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March 25, 2013

Baseball Therapy

Could the All-Bullpen Approach Actually Work?

by Russell A. Carleton

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Baseball games come with built-in subtitles. Dwight Gooden vs. Roger Clemens in the 1986 World Series. Bob Gibson vs. Denny McClain in the 1968 World Series. Kyle Lohse vs. Ross Detwiler in Game 4 of the NLDS last year. It's one thing to see a game between the Yankees and Tigers, but it's an entirely different game if CC Sabathia is pitching against Justin Verlander. And no one ever subtitles the game A-Rod vs. Miguel Cabrera.

Baseball loves its starting pitchers. And given the way the game is currently constructed, that makes sense. The schedule lists the probable starters for each night's games for a reason. It's the one factor that changes night to night for a team, and it has a major impact on the team’s likelihood of success. After all, the starter will hopefully be pitching six or seven innings and be responsible for a good deal of the run prevention picture. In the National League, you even get to watch him bat! It's always been this way, since the days when a complete game was the default. The idea of one man for one job is so deeply ingrained in the game that it's hard to imagine a world in which it’s structured differently. From the little leagues to the big leagues, each team has a starter who will pitch as long as he can, and then some relievers who will finish things off. That is the order of things.

Here's a question: Suppose that baseball strategy were being re-invented from the ground up, with full knowledge of how the game works. Would the starting rotation be re-introduced in its current form? How much does the existence of the "We have five starters who pitch six or seven innings each, and then relievers who take care of the rest" paradigm owe to good logical sense, and how much to the fact that it's always been this way? (More cynically, how much of it is due to the rule that says that a "winning" pitcher must pitch for at least five innings?)

One thing that's always instructive is to look at the language that we, as a culture, use to describe things. In modern baseball, there's a word for a guy who is conditioned to throw 6-7 innings every fifth day ("starter"), and there's a word for the guy who throws an inning on three days out of a week ("reliever"). What do you call a pitcher who is purposefully tasked with throwing three innings a couple times a week?

What if we tried something a little different? Well, I wouldn't be the first to propose such a system. I wouldn't even be the first to implement it. In 1993, Tony La Russa briefly (as in, "for one week") tried a system in which he pulled together three groups of three pitchers each. Each man was tasked with getting through 2-3 innings, and there were four more "traditional" relievers to pick up the slack. The A's went 1-5 that week and went back to a more standard rotation afterward. There has been talk of tandem starters in other places before, and the idea has even been floated on Effectively Wild.

I propose to really dig deep into the numbers here to see if this is a feasible method. Is there an alternative to the traditional five-man/6-7 innings rotation that at least makes sense on paper? More than that, would it work in reality (and yes, there's a difference)? Let's find out.

What Does a Starter Do?
The 5-6-7 rotation does have its advantages. It's an efficient way to fill innings. By using only five roster spots, a team can cover roughly 2/3 of the innings that it needs to fill. This is the somewhat-hidden reason why "innings eaters" (pitchers who will throw 200 mediocre innings in a season) seem to have such great value. The results might not be great, but someone has to pitch those innings, and it's easier if that person occupies just one roster spot. Leaving aside for a moment any issues of performance, we'll need to make the case that we can deliver the bulk innings that would be lost from eliminating starting pitchers.

Let's look at how deep into games starters actually went in 2012:

Recorded 0-15 outs

30.6%

Recorded 16-18 outs

30.4%

Recorded 19-21 outs

27.0%

Recorded 22-24 outs

9.2%

Recorded 25 or more outs

2.8%

The mean number of outs recorded is 17.4, with a standard deviation of 4.3. The median number of outs recorded is 18, which is six innings, so on average, we need to replace 5-7 innings per night. That sounds about right. An interesting factoid: In 2012, more starts lasted four innings or fewer (12.7%) than lasted past the seventh inning (12.0%). You're slightly more likely to see a bullpen-taxing implosion than a gem in modern baseball.

Someone Does Have to Pitch...
My proposal isn't exactly new: tandem starters. Six men, split into three pairs. Our brave and innovative team uses a three-pair rotation. Each pitcher in the pair is expected to throw 50 pitches, gets two days off, and then comes back and do it again. On the downside, it does require one extra roster spot more than the 5-6-7 rotation, but at least in theory, it covers the 100 pitches that the starter usually throws.

Let's look at how many outs 50 pitches might "buy" a starter. In 2012, among those starters who made it to 50 pitches, by their 50th pitch they had:

Recorded 0-3 outs

0.5%

Recorded 4-6 outs

13.3%

Recorded 7-9 outs

49.2%

Recorded 10-12 outs

32.3%

Recorded 13 or more outs

4.7%

Starters failed to record the 18th out in 42.8 percent of their outings in 2012. They failed to record the ninth out within 50 pitches 44.6 percent of the time. It's not unreasonable to expect that roughly 50 pitches will buy a pitcher three innings a good amount of the time, and it will fail to do so at roughly the same rate that 100 pitches fails to buy a starter more than six innings. I also looked at how many pitches it took to record nine outs among starters in 2012. The mean and median were both 50, with a standard deviation of 10.

We can likely cover the bulk innings needed in line with what starters currently generate, but at the cost of an extra roster spot.

There's one other thing to account for: Pitchers vary greatly from one outing to the next, particularly starters. There are nights when a guy just doesn't have it, and he hits the showers after 2 1/3 innings. In that case, the bullpen is on the hook for filling in the rest of the game. There are also nights when a guy is lights out through eight and gives the bullpen a break. Because we're limiting our pitchers to 50 pitches each, if they're really on that day, they won't have as much chance to eat up a few extra outs, and their replacement is most likely to be his usual average self, meaning that it's less likely that you get the benefit of a long outing. On the flip side, if the first pitcher comes out and lasts only 1 1/3, his replacement is likely to be at his usual average and could go three innings, so it saves the bullpen from having to pick up as much of a workload. The tandem approach is a low-risk, low-reward strategy from the perspective of filling innings.

This isn't unimportant. The way the current major-league roster compensates for a starter flaming out is to have a guy designated as the "long reliever." He's usually an expendable arm who's trying to prove that he's not expendable, and usually it's 9-2 or so at the point that he comes in, so it doesn't really matter who he is or what he does as long as he gets the team through the sixth with his arm attached. Teams also use the fact that, if the long man has to go four innings and leaves the bullpen short the next night, he can be sent to Triple-A and some other fresh expendable arm can be called up to take his place. The ability to arbitrage roster shuffling in this manner reinforces a role that fits well to handle one of the shortcomings of the 5-6-7 rotation. Because teams can get another long reliever on short notice, they can "afford" to use a strategy that is higher risk in terms of filling innings. It's interesting to think that one of the reasons that the five-man rotation exists is because it's easy to find bad pitchers. Using the tandem starter approach doesn't really leverage that possibility.

If we figure that the job of the starting tandem is to get through the sixth inning, there will be some nights where they fail to do that, in which case some sort of bridge reliever will be necessary. On some nights, one member might have to be pulled early, or maybe both men have to fight through some jams and their combined allotment of 100 pitches is used by the fifth. It happens. But since we have a lower risk of an early-inning flameout, it's a little more likely to be deeper into the game, and not due to a collapse, meaning not as much length is needed and the game might still be in the balance.

Still, I don't think we could dispense with the traditional long man. One member of the tandem might go his three innings, but his partner might have nothing, and suddenly it's the fourth and someone needs to go out there. Our team will likely have to carry a pitcher who can fill the long man role (so, no roster spot savings there), but also have enough arms in the bullpen that they can trust in high-leverage situations to cover some extra frames beyond what they do now. (Or it can find a long man who can be trusted in tough situations.) Suddenly, we've created a cascade effect on the rest of the roster.

Names Please?
Our pitching staff can't consist of abstractions. There have to be real bodies inside those uniforms. I've created a theoretical role in which a pitcher throws three innings at regular intervals, and frankly, there's no one in the game of baseball who has that job description right now. About the closest thing in recent memory was the role that Mariano Rivera had in 1996, prior to becoming a closer. He would often throw 2-3 innings to bridge the gap from starter to John Wetteland.

However, I think that there are players who might just be good for the role, and to make things better, they might represent a glaring inefficiency. There are certain starters who seem to have enough "stuff" to get through the lineup once, but who struggle with making it through the lineup the second and third times around. Usually, they're pretty tantalizing guys. They clearly have something, and once in a while they have a nice seven-inning, two-run outing, but why is it that most days they can't sustain the magic? What if we just didn't ask them to?

I looked at all starters in 2012, specifically what they did in the first three innings and then everything after that. I calculated each pitcher's xFIP for both time periods. I then filtered the list a bit. I looked for those who had an xFIP in the first three innings of 3.75 or less. A seasonal 3.75 xFIP would put the pitcher in the top 30 xFIPs among qualifying pitchers in 2012 (Wade Miley had a 3.75), and an ERA of 3.75 would be good enough for no.41 on the list between Bronson Arroyo and Wandy Rodriguez. Not bad.

Then, to figure out which guys might have some hidden value, I sorted the list by the difference between xFIP in the first three innings and in subsequent frames. Their overall ERAs would be higher, but it might be masking the problem that they might be pretty good prior to the fourth. After all, guys like CC Sabathia and R.A. Dickey had good opening frames last year, and both were somewhat worse in the subsequent innings. Neither is available cheaply. But, if we can find a guy who has the tag of "bad starter," but can put him (and a friend) into a situation where their talents can shine in a new role, the stinky parts can be hidden.

Here’s the list, sorted by the guys who would have the most to gain. The numbers given are their xFIPs in the first three innings, followed by subsequent innings. There was a minimum of 100 PA in each bin.

  1. Carl Pavano (3.62, 5.24)
  2. Jake Arrieta (3.03, 4.46)
  3. Tommy Hunter (3.63, 5.01)
  4. Colby Lewis (2.96, 4.33)
  5. Justin Germano (3.61, 4.94)
  6. Drew Hutchison (3.43, 4.73)
  7. Brandon Beachy (3.31, 4.60)
  8. Bud Norris (3.37, 4.56)
  9. Hisashi Iwakuma (2.86, 3.99)
  10. Charlie Morton (3.64, 4.71)
  11. Ryan Vogelsong (3.41, 4.41)
  12. Vance Worley (3.47, 4.44)
  13. Jered Weaver (3.60, 4.49)
  14. Joe Kelly (3.68, 4.54)
  15. Mike Minor (3.43, 4.23)

This is a pretty good list of guys who aren't highly valued. It's not that they could be had for a song, but it's not like other teams are holding on for dear life to most of these guys. A team that was committed to this approach might pick a few of these pitchers up, and probably not for a lot of money. And the fact that they exist at the major-league level makes one wonder how many of their brethren are in the minors, toiling away as "failed starters" who might thrive in a role like this, except for the fact that one does not really exist for them. (Note: I also looked to identify relievers who might be extended beyond one inning, and would thrive in a role where they pitched three instead. They might be out there, but while starters, even bad ones, go well beyond three innings, there were very few relief appearances that lasted three innings in 2012. In fact, only 20 percent of relief appearances in 2012 involved the pitcher getting a fourth out.)

If the trend held, a pitching staff composed of these guys, who had to go only three innings each time they went out, could deliver a combined performance consistent with the top or second starters on most teams, and could do so every night (though only for about six innings, give or take, rather than the seven or eight innings we normally associate with an "ace" outing). Consider what that sort of performance would cost a team on the free agent market, and compare it to what a pitching staff composed of the list above might cost. The savings might be useful in upgrading other parts of the team.

Aren't You Making Some Major Assumptions Here...
We probably need to talk about whether 50 pitches, two days off is a workable model from a physical standpoint. When the Colorado Rockies went to a model of 75 pitches, three days off last year, it smacked of someone who said "Well, we usually do 100 pitches, then four days off, so that's 25 pitches per day..." It's not clear that it's nice and linear like that. BP's Ken Funck, when he looked at the issue a few years ago, found that there was little consensus on the matter because the idea hadn't really been tried on any sort of large scale.

At the MLB level, there are almost no examples of pitchers being used in a 50 pitches, two days off system. In fact, there aren't even that many individual case events. Starters who throw only around 50 pitches are usually either hurt or ineffective. If they're hurt, they might make their next appearance after 15 days on the DL. If they're ineffective, they likely just take their next turn in the rotation. Relievers who throw that many pitches are usually pitching in long relief, and then next pitch when they are needed. No one does this on a regular basis, and it's not clear whether this would wear pitchers down or whether it would be a wonderfully revolutionary idea.

It seems like 50 pitches followed by two days off could work, at least in that it passes the smell test. If anything, this would require a complete re-conceptualization of how pitchers train and structure their workloads, and maybe it wouldn't work unless you've been pitching that way since the age of 12. And maybe the changes would affect the pitchers and make them worse (or better.). The reality is that most pitchers train along one of two tracks, and so if a team wanted to implement this tandem model, it couldn't count on finding guys who were cast off from other organizations but already had trained in the same basic role the way that they can find six-inning starters. That makes searching for reinforcements a lot harder. Basically, a team would have to produce all of its pitchers internally, or it would have to be shown that the conversion to the “50 and two” model could be quick and easy. Otherwise, there just wouldn't be enough pitchers out there to make things work.

Possible Extra Benefits

  • For one, the tandem starters wouldn't have to pace themselves as much, nor worry as much about facing a hitter a third time, or in some cases, even a second time. In the same way that starters who become relievers pick up a little extra mustard, our tandem starters might see similar effects.
     
  • If the team can pair a left-handed pitcher with a right-handed pitcher, it does present some interesting platoon issues for its opponent. Does the other manager start his "We're facing a lefty today" lineup or his “versus a righty” lineup? And when the other half of the tandem comes in, does he pinch hit? It could create a few extra platoon advantages for the pitching team. In 2012, the platoon advantage was worth 20 points of OBP for right-handed hitters and 38 points of OBP for left-handed hitters. Converting one walk into an out is worth half a run, and 20 points of OBP is a two percent swing. For every extra 50 platoon advantages you gain, you gain at least half a run. Small effect, but it can add up.
     
  • In the National League, when it's time for the first half of the tandem to come out, you might as well pinch hit for him, whereas you don't have that luxury with the traditional starter. Since pitchers hit .129/.162/.166 as a whole, even sending up the worst qualifying OBP from 2012 (Drew Stubbs, who hit .213/.277/.333) represents an increase of more than 10 percent in the chances that you won't make an out. If the NL team is able to use this effect 60 times a year, and assuming that we're talking only about changing an out into a walk, it could leverage an extra three runs. That's assuming the worst-possible pinch hitter and that all you do is add a few extra walks (rather than maybe a home run?). With a decent pinch hitter, whom they would have incentive to sign since they'd have plenty of chances to use him, the effect might be enough to be worth a win or two.

Possible Problems

  • That extra roster spot is going to have to come from somewhere. In all this I'm assuming that back-end bullpen usage will not change. Since most teams now employ a 12-man pitching staff, this would take them from seven relievers to six. Or to a 13-man staff, leaving only three bench players in the AL. Or relievers will have to become more comfortable with slightly longer outings. Something's gotta give. Teams have gotten by on short benches before (but suddenly, your bench options are limited only to gifted multi-positionalists). Maybe it's just a matter of a different model of reliever usage.
     
  • In the event of a doubleheader in which a team would normally have to call someone up to make a spot start, the team might be faced with a situation in which all of its reserves are tandem starters too, and would thus have to make two moves to cover the games. Or, they'd have to keep a traditional starter in the minors for such instances so that they could get by with moving one body up and down. Odd that even going to a tandem approach necessitates keeping a 6-7 inning starter around.

Would Anyone Willingly Sign Up for This?
Then there's the biggest problem of all. Unless baseball changed the way in which pitching wins are awarded (or got rid of wins altogether), this one might be a tough sell to free agents. The first guy out would likely not get a win, but he could get tagged with the loss. Like it or not (and I am definitely in the "not" camp), won-loss record still means a lot in baseball. Even among potential draftees and international signings, a team couldn't keep secret the fact that they were switching to such a plan. Would pitchers steer away from our experimental team (as much as they were able) if they knew that they'd be pigeonholed into this three-inning role?

Then there's the ego bruise that would come from being told, "Well, you're not good enough to be a real starter..." Finding actual human beings to play in this system would be a challenge, and it's not like minor-league systems are churning out guys ready to step into this role. In fact, the primary thing that the tandem model has going for it is that it would be staffed by guys who were chosen because they weren't good enough to be real starters. Often, we hear of guys who take lesser contracts "because it gives me the chance to start." Maybe that's stupid male pride, but while the system might make sense on paper, baseball is still played by humans. Maybe if guys had grown up throwing in this role and idolizing the great starter tandems of all time, there might be a line of guys who would be willing to take the role. But that's not the way it works.

In Sum...
If we make an assumption that switching pitchers to a 50 pitches, two days of rest schedule would actually work and not affect a pitcher's abilities (or at least not make them worse), there's evidence that there's a hidden pool of talent out there that are floundering in the current system, but who might thrive in a new role. Given enough bargain hunting, a team could probably find a group of pitchers who could produce value equivalent to having a starting rotation filled with guys from the top two spots in most team's rotations and still provide the bulk of innings that starters currently produce. The production would probably come at bargain-level prices. Those cost savings could used be for upgrades elsewhere on the team, and there might be a few other benefits that they could squeeze out.

However, #ThereIsNoUnicorn. The types of pitchers that are called for in this system are not naturally provided by the baseball talent training system, and it would be hard to recruit people to the cause. Plus, there would be roster repercussions all across the team, from relievers who would need to work longer to bench players who might have to be a little more multi-talented. It's not impossible, but it's a lot tougher than just saying "Okay, this is how we're going to operate from here on out."

In theory, this would work great and would probably net a team some really nice value. But, as my father is fond of saying, "Everything works in theory." The real-world structural obstacles that would get in the way of converting to this type of program seem like they would be too great to overcome. It would certainly take overhauling an organizational philosophy, and that's hard to do. Maybe the game will evolve a little and the ingredients that would be needed for this to work will be more readily available. Maybe there's a team that could luck into exactly the right roster and give it a whirl. Maybe this works great in video games where you can do a fantasy draft with exactly the right players, and players who don't complain and just trot in and out of the game when you hit the right button. Just don't expect to see it in reality any time soon.

Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Russell's other articles. You can contact Russell by clicking here

Related Content:  Pitching,  Bullpen,  Roster

34 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

anderson721

The Dodgers could modify this a bit; use Kershaw every fifth day and use their other 7 starters the other 4 days. Then turn things over to Belisario, Jansen and League. It's not elegant, but it "could" work.

Mar 25, 2013 03:38 AM
rating: 0
 
bhalpern

I would propose an alternative system with three regular starters(A-C). Then two pairs who pitch regularly once each time through but are also available in relief on the opposite side of the rotation(D-G). These guys would pitch 2-4 innings each depending on how they're doing. Five regular relievers(H-L) available all games. So it's a relatively normal 12 man staff. Something like this.
1 - A, HIJKL & F/G
2 - D/E, HIJKL & F/G
3 - B, HIJKL
4 - F/G, HIJKL & D/E
5 - C, HIJKL & D/E
The IP totals would be along the lines of 220, 200, 180, 120x4, 70x5. The arbitrage roster moves for L would still be available for blow outs and extra innings. One additional need would be to try to reduce wasting a lot of middle relief appearances by facing only one or two batters in low to moderate leverage situations and shoot for more 1+ inning stints.

Mar 25, 2013 07:48 AM
rating: 2
 
hodgebud

Tom Tango suggested in The Book that teams use three regular starters and two tandems. It might help the transition if pitchers felt like they could pitch well in a tandem to become a "normal" starter again. The tandems might also finally push everyone to start using pWAR instead of wins to judge pitchers. But maybe we could use 1/2 wins until they are ready to make that leap.

Mar 25, 2013 04:23 AM
rating: 1
 
hodgebud

To be more precise, I believe Tango suggested one tandem that would pitch twice in the rotation.

Mar 25, 2013 05:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Tom's model was to have three "normal" starters who would pitch on days 1, 2, and 4. On days 3 and 5, a tandem starting team would take the hill. I've played around with that model a bit. It does have the problem that your normal starters need to be decent... and that negates the cost-savings aspect of my plan. But certainly his way has its merits.

Mar 25, 2013 06:03 AM
 
Eddie Bajek

I can't help but notice that there are a couple of guys who've recently gone under the knife with Tommy John or other recent arm maladies in that list.

Carl Pavano: June 2012 Shoulder Sprain
Jake Arrieta: July 2011 Elbow Bone Spur
Colby Lewis: July 2012 Tommy John
Drew Hutchison: Summer 2012 Tommy John
Brandon Beachy: June 2012 Tommy John
Charlie Morton: June 2012 Tommy John
Vance Worley: September 2012 Bone Chips
Jered Weaver: September 2012 Shoulder Inflammation

I think you could very easily take a group of any 15 pitchers and come across guys who have recent injury. However, given your recent article looking for injury precursors, I figured I would bring up the possibility that guys who are unable to keep their effectiveness late into starts are possible injury threats. It would certainly make sense.

Mar 25, 2013 05:14 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Or guys who have been injured aren't able to keep it up through 6 innings. Injured pitchers do come at a discount...

Mar 25, 2013 06:04 AM
 
Johnston

I'd really like to see this approach tried.

Mar 25, 2013 07:12 AM
rating: 0
 
bpage18

I have to agree with the above comments - seems like it would make sense to have 1-3 "real" starters in the traditional mode, then tandem for the rest. Seems perfect for younger starters to be able to 'graduate' into the role then - a guy like Scherzer seems like would have been perfect for this...

Mar 25, 2013 08:17 AM
rating: 0
 
Dire Straits

I'm with Tango et. al. on making this a COMPONENT of a staff, at least at first, rather than trying to build a staff this way.

A couple of weeks' starts might look like this:
S1
S2
S3
Tandem
S4
S1
Tandem
S2
off
Tandem
S1
S2
Tandem
S3
S4
off
S1
Tandem
S2
S3
Tandem
S1
S2
Tandem
etc.

You may notice this ends up moving some S4 starts, which is ok. Maybe that guy doubles as long relief, which would keep the roster spots in line.

Judicious use of the PH opportunity would also allow some better offensive platoon situations AND keep guys rotating and resting, as well. Haven't thought through that one too deeply, though.

Mar 25, 2013 09:04 AM
rating: 1
 
bline24

I am having a hard time getting my head around the fact that your strategy scraps the traditional role of the starting pitcher, which is an ingrained in the culture and history of baseball as the ball and the bat, but keeps leaves the faux tradition of the late-inning reliever intact. Why not try to come up with a scheme that maximizes the value of the Mariano Riveras and Arodlis Chapmans, rather than just minimize the damage from having to run Carl Pavano out there every 5th day?

Mar 25, 2013 09:38 AM
rating: 1
 
anderson721

Or if you have a team with a sketchy 5th starter, have your setup guy pitch the 1st inning against the opponents best hitters. Your starter then has a shot at giving you 6 innings without having to face the top of the lineup 3 times.

Mar 25, 2013 11:03 AM
rating: 2
 
bumphadley

Doesn't this already sort of happen in rookie and low A leagues? I live in an NY-P town, and shortly after the draft, we rarely see starters go more than 4 innings. I realize it may be a little apples-to-oranges, but maybe data from these leagues would be instructive?

Mar 25, 2013 09:43 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

It does happen in lower level leagues, but that's with a view to slowly building guys up to go 7 innings.

Mar 25, 2013 10:10 AM
 
thejimmyc

In the New York Penn-league you can have up to 30 players on your active roster. You can only "dress" 25 per game. So you're able to rotate the pitchers you carry from game to game. http://www.milb.com/milb/info/faq.jsp?mc=business#19

Mar 25, 2013 10:39 AM
rating: 0
 
akamikedavid

Russell, have you taken a look at lincecum last year during the post season. While you are dealing with a small sample size (roughly 20 IP), it may be the closest to a recent implementation of what you're proposing here.

Mar 25, 2013 10:00 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Actually, you see a few of these guys pop up every post-season... usually the team's fifth starter. Tommy Hunter also seemed to be reprising a similar role.

Mar 25, 2013 10:11 AM
 
Dave Scott

I recall something like this being proposed in a 60's book called "Percentage Baseball". It was not politely received by old-liners, which made me, a a teenager, think it might have merit.

Mar 25, 2013 10:48 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

On the topic, an interesting article from 40 years ago in SI on Earnshaw Cook and the ideas in his book.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1085860/

Mar 25, 2013 11:36 AM
 
Dave Scott

Thanks. That brings back memories of secretly reading that book in the school library and wondering why baseball didn't pay attention. They still aren't. What the Rockies did last season was not a fair test.

Mar 25, 2013 12:40 PM
rating: 0
 
nyyfaninlaaland

Seems to me an easier way to experiment - and perhaps more "acceptable" - would be to try this for the 5th starter role, perhaps allowing the starter to extend a bit further if effective. Then they could be available as an auxiary reliever on the 2nd or 3rd day of their 5 game cycle.

Could work for a club with a partcularly weak 5th starter, limit the potential roster implications, and perhaps maximize the win upside. Plus, with an opposite hand tandem, today's "starter of the pair" could be tailored to the platoon advantage of the team to be faced.

Kind of a walk before you run approach. With the goal of flexible management options. Kind of a starter platoon - Joe Maddon would love it if his starters weren't so good.

Mar 25, 2013 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
devine

What he said.

Mar 25, 2013 12:28 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

The biggest issue here is that you're trying to mix something that naturally has six beats into a rhythm that has 5. If you're figuring that a tandem takes care of the fifth starter role, then really they'd only be available for relief duties for the third starter. (#1 and #2 would be their rest days) Even then, a relief appearance might only leave them one day to recover, and they couldn't cover for #4 because they have to pitch the next day. In some sense, what you lose is the roster spot.

Alternately, you could run the experiment as 1/2/tandem/3/4/tandem, but that's essentially pushing the four "real" starters into a six-day loop, rather than a 5-day. Especially if one of them is really good, you want him to pitch more often, rather than less.

Maybe a team might try this in September when they are out of contention and the rosters are expanded.

Mar 25, 2013 13:30 PM
 
devine

I can't help but think that the real-world way to test this would be to replace a fifth starter with the tandem concept - with the tandem being comprised of two guys who otherwise would only get the long-reliever type jobs.

Mar 25, 2013 12:28 PM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

The problem with all these intriguing experiments -- the Red Sox' closer by committee a few years back, the Rockies last year, LaRussa in '93 -- is that no groundwork was laid.

A franchise that wants to experiment with an unconventional approach needs to start in the low minors and develop it through the system. They wouldn't have to worry about entrenched beliefs if the people affected had grown up in professional baseball with their approach.

Mar 25, 2013 19:01 PM
rating: 0
 
mattcollins

I've had this idea for years (even sent it to an anonymous baseball team that posted a job on BP a few years back.)

My theory was three sets of three, with no pitcher starting an inning having thrown more than 35 pitches in the game. Generally that's going to get you through 9 without having to use other "relievers." The three-headed pitchers rotate as to whether they're the first, second, or third into the game, since different innings may induce different stress on the arm and mind, and also since the last pitcher in will in average throw less. Mixing righties and lefties is a nice feature as well, as is mixing different styles. These pitchers would never enter in the middle of an inning.

There would still be three traditional relievers who could enter mid-inning -- ideally a ROOGY, LOOGY, and "closer" (more of an extra-inning arm and close game where pitcher #3 is scuffling than an annointed game finisher.)

Finally, there would also be a traditional long man -- maybe a knuckler, or just a generally durable innings eater, for marathons, double headers, and the ability to rearrange your rotation / skip a turn.

The minors would need to be structured the same way, because rather than wasting resources teaching pitchers 3 and 4 pitches, they can concentrate on their best two and still have success. Furthermore, adapting pitchers to this workload is likely to be more successful if done developmentally.

This could actually save the team money (or money spent on pitchers) in the long run, until other teams copy, as two-pitch pitchers who throw 2-3 innings at a time don't have a role on a normal team other than low-leverage long relief, and so costs in free agency and arbitration may be lower.

Mar 25, 2013 19:27 PM
rating: 0
 
nberlove

There are obvious flaws with this idea, not the least of which is the extreme unlikeliness any team will implement it. For this to work, not only would you need Carl Pavano to make the switch (which would probably make him more effective), Justin Verlander would have to change (which could make him less effective over-all).

I think a more workable proposal would be to go with 4 tandems, each of which would pitch every 4 days. The A pitcher in the tandem would start and throw 80 or so pitches, followed by the B pitcher who would throw about 50. Yes, this would take up 8 roster spots, but you would probably get a lot more innings out of this setup. You would probably only need 3 short relievers, bringing the total pitching staff down to 11.

In any case, I applaud the idea of trying innovate here. The current setup of 5 man rotations, 3-4 short relievers and 3-4 other guys just in case your starter can't go 7 plus innings seems poorly thought out and inefficient. Maybe its a bias in my memory, or a by-product of expansion, but as compared to 25 or so years ago, good pitchers (both starters and relievers) seem to throw fewer innings -- gone are the 250+ inning starters and 100+ inning relievers. Less innings from your best pitchers means more innings from your worse. Absent any hard evidence that current usage patterns lead to individual pitchers being more effective or a overall decrease in injuries, I believe teams are deploying their pitchers very, very inefficiently.

Mar 26, 2013 04:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew106

What about system similar to the Rockies, but bit more practical? A 4-man rotation with a hard 100 pitch count seems reasonable to me. The team would just have to have the discipline to NEVER allow the pitch count to hit 101 under any circumstance and carry an extra reliever.

Mar 26, 2013 06:30 AM
rating: 0
 
slascher2

About ten years ago, I had dinner with Sandy Alderson (and a few other people) and suggested this concept, as it had always been a pet idea of mine. He said he had thought about it when he ran the A's but didn't think they had enough roster spots.

Also, I think this article greatly underestimates the potential benefits to the offense of an NL club. If the team uses the money they would save on pitchers to have a deep bench of hitters, you could replace 129/.162/.166 with something close to the league average, which has to be 4 or 5 wins at least.

Mar 26, 2013 15:23 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Paul McCartney always told me that name-dropping isn't polite. ;-)

Mar 26, 2013 22:06 PM
 
drzevia

I came up with a similar idea on my baseball website last year. www.outsidermlbanalysis.com is the name and it's in the philosophy section. I just wanted to say I came up with this first.

Mar 27, 2013 19:18 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

You are hardly the first. This has been an idea that has kicked around for a while.

Mar 28, 2013 09:58 AM
 
drzevia

True enough. Just felt kinda cool to have done a post about before bp haha. You guys analyzed way better than I did.

Mar 29, 2013 22:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Straightflush27

I dont think anyone should put a finite number on how many tandems. Some teams have two or three or even four really dependable starters while others only have one or two. You shouldnt force a system on anyone but rather allow each team to fit this idea into their needs. This is a perfect way to get a young minor league starter who is on the verge of making it to the show onto the roster. Let him get his experience and lessons as a starter instead of as a reliever ala Johan Santana. Of course, one of the downsides is starting the service time clock early but maybe you also start the productivity early as well.

Mar 28, 2013 05:36 AM
rating: 0
 
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