Toronto Baseball Guys
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
  Time to Manage Like it's 1969
The most encouraging moment of the Cleveland series was John Farrell's willingness to use Darren Oliver for two innings to close out Sunday's 3-0 win.

It's something he should do far more if the Jays hope to remain in the wild card hunt.

Bullpen usage has become a blight on modern baseball. The endless parade of relief pitchers slows games to a crawl, and often for no particular reason. Pitching changes are made less because a pitcher is struggling and more because they've been shoe-horned into roles.


Did the Yankees really need FIVE relievers to pitch the final 3 innings of Tuesday's game (in which they allowed a total of 1 run)? Especially when four of those pitchers combined to throw 15 pitches?

The save is largely responsible, because with the save came the annointing of closers, and paying the closers like closers. Thus, whenever a save situation crops up, the closer MUST be called upon to collect said save. Why else are you paying this guy $10 million?

This has trickled down to everyone in the bullpen having a role: set-up guy, 7th inning guy, lefty specialist, righty specialist, IT specialist, 2nd lefty, mop-up guy, key grip, etc. This creates bullpens of 7 or 8 pitchers, which leads to 3 man benches, which leaves teams with precious little flexibility on the field, but hey - they've got pitchers with roles!


And managers are dogmatic about these roles, to the point that they will happily burn through an entire bullpen even in a tie game. This can eventually force a manager to stretch Jesse Carlson for 3 innings or stretch Oliver for 3 innings.


The most egregious example of this came this year in the May 6th game in which the Orioles and Red Sox used 14 relievers between them before using position players Chris Davis and Darnell McDonald to finish the game. Sure the game was 17 innings, but that's not unheard of . When you're calling on your first baseman to pitch in a tie game, it's just possible that bullpen usage has jumped the shark.

So, why not stretch out a reliever before you absolutely have to?

Starting pitchers used to be replaced for three reasons: they were hurt, they were tired, they were ineffective. Today, there's a fourth factor, which is pitch counts.
 
Bullpen usage should be governed by the same factors. The Jays depleted pitching staff gives Farrell the perfect opportunity to do just that, because the team simply doesn't have the arms to make a rigidly structured bullpen work. They barely have enough upright, carbon-based life forms to fill one out at the moment. The Jays' motto for the rest of the season should be "pitch until you struggle."

11 times, this season Darren Oliver has pitched an inning using a dozen pitches or less.

Send him back out there.

Yes, he's 41 and sure, his ERA is bound to go up a little if he stays in games longer, but the higher ERA will be mitigated by the fact that he's providing more quality innings and keeping struggling relievers in the bullpen (Jesse Chavez, I'm looking at you). Aaron Loup pitched two clean innings in his big league debut on just 21 pitches. Under the new system, he'd be heading back out for a third. 


This is more in line with how professional sports are supposed to work, in that you don't replace players who are having success. "Seventh inning guy breezed through his inning? Great, make way for the eighth inning guy." This is a meritocracy, not an assembly line. Each time you go back to the pen, you risk finding the pitcher having an off day.

How many games have the Miami Marlins allowed Heath Bell to flush away because "Heath Bell is the closer" and the closer MUST pitch in every save situation?

If managers became more comfortable with the idea of multiple inning relief appearances, they'd soon find they could get by with 5 and 6 relievers instead of 7 and 8, which would allow for a lot more flexibility on the 25-man roster.

This is not revolutionary, just how things used to be - and Farrell and the Jays are desperate enough to give it a try. With luck, it'll catch on.


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