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Tigers' Brad Ausmus is still bad at bullpen strategy

Sunday's game against the Red Sox showed once again that Brad Ausmus doesn't know how to manage a bullpen

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There's an old saying that goes, "when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade." And I think it was Jesus who said something along the lines of, "whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much." The basic point is the same: you don't always get to work with the best resources, but the difference between the heroes and the historical footnotes is the ability to spin straw into gold. Anyone can look like a genius with top-of-the-line tools; a true genius can succeed even with tools that badly need to be replaced.

No one should blame Brad Ausmus for having the worst bullpen in the history of natural disasters. He didn't assemble that horrifying collection of high-definition calamity in uniform. But on the other hand, he routinely demonstrates by his objectively measurable decisions that it probably wouldn't matter if he did have six Mariano Riveras in the bullpen. He doesn't understand how to get the best results out of the arms he has.

On Sunday afternoon, in a 2-1 game, Ausmus chose to play lefty/lefty matchups and send Tom Gorzelanny out to face Jackie Bradley, Jr. I understand that Bradley is seven levels of awful as a hitter, and any major league pitcher ought to be able to retire him without trouble. No argument there, and go ahead and put the blame on Gorzelanny for somehow out-sucking Bradley in that matchup and giving up a home run. But also recognize that Bradley has better numbers against lefties than he does against righties -- to the tune of an extra 100 points of OPS -- and you'll understand why some people might question Ausmus's sanity in making that decision. In a 2-1 game, this was probably not the best time to bring out the Gorzo-mobile, freshly returned from Toledo, and start kicking the tires. And even with as bad as Bradley is, why give him any kind of edge at all?

That decision became even more questionable in the next inning, when Ausmus tried again to run with the grade-school formula "lefties match up better with lefties," and ordered Ian Krol (already struggling) to intentionally walk Josh Rutledge and load the bases so he could face the same Jackie Bradley, Jr., who had just demonstrated what those lefty/lefty platoon splits look like in real life. You want the definition of insanity spelled out numerically? Try this: Rutledge has a career average of .243 against lefties, and .263 against righties. He's worse against lefties like Krol, while Bradley (as previously stated) is better, so in what universe governed by reason and logic does it make sense to intentionally put Rutledge on base and give another opportunity to the guy who -- it must be repeated -- is better against lefties? (And don't say "to set up the force play," because there were already two outs.) It only makes sense in the universe of Ancient Baseball Wisdom, where there is no fear of bunting, intentional walks, or blindly adhering to lefty-on-lefty (or righty-on-righty) matchups despite what the actual numbers say.

On top of this triple-scoop "WTF Sundae," let's add the OMG cherry: Al Alburquerque, who was used to record four consecutive outs at the end of a game already out of hand, has better numbers against left-handed batters than both Krol and Gorzelanny.

I'll give you a minute to finish cleaning up the furniture you just smashed.

In the 1980's (and even the decade prior), before Tony LaRussa and Dennis Eckersley introduced the notion of "ninth inning closer" into managerial consciousness, there was a philosophy of bullpen management that Brad Ausmus would do well to resurrect. It's quite simple, and it makes good sense: let your starter go until he starts imploding, then starting bringing pitchers out of the bullpen in order of awesomeness, from the best to the worst. Oh, and don't be an idiot and take your relief ace out of the game after one inning. Let him pitch until he either gets in trouble, or the game ends.

Ausmus, like most managers, runs out his bullpen in the opposite order. We saw it on Sunday: Gorzelanny (awful), Feliz (slightly less awful), Krol (bad but not awful), Alburquerque (fair to ok). I realize that on Sunday he couldn't use Rondon or Hardy because they had pitched the day before, and Alex Wilson might be hurt, but the principle still stands. If Alburquerque, Krol, Gorzelanny, and Feliz are your only choices in a 2-1 game, you start with Alburquerque and let him pitch until he's no longer effective (and Al isn't exactly fragile -- he might have been able to go the distance in that game). After that, you go to Krol, then Feliz, then -- as a last resort -- Gorzelanny, and if "Gorzo" ends up blowing the game in extras, at least you can give the reasonable answer, "I used up every other arm I had available."

The fact that most-or-all managers use their bullpens in reverse order of effectiveness doesn't mean Ausmus gets a free pass. At some point, an MLB manager in the 21st century with unlimited access to terabytes of statistical information has to be responsible for making use of that information, no matter who else is or is not managing their team that way. We may be another decade away from a revolutionary manager who realizes, "wow, I can make this work with five long relievers and zero high-priced 'closers'," but until then, Brad Ausmus has to at least be smart enough not to intentionally walk a batter who can't hit lefties, in order to bring up a batter who hits lefties better than righties, all for the sake of a one-size-fits-all baseball maxim that isn't even true.

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Right now, Brad Ausmus is turning lemons into dumpster fires, and it can't continue.