Should Kimbrel Have Come in for the 8th?

Oct 4, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) reacts after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in game two of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Turner Field. The Braves won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

When the Braves took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 7th inning of Game 4 Monday night, Freddy Garcia’s night was finished. He did an admirable job – staying with Clayton Kershaw through six innings. Jose Constanza pinch hit for him and was able to drive in Elliot Johnson for the go-ahead run in the 7th. So on to the bottom half where the Dodgers had a pinch hitter and then the top of their order up.

I’m of the mindset that the postseason is a totally different animal than the regular season and if you are in a critical situation you need to bring out all the stops. So in my crazy world that doesn’t exist in Major League Baseball I probably would have brought out Kimbrel in the 7th – but Luis Avilan was the right choice – one that can’t be second guessed really. He got into some hot water with runners on 1st & 2nd with 2 out but was able to retire Adrian Gonzalez on a deep fly to right.

On to the 8th, still 3-2.

Enter David Carpenter who has been really good all year. Really, the question isn’t is this the right guy for the 8th inning, it’s how do you play it considering it’s your elimination game.

Carpenter’s last appearance in the series was in the 8th inning of Game 2 when the Braves were up 4-1. He gave up a 2-run homer to Hanley Ramirez which trimmed the margin to 4-3, which was the final score. Considering the fact he gave up that HR, Fredi would certainly have reason to skip Carpenter and go straight to the best closer in the game. But Carpenter has been money all year, so back-to-back outings giving up a home run would seem really unlikely, especially considering he is facing the 5, 6, 7 men in the Dodger order.

The real question to me is how do you manage the 8th inning of your elimination game with a one run lead?

Mariano Rivera recorded 42 career postseason saves. 14 of them were two or more innings. He even went three innings one time in a ALCS game. I wouldn’t dare compare anyone to Rivera unless they are the best closer in the game of baseball, which Craig Kimbrel is.

When you have someone so good, why couldn’t he go two innings? He had two days of rest, and Tuesday was an off day in the series.

As it turned out, Carpenter gave up a double to the Bo-Jackson like Puig and then a hung a breaking ball that was blasted into the night by Juan Uribe. 4-3 Dodgers, end of the road for the Braves.

It wasn’t just an awful move by Fredi Gonzalez like walking Reed Johnson to get to Jason Heyward was by Don Mattingly, but it can certainly be called into question. Postseason games can’t be managed the exact same way as regular season games. Especially elimination games. With just two innings left, they should have had to beat our best, the best. Fredi should have released the Kimbrel. Instead he was left to sit in the bullpen with his arms crossed, wondering what could have been.

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Tags: Craig Kimbrel Fredi Gonzalez

  • Brandon_Woodworth

    No doubt he should have came in. Best reliever on the planet in a do or die situation. It’s got to be him.

  • Jesus

    at least after the Puig double, at that point, in an elimination game, you have to go with your best arm.

    • Sealift67

      Don’t want to second guess but there are times you
      have to seal the win and worry about egos, consistency,
      the next game, later. Fredi like Bobby like a fixed structure.

      I can’t help but feel reminded when Bobby Cox brought
      in Charlie Liebrandt because he was a lefty when Mark
      Wohlers was ready, game was 1-1 Smoltz-Morris, game 7.

      Winfield and Kirby Puckett did us in.

      • Jesus

        both Bobby and Fredi were terrible at strategy. they always looked forward instead of THE MOMENT! We need a saber first guy who will do what’s smart, or at least, not do what’s stupid.

        • Joseph Fain

          While I have personally had many issues with Fredi’s strategic decisions including the choice not to use Kimbrel at some point in the 8th the other night, I think Fredi deserves a lot of credit for the fact that this team with THIS roster won 96 games in the regular season. All this with the two highest paid players hitting under .200 for the season and almost every other key player spending some none trivial time on the DL.

          However, the differences in the postseason vs. the regular season minimize the strengths and exacerbate the weaknesses of both Fredi and Bobby.

          • Jesus

            I think the credit goes to McDowell and what he does with our bullpen and starters more than any other coach.

          • fireboss

            Hallowed by the name oh baseball Jesus. McDowell coaxed a lot out of the staff but I give Laird some credit for helping Teheran along as well. I’m still not a rah rah roger kinda guy but he’s been as good or better than most in the top tier.

          • fireboss

            I agree that Fredi did a pretty good job with the unbalanced assortment of stars to be, stars that once were, those who think they are but aren’t, the elderly, infirm, rejected and those just glad to get a chance. I also think he’s over his head. Charlie Manuel and Davey Johnson were always two innings ahead of him as was Terry Collins.. The NL East was awful until the Nats woke up and to lesser extent the Phillies. If the Nats had played anywhere near that the first half of the season it would have been a different story.

            Sadly there’s no indication that the highest levels of Braves leadership admit that to themselves which is essential to making a change,

          • Jesus

            IMO, the team needs an organizational change. New ownership that cares, new front office with a more saber friendly demeanor. More analysis…etc We are playing the modern game by antique standards and it shows.

          • fireboss

            Liberty have no impetus to sell. The team makes money and its value goes up every year. Until they a lot need money for some organizational issue or there is pressure from MLB they have no reason to consider it. MLB is still trying to move the A’s and aren’t interested.

            McGuirk needs to find his backbone and fire wren and fredi bring in someone younger and saber inclined but not eaten up with it. The game is still played by people not computers and losing the baseball sense in favor of a strict adherence to numbers would be as bad or worse.

          • Lee Trocinski

            I’m curious what you call “baseball sense.” Veteran leadership helps a touch, as long as some sort of production is present. Aside from that, I don’t know what else is needed. Power/OBP balance, L/R balance, and most everything else is measured.

          • fireboss

            Not all good hitters are good baseball players. If you don’t understand that we’re wasting our time.Some players play the game and some understand it, feel it, see the. ebb and flow, know when to take a step or two to the right instead of standing in a spot because it’s the spot. I want a GM who knows the numbers but looks at them in context with the man. While that involves personality tests it’s more about watching them on the field and seeing how they react. Scouts have to do that but a GM may have 4 scouts giving him different advice on the same player. He needs to know what he’s looking at and you don’t find that on a computer.

            I’m not saying choose someone who’s clearly not up to it at the plate over someone who is yards better. And you can’t of course have that in every player, every player doesn’t get it. But if you need a player and you have a reasonably close choice it’s man over numbers every time.

          • Lee Trocinski

            The players with that “feel” have better overall stats. Better positioning leads to more balls fielded, meaning better defensive rating. I don’t think there are consistent clutch players, but I do believe there are consistent “unclutch” ones, so avoid them in a tight battle, as stats can show.

            There is just so little in the game that isn’t measured that I believe nearly all decisions can be numbers-based. You can’t have a bunch of Milton Bradleys in the clubhouse, but other than that, I see no other true intangibles that would affect my decisions.

          • fireboss

            I’m sorry that you think everything comes down to numbers because it clearly doesn’t.

            Choose: Player one had an 8 WAR the same year player 2 had a 5.1. Which player?

          • Jesus

            what is this? Nobody who understands metrics would make a choice based off of WAR alone. I need info like age,past history of success, BABIP for that season, UZR history…etc

          • fireboss

            You seem to want enough data to be able to go identify the player by name and then make a decision. That’s okay I shouldn’t have posted it. It was a throw away as I was headed out to work. Lee and I will discuss this elsewhere

          • Jesus

            lol, no, I don’t care what the name is, I can completely fabricate two players and ask your opinion of who is more likely to produce at a similar level in the future.

            A: age:26, WAR last 3 seasons: 5.6,6.5,6.6, slash line those three years, .302/.369/.500 , .298/.375/.520 , .302/.365/.528 , positive 3 year UZR history and plus base stealer.

            B: age 31, WAR last 3 seasons, 3.5,2.9,7.5 , slash line 3 yrs, .275/.335/.450 , .265/.340/.420, .321/.375/.520 , league avg UZR prior 2 years, plus UZR last year, avg base runner.

            fabricated players, who would you bank on?

          • Jesus

            generally, the level of clutch and unclutch is equal to the level of normal performance over large enough sample sizes. good hitters are good, bad hitters are bad.

          • Jesus

            what you are saying is inaccurate and not rational. You were almost there and then you caved in on “intangibles” (which is akin to “veteran presents”). Everything of that contributes value to the athletic competition can be measured. There is no connection between happy clubhouses and results (as long as it isn’t extreme hatred and dissent). People hate AJ Pierzcynski yet he gets work because he is an above avg catcher. A-Rod is one of the most hated players by his peers, yet I would have loved to have prime Arod on the Braves smoking 40+ homers a yr.

            I agree that scouting and stats should work together , but I think you are putting too much stock in “intangibles”. Much of your argument is a logical fallacy too as you have given yourself “easy outs” with unfalsifiable malarky, instead of a rational argument.

          • fireboss

            Intangibles is not equal to veteran presence. That may be how you personally look at it but with all respect your holiness, I disagree. Creating that as a straw man then destroying it does not make your argument correct. Denying the human factor and the value of successful experience in game situations is a great deal more irrational than anything I’ve said. There is no logical fallacy in my argument nor is it unfalsifiable malarky . In every decision where people are concerned there are trade offs and factors to be weighed. Your seem to believe every factor can be inserted into a formula and then that formula could simply be shoved into a computer and a winning team generated. My experience leading and managing people leads me to believe that isn’t the case. Even Bill James concedes now that he believes clutch exists yet when that’s mentioned those who don’t say effectively “poor old Bill corrupted by being too close to those old baseball guys, hasn’t kept up with the new stuff and other disparagements. That seems unfalsifiable malarky to me.

            Let’s just agree to disagree

          • Jesus

            nope, I never said that, I said that athletic things can be measured and analyzed, never said that a “winning formula” can be spit out of a computer. I CAN tell you who is good and who is bad at baseball based on their stats though, even if I was a blind person.

            “clutch” is an event, yet there isn’t any evidence that it’s a skill. I would like to see the evidence that says it is, and if the data backs it up, I will alter my position. (see how science works?)

      • fireboss

        Opening old wounds here :) Liebrandt shouldn’t have been there period. Bobby’s biggest fault start to finish was his bullpen use; he wasn’t good at it ever. Taking Smoltz out to begin with was premature, he had all winter to rest … anyway …
        This is indicative of Fredi’s biggest issue IMO, he doesn’t think quickly under pressure. This isn’t a shot at intelligence or baseball knowledge but history shows when pressured he reverts to “the book” rather than analyze and respond. I’ve said over and over as a manager he’s a good third base coach. While he is better than last year he’s done nothing to change that opinion.

  • Lee Trocinski

    Last night was a win for sabermetrics, unfortunately. Not using your best reliever in the highest leverage situations and bunting with a guy who has some power are two of the biggest strategy faults still prevalent. Teams don’t need to go all-in on sabermetrics, but it seems like the teams taking on the change are improving more those who don’t.

    • fireboss

      Doesn’t take sabermetrics to know that a post season elimination game is completely different from a regular season game. The manager i supposed to know that from the start. Managers were using their best in the 8th before sabermetrics became the latest fad. The sabermetric premise that the important inning of the game may be before the ninth isn’t new or earth shattering either. Bullpen specialization and the emergence of one inning wonders like Venters, O’Flaherty, Avilan and Carpenter has allowed managers to bypass the ninth inning guy bu GOOD managers – Joe Torre, Bruce Bochey for example – go to him in the 8th in posy season, not because a statistic tells them too but because there is no tomorrow.

      Bunting Puig to third would have been the move most likely to score him had Carpenter not missed his spot by 18 inches horizontally and over a foot vertically. The video shows Mac low and away and the pitch middle in and up above the belt. Carp was throwing 98 with his heater and Uribe wasn’t going to turn on that. Mac called and Carp threw his second best pitch and it turned into a cement mixer that missed position badly and hug in Uribe’s happy zone. The axiom here isn’t study sabremterics, it’s never get beaten with your second best pitcher throwing his second best pitch in an elimination game. I don;t need numbers to tell me that.

      • Lee Trocinski

        You’re right about the bullpen usage for the playoffs. I’d just like to see less set-in-stone roles during the regular season too, like the days of Gossage, Fingers, etc.

        About Uribe, he’s always been a fastball hitter, and he showed he could go oppo in Game 3. Hanging a slider is always a bad thing, but I wouldn’t fault the pitch selection. Uribe hit .179 on sliders this year, compared to a .308 mark (4/13) on fastballs 96+.

        My sabermetrics remark was more about the bunt, but both are inefficiencies in the game.

  • fireboss

    I had no trouble with Carpenter starting the inning but as soon as Puig doubled – how he hit that middle in pitch down the right field line is a good question – Kimbrel should have been summoned. Having said that the Braves lost this series as they lost most series this season, the bats went on vacation. Jason Heyward 3-18 (.167), J Upton 2-14 (.143), Brian McCann .000,

    • Joseph Fain

      This was what I was thinking at the time. Fine to start with Carp, but the minute someone was on base you bring in Kimbrel to shut things down. Not using your best reliever because you are waiting for the 9th would be like sitting your best hitter just in case you needed to pinch hit with him late in the game.

      • fireboss

        Which Fredi has done one more than one occasion

  • Matthew Jones

    2 things bother me about that inning. First, Schafer should have been in CF with Heyward moving back to his natural RF position. I think Heyward would have played the double by Puig differently, even with it being a ball in the corner. Quite frankly, I think with Heyward’s arm, he might have held him at 1B, but we’ll never know. Second, absolutely they should have gone straight to Kimbrel without a second thought. The reason I say this is because Gonzalez said earlier this season that he was going to intentionally get Kimbrel into more than 3 out situations to get him ready for the playoffs for this EXACT reason. He then didn’t, and we see what happened.

    I’m usually a apologist for Freddi, but last night was pretty awful. He again showed his greatest flaw, which is that he has absolutely no idea how to manage a bullpen. Also, add on top of it the crap that’s happening with Chipper (Bobby Cox I believe would have called Chipper into his office even with him being retired, and then told somebody to go suck it up and catch his dang first pitch) and the ‘weightlifting accident’ by Janish (see Gondee’s new blog, he expounds upon it some) shows that Freddi’s grip on the clubhouse may not be all that great. I just don’t want a Dave Sveum situation to happen in Atlanta.

  • Chris Headrick

    I’ve read the thread, and decided to comment to the top instead of specifically replying, because many good points are made here. It will always be a debate. As Fred said, it doesn’t take a SABR guy to know mistakes were made, but to the degree that sabermetrics shows the mistakes that were made in that game, I applaud that sort of analysis. For me, many mistakes were made, but the bottom line is – there was, in my mind, ZERO reason not to use Kimbrel for six outs. Fredi had already used him in game 2 in a fashion not specifically by the normal playbook, when he brought Kimbrel to the mound in that game in the 8th. Granted, it was mid-way through the 8th, and not a full 6 out situation. But come on! Really? You can use him for 4 outs, but not 6?

    Carpenter has been a pleasant surprise, but I have never been able to get past his, well, past. I don’t trust him on the mound, and I would have forfeited before I brought him in, with just 6 outs for the win, in the most important game of the season. That’s not hindsight – that should have been foresight, and would have been for many managers and organizations, if not all of them. Sabermetrics does show that, and so does just plain old common sense!

  • carpengui

    For all these comments asking for Kimbrel to have been in the game, I am reminded of a particular game in which Mark Wohlers hung a slider that was hammered out of the park.

    You can sum it up in one word: you never know.

    • Jesus

      no, you don’t.BUT, smart managing is about optimizing your chances of success. Kimbrel is our best pitcher. Leaving him in the dugout with the tying run on 2nd was stupid. Wohlers was no Kimbrel either, btw.