Evaluating a bad night for the Tigers New Manager
Let's face it, the bullpen is bad and we all know it. However after last night the overarching narrative seems to be that the bullpen was bad last night because of how Brad Ausmus managed it. There seems to be two big complaints with Ausmus last night; 1. Taking Drew Smyly out having only thrown 90 pitches and 2. Leaving Ian Krol in to face a righty with the bases loaded. Were these bad decisions or justifiable? Let's look at the numbers and see.
Pulling Drew Smyly
Whether or not a manager pulls a pitcher at any given point, especially in late game pitch count scenarios, a large factor is what the pitcher says about their condition. As none of us could ever know what Drew Smyly said to Ausmus as he headed into the dugout after the 6th, we'll assume Drew said he was good to go (he is a pitcher after all) and that Ausmus said no. Was this smart? Let's see.
To lead off the 7th inning the White Sox lineup was Paul Konerko (righty), Alexei Ramirez (righty) and Alejandro De Aza (lefty). These three hit 0.226/0.284/0.252 against righties and 0.313/0.285/0.302 against lefties in 2013 respectively. In 2013 Drew Smyly held righties to 0.242 average and lefties to 0.189 average, while Evan Reed held righties to 0.309 and lefties to 0.289 in limited time with the Tigers in 2013, however this season Reed had held both to a roughly 0.240 average. Thus on paper Smyly is the superior pitcher, but the matchup and the high pitch count are valid reasons to go with Reed.
If one were to stick with Smyly he would face two poor matchups before finally facing a left hander who, on paper, prefers to face lefties. Therefore Smyly would have to throw a fair amount of pitches before seeing a favorable matchup, so having Evan Reed come in and handle the two right handers makes the most sense. Unfortunately Reed didn't do his job and the Tigers suffered for it.
Leaving Ian Krol
So once Reed has been put in he gave up a base hit to Konerko, Ramirez lined out, Alejandro De Aza singled and Tyler Flowers walked. Ausmus then pulled Reed for Ian Krol to face the lefty Danks and, more importantly, keep Adam Dunn on the bench. Krol went out and got Jordan Danks to foul out, leaving two outs and a right handed hitter at the plate. Krol was left in and Marcus Semien hit a 3-1 pitch deep into the outfield. Ausmus argued the decision by saying that you can't switch righty-lefty for every favorable matchups in the 7th yet as anybody who watched David Ortiz face Benoit or Veras in the playoffs last fall, we know that righty-lefty is critical to win games.
In his short mlb career Ian Krol has held lefties to a solid 0.204/0.257/0.344 hitting line, while righties have hit 0.314/0.351/0.657. Meanwhile, Al Alburquerque has held righties to 0.169/0.322/0.242. The power difference alone is staggering, but by simply leaving Krol in you are twice as likely to allow a hit to a righty as if you put in Al. Of course there are a few arguments for leaving Krol in. After all, Al is prone to wildness which could walk in a run or score a run on a wild pitch, however the Tigers had a 2 run lead meaning the only thing that hurts are solid base hits. Al had pitched the day before but has pitched day to day before without any major trouble. Finally, putting in Al most likely means a pinch hit appearance from the lefty Adam Dunn, but this is still a better matchup than Krol on Semien. After all we all know Dunn will do one of three things in any at bat and nothing more 1. Strikeout 2. Homer 3. Walk. Given the nastiest of Al's slider and the way Dunn chases pitches I would much rather have a poor Righty on Lefty matchup than a poor Lefty on Righty matchup, and all this assumes that they pinch hit Dunn. The Sox might have even left Semien out to face Al, meaning an even more favorable matchup. So what does this all mean? It means leaving Krol in was almost doomed to fail, especially with Al as a favorable option in the pen.
In the end Ausmus made one good decision, one bad one and Reed didn't do his job. Will it affect the season as a whole? No. Does it say anything about the quality of Ausmus as a manger? Sort of. It shows that Ausmus is careful with his starters, clearly taking into account pitch count and upcoming matchups before pulling them. I've had little complaints with how Ausmus has managed the starters as all seem to be pitching the right amount and the overall style seems to be a bit more consistent than the old Jim Leyland style. Unfortunately, it also shows the Ausmus has the nastiest Leyland habit this side of smoking; thinking lefty relievers are like righty relievers. Ausmus is right in saying that you can't change for every matchup, but this is true for right handed relievers who historically have more success against both sides of the plate than left handers (think number of lefty closers vs right closers). For the most part, and especially for the Tigers, lefty relievers cannot be used to get righties out in the same way righties can be used to get lefties out. Leaving Krol in was a mistake and Ausmus paid the price. Hopefully this is a rare instance that he can learn from and not one that will become a habit.