Chicago Cubs: The bullpen isn’t always mightier

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 26: Manager Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs relieves Pedro Strop #46 in the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on July 26, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 26: Manager Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs relieves Pedro Strop #46 in the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on July 26, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs demonstrated an important lesson Friday night; pulling a starter isn’t always the right move

If there is one managerial move absolutely guaranteed to make fans question the sanity of their favorite team’s manager, it is the act of removing a pitcher who is in the process of throwing well. Last night the Chicago Cubs were the latest example of this act.

Over the years — this is not an especially new strategy  — managers have developed a phalanx of explanations in defense of their actions.

“He was going well and we didn’t want him to take the loss.”

“We didn’t want (fill in the hitter’s name) to get another look at him.”

“He did his job…that’s what we have a bullpen for.”

“He was nearing his pitch limit anyway.”

The problem with all those explanations lies in statistics. The math clearly demonstrates that removing a pitcher who has been going strong in favor of a bullpen arm — and usually it’s a succession of bullpen arms — DOES NOT improve a team’s chances of winning a game.

Rather, it deletes from the scene a pitcher who has shown he can get the job done in favor of a volley of often more marginal assets, every one of whom must also be able to succeed in order for the strategy to be a success.

It is, in a phrase, bullpen Russian Roulette