Dusty Baker doesn't seem to know what to do with his bullpen

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Let's be honest.

The Reds had the best bullpen in baseball last season. And they've returned pretty much everyone from last year, along with a full year from Jonathan Broxton. So things should be good.

But, through 12 games, things are not so good. That's not to say they won't get much better, quickly. Let's acknowledge that over 90% of the season is left. And a little over 2 weeks into the season, we just don't know much.

This far into Dusty Baker's career, however, I think we know that his paint-by-numbers approach to managing the bullpen leaves a lot to be desired.

The 7th inning of today's game was a perfect example of when Dusty falls woefully short. With Latos passing 100 pitches and showing signs of wear, Dusty decided to pull him. It made sense to try and get him through 7 full innings - with a short bullpen and a long stretch without an off-day coming up - but it also probably made sense to yank him after a HR and an almost-HR (that was ruled 'just barely a double,' upon review).

Then Dusty started fumbling blindly:

Note: Simon was unavailable. LeCure was most likely unavailable with "soreness." Hoover should have been unavailable, after pitching in 7 of 11 Reds games so far (including last night). So that's effectively a four man bullpen.

  • Logan Ondrusek comes in, throws two pitches, leaves. 0.0 IP. Three men left.
  • Logan is lifted for Manny Parra, presumably because of a lefty-lefty match-up thing? Parra comes in, faces two righties, allows a run. 0.2 IP. Two men left.
  • Broxton then commences the melt down of his career and the rest is unmentionable.

It's hard to say how much not using Broxton for a week contributed to the 6-run 8th inning. But it's really hard to imagine it wasn't an important factor. Broxton cruised through spring training and his first 4 innings of the season without allowing a run.

Then he sat for six days. Over his career, his worst wOBA-against comes with 6 or more days of rest.

Dusty was partly a victim of circumstance. It's not his fault Sam LeCure is ailing. It's not his fault that Jonathan Broxton blew up harder than anyone could have possibly imagined.

Still, the way he's handled the bullpen though the first four series is baffling:

Pitcher IP Pitches gmLI pLI Notes
Aroldis Chapman 5.1 78 2.06 2.09 Not used 4/8-4/13
Sam LeCure 5.0 71 1.63 1.89
Jonathan Broxton 5.0 78 1.26 1.64 Not used 4/8-4/13
J.J. Hoover 7.1 158 1.11 1.38 Apps in 7 of 12 Gs
Alfredo Simon 7.0 137 0.60 0.79
Sean Marshall 1.0 14 0.87 0.57 One app, on DL
Logan Ondrusek 2.2 29 0.73 0.44
Manny Parra 4.2 76 0.41 0.17 Has faced 15 RHB, 4 LHB

Statistics are through today's game.

gmLI: leverage index when entering the game

pLI: average leverage index over all game events

This could all easily be wiped away in a week and mean nothing. But here are a few trends to date (good and bad):

  • So far so good with Aroldis Chapman, Logan Ondrusek and Manny Parra, leverage-wise. At least in my book.
  • So far, so terrible with the usage of everyone (match-ups, workload).
  • There's no excuse to sit Chapman and Broxton for a week. Regardless of Broxton's meltdown today, these are your two best relievers. And holding them back strictly for save situations means running with (at best) a 5-man bullpen in any game where you don't have a small lead in the 8th and 9th.
  • Dusty is pretty good at Sam LeCure. He stretches out a little bit when needed and he's using him in higher leverage situations, to good effect.
  • Obviously, Hoover's schedule has been bizarre. The guy is a 25-year-old rookie in his first full major league season, but is being used like the linchpin of the bullpen.
  • Sean Marshall's usage was equally baffling. On the 15th day since he had pitched (dating back to spring training), he was used in one inning in a LOOGY situation: 7th inning, against two lefties. After having his DL clock reset by that appearance, he was then put on the DL.
  • I assumed Manny Parra was signed to be a lefty specialist. Instead, 15 of the 19 hitters he's faced have been righties.

Basically, there are five pitchers that have been totally confusing most of this (young) season. Then there's Ondrusek, who doesn't really make sense as a replacement for Sean Marshall (over Jose Arredondo). Hopefully, Sean Marshall is gone for the minimum.

Part of this a product of extra innings and starters averaging exactly 6.0 innings per start, meaning the bullpen has had to eat 4+ innings a few times.

Based on what I think their talent level is, the Reds should be playing well enough (including in the bullpen) that this shouldn't matter all that much. Baseball is hard enough, though, without extra hurdles.

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