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#pounditTuesday, June 18, 2024

Jon Lester hates managers pulling starters so early in playoffs

Jon Lester

A trend has emerged in playoff baseball where managers utilize extremely quick hooks with their starting pitchers and opt to go heavy with their bullpens during games. Jon Lester is not a fan of this managing style.

Lester joined “The Tiki and Tierney Show” on CBS Sports TV and Radio Networks Thursday and talked about this prevalent style of managing, which was visible in the way Dodgers manager Dave Roberts handled his pitching in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night.

“I hate it. I absolutely hate it,” Lester said of the heavy bullpen managing. “You pay your starting pitchers to be starting pitchers. You pay your studs to be studs. I remember growing up and watching these big-time guys – Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, (John) Smoltz. ‘Here’s the ball. You guys go get it. We’re going to live or die by you.’ Obviously if that falters early, you need to make a decision. That’s different. But if they are cruising, (leave them in).”

Lester particularly thinks asking a bullpen to give you five innings in a game is a lot.

“You’re stretching your bullpen to get 15 outs,” Lester told hosts Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney. “That’s a lot of outs from your bullpen. That’s a lot of mixing and matching. That’s a lot of high-stress pitches on those guys. Now you’re bringing in Kenley Jansen to get six outs, which I’m fine with. I don’t mind using your closer for six outs. But for me, you go back to the Yankee days where you had Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, these guys going (for seven or eight innings) and then you give the ball to Mo (Mariano Rivera). That’s the blueprint and that’s what you want every time.

“But I just feel like when you ask your bullpen to get nine, 12, 15 outs, there’s a lot of things that can happen and you went from a 3-1 game to a 7-6 game. I feel like that’s what happens when you do that. It puts a lot of stress on your bullpen. They have the off day today. I get it on that side of it. But for me, it’s just not baseball. Baseball is your starters go six, seven, eight and then you mix and match and do your things that you need to do from that point forward. That’s my opinion on it.”

Lester, whose Chicago Cubs lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, probably has a stronger opinion than most about the style because it personally affected him this postseason.

He was pulled the first moment he got into trouble during Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers and lasted just 4.2 innings in a 4-1 loss. The game was 1-1 when he exited. He was pulled after six innings of one-run ball in Game 2 of the NLDS with his team leading 3-1 against the Nationals. The bullpen allowed five in the eighth and blew it. He entered Game 4 of the NLDS in the fifth after Jake Arrieta was pulled following four innings of one-run ball.

I think it’s wise of managers to be proactive at trying to limit damage before it’s too late when it comes to playoff games. I thought Roberts handled his pitching staff fine in Game 2, and the only issue was that Kenley Jansen didn’t deliver for the first time all postseason. As for the Cubs, I do feel Joe Maddon was a little too quick to pull his starters in some cases. With Lester, he used a very quick hook in the NLCS, and with Arrieta, he did the same in the NLDS.

Really, games should be managed on a case-by-case basis, depending on how good your starters are and how good your bullpen is. The better your bullpen and the less reliable your starter, the more you should rely on your pen. The better your starter (like Lester), the more you should trust him. But it’s wiser of managers to pull their pitchers quickly before it’s too late in these playoff games that so often seem to be decided by one or two runs. This is the same strategy Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost used to win recent World Series. Heck, Grady Little is still ridiculed for not taking Pedro Martinez out of the game sooner in the ’03 ALCS. These managers wouldn’t let that sort of thing happen these days. The strategy doesn’t always pay off, but it works more often than not.


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