Bullpen management might not be the most important piece of a manager’s job, but it’s arguably the most visible. Complaints around Bob Melvin’s bullpen management usually centered around going to the same ‘trusted’ relievers so much their arms burnt out and that he often didn’t have anyone ready as a reliever in the game was gascanning.
It’s also worth noting that good relievers, and good reliever performances, tend to make managers look like they manage bullpens well, while bad relievers and bad reliever performances tend to throw managers under the bus.
So judging a manager’s bullpen management acumen is not always easy, but what you can glean is their style, their patterns, their ideologies, with which you may be aligned or not. What have we seen so far from Kotsay, and how does it differ from BoMel’s style?
I will frame my own observations as “Pluses” and “Deltas” as I have seen it.
- Partly out of necessity, because all but Lou Trivino are unproven and Trivino has been COVID-y to boot, Kotsay has been quick to involve all his relievers without appearing to hesitate to throw a young reliever into a key spot if appropriate.
As a result, Dany Jimenez has earned 3 saves, Sam Moll and Kirby Snead have procured key high leverage outs in L on L situations, Zach Jackson and Domingo Acevedo have had turns in set up duty — everyone has been invited to the party to make a significant contribution.
- I really liked Kotsay’s use of Jackson for 2 IP on Sunday, with the A’s seeking a 12 out save after Cole Irvin went a solid 5 IP. In the BoMel years I would have usually expected a parade of 4 one-inning relievers, which forces you to go deeper into your depth chart as well as creating more relievers throwing consecutive days, 3 of 4, etc.
I think 2 IP relievers, especially when a reliever is effective and economical in his 1st inning, are an underused resource and I hope to see A.J. Puk, and others who are suited, utilized more in this way.
- Kotsay has shown himself to be unafraid to have a reliever ready as a teammate struggles on the mound. This is tricky because you can’t get a reliever up “just in case” every time a pitcher shows the slightest crack in the armor. Do that and you will burn out arms in the bullpen from guys who get up and down several times or constantly warm up ever without coming in.
But there is a time and place to have options ready and one fair (IMO) critique of BoMel was that generally he got someone up only as the horse was already leaving the barn. In contrast, Sunday we saw him get Sam Moll ready as Dany Jimenez was trying to close out the save, and as a result Moll was warmed up and ready to go when LH hitter Willie Calhoun came up with runners at 1B and 3B, 2 outs, and the A’s clinging to a 2-0 lead.
- Speaking of Sunday and Sam Moll, it’s unclear to me why Moll was up if not to come in exactly for Willie Calhoun. No doubt, Calhoun would have yielded to the RH batting Andy Ibañez, but Calhoun is a far more accomplished hitter than Ibañez so that’s a win for Oakland.
More to the point, if you were going to stick with Jimenez even if he allowed the go-ahead run to come to the plate and even with a LH batter coming up, that’s fine but then why have Moll up? Ultimately, it seems Moll was just going to be the door closing after the horse had left the barn and that’s not helpful compared to a L on L matchup with Calhoun or forcing a weaker pinch hitter to come up instead.
- The only personnel choice I have had issue with is the selection of Acevedo to relieve Frankie Montas in the 8th inning Saturday. This is not a major gripe because Kotsay, and I, are learning who is who and who can do what — so it’s anybody’s guess at this point.
That being said it was a situation that called for someone who could miss bats, and who was hard to hit, and so far Acevedo has had his moments but has been pretty hittable overall. In contrast, Jackson has “swing and miss” stuff against both LH and RH batters and while he can be wild a base was open so you would trade the chance of a walk for less of a chance of a hit.
Obviously the move looks worse because Acevedo served up a 2-run single to Brad Miller, but it’s a move I didn’t love at the time and I wasn’t at all surprised that it backfired.
- As for the question of when to pull the starting pitcher, which is another “big one” for fans in judging managers, it’s just too early to form any opinion thanks to the shortened spring training and the need to finesse April workload more than usual.
Plus, until May 2nd bullpens can employ 10 relievers whereas by next week the rosters will normalize as starting pitchers presumably get back to more standard pitch limits. All I will say so far is that I haven’t had any particular issue with Kotsay pulling SPs too quickly or leaving them in too long. For the situation we are in, those decisions have seemed about right and generally sensible.
Please share your observations and thoughts on this “hot button” issue — it is probably the most visible aspect of a manager’s role and usually a fun one to discuss…