I'm sick of talking about Clint Hurdle's bullpen usage. It's nonsense, and it's never going to change. But that doesn't make it right. The Pirates deserved to lose this afternoon, but they might not have if the right pitchers had been on the mound. Instead we had pitchers like Justin Wilson, Tony Watson and Bryan Morris -- good relievers, probably, but not the Pirates' best -- pitching in very high-leverage situations. Here's the explanation:
To limit Grilli/Melancon usage, Hurdle said, Grilli won't pitch @ home in tie games in the 9th. Melancon only when ahead in 8th.
Two weeks ago, Melancon pitched the eighth with a 6-0 lead, so I guess that's consistent. Two days before that, he also pitched with the Pirates up 3-0. Last week he pitched with the Bucs up 5-2. We're all aware of the poor decisions most managers, including Hurdle, make with closers in order to accumulate a statistic that was made up from scratch 40 years ago. I'm not sure we need to belabor that point with Grilli. Most of us can agree that it's dumb and that it's never going to get better, and leave it there.
But now Hurdle is doing exactly the same thing with his setup man, which is a sure way to take an effective tool and blunt it. Melancon is a hose, and Hurdle is standing on it. Melancon is a broom, and Hurdle is tearing off its bristles. Watson currently has a higher game leverage index than Melancon does, which means that, on average, Watson enters games in more important situations. Forgetting for a second that Watson is left-handed and that matchup considerations come into play, the Pirates would be better off having Watson just pitch the eighth when ahead than doing what they're doing now.
The rally that led to the Nationals' go-ahead run in the eighth today started when Watson hit Ryan Zimmerman, a right-handed batter. The Nats' two-run single that tied the game in the sixth came after Wilson, a rookie, entered the game with a tie game and the bases loaded. The next inning, Morris, another rookie, also entered the game with the bases loaded. Morris, much to his credit, struck out Harper. But none of these decisions made sense.
Grilli and Melancon's innings counts surely are a concern. But Melancon just pitched a 6-0 game two weeks ago. He routinely pitches with three-run leads. These are the situations that need to be limited. The Pirates had an off day Thursday, and they have another one Monday. There's no reason to worry here about Melancon pitching too many days in a row.
I hate to be the guy in his basement (I'm not actually in a basement, but whatever) acting like it's the professional who doesn't know what he's doing, but I'm not sure what to say here. Hurdle's traditionalism is very common throughout baseball, even if the extent of it is getting out of control. But from the outside, I'm not sure I've ever seen a convincing explanation as to why Hurdle does it or why managers in general do it, and until I do, there's nothing I can say other than that it seems all wrong.