For those of you who watched/listened to today's game, you can get away with skipping the narrative of the bullpen usage from the 6th inning onwards and go right to the substance of the analysis, which is after the jump and below the bolded header. If you didn't follow the game, the narrative can help you understand the context.
Sitting at the game today, I watched as Robin Ventura pulled Gavin Floyd in the sixth inning after he failed to retire Justin Smoak. I saw him bring Will Ohman into the game to face three lefties in a row - a prudent use of his lefty specialist. Ohman should have gotten out of that inning but Orlando Hudson misplayed an admittedly difficult grounder by John Jaso, who reached safely. Ohman then retired Mike Carp and Michael Saunders.
So the situation is two outs with runners on first and second. And, because a righty is up next, Ventura pulls Ohman after just ten pitches to bring in Zach Stewart to retire this righty.
The problem with this is that the righty in question is Brendan Ryan - of the batting below the Medoza line, no pop and doesn't hit lefties any better Ryans. Naturally, Stewart walks Ryan to load the bases.
Now, with Ichiro Suzuki up in a high leverage situation, Ventura decides he wants to keep the platoon advantage and takes Stewart out in favor of Hector Santiago. Suzuki in his career has shown no platoon split. Santiago retired Suzuki on a grounder to Hudson.
To get through five innings, the White Sox used one pitcher. To get three outs in the 6th inning, the White Sox used four pitchers. While they were successful in the sense that the Mariners scored no runs, arguably, that was one of the reasons the game was lost.Santiago faced two batters in the 7th and retired one of them. But, with Jesus Montero up and a runner on first base, Ventura again decides he wants the platoon advantage and replaces Santiago with Jesse Crain. This is actually a pretty sensible decision in isolation, because Montero obliterates lefties but sucks against righties. However, the White Sox are now on their fourth reliever and there's only one out in the 7th. The White Sox are clinging to a 6-5 lead.
Crain retires Montero and, after a pow-wow about whether Crain wanted to put the lefty Justin Smoak on with first base open, Crain decides to go after him. Crain strikes him out.
So there are now two innings left to pitch, the White Sox are leading and they've got Matt Thornton, Nate Jones and Addison Reed still available. Things look to be okay. The White Sox add another run in the bottom of the inning to stretch their lead to 7-5, making it look even better.
But then disaster strikes in the 8th. Crain walks John Jaso, strikes out Carp and gives up a single to Saunders. This brings the fearsome Ryan to the plate once again and, naturally, this time he doubles home two runs when Hudson is unable to stop a shot down the third base line. With Suzuki again up, Ventura again wants the platoon advantage and goes to Thornton.
Before Thornton can do much with Suzuki, Ryan takes off for third and Pierzynski throws it away, letting Ryan saunter home with the go-ahead run. (While Pierzynski was charged with the error, Hudson probably should have at least kept it from going into left field - but thems the breaks when you put a guy there who hadn't played third base until last week.) Thornton then retires Suzuki and Dustin Ackley to end the inning.
The White Sox again come back, tying the game in the bottom of the 8th on a Dayan Viciedo home run. Somewhat paradoxically, Ventura removes Thornton at the start of the 9th inning with Jones. While Jones would have been a good choice to face the on deck hitter Montero, the batter Kyle Seager is a lefty. Ventura could have squeezed another batter out of Thornton.
Jones has no problems and retires the side in order. The Mariners do the same to the White Sox in the bottom of the inning. So now they're in extra innings with one reliever left - Reed.
Jones pitches an uneventful 10th. The White Sox fail to score in the bottom of the inning. Stretching Jones to pitch another inning may not be advisable under normal circumstances but he was only at 24 pitches and there was only one reliever left.
Still, Ventura takes him out in favor of Reed, who retires the side in the scoreless 11th. The Mariners do the same. And on to the 12th.
Reed hasn't pitched more than an inning in any outing this season. While he breezed through the 11th on just 7 pitches, we were getting into uncharted territory. Reed also was pitching on back-to-back days, which can be a problem, particularly if a guy needs to be extended. Trouble duly ensued.
Montero doubled and Jaso doubled that run in. Chone Figgins added a single to bring Jaso home. 10-8 Mariners with one out and now Ventura has to go to his emergency reliever, Jose Quintana. While Quintana didn't pitch a full outing on May 30, it was still 2 days rest for a starter and you weren't going to squeeze much out of him.
It was academic, as Quintana used three pitches to record the final two outs of the inning (bringing the total to 9 pitchers in 12 innings) and the White Sox failed to score in the bottom half. Game over.
Over-managing is bad
This was LaRussa level bullpen over-management. You can't put yourself in a position where you've completely burned your bullpen with one out in the 12th inning. Stewart should have never been used to face Ryan in the 6th. It's Brendan freakin' Ryan. Sure, Ohman has had trouble against righties. But it's Brendan freakin' Ryan. He came into the game slugging .264. That's not a typo. Nor is that unrepresentative of the "threat" Ryan presents, as that's not out of whack with his career numbers.
And it's the sixth inning. Of a game in which 11 runs had already been scored and it was a safe bet things weren't going to stay at the current score of 6-5. Yes, I often stress that Ohman shouldn't face righties. But when you're in the sixth inning of a game and you know that you're going to have a lefty face Suzuki if he comes to bat, Ryan is a righty you can let Ohman face. He's a poster child for the exception that proves the rule because he's about the least threatening right-handed hitter this side of injured Brent Morel.
And it's not like Stewart is a righty-killer. They've absolutely lit him up this season and his career suggests his platoon splits aren't aberrations.
And, sad as Ohman's numbers against righties have been this season (and, to much lesser degree, in his career), they're as good as (and much better than) Stewart's.
And it's Brendan freakin' Ryan.
And Stewart, perhaps predictably based on his record, couldn't even retire him.
The knock-on effects of not putting a bit of trust in Ohman to not give up a home run or something to Brendan freakin' Ryan is that Ohman pitched 0.2 innings when he should have faced Brendan freakin' Ryan instead of Stewart (thus leaving him still available) and when he should have faced the batters Santiago faced (thus leaving him still available).
Instead, Ventura burned three relievers when he should have used just one (including using his long reliever for one batter). Which very well may have changed the outcome of today's game for the worse.