Okay, I've got a situation for you, and the names will go unnamed to protect the innocent ...
You're managing a must-win game, in the sense that they all feel like must-win games at this point in your team's improbable late-season run for the playoffs. You're down 2-1 in the top of the eighth, but your boys somehow cobble together a run and so now it's 2-2 heading to the bottom of the eighth.
Your starting pitcher has somehow allowed only two runs, despite giving up a dozen hits. He's got a 4.11 ERA for the season, which is okay. If you strip all the (mostly) luck from his pitching record, he's been the 38th best starting pitcher in the American League among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Just in case you're curious, 38 American League starting pitchers have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. He's been valuable this season purely because he's pitched so many innings. But when he's pitched, he's not pitched particularly well.
Fortunately, you've got an outstanding set of relief pitchers. Your bullpen leads the American League in earned-run average, and not a single member of the corps has been below-average this season. In the previous game, your best reliever threw 15 pitches, your second-best reliever nine pitches. In the game before that, none of your front-line relievers pitched at all. Oh, and it's September: You don't just have good relief pitchers; you've got a bunch of good relief pitchers, more than you could use unless this game goes 15 or 16 innings.
So what do you do? Do you lift your starting pitcher and turn this affair over to the best part of your team? Or do you see if your starter can give you one more inning -- by the way, he's thrown exactly 100 pitches -- with the enemy's 7-8-9 hitters coming up? I'll let you think about it for a minute.
Okay, so what do you think? I know you don't have all the information. You know the starting pitcher's statistics, and you know how many pitches he's thrown so far. You didn't get the chance to look deep into his soul when you asked him how he felt after the seventh inning. You don't know if your best relief pitchers were out past their curfew last night.
Me, though? I think I'm thrilled that the 38th-best starting pitcher in the league somehow gave up only two runs on a dozen hits, and has given us a chance to win. I think I turn things over to the bullpen, and I'm not worried about specific roles in a close game I've got to win. I think I'm using Aaron Crow or Luke Hochevar, and if we go nine innings I'm using Greg Holland. The real manager didn't use any of those guys. The real manager stuck with his starting pitcher, and a moment later this happened:
That was Jeremy Guthrie hanging the meatball slider, and Alex Avila hitting his second homer of the game. Oh, and the Royals' unlikely playoff run becoming just a bit more unlikely.
I know I've stacked the deck, even if those are all just the facts (ma'am) up there, and in retrospect it's easy to say Ned Yost did the wrong thing. Hell, Ned Yost says Ned Yost did the wrong thing:
"I thought (Guthrie) could get us through the inning," Yost said. "At that point, he had pitched himself out of some big jams, and I thought he had really got settled in.
"I thought he could get us through the bottom of the order, but I pushed him too far ... Hindsight is 20-20, and there will be a lot of that. I just thought (Guthrie) had enough to get us to the ninth."
But Yost thought he was doing the right thing when he did it. Considering the starting pitcher's numbers and the bullpen's numbers, though, what do you think? More to the point, what would you have thought before Avila's home run?
For more about the Royals and their fading chances, please visit SB Nation's Royals Review.