Let’s start at the finish: With the game tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, Ned Yost called on reliever Brooks Pounders. In his last outing on July 10, Pounders threw one inning and gave up five earned runs; his ERA was 13.50. Saturday night Pounders got two outs and then gave up a walk-off home run to Mitch Moreland.
So in a tie game against the Texas Rangers – a game the Royals were desperate to win – why Brooks Pounders and not Kelvin Herrera?
Because Saturday night Herrera was the closer (Wade Davis left the team to have an MRI), and you don’t use your closer in a tie game on the road.
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Say Herrera pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth inning. You’re then going to extra innings and some other pitcher is going to have to pitch the bottom of the 10th. So if Pounders is going to give up a walk-off home run you want him to do it in the ninth before you burn your closer in a game you lost.
Use your closer in a tie game on the road, and no matter how well he pitches you still have to give the ball to someone else to finish that game. Burn your closer in a tie game on Saturday, and if you need him again on Sunday, there’s good chance he won’t be available the next day.
Mismanage a game against the Texas Rangers on Saturday, and it could lead to a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
But it doesn’t work that way at home
Let’s say Saturday night’s game was played at home and the score was tied going into the top of the ninth inning; if that had been the case you would have seen Yost use Herrera.
If a closer throws a scoreless top of the ninth at home there’s a chance nobody has to pitch the top of the 10th; score in the bottom of the ninth and the game’s over.
And a scoreless top of the ninth gives the home team two chances to win: If they score in the bottom of the ninth the game’s over, and if they don’t – no matter what the visiting team does in the top of the 10th – the home team gets another chance in the bottom of the inning.
That’s why you use your closer in tie games at home but not on the road.
The bullpen is not as dominant and that means Ned’s job is harder
In 2014 and 2015 the Kansas City Royals were known for having a shutdown bullpen. Opposing teams would talk about Royals relievers and how there seemed to be an endless supply of guys throwing nasty-nasty stuff.
Not so much in 2016.
This year the Royals have two relievers with an ERA under 2.00, and one of them is getting an MRI on his arm. And, now that Luke Hochevar’s out for the season, Brian Flynn is the only other Royals reliever with an ERA under 4.00.
When you have dominant relievers – guys who can get anybody out – you can give them set roles. You can tell Kelvin Herrera he has the eighth inning no matter who comes up in that inning; lefties, righties, it doesn’t matter – Herrera can get them out.
And set roles make a manager’s job easier; he doesn’t have to worry about getting a reliever up and hot in the middle of an inning. Mistime the call to the pen, and a reliever might not be ready to face the hitter you want him to face; call too early and the reliever might get hot and then cool down again.
Set roles also covers a manager’s rear end if things go wrong; he can always say it’s the reliever’s job to pitch the eighth and if the reliever blows it that’s on the reliever, not the manager.
But when relievers aren’t so dominant a manager needs to mix and match. Ned Yost will have to find matchups that favor his relievers and that means we might see a guy throw to one batter and then come out of the game.
It’s going to be harder for Ned to hand an inning to a guy like Brooks Pounders and expect him to deal with every hitter who comes to the plate in that inning. Saturday night Pounders got right-handed Adrian Beltre, then faced two lefties and the second lefty got him.
And if the Royals’ offense doesn’t do better than one run, it probably won’t matter how Ned uses his bullpen.