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May 24, 2006

Prospectus Today

Bullpen Phollies

by Joe Sheehan

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Perhaps you could discuss the Phillies bullpen usage tonight in your next column on refusing to use closers properly.

--Bill

The Phillies played 16 innings last night against a division rival, held a three-run lead with four outs to go, lost the game…and never used their best pitcher.

Hell of a way to run a factory, no?

I recognize that I've become a bit shrill on this topic, but the fact is, the Phillies lost last night's game in large part because they had about their eighth-best pitcher on the mound in the game's highest-leverage moment. Ryan Franklin--you know him by the media hordes that follow him around and the manic booing that greets his every appearance because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs; no, wait, that doesn't happen--is waiver bait that the Phillies picked up to fill out the back end of the bullpen and rotation. That his ERA was just 3.38 when he entered last night's game had more to do with fluky early-season groundball and BABIP numbers than any change in his skill set. Remember, Franklin's home-run tendencies were so pronounced that he couldn't keep his ERA down while pitching in Safeco Field, where baseballs need to change planes behind second base to reach the seats.

There was no reason for Franklin to be in the game. Arthur Rhodes threw a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh on just seven pitches. Even though he threw 30 pitches Sunday, Rhodes has shown himself capable of going 20 or more pitches in a single outing this year. Consider all of the factors in play as the bottom of the eighth started. The Mets had a lefty, Cliff Floyd, leading off, another scheduled to bat third (Endy Chavez), and Kazuo Matsui between them. There was certainly no tactical reason to remove Rhodes. According to MLB.com, Rheal Cormier was unavailable to pitch after receiving a cortisone shot, so Rhodes was the only lefty remaining. Charlie Manuel had just burned through two of his relievers in the sixth inning, getting a total of nine pitches combined from Aaron Fultz and Geoff Geary. To use three pitchers over two innings for 16 pitches, all so that he could get to one of his lesser relievers, is just silly.

Unless Rhodes was physically unable to pitch--and nothing I can find points in that direction--he should have started the eighth inning. Bringing Franklin in to face the hitters coming up was a terrible decision at the time.

Franklin retired the first two Mets, then bobbled a throw from Ryan Howard to allow Chavez to reach base. At this point, the tying run moved to the on-deck circle, and Tom Gordon should have been warming up with an eye towards being used if it reached the plate. A five-pitch at-bat by Chris Woodward ended in a double down the third-base line, but rather than take out his eighth-best pitcher and bring in his best, Manuel allowed Franklin--homerrific Ryan Franklin--to pitch to Jose Reyes. Tie game.

There's no radical idea being presented here, no demand for a return to the days when men were men and had goofy facial hair and 99-mph fastballs. All there is is the notion that a team's best reliever should be able to get four outs, rather than three, when the situation calls for it. Manuel couldn't get himself out of the "closer" box, and because of that, the Phillies ended up on the wrong side of a two-game swing in the standings, blowing an opportunity to add a little more speed to the Mets' recent dive. Gordon is something of a china doll, but he's a china doll who gets people out and, as it turns out, would have been asked to throw two innings had the game extended past Ryan Madson's endurance. Asking him to throw 1 1/3 two hours earlier might have avoided everything that came after. Perhaps the Mets would have scored off of him, but at least the Phillies would have had their best pitcher throwing the most important pitches.

No credit goes to the Phillies' hitters, who threw away a lot of at-bats from the ninth inning onward. That Darren Oliver was able to throw four shutout innings is an indication of how weak the Phillies can look against southpaws, especially when both David Bell and Pat Burrell have been removed from the game.

But the game never should have gotten to that point, at least not in the way that it did. Arthur Rhodes and Tom Gordon combined to throw seven pitches last night, while Ryan Franklin threw 21, including the most important ones of the ballgame. That's simply a failure by the man in the dugout.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Ryan Franklin

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