display | more...
I'm creating this as an indirect response to Shanoyu's node, The many talents of John Mabry. There, he asserts that Lou Pinella is a "moron" for letting Mabry, an outfielder, pitch two-thirds of an inning, recording a 27.00 earned run average in the process.

Actually, it's a great move by Lou, and something most other managers would have done.

Here's why: His team was losing by more than 10 runs. Down 10 runs, in a game that's not crucial, you don't want to wear out your relief pitchers. You're probably going to lose anyway, and it does affect a pitcher to throw two days in a row, even if they're only in the game for a short time. All the warm-up throws take their toll on a guy's arm.

So, in hopeless situations, managers will throw in the towel and literally ask around the dugout to see who wants to pitch. Remember, you're going to lose anyway, so why not 1) keep your star pitchers rested instead of wasting them on a lost cause, and 2) Let one of your guys have a little fun?

A couple of times every year, some lucky position player (i.e. non-pitcher) gets to pitch. Sometimes the results are hilarious, as when Wade Boggs barely got the ball to the plate.

Other times, it's amazing. On May 14, 1988, infielder Jose Oquendo came in to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals in a desperation 16th-inning move; the Cards had used all their other available pitchers. Oquendo went on to shut out the Braves for three full innings; by the fourth, though, he succumbed and gave up two runs for the loss, the first decision by a non-pitcher in 20 years. Sure, they lost, but three shutout innings is three more than they were expecting, I'm sure!

Overall, Mabry didn't do that badly; by Sanoyu's numbers above, he gave up only 2 runs. You never want to give up 2 runs, obviously, but when you're down by 10, it's water off a duck's back. Think of it this way: He probably had a lot of fun doing it, and his teammates got some comic relief after a very bad day.


In response to Orange_Julius: Obviously, I'm not advocating that mangers do this every time they're down 10 runs! Big comebacks are not that uncommon, especially in the American League, and yes, the possibility of injury is there. I probably shouldn't have called it a great move, but there are plenty of good reasons for doing it.

This strategy is never something you want to do. It's a 9th-inning move or a desperation move, and never something you plan ahead of time. OJ mentions that "you've lost the use of that player later in the game"... well, you only do this because there isn't going to be a "later in the game;" you are (as OJ correctly asserts) giving up.

Whether you like the strategy or not, it happens about once per major league season. Sometimes a manger will decide he can't afford to use another reliever -- maybe they all pitched long innings yesterday, maybe you've got a double-header tomorrow, etc. And you never want to do this unless it's the very end of the game -- no manager would consider trying this in the 6th, for example.

Jose Oquendo's case was a fluke -- all the pitchers were used up. The other fluky exception happens on the last day of the season, when the manager of a last-place team might let players goof off a little bit.

As for daily transactions ... I don't think it's true that you get unlimited minor-league transactions; my impression is that there are limits on how often you can promote/demote a particular player. I may be wrong on this, though; I'm not lawyer enough to understand all the waiver rules. :)

Even if transactions are unlimited, you don't want to be shuttling folks up and down from the minors just because they're tired. Aside from the impracticalities of that (they have to fly to join the minor league team, then fly back if you recall them), there's a shortage of good pitching in the majors as it is. The last thing you want to do is dip into that minor league pot too deeply.

And no, five relievers is not always enough for a nine-inning game. First, the way many relievers and closers throw, you can't let them pitch too many days in a row; they'll burn out too fast. So not every reliever is "available" every day. In addition, the fashion in relievers is specialization; certain pitchers are used against one or two batters only (left-handers tend to be in this category). This seems to be more prevalent in the American League, where you don't have to worry about whether the pitcher's spot is coming to bat. Call it bad managing if you want -- I'll admit I don't like it myself -- but managers like Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa have been successful with it.

But I should make it clear -- In the middle of a game, OJ is right: This is a horrible strategy. You use it at the very end of a game because you're giving up to fight another day, or because you're just in a weird mood and your players don't mind.


Thanks to Mike Mobley's Cardinals page! http://www.ford-mobley.com/cards.htm