Mike Matheny seems like a really good manager. He seems both intelligent and well-respected, and you certainly can't argue with his track record. So what's below is hardly some sort of witch hunt. Instead, please consider this ... an exploration.
Thursday night in rainy St. Louis, young Michael Wacha made a mighty impressive major-league debut. He left after seven innings, having permitted just two hits and one run. His mates, hitting into some tough luck, had scored just a couple of runs. But if the bullpen could just hang on for a couple of innings, Wacha would win his first game -- less than a year after the Cardinals drafted him -- and the Royals would lose their ninth straight.
In the ninth, with the score still 2-1, Matheny had only a few options. Closer Edward Mujica? Nope. He'd pitched in four straight games, and would not pitch in a fifth. Setup man Trevor Rosenthal? He'd pitched just twice in the last week, but for some reason he wasn't available, either.
Marte, just up from Triple-A, sported a 7.09 ERA in the major leagues, over the course of 78 career appearances. He'd been pitching well in Memphis, but he hadn't been pitching that well. Also, 7.09.
Joe Kelly, the ex-starting pitcher, entered Thursday night's action with a 7.13 ERA this season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio's been perfectly fine, but he'd somehow given up four homers in 17⅔ innings. Thus, 7.13.
And finally there was Mitchell Boggs, the guy with the track record. Boggs played key roles in the Cardinals' bullpen in 2010, '11, and '12. This year, though, he's struggled. Which is putting it mildly, since he came into the game with 10.43 ERA and 14 walks in 14⅔ innings.
Long story short? Matheny went with Boggs, and this happened on his second pitch:
Later the lead went away completely, and eventually -- I mean, really eventually -- the Royals sealed their victory.
But not before Marte replaced Boggs and looked terrible, and Kelly replaced Marte and looked good. In this particular case, I'm willing to argue that Matheny had three options and used his best option last. Which seems an odd way to go about things. What really strikes me, though, is that we've got yet another example of a team making roster decisions based on exceptionally small sample sizes. Or perhaps simply being inconsistent. If the argument for using Boggs was that 14⅔ innings isn't a meaningful sample size, great. But if that's not enough innings, why did they demote Boggs to the minors, Friday? If 17⅔ innings isn't a meaningful sample size, great. But if that's not enough innings, what dissuaded Matheny from using Kelly and his outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio until there was nobody left in the bullpen?
Using Boggs as the closer might have made sense. Sending Boggs to the minors might have made sense. But I don't quite understand how both could make sense.