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June 12, 2013 / Nat Anacostia

Davey and Dan

For the last few weeks I’ve been noticing something about Davey Johnson‘s management style, and after Dan Haren‘s start last night I decided to do some research. I’ve noticed that while a lot of other managers will pull a pitcher when he gets in trouble, Davey prefers to let him try to work his way through the inning, and strongly prefers to bring in relievers at the start of an inning.

I hadn’t realized how extreme Davey is in this regard. This season, Nats relievers have entered games with 45 inherited runners, whereas the average team has had 86 inherited runners. In fact, the Nats rank 30th of the 30 MLB teams in inherited runners; number 29 is Cincinnati with 57. (The Angels rank 1st with 128.) This isn’t new. Last season, the Nats ranked 29th with 177 inherited runners (versus an MLB average of 233). But this season, Davey is even more extreme in his insistence that pitchers finish their inning.

So last night, when Dan led off the 5th inning with a walk to Rosario, it seemed apparent that he was starting to lose his command. After the home run to the next batter, Colvin, I was thinking that Davey ought to get someone warming up. Haren followed with a strikeout, a single, and another double, and the heart of the Rockies order was ahead with two on and only one out. I was really surprised that no one was getting ready in the bullpen. We know what followed; a groundout followed by a 3-run homer by Gonzalez, then singles by Tulowitzki and Helton, and finally a merciful third out, with Haren in there for the duration of the inning. How many other managers would have hung onto a pitcher who seemed so obviously out of gas?

I took a look at Dan’s other bad starts to see if there was a similar pattern of Davey hanging on too long, trying to let him work his way out of a final bad inning. Of Haren’s 13 starts, 5 have been the disasters that has many Nats fans anxious to dump him—April 5 in Cincinnati, April 16 in Miami, May 19 in San Diego, June 5 at home against the Mets, and last night in Colorado. In those 5 games he pitched 22-1/3 innings and gave up 40 hits, 30 runs, and 12 home runs (of his league-leading 17).

In the April 5 game, he didn’t pitch effectively at all, giving up 2 runs in the 2nd, 3 more in the 3rd, and another in the 4th. Similarly, on June 5 he gave up 2 in the 2nd and 3 in the 3rd, never really pitching effectively. The other two games came closer to matching the pattern of last night’s game. On April 16 he pitched well for the first 3 innings, allowing only one hit and no runs. Then in the 4th, after a one-out E5, he allowed 2 singles followed by a home run, giving up 4 runs. In the May 19 game, he gave up 3 in the 1st, then didn’t allow any more runs during the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (allowing only 2 hits), before falling apart in the 5th and giving up 4 runs. So in 3 of the 5 games, Davey tried to get him to get out of trouble, even though he looked like he was gassed.

So, is Davey’s strategy a bad one? The evidence is mixed. Starting pitchers generally do worse the later they pitch into games, but evidence also indicates that giving up hits doesn’t necessarily mean that they will pitch poorly the rest of the game. I guess my view, though, is that it’s best not to be extreme. I’m willing to let my manager try to get his pitchers to finish their inning and try to bring in relievers with a clean slate. But if you’re the most extreme manager in baseball on this issue, I’m thinking that you’re probably taking it too far. So, yes, I’d like to see Davey turning to his bullpen a little earlier when a pitcher isn’t getting it done, and stop insisting that he try to work his way out of trouble.

One final observation. Those 5 games where Haren pitched terribly – how many would the Nats have won if he’d pitched decently? Probably only one. They lost them by scores of 15–0, 8–2, 13–4, 10–1, and 8–3. The problem in those games wasn’t just Haren’s pitching (or the ineffective bullpen either). The Nats only scored 10 runs in those 5 games. Even with decent pitching, the offense just wasn’t enough to give the Nats a realistic shot at winning.

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