There is nothing more frustrating for me than watching a bullpen give back crucial runs or a lead late in a game when my team's stud pitcher is still in the bullpen. And I know, that stud pitcher is usually the closer (confined to only pitching the ninth inning), but wouldn't you want your team's best pitcher on the mound in a big spot instead of some scrub specialist? I know I would.
Scenario: Mets vs. Braves
Top of the eighth inning, two on for the Braves (2nd and 3rd), one out with the Mets nursing a 3-2 lead at Shea. Brian McCann is up followed by Casey Kotchman as the Braves look to take the lead. Jerry Manuel comes out to the mound to remove a tiring John Maine, who has thrown 98 pitches (that's a lot for Jerry). As a Met fan, who do you want in...Pedro Feliciano (the lefty specialist) or Billy Wagner (the closer)?
I have thought many times about this situation and my instincts tell me that Wagner would be the best choice even though I'm confident that Manuel would go with Feliciano. I want Wagner in the game because he is my best pitcher, a lefty, and it is the deciding moment in the game. I want my best in there. Manuel would probably go with Feliciano because he is the lefty specialist and it is his job to be able to get McCann and Kotchman out.
Of course, my thinking has a downside, who will pitch the ninth if Wagner throws too many pitches? Will the ninth inning become a disaster? Will I burn out my bullpen ace by using him too much? Will I shatter Feliciano's confidence by not using him against the lefties? How does a manager decide when to use his bullpen ace? How early is too early to use him? 6th inning? 7th inning?
But to me, the positives outweigh the negatives simply because I want my best on the mound when I need him most. If Wagner gets past McCann and Kotchman in this scenario, then whoever pitches the ninth will face the lower part of the order, which gives my team the best chance to win. It's almost like when you have David Wright on the bench when you are down 3-2 in the top of the ninth, but you decide not to use him as a pinch hitter. It is inexcusable and lowers your team's chance at succeeding. I know all the hoopla about being "the closer", but with the game on the line, that is when I want Wagner to shut the door.
Maybe this idea will only work in my mind, but I do think it's a fascinating way to use the pen.