Missing John Gibbons’ Bullpen Management

John Gibbons
The way Charlie Montoyo managed the Blue Jays bullpen on opening day made me think of John Gibbons fondly.

Yesterday was Blue Jay manager Charlie Montoyo’s first game managing at the Major League level. It was bittersweet for him, as the Blue Jays lost 2-0 at the hands of a late-game double and home run by the Detroit Tigers. While I am reticent to pile on a manager in his first game, there was one bullpen decision that made me think of John Gibbons and the understated, underrated way he managed bullpens.

Charlie Montoyo
Image credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

In the bottom of the 7th inning, with Blue Jay starter Marcus Stroman nearing 100 pitches, Montoyo called to the bullpen to get two right-handed relievers up and warm: Joe Biagini and Javy Guerra. Both got hot, and Biagini came in the 8th inning to strike out the side while Guerra sat for the rest of the game. Blue Jays closer Ken Giles came in to pitch a scoreless ninth. Montoyo then called on Daniel Hudson, a pitcher the Blue Jays plucked directly off the scrap heap days before. Hudson made a few mistakes, allowing two runs before Tigers closer shut down the Blue Jays in the bottom of the 10th for the win.

Image credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

While I can’t say for sure, I have a feeling that Gibbons wouldn’t have warmed up Guerra at the same time as Biagini only to burn him. I understand why Montoyo might have done it – Guerra could be used as an insurance policy for Biagini. After all, Biagini’s track record is not exactly good. But if that’s the case, why use Biagini in a high leverage situation at all? If Montoyo isn’t confident using Biagini in that role, he should have went straight to Guerra in the first place. Had Guerra been saved, he could have been used instead of a pitcher plucked off the scrap heap days before.

(*Editor’s note: some readers have misinterpreted the above paragraph as an argument for using Guerra over Hudson. The point is not about using Guerra over Hudson, but burning a bullpen piece. Anyway, Guerra had a full, effective camp with the Blue Jays while Hudson threw poorly enough in the Angels camp for their management to see fit to release him. He signed four days ago and had a disjointed [read: tumultuous for him and his family] spring camp. Is it a surprise he wasn’t sharp in his first outing?)

Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. And we’ll never know if Guerra wouldn’t have been lit up himself had he pitched the 10th inning. But from watching Gibbons manage for nearly 10 years, I grew accustomed to seeing impeccable bullpen management.

Gibbons also has another strength: he is a savvy handler of relief pitching, with former reliever B.J. Ryan once claiming that in his first year under Gibbons he only got up once in the bullpen without getting into a game. – Jeff Blair, Return of the most underrated manager in Blue Jays history, November 20, 2012.

Of course, there are certainly going to be factors regarding managerial decisions that fans aren’t privy to. Montoyo may have had many good reasons for handling the bullpen the way he did in game one. The health of his relievers, matchup data, or even pressure from ownership to utilize Biagini (?) factor into the way Montoyo manages his bullpen. Guerra is six of one and Hudson is a half dozen of the other. Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: while I like Charlie Montoyo and I’m happy he’s managing this team – I miss John Gibbons and am reminded how gifted he was at managing a bullpen.


Featured image credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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has written for Mopupduty.com since 2006. Follow Callum on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram

  • Geoff


  • John Smith

    Remember last year’s first game, Gibby took Happ out to bring in Axford with 2 outs and Axford gave a double to bring in a run for the Yankees, was that horrible bullpen managing lol. At least Charlie got two relievers who had scoreless innings before another one gave up runs. Typical media, if something goes wrong second guessing everything like as if Gibby would have willed 7 shutout innings from relievers. I suppose Gibby would have somehow got a run across the plate lol.

    • Geoff

      What’s stupid is using anecdotal evidence to defend your argument that Gibbons was good at managing the bullpen.

      • Maybe, if this were a peer reviewed journal. But it’s a blog post. Anecdotal evidence is appropriate.

        Ross Atkins hinted at Gibbons being an elite bullpen manager according to the team’s proprietary metrics:
        “But one of Gibbons’s most important qualities as a manager is his handling of the bullpen, something that is appreciated in Toronto more than it is on statistical data sheets that track managerial usage of the bullpen based on results. Gibbons has a knack, Atkins said, for keeping relievers strong and healthy, for knowing when to use them and when to rest them, and for preparing them to bounce back effectively from an earlier outing.

        “On the publicly distributed lists he might not show up at the top,” Atkins said, “but I think he’s elite in that category.”

        Here’s the link if it helps you sleep at night: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/19/sports/baseball/john-gibbons-blue-jays.html

    • Warren

      Callum, just be enough of a man to admit you wrote a shit piece and you’re getting called out on it.

      • haha okay Warren. Thanks for stopping by.

        • Warren

          Instead of sarcastically thanking me for stopping by, put your energy into writing better articles that don’t get you laughed at.

          You’re getting laughed at by Blue Jays fans and commentators, Callum.

          Got it? Laughed at.

          And nobody’s taking your side.

          • Earl

            I haven’t seen anyone not take the writers side. I see many not understand his argument.

          • Warren, it’s a blog post. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. You don’t have to agree with it or even read it. But have some perspective.

            It’s not that big of a deal, and neither are commentators from the internet. Perhaps your energy could be better spent as well.

  • Earl

    I don’t see anything actually wrong here. Montoyo warmed up Guerra without using him. I haven’t seen anyone arguing that it is good to warm up pitchers without using them. Is there a good argument?

    • Geoff

      He’s putting John Gibbons on a pedestal without any evidence. The anecdotal evidence presented comes from BJ Ryan’s experience. BJ was appropriately babied due to the significant investment in him and his injury history.

      This was a stupid blog post by somebody grasping at straws of material. John Gibbons warmed people up without putting them in all the time. It’s a natural part of the game.

      • Earl

        It’s a natural part of the game but something that can be accounted for and considered. No? If BJ Ryan’s accounts are correct, it isn’t anecdotal if this routine played out over a season in which he plays 70 or so games. If Ryan only was warmed up once without going in, that isn’t anecdotal and certainly isn’t “all the time” like you say (of course I am taking Ryan’s word for it). The writer here has quoted Atkins on his ability to manage the pen and supposedly has data to support that. I agree that it is a nuanced and tedious argument and does put Gibbons on a pedestal but perhaps rightfully when it comes to bullpen management. It is possible Gibbons managed the bullpen better than Montoya will.