Playing the Eighth-Inning Blame Game (Part 2)

In the impossibly remote event that you missed Part 1 of this two-part series (or why would you be reading Part 2?), I'll remind you that we are playing the Blame Game, in which we examine the twelve occasions on which Phillies' pitchers lost leads or ties in the eighth inning. What happened? What options were available that might have resulted in a different outcome? How should the blame for each disaster be apportioned? Post mortem at the end. When we left the club it was June, which, along with April and May, was the cruelest month to date for the Phillies and their pen. It's now July, and the All-Star Game will soon signal the unofficial mid-point of the season. Only Papelbon and Bastardo are left of the opening day bullpen roster, which has lost its tail (Savery, Herndon, and Stutes) and midsection (Kendrick now being a starter). The caudal appendage currently includes Jeremy Horst, Raul Valdes, Michael Schwimer, and Jake Diekman, but that's subject to almost weekly fluctuation from now on.

7. July 6, 2012. 0-0 tie entering the top of the 8th. Braves score 5 runs and win 5-0.

The Eighth. Kyle Kendrick has thrown a shutout gem, but his club has scored no runs for him. Antonio Bastardo (L) comes on to pitch to pinch-hitter Juan Francisco (L), who is promply replaced by pinch-hitter Matt Diaz (R). Diaz singles, and Bourn (SH) who follows him walks. Prado (R) and Heyward (L) both fly out with no advance by the runners. Bastardo then walks Jones (SH) to load the bases and Freeman (L) to force in a run. McCann (L) follows with a grand slam. Schwimer (R) comes on to retire Uggla (R) for the final out.

The Options. Through the seventh, Kendrick, in one of the best games any Phillies' starter will throw in 2012, has thrown 89 pitches, struck out 5, walked 1, and given up only 4 hits. In all of his previous starts save one Kendrick has thrown more pitches. He is due to lead off the bottom of the eighth, but could still pitch the top half. If he were Hamels, Lee, or Halladay, he would. Horst (L), who will pitch the final pointless inning, threw clean innings in his previous two outings. Instead, Bastardo comes on. Bastardo had an outstanding May. June was not outstanding (.271/.364/.479). In his two previous July outings, one was good and one was bad. The announced pinch hitter bats left, but Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez burns a bat in favor of Phillie-killer Matt Diaz. The outs to Prado and Heyward with Diaz and Bourn on base have Bastardo almost out of the inning. Jones' efficiency is about the same from either side (more power left, higher average right), but Freeman and McCann both bat left. Bastardo stays in, even after walking Jones, and the inning and game fall apart.

The Blame.

  • Bastardo (65%). For another maddeningly poor eighth inning.
  • Manuel (35%). For not believing his eyes with Kendrick, not outmanaging Fredi Gonzalez, and not giving up on the elusive blob of mercury called Bastardo as "an eighth-inning guy."

8. July 21, 2012. Phillies lead 5-4 entering the top of the 8th. Giants score 1 to tie and win in 10 innings.

The Eighth. Melky Cabrera (SH) leads off the inning with a home run off starter Cole Hamels (L). Posey (R) follows with a double. Sandoval (SH) grounds out, moving Posey to third, but Posey is erased trying to steal home. Blanco (L), pinch-hitting for Pagan (R), walks, and Arias (R) follows with a single. Bastardo (L) comes on to retire Belt (L) on a pop-up to end the inning.

The Options. Hamels enters the eighth inning around a hundred pitches. Schwimer and Kendrick are the right-hand options. Batting right, Cabrera is 5 for 14 against Hamels in a limited number of career appearances. Since he batted well from both sides all year, there's no advantage to bringing on a right hander. Leftie Bastardo, who eventually comes on after the damage has been done, could come on now, but he has no track record against any of the batters who are due up, and he's had a rough July (14.54 ERA in 6 games). Charlie is going to ride his ace into the eighth once again. Cabrera has already been on base three times against Hamels with 2 walks and a single. Hamels won't want to walk him a third time. Unfortunately, he doesn't. The rest of the inning is irrelevant, but for the record, Posey has hit Hamels well in limited at bats prior to doubling, as has Sandoval before grounding out. Hamels escapes a loss by pure luck when Posey is out stealing. Why Blanco, a left hander, should be batting for right-handed Pagan is unclear, but the match-up advantage isn't cashed in on. Bastardo probably should have come on to face Blanco, but Hamels should certainly not have faced Arias. But Manuel allows Hamels to walk Blanco and give up another hit to Arias while running his pitch count to 128.

The Blame

  • Hamels (100%). This is Hamels' loss, pure and simple.
  • Manuel. (0%). Manuel escapes blame twice. Blame should and would have been significant if Cabrera's home run had come later in the inning or if Posey hadn't been caught at home. Hamels' starting the inning wasn't a total no-brainer, but was hardly indefensible given the options.

9. August 16, 2012. Phillies lead 4-3 going into the bottom 8th; Brewers score and win 7-4.

The Eighth. After giving up 2 runs in the first inning, Cliff Lee (L) has pretty much shut the Brewers down as he starts the bottom of the eighth. Maldonado (R), batting for the pitcher, strikes out. Aoki (L) pops up. Weeks (R) hits a grounder to third, but Frandsen's errant throw prevents what should be the final out, and Weeks moves on to second. Lee exits having thrown 111 pitches, and Josh Lindblom comes on to face the right hander Brown. Lindblom walks Braun (R) and then walks the next batter Ramirez (R) also. Hart (R) clears the bases with a grand slam. Morgan (L), batting for the pitcher, pops up to end the inning.

The Options. Lee has thrown around 100 pitches going into the eighth. He has struck out 11, walked none, and given up 5 hits. After Weeks reaches second on a two-out, two-base error, Lee has thrown 111 pitches. Why exactly does Manuel bring in Lindblom to pitch to Braun? Well, Braun bats right, and so do Ramirez and Hart after him. Of his 6 appearances with his new club, Lindblom has given up no runs four times, 1 run once, and 3 runs once. His last two appearances were clean. In 4 at bats against Lee, Braun has a walk, 2 hits (one of them a homer), and 2 RBI's. Schwimer and Rosenberg, the other right-hand options, pitched the previous day with a total lack of distinction. Manuel could ask Lee to pitch around Braun, which would put the lead run on first. He makes the fatal move to Lindblom, who lays a very large egg.

The Blame.

  • Lee (0-5%). Tentative smidgin of blame for a ball to 3rd that may have been close enough to a hit to seduce Frandsen into a hurried throw to first.
  • Lindblom (75-100%). There's nothing good to say in extenuation of back to back walks and a grand slam.
  • Manuel (0%). This is a very difficult call, especially after the fact of a horrible outcome. If anyone but Braun comes to the plate, Lee should be allowed to go for the final out. The Gut's gut must have been churning.
  • Bad Luck (0-20%). Depending on how tough the ball to Frandsen was.

10. August 21, 2012. A 3-3 tie going into the top of the 8th. Reds score one and then get to Papelbon in the 9th, winning 5-4.

The Eighth. Cliff Lee goes 6.2 innings, throwing 117 pitches. B.J. Rosenberg finishes off the seventh for him, and Antonio Bastardo comes on in the eighth. He strikes out Bruce (L) and gets Rolen (R) to fly out. After going up 0-1 on Frazier (R), Bastardo serves up a no-doubt-about-it home run to deep left. He then walks Hanigan (R), but K's Cairo (R) batting for the pitcher. Score tied.

The Options. There's not much to say at this point about Bastardo and right-hand batters. They batted .200 against him in the month of August, had an OBP of .330 (that combination says, walks), and slugged .600. That's a good portion of Bastardo's year in microcosm. After Bruce leading off the inning, right handers stretch as far as the eye can see. Lindblom and Schwimer are the available right handers. Lindblom pitched a clean inning the previous night, but then so did Bastardo, at least two-thirds of one. Schwimer, carrying a 4.46 ERA, pitched a clean ninth two nights before. The score is tied. Maybe Charlie is worried about conserving arms for extra innings. At any rate, Bastardo is his guy. Again. Once Bastardo has struck out the righty Rolen (who is no longer Rolen), the rest of the inning is on rails. And again the long ball kills him.

The Blame.

  • Bastardo (50-75%). As Floyd Patterson once famously said when KO'ed twice by the same guy in the first round, "It happened again."
  • Manuel (25-50%). How many times is Manuel going to lean on Bastardo against mostly right-handed lineups? Somehow he has to stop Tony before he kills again. Reasonable people will differ about the urgency.

11. August 28, 2012. 5-4 Phillies going into the top of the 8th. The Mets tie the game at 5-5 and win in the 10th 9-5.

The Eighth. Vance Worley takes an early shower, so this is half a bullpen game. Lindblom (R), who pitched the seventh, comes on to face the first batter in the eighth, David Wright (R). Wright walks, Lindblom exits, and Bastardo (L) comes on to face Davis (L). Davis flies out, and Duda after him strikes out. Two down. Shoppach (R) doubles in Wright, and the game is tied. Baxter (L) flies out to end the inning.

The Options. Lindblom starts the inning because Wright bats right. Or is it Right bats wright? Whatever. Three of the next four batters are left handers, so a southpaw is called for. The only issue is whether Bastardo should be in the same area code as a RHB in the eighth inning with a man on base. Shoppach (R) has already had 2 hits and 2 RBI's. Bastardo did, however, pitch a clean eighth several days before, striking out all three Nats he faced. On the other hand, Horst has been very good recently. Rosenberg will pitch (and collapse in) the tenth inning. Aumont could come on to pitch to the right-handed Shoppach. He successfully did something similar five days earlier, but has not otherwise appeared. Although he will be September's candidate as "my eighth-inning guy," Aumont has not, evidently, earned sufficient trust. Manuel looks at the available alternatives (or doesn't) and tries once again to kick the football, which Bastardo once again pulls away.

The Blame.

  • Lindblom (33%) For walking the first batter of the inning, a RHB. Sorry, clean seventh-innings count for nothing here.
  • Bastardo (34%) For once again, despite looking very good against left handers, givng up a game-tying extra-base hit to a right hander.
  • Manuel (33%) For not noticing how many times Bastardo has pulled the "previous-good-outing-followed-by-an-eighth-inning-stinker" trick on him. I'm being somewhat unreasonable, but I'm frustrated. Seriously, how often is Manuel going to let Bastardo let right handers beat him?

12. September 13, 2012. Phillies lead 4-3 going into the bottom of the 8th; Astros score 3 and eventually win 6-4.

The Eighth. Tyler Cloyd lasted all of three innings, but Rosenberg, Lindblom, and Bastardo stanched the wound for four scoreless frames. Phillippe Aumont comes on to pitch the star-crossed eighth inning. He retires the right-handed Maxwell on a fly ball. Castro (L) walks, but his pinch-runner, Castro, is caught stealing. Thus bailed out, Aumont promptly walks Dominguez (R) and drills Moore (L), pinch-hitting for Paredes (R). Manuel has seen enough and brings on the left hander Diekman to pitch to Greene (L), who is pulled in favor of switch-hitting Lawrie. Lawrie doubles in 2 runs, Barnes (R) follows with a single, scoring Lawrie, and Altuve (R) singles Barnes to third, then steals second. Bogusevic (L), batting for Martinez, strikes out to end a brutal three-run inning.

The Options. Manuel could start the inning with Diekman to face the left-handed Castro. Or the left-hander Horst. Where is Horst? He could use both during the inning if he chose to. The right-handed De Fratus, who pitched well for .2 of the eighth inning two games prior to this one, is available for later in the inning, but with only a one-run lead, Manuel will want to save someone for extra-innings. However, Aumont has been anointed "the eighth-inning guy" and has been on a huge roll in that capacity. He has appeared in five eighth innings (four of them for the entire inning) in the previous week, in one instance appearing in both halves of a double-header against the Rockies. And he hasn't allowed a run. He has, however, issued walks in the last two outings, a first for him that proves to be an omen. Batters don't hit Aumont. His ERA entering the game is a sparkling 1.08. Guys don't have to hit you, though, if you hit them first -- and start a serial walk-a-thon. His hot streak is over. Diekman who has to clean up Aumont's mess hasn't allowed a run in September, but has appeared only in get-one-out situations. He struggles with right-hand batters. He will face three in a row, as Manuel had to figure he would. Horst has been better against RHB in his time with the Phillies (.162 ave. vs Diekman's .222 in the same period), and perhaps more importantly has walked 18.1% of the right-handed batters he's faced vs. Diekman's awful 27.7% in the same period. Yet Horst has appeared in only two September games. Manuel goes with Diekman. The result isn't pretty.

The Blame.

  • Aumont (40%). For unfortunate wildness.
  • Diekman (40%). For getting banged around, even if they were right-handers.
  • Manuel (20%) For overwork of and overdependence on a pitcher with a little more than three weeks of major league experience and for a general lack of appreciation of Jeremy Horst.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

In the first half of 2012, the bullpen was pretty bad, both in and out of the eighth inning. The relievers collectively put up a 4.76 ERA, with 116 runs allowed and a .330 opponents-on-base percentage. In the second half, that ERA shrank to 3.03 ERA with only 67 earned runs allowed and a .300 opponents-on-base percentage. They also struck out 11.1 batters per nine, compared to 9.1 per nine in the first half. So no, it's not true that the Phillies pen had a horrible year; it had a horrible first half. Unfortunately, high-leverage eighth innings remained a blind spot, and, if you want to subtract the blown tie in the second half, you can pretty up the result and say that they did improve a bit. Right. Just as Cliff Lee took the pen off the hook for a good portion of two of those first-half melt-downs, Cole Hamels gets credit for one of those in the second half. Otherwise, not much changed in the way of results. If one were forced to reduce all twelve bullpen failures to the one most relevant word, that word would be . . . walks.

Here's how the relevant parties performed in the second six of the disastrous eighth innings.

The Pen. Some things changed and some things didn't in the second-half bullpen's high-leverage eighth innings. Chief among the latter was Antonio Bastardo. This is in some ways a confounding piece of inertia because Bastardo had a much better second half generally than first half. His ERA declined from 5.34 to a not exactly sterling .333, but the decline in FIP (4.63 to 1.77) and xFIP (4.26 to 1.85) was dramatic. Hitters batted only .186 against Bastardo in the second half. Granted, a .45 point rise in BABIP hints at things unaccounted for. Bastardo's signature is on three of the six second-half games under consideration, with his culpability factoring out, by my rough scorekeeping, to 49-58%. Ouch. That's some bad luck and probably some bad judgment, as well, with regard to use. Walks and extra-base hits to right-hand batters tell the better part of Bastardo's story. Josh Lindblom, acquired at the deadline in the Shane Victorino trade, was the most prominent new eighth-inning face. He appeared in 26 games during his two-month stint, with, unfortunately, less happy results than he had had with the Dodgers prior to his arrival. Lindblom held hitters to a .159 average in August, yet registered a 5.68 ERA, in large part because he walked almost as many as he struck out. In September his walk rate and ERA (3.38) came down some, but hitters had noticeably more success (.267 ave.). Lindblom had a finger in two of the six eighth-inning crashes, grading out with a 54-67% responsibility. The most interesting second-half addition proved to be le grand canadien Phillippe Aumont. It would be a shame, both in these pages and beyond, if Aumont were remembered mostly for his September 13 meltdown because he performed truly splendidly in the week preceding. His two flubs in the Houston series may be hard to forget because of the significance of that series in the Phillies failed pursuit of a wild card spot in the play-offs, but in the other thirteen games in which appeared he gave up only 2 runs.

Manuel. I have Manuel bearing some responsibility for two-thirds of the eighth-inning fiascos in the second half (about the same as in the first half) with a score ranging from 28-35%. However, I am a good deal crabbier now than when I started, and a lot of his demerits come from his being unable to see things that are so awfully, awfully clear to me! In hindsight. Once again, Manuel's determination to find "his eighth-inning guy" sometimes overshadowed what probably should have been better judgment. Aumont is the most obvious case in point because far more came down on him than any rookie would bear up under indefinitely, in particular a rookie for whom control had been the dominant issue at lower levels. Lindblom too got more eighth-inning slack than his performance ever justified. And Bastardo . . . what is there to say about Manuel's use of Bastardo? Tony is such a talented and maddeningly frustrating pitcher that you can sympathize with Charlie morphing into his namesake Charlie Brown after a dominating Bastardo performance would seduce him once again into trust that would prove as elusive as Lucy-in-the-Sky-with-Diamonds. My judgment remains unchanged that at some point Manuel had to give up on the notion of "my eighth-inning guy," play match-ups more, and generally try to be a little more flexible and creative in his late-inning bullpen use. I'd have liked to see Jeremy Horst, for instance, in more high-leverage opportunities than he got.

Amaro. Once again, although the roster itself and the man who provided it were off the Blame Game table, something should be said about front-office moves going into the second half of the 2012 season. Given the Phillies' performance up to that point, Amaro can hardly be faulted for not trying to acquire a marquee name to shore up the eighth inning. Lindblom was a reasonable effort at improvement. Although his track record as a flyball pitcher may not have boded entirely well, the fact is that he was a decent prospect who had performed pretty well for the Dodgers, and couldn't quite match that performance with his new club. If you regard acquiring Michael Young as a great day for Phillies baseball, you might at least say that Lindblom ended up being unexpectedly useful. To provide credit where due, getting Horst for Wilson Valdez may have been Amaro's best trade move of the year. Amaro's judgment of what he had in hand at the end of the season, most particularly in his plethora of talented young relievers, led him, of course, to make the off-season moves for Mike Adams and Chad Durbin. But that is a subject for another day and another set of judgments.

Here we are on the cusp of a new season of hope. Be cheerful all, our travails now are ended. These, our players, (as I might have foretold myself as my blood pressure rose) were but spirits of a season past and are melted into air, into thin air. Only our racked emotions are left behind. OK, not quite behind.

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