Posted by Mike Frohwirth
Closer Jose Contreras joined previous closer Brad Lidge on the Disabled List on Sunday, further depleting the Phillies' bullpen. It's easy to look at Contreras' workload over the past week (four appearances in five days/five appearances in seven days), and conclude that Phillies' Manager Charlie Manuel overworked the veteran reliever, which contributed to his injury. Given that Contreras is 39, and has only spent one full season as a reliever, perhaps a lighter usage pattern would have been prudent. Of course, Manuel's mandate is to win ballgames, and with only Contreras and Ryan Madson as dependable bullpen options, limiting Contreras' appearances is easier said than done. Still, was Manuel's usage of Contreras defensible?
April 15th: Contreras enters the game in the top of the 9th inning. The Phillies trail the Marlins, 4-3. The Phillies have a Win Expectancy of 17.4%. The Leverage Index (LI), as Contreras faces his first batter, is .64.
Remember, a LI<1.0 is a low leverage ("not suspenseful/stressful") situation. Preferably, a weaker reliever (both Kyle Kendrick and David Herndon were available) would be used here. Of course, either option would likely have been successful in knocking the Phillies' Win Expectancy into single digits. However, the most important factor to consider here: Contreras hadn't pitched for four days (last appearance was April 10th). Contreras needed the work. Contreras retired all three batters he faced, throwing nine pitches. Conclusion: Correct Usage
April 17th: Contreras enters the game in the top of the 9th inning. The Phillies lead the Marlins, 3-2. The Phillies' Win Expectancy is 84.2%. The Leverage Index (LI), as Contreras faces his first batter, is 2.84.
High leverage, a day off between appearances, no problems here. Contreras allowed a pair of walks, but successfully protected the lead, throwing twenty-two pitches. Conclusion: Correct Usage
April 18th: Contreras enters the game in top of the 10th inning. The Phillies are tied with the Brewers, 3-3. The Phillies' Win Expectancy is at 50%. The Leverage Index, as Contreras faces his first batter, is 2.30.
As the Phillies were at home, there would be no save situation, once the game reached extra innings. This appearance was Contreras' third, in four days. Antonio Bastardo and Kyle Kendrick were both available. (Both appeared later in the game.) Danys Baez was also available (bad option for high leverage situations, such as this one), but did not appear in the game. Manuel could have, possibly, gone with Bastardo in the 10th inning. But he still would have, likely, have had to use Contreras in the 11th inning. Giving Contreras the day off might have been a good idea, but the game circumstances seemed to prohibit it. Contreras retired all three batters he faced, throwing only nine pitches. Conclusion: Correct usage. Contreras would, likely, have been needed in either the tenth or eleventh inning. This was a winnable ballgame, at least until Kendrick entered.
April 20th: Contreras enters the game in the top of the ninth inning. The Phillies lead the Brewers, 4-3. The Phillies' Win Expectancy is at 84.2%. The Leverage Index (LI), as Contreras entered the game, was 2.84.
This was Contreras' third appearance, in four days. The LI and WE both call for Contreras' use. It could be argued that Bastardo could have been used in the eighth, with Madson in the ninth. However, the LI ranged from 1.84 to 3.81 in the eighth inning, so using Bastardo in that situation may have been dicey. Given that two of those three Contreras appearances each lasted only nine pitches, using Contreras is defensible here. Contreras faced four batters, throwing fifteen pitches. Conclusion: Correct usage
April 21st: Contreras enters the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Phillies lead the Padres, 3-0. The Phillies' Win Expectancy is 97%. The Leverage Index (LI), as Contreras entered the game, was .72.
Ryan Madson had appeared in three of the four previous games, so Manuel wanted to stay away from him. Antonio Bastardo was used in the seventh and eighth innings. Baez probably could have been used to start the ninth, with Contreras available, if needed. But that would have been a bit of a gamble, and Contreras may have been needed anyway. Contreras held the Padres scoreless, but was forced to throw twenty-six pitches. It was Contreras' fifth appearance, in seven games. Conclusion: Incorrect usage. Very tough decision, given the game circumstances/relief options, but Manuel should have tried to keep Contreras out of the game.
- Manuel needs another reliable option for high leverage situations, beyond Madson and Contreras. This third option could be Bastardo, but it isn't yet. (Of course, with Contreras on the DL, Bastardo will likely be force-fed into high leverage situations. I think he will do fine in higher leverage opportunities, but have concerns about his durability.)
- The poor performance of the Phillies' offense has made managing the bullpen exceedingly difficult. The Phillies are playing a lot of close games, which is necessitating the (over?)use of the Phillies' high leverage relievers. The Phils need to win some blowouts, so they can give Madson/Contreras more rest.
- It's difficult to fault Manuel for his use of Contreras. There was no guarantee Contreras wouldn't have been needed, to rescue Baez in the ninth inning in San Diego, if Manuel had tried to rest Contreras. There's no guarantee that Contreras wouldn't have required a Disabled List stint, even if he hadn't pitched five times, in seven days. Manuel is doing his best to win games, with the cards he has been dealt. If there is a failure here, it's a failure of roster construction.