldar Conehead. It was heady stuff. Literally.

A core Santería belief is the following:

The seat of the soul is the head, and therefore to strengthen the ‘Orisha’ that lives in the head of every human, it must be fed a mixture of grated coconut, honey, and cocoa butter. This mixture is placed on the head and then covered by a white hat or kerchief. The process is called ‘rogación de la cabeza.’

Bang, there it was, our defense kit.

But first I had to get the thought out of my head that if Orel Hershiser had been given the ‘Orisha’ nickname instead of ‘Bulldog,’ he would be in Cooperstown today.  Talk about an intimidation factor.  Heck Tommy Lasorda, who gave him the Bulldog nickname, spent a lot of time in Cuba, why couldn’t he … I digress.

Never have to say you’re sorry to the neighborhood Babalao again


But knowing the ingredients for the Babalao survival kit wasn’t enough. How to mass produce them and have them available at critical moments? Enter late night infomercials. I just want to note two things. The ingredients in the Glossy Locks shampoo are exactly what is needed to protect our inner Orisha’s and you don’t have to enter a botanica to obtain it. ‘Nuf said.

(more…)

An Idiot’s Guide to a Pitching Change

Winston Churchill described a fanatic as follows, “one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Regarding Matt Lindstrom’s blown save against the Philadelphia Phillies last Friday night, Marlins fans resemble the latter and seem incapable of the former.

While talk radio makes us question T.S. Eliot’s assertion about lost causes–that there are no lost causes, since there are no gained causes–we know that complaining fans are at least interested fans, so they should feel free to say whatever they want. However, what they can not do is criticize Florida Marlins manager Freddi Gonzalez’s decision to leave Lindstrom in the game before he faced Shane Victorino and pretend to be knowledgeable baseball fans.

First, let’s highlight who the closer is. A pitcher either earns or is given [as was Lindstrom] the role of closer and he then proceeds to either perform well enough to keep his job or lose the role, as Kevin Gregg did last year. A consensus has emerged in MLB that relief pitchers benefit from having defined roles. In effect, those roles are a way of ensuring that key pitching decisions are not made by the manager’s intuitions. Think of it as a form of mandatory sentencing guidelines for managers handling their bullpens.

A manager’s strategy in handling the bullpen is designed to get the closer in the game to end the game. If the closer fails, then it’s a loss or extra innings, but none of the options are ever considered superior to having your closer in the game with a chance to complete the game. As such, every opportunity is given to let the closer do his job. Matt Lindstrom was the Marlins organization’s, not just Freddi Gonzalez’s, closer on April 24th. A recap of the 9th inning from ESPN:

Philadelphia batting – Top of 9th
Matt Lindstrom pitching for Florida
B Carroll in left field.
M Lindstrom relieved L Nunez.
Score PHI 0 / FLA 3
R Howard grounded out to second.
J Werth doubled to deep left center.
R Ibanez walked.
M Stairs hit for P Feliz.
M Stairs singled to right, J Werth scored, R Ibanez to third.
Score PHI 1 / FLA 3
M Cairo ran for M Stairs.
L Marson walked, M Cairo to second.
E Bruntlett hit for C Condrey.
E Bruntlett struck out looking.
J Rollins walked, R Ibanez scored, M Cairo to third, L Marson to second.
Score PHI 2 / FLA 3

As bad as Lindstrom’s outing was to this point, he is also one pitch away from getting [clearly not earning] a save. But there was another key factor at play here. In all the pathetic whining I’ve heard about this blown save, I have heard no one discuss what Lindstrom’s track record was against Victorino.

Lindstron had retired Victorino all 3 times he faced him in 2008. Given the following factors, it made sense to let Lindstrom face him:

  • Lindstrom’s past performance against Victorino
  • Lindstron was still in a position to get the save
  • Limited options left to the manager when closer fails
  • Closers are typically given every opportunity to complete their job, especially in April

S Victorino homered to right, M Cairo, L Marson and J Rollins scored.
Score PHI 6 / FLA 3

Gonzalez lets Lindstrom face Utley. What reasons would Gonzalez have for not making the change at this point? Gonzalez had Renyel Pinto warming up. Pinto is one of two Marlins left-handers in the bullpen. Pinto had the 2nd most appearances of any Marlins relievers last year and is 2nd in appearances this year. It would make sense for Gonzalez to want to avoid using Pinto.

Why have Pinto warm up if he wasn’t going to use him? With Utley and Howard coming up, there was a chance that Pinto could have been used in a tie or even a one-run game. The grand-slam basically put the game out of reach and Gonzalez was hoping that Lindstrom could get the final out without using Pinto. As we know, it didn’t work out that way, this time.

C Utley homered to right.
Score PHI 7 / FLA 3
R Pinto relieved M Lindstrom.

Pinto ended up facing 3 batters and throwing 13 pitches. He also ended up being used the next day to face one batter. The odds that the same people complaining about leaving Lindstrom in the game for Victorino and Utley will soon be complaining about the overused bullpen are high.

R Howard doubled to deep center.
J Werth walked.
R Ibanez struck out swinging.

Another interesting result of the inning was that it resuscitated the ever reliable Backup Quarterback Syndrome [BQS]. In this incarnation of the disease, any backup who performs well–Leo Nunez had retired the Phillies on 9 pitches in the 8th–has that one performance extrapolated across multiple seasons. Alas, BQS’ers did not even get to enjoy their fantasy for 24 hours, as Nunez failed in the closer’s role the following night.

The most uninteresting thing about the inning is how Gonzalez used Lindstrom. This was 21st century managerial philosophy, strictly by the book. Argue if you wish that he throw that book away, but understand that your argument is with practically all of MLB, not Freddi Gonzalez.

Lindstrom’s night – 7 runs, including 2 home runs — is a spectacularly bad outing. But bad outings happen to all closers. If they happen too often,  most teams trade for another one, the Marlins call Jacksonville.

Check out the outings two good closers had last year:

Jose Valverde – Houston Astros
DATE — OPP — RESULT — IP — H — R — ER — HR — BB — SO
7/21/08 — PIT —  L /9-3 — 0.1 — 5 — 6 —- 6 — 2 —- 1 — 0

Heath Bell – San Diego Padres
DATE — OPP — RESULT — IP — H — R — ER — HR — BB — SO
4/22/08 – @HOU – L 11-7 –1.0 — 4 –4 — 4 — 0  —- 2 —- 1

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T.S. Eliot’s logic:

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.” –T.S. Eliot
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