This was originally posted at my blog, The Bravesologist. It is simply my opinion on the matter and does not represent the opinions of the TC staff.
Wagner, the Braves best reliever, was used in a very low-intensity situation. In contrast, Jesse Chavez, the Braves worst reliever, was used in a very high-intensity situation. This is not a wise decision.
The decision to keep your closer (who most teams deem as their best reliever, another terrible decision) out of the game as the away team is a common occurrence amongst Major League teams, and an awful one, in my opinion.
The thought process is that the closer has the most experience in those situations and if the team does get the lead, he has the best chance to keep them ahead. While this is true, it completely leaves out the possibility of not getting there.
Here is my question, what is a more strenuous situation, pitching in a tie or pitching with a lead? In last night’s game, if Chavez gives up a run, the game is over. If he is pitching with the lead and gives up a run, the Braves are still winning at that point. Even if the Phillies score two, the Braves still have the lead, and if they score three the game is tied.
Of course, scoring three runs in extras is rare, but it does occasionally happen. The possibility of it happening is low, but managers seem to disregard it as a possibility completely. The more runs you add on in the top half, the easier it will be for the reliever to finish the game.
Usually, you scratch out one and head to the bottom half. So lets say the roles were reversed and in the top half of the 11th, the Braves scored just one run. Keep in mind that Wagner would have already been in the game.
First off, the option to keep Wagner out in the final inning is still there. This won’t be the case in every one of these situations, but it does indeed happen. Secondly, the question comes up again, what is a more stressful situation, pitching with a one-run lead or in a tie ballgame? If Chavez enters and allows a base runner to score, the Braves still have the opportunity to win the game the following inning. The odds of winning the game had Chavez given up a run in a tie ball-game or with a lead are drastically different.
The notion that closing games is more stressful than pitching in tie games is one of the most common misconceptions in baseball. Obviously, there is more stress on you if you are pitching in a tie. There really isn’t a question, yet nearly every manager in baseball and most who watch it believe the opposite, without ever actually thinking about the alternative situation.
Sure, closing games may have a different feel than pitching the middle innings, but when it comes to close games, putting your best pitchers in late during tie games is the only logical option. The risk of putting a bad reliever in with a lead is much less than putting a bad reliever in during a tie, simple as that.