Mike Shildt has been the (interim) manager of the St. Louis Cardinals for just over a week now. Due to the All-Star Break, even though he’s 8 days into the job he’s only 6 games into the job as well.
I’d like to take a look at his bullpen usage to this point. When he took over the team late in the evening of 7/14/18, he had one game to manage remaining prior to the All-Star Break. Mike Matheny, in what turned out to be his last game as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, used starter Carlos Martinez for 5 innings and used 7 relievers to get through the remaining 4 innings. He used Mike Mayers for the 6th, then Jordan Hicks and Greg Holland in the 7th, then started Holland in the 8th before turning to both Luke Gregerson and Tyler Lyons in that inning as well, then for the 9th deployed both Bud Norris and Brett Cecil.
Miles Mikolas started the first game of the Shildt era with a 4 inning start of just 85 pitches of semi-effectiveness at best. Shildt called upon recent call up John Gant to go 4 innings on 61 pitches to get the Cardinals through the 8th with the lead. He then, allegedly without Norris available, turned to Hicks for the save. Hicks threw for the second day in a row, but anyone else in the bullpen would also be throwing for a second day in a row at that point. Gregerson, Lyons, Holland, and Cecil had already gone 2 days in a row so it’d have been 3 days in a row for those relievers. With those four and Norris all unavailable, that left the save opportunity to either Hicks or Mayers. Hicks had thrown more often, and more often recently, but was more proven in the late innings and also had 3 days off coming up. It was the right move.
I’m going to take a little deeper look into these next 5 games.Exiting the “first half” (which is what the pre-AS Break is usually called despite being more than halfway through the year), here were the Cardinals relievers listed best to worst by a combination of FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and ERA (the arithmetic mean):
Bud Norris 2.62
John Gant 3.395 (was a part of the rotation for this stretch of games)
John Brebbia 3.5325 (was in the minors until Sunday’s game)
Mike Mayers 3.7375
Dominic Leone 3.7975 (DL for this stretch of games)
Jordan Hicks 3.8125
Sam Tuivailala 4.15
Matt Bowman 4.51 (got injured and DL’d after Friday’s game)
Austin Gomber 4.7425 (in minors for this stretch of games)
Tyler Lyons 5.025
Brett Cecil 5.1325
Luke Gregerson 5.355
Greg Holland 5.8725
Coming out of the All-Star break with a rested bullpen but also with 5 games coming up in the first four days back, Shildt saw his starter (Carlos Martinez) need pulling after 5 innings. With a loss, they only had to use relievers for 3 innings. He stretched all 3 relievers he used out between 16-18 pitches to allow them to finish their one inning. Sam Tuivailala, Lyons, and Matt Bowman took those 3 innings. Shildt turned to Sam Tuivailala (the 4th best available reliever) when down 6-4. Fangraphs already statistically had the Cubs at an 86.4% win expectancy (WE). It was still a 6-4 game when Lyons came in to start the 7th and now a 90.1% WE. You could see Shildt saving Norris, Mayers, and Hicks at this point...and he did that by putting Bowman into a now 7-4 game in the 8th, when the WE was 95.6% to start the Cubs final time to plate that evening. Not a bad game by Shildt at all with the pen.
Friday’s game was leading into a double header on Saturday, so he stretch Flaherty through the 5th inning by having him throw 110 pitches despite varying effectiveness and a ginormous lead. He turned to Gregerson for the 6th with a 99.8% WE for the Cardinals, then Cecil in the 8th with a 99.9% WE. Cecil got pulled after facing 5 batters and retiring just 1. Bowman came into the game and threw the next 5 outs, getting us to the 9th with a 13 run lead and a 99.9%+ WE. Holland pitched the 9th. In two games in two days, he saved his three best relievers for closer games later in the series and for the double header on Saturday. Another good game here by Shildt. After the Friday night game, Bowman was sent to the DL, Brebbia was recalled, and Weaver was recalled (for the double header).
Saturday’s day game (game 1 of the double header) started with Luke Weaver only being able to get 12 outs but pitching into the 5th inning. Knowing there were two games that day, Shildt pushed him through 77 pitches, but by the time Weaver left the game, the Cubs already had a WE of 83.3% and a 2-1 lead (with 1st and 3rd nobody out). Mike Mayers was brought in to keep it close, as he was the 2nd best reliever in the first half. He allowed just 1 run in the 5th and then was brought back out to pitch the 6th and set them down 1-2-3. The Cards brought it back to 3-2 entering the bottom of the 7th. With 2 lefties and a switch-hitter coming to bat, Shildt went to Tyler Lyons.
This was a common mistake of Matheny, thinking that a lefty-lefty matchup had to be used. However, the Cubs still had a 76.7% WE at this point, so going to Hicks wouldn’t have been anywhere close to a sure path to a win. I’d say this is a 50-50 shot at this point and Shildt erred on the side of caution, saving Hicks and/or Norris for game 2 hoping there’d be a lead to keep.
I believe that he probably made the right call here, but I could be convinced otherwise. I’d have considered Tuivailala as well. By the time Lyons had gone 2/3 of an inning and Gregerson had to be brought in to finish the inning, it was 7-2 and the Cubs WE was north of 98%. Smart move leaving Gregerson in to finish it off.
In the second game of the doubleheader, obviously without Mayers, Gregerson, or Lyons available (and thus down to Norris, Brebbia, Mayers, Hicks, Tui, Cecil*, and Holland* - with an asterisk representing that they pitched on Friday afternoon). Gant started the game and threw 5 innings. He was pulled from the game with a 1-0 lead.
The Cardinals WE was about 64% when Shildt made (what I think is) his first obvious error. He brought in Greg Holland with a 65% chance of winning and a 1 run game. Holland was the worst reliever on the team in the first half, statistically.
Jordan Hicks had to be brought in to finish the 6th inning. He came in with bases loaded and 1 out with an already tied game at 1-1. The Cubs now had a WE of 82.3% before Hicks ever got his chance to throw. Hicks gave up a single then got two ground outs, but the damage was done and it was 3-1 to end the inning. The Cardinals came in and scored one and Shildt left Hicks on the mound to shut the Cubs down in the 7th. He did and it was 3-2 entering the 8th. The Cardinals tied it and Tuivailala was brought into the tied game in the bottom of the 8th. He shut down a very good part of the order and the Cardinals scored 3 in the top of the 9th to take a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the 9th. Norris was brought on to close it out. I would have liked to see a bit more aggressive bullpen in this game, personally. This was strike one on Shildt for me, but the team picked up the win for him. (For the record, it doesn’t take just 3 strikes for me with a manager, but this is a baseball blog so just go with it...please.)
In Sunday's game, here is how I would have listed the availability entering it:
I would have only had Holland and Gregerson as unavailable, though, and would not have hesitated using Mayers or Hicks with a lead to hold. Here is how the interim manager responded in today’s game. Miles Mikolas made it through 5 innings and was pulled with a tied game, 2-2. Mayers was brought in, when I would have likely used Brebbia, personally. Mayers was not only used instead but was used for 2 innings. He gave up 2 runs and the Cardinals were down 4-2 still when the bottom of the 8th hit. Instead of going to any of the three more rested pitchers and to any of the three better pitchers, Shildt turned to Brett Cecil, again with 2 lefties to start the inning. He pulled a Matheny again, playing slave to the lefty-lefty matchup, despite our bullpen’s lefties not being effective all year against lefties. Cecil gave up 3 runs and left 2 runners on base for the new reliever. Shildt finally turned Brebbia (again, who I would have brought in more than 2 innings earlier at this point), and his results went out, walk, out. He kept the game at 7-2, which is what it was when he entered.
I’d say the jury is still out on Shildt, but that I have disagreed with his usage in at least 2 of the 6 games already and possibly a 3rd game. That doesn’t bode well, especially considering he’s supposed to be quite an analytically minded guy. Then again, he had not managed a game in a couple of years until this week. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but am kinda glad that he has an interim tag on his managerial title for now.
I'd be remiss to end this article without thanking Fangraphs not only for their ERA, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA statistics for 2018 and splits regarding relief pitching, but also for the pitcher usage charts, and their live scoreboards. Well played, Fangraphs people. Well played.