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Keeping Score: Benoit kept under wraps while game slips away

Criticizing managers around baseball for bullpen mismanagement is a cottage industry. It isn't always warranted. But some situations deserve some scrutiny even when a club has won 17 out of 20. The Tigers dropped two very tight games in the late innings in New York. Their best reliever appeared in neither one.


This is one of those opinions that can be hard to toss out there because it looks like 20/20 hindsight kicking into gear because the Tigers lost. It could also could be construed as a "Leyland sucks" kind of thought. That would be silly considering the club is on a 17-3 roll and is in first place.

It's not the case on either point. It's not merely hindsight as this is a long held view and I also don't think Leyland is incompetent. Let's just get it out there...Joaquin Benoit, if he was feeling healthy and available, should have been the guy pitching the bottom of the 9th on Sunday in the Bronx. Jose Veras was not a bad idea to utilize but he was not the best idea. This has almost nothing to do with the fact that Veras grooved a heater down Broadway to Brett Gardner for the winning dinger. This was my opinion before Veras threw a pitch and even when Veras got the first two outs looking okay to get out of the inning. It would have been my view if Veras had escaped the inning cleanly.

The Tigers had just had the incredible comeback against Mariano Rivera on the solo shots by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. It was quite a sight to behold as the legendary Rivera allowed two homers in a Save Opportunity for the first time in his career. The Tigers tied the game and needed to now hold down the Yankees to keep the game going.

4-4 headed to the bottom of the 9th. Allow a run and the game is finished. There is no margin for error at this point. Tigers manager Jim Leyland made a move that I suspect many of his managing counterparts would also make...he eschewed his best reliever (typically the Closer on most teams) in favor of a slightly less talented set-up man. Bullpen formulations around the game are pretty routine and holding your Closer for Save Opps is near the top of the list of common tactics. (even though this situation to get a save may never materialize)

Benoit is the superior pitcher to Veras in most significant statistical categories starting with good ol' ERA (Benoit- 1.53, Veras- 2.55). Benoit strikes out 29.7% of batters he faces. Veras checks in at 24.9%. Walks? Benoit walks a lower percentage (7.0% to 8.5%). Homers? Check. Benoit's HR% is significantly lower this year at 4.5% compared to Veras' 8.5%. The sainted "eye-test" would also put most people in Benoit's corner here as the better pitcher as well.

Once the game gets to the 9th inning, that really should be the best pitcher's job to extend the game as long as possible. If the Tigers had secured the lead in the 9th, Benoit almost certainly would have pitched. Why not with the score tied? Allowing a run is a guaranteed loss. Benoit hasn't pitched in several days...if he had been taxed heavily in the previous day this entire post would be mothballed...but he was likely available on this day. If you need someone who can "close" later on then you probably do have Veras and he's fresh off closing games in Houston. He wouldn't have freaked over it. But if he had come in later for a save situation, there is more margin for error because he might be protecting a lead of 1 or more runs., read, I guess, since this isn't radio...I have mostly given up on pleading for the best relievers to roam different middle innings to quash rallies. The 9th Inning Closer Formula is dyed in the game's wool in most places. The Closer gets the 9th. He compiles saves. That's the gig. I get it. But how about once the game gets to the 9th that managers start to yield to basic math, especially in road games. Allow a run in a tie game and you lose. If your best guy is rested, he should pitch because he's the guy most likely to toss a goose egg at the opposition. Figure out the end game later. In this case Veras was a viable option to "close" later if the opportunity presented itself.

The Tigers lost two games in walk-off fashion in New York. Joaquin Benoit did not pitch in either contest. The logic behind that is lost on me. Benoit hasn't actually pitched since the 14-inning victory in Cleveland on Wednesday night!

Al Alburquerque wasn't crushed on Friday night but those chopper singles pushed a run across. I felt Benoit was the better option there as well. If you needed Alburquerque to close later, again, he would have had the cushion of a lead rather than watching a game slip away when he allowed a single run.

Was this a massive foul up by Leyland? The club is purring along at a great pace considering the rash of injuries. The sweep in Cleveland was truly a nice accomplishment by the club. Leyland has to get plenty of credit for that if he's going to get dinged by me for this loss. It's hard to be too critical of him right now. Perhaps chalk this up as more of an indictment of accepted practices around baseball as a whole since I doubt Leyland is the only field general who would have gone to Veras today.

Could Joaquin Benoit have allowed a run in the 9th on Sunday or in the 10th on Friday? Sure. But the odds were better for Detroit that he would have escaped his inning or two had he been called upon over his teammates who did get the chance and ultimately failed to keep the Yankees off the scoreboard in crucial spots.

Joaquin got some nice rest in the Big Apple if nothing else...did I mention he hasn't pitched since Wednesday night?

Miscellaneous Fulminations

  • Miguel Cabrera's homer on Friday night will likely be one of the top 5 most memorable moments by a Tiger during a loss in my lifetime. Losing that game does almost nothing to dampen the beauty of the moment. The best hitter in the game steps in. The greatest Closer in history on the hill. Two out. Behind in the count. Limping badly. Trainer on the field. Shake it off. One big swing. Gone. Tied. Epic. Legendary.

  • Alex Avila heading to the 7-day Concussion DL is probably a good thing for him physically beyond recovering from the head trauma (which is, of course, paramount). Hopefully a week or more to also rest from the rigors of catching will allow Avila to come back strong for the stretch run. Avila's improving performance at the plate was yielding some nice moments such as the big homer in Cleveland and the two-run double against Cole Hamels. But it's Avila's presence behind the plate that will be most missed. I do believe that Avila is very solid at framing pitches and he benefits Tigers pitchers in this regard. I do not like how Brayan Pena tends to set up so wide at times well outside the outer corner. This can't help the pitcher's cause.

  • Steven Moya is a left-hand hitting outfielder in the Tigers system at High A Lakeland. The young man has had a hard time staying on the field due to injury the last couple of years. But once he does play he is really starting to display some nice power skills. Currently sporting a slash-line of: .266/.313/.478...that might not seem too awe inspiring. But I do like that he started to get his K-rate under control, he's drawn a few walks the last couple of days, and his ISO (SLG-BA) is a very nifty .212. The power is starting to show itself in game action and he's not a massive K-machine like he was a few years ago. Moya is one to watch. Perhaps still a long shot...but one with the big ticket item...power. If nothing else he may be a useful trade chip down the line.

  • I have not seen anything about it in print...but I do wonder if the Tigers plan to utilize Jose Alvarez on Friday as part of the double-header versus the Royals that day. Alvarez was tagged for 5 runs in 4 1/3 IP on Sunday at Toledo but still sports a very tidy 2.79 ERA down there. He would be on full rest to start with Justin Verlander that day and therefore allow the rest of the rotation to stay on normal rest. We'll see if that's how the Tigers play it. They should have the 26th roster spot open for the twinbill to use Alvarez.

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