Dodger Eric Gagne went in to pitch the eighth inning last night and was treated to a standing ovation by his hometown fans. Strangely, those fans were Expos fans who were cheering on the Montreal native. Or maybe they knew what was going to happen next.
Gagne entered the game with two outs, Vladimir Guerrero on first, and LA leading 3-2. His first pitch was deposited over the right field wall by Troy O'Leary allowing the winning run, blowing Gagne's 3rd save in 42 opportunities, and losing his first game of the year.
I was left wondering why Gagne came in in the eighth anyway. I applaud the unconventional use of closers-why not use your go-to guy when the game is one the line?-but wondered whether it was by choice or necessity. Too many managers hold off to use the closer to start off the ninth and never get the opportunity to do so having lost the game an inning or two earlier.
How often does Gagne enter the game in the eighth anyway? Is he effective in this role? Well, out of his 56 games pitched, he has pitched more than one inning nine times. Of those eight appearances 6 resulted in saves, one in his only win, and one in a blown save, one of his three on the season. His line in those games is impressive: 14.1 innings pitched, 5 hits, 1 run (earned) on a solo home run, 1 walk, and 18 strikeouts, and a 0.63 ERA.
Well, how had he fared in the first half as opposed to the yet-to-be-completed second half? Maybe he's slowing down:
G IP H R ER HR BB K BF K/BB WHIP H/9IP K/9IP BB/9IP BF/IP OBA OOBP HR/BF% W-L S-BS-H ERA
Pre AS 42 45.1 26 7 7 3 6 62 165 10.333 0.706 5.162 12.309 1.191 3.640 .164 .194 1.818 0-0 32-2-0 1.39
Post AS 14 13.1 10 7 7 3 3 16 53 5.333 0.975 6.750 10.800 2.025 3.975 .200 .245 5.660 1-1 7-1-1 4.73
Wow, that's quite a difference. His post-All-Star ERA is about three times his pre. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) is nearly double. His hits, walks, batters faced per inning are all up and his strikeouts are down. Notice particularly that he has been prone to giving up the long ball in the second half. His home runs per batters faced has trebled just like his ERA.
Well maybe he is getting more work and being overused. Let's compare his pre- and post-All-Star usage comparing his appearances against Dodger games, calendar days, and Dodgers wins-since closer usage usually corresponds to win situations.
GP LAG W Days App% App/Day App/W IP IP/App IP/LAG IP/Day IP/W
Pre AS 42 88 54 97 47.73 0.433 0.778 45.1 1.079 0.515 0.467 0.840
Post AS 14 33 12 34 42.42 0.412 1.167 13.1 0.952 0.404 0.392 1.111
He is being used less (appears in fewer games and pitches fewer innings). He is appearing in more Dodger wins, but that's just because the are not winning as many games.
So is it a matter of not staying sharp? Well he is still appearing in a good number of games. Here's a new theory that's sort of reverse of the ever-popular "He's a rookie and has never pitched this many innings in the majors" theory which is used for young starting pitchers. Could it be possible that Gagne, always a starter until this year, has never had this many appearances and that sort of wear and tear, even though it comes one inning at a time, is taking its toll on him? Let's see how his second half plays out. Looking at the rest of the Dodgers bullpen (aside from the overused Paul Quantrill and the barely used Jesse Orosco), it doesn't look like he'll be getting much help.