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October 14, 2013
The BP Wayback Machine
New Ways to Spell Relief
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
A while back, I did something I called The Jack Morris Project, which largely entailed reading years upon years of boxscores from the right-hander's career, stretching back to 1977.
One of the amazing things for me in doing the research was seeing the evolution of relief pitching over the course of Morris' 18 years in the majors. When he broke into the game, it wasn't uncommon to see relievers come in and pitch three, four, up to seven innings at a clip. Outings of less than an inning were rare, and teams brought in their best relievers in all kinds of situations, often having them pitch when trailing or for three or four innings at once.
Nominal innovators such as Herman Franks and Tony La Russa changed all that, reducing the workload on their best relievers throughout the late '70s and 1980s. We've evolved, if you can call it that, to a situation where teams routinely use inferior pitchers in high-leverage situations that don't meet the qualifications for a save. Moreover, teams pay more for and get less from their best relievers than at any time in the game's history.
It seems like every October, though, teams revert back to a time when they asked a lot of their best bullpen arms, treating them not as closers, but as firemen.
That trend peaked yesterday afternoon in Atlanta. In the eighth inning, both the Braves and the Astros had their best relievers in the game, and in very non-standard situations.
The Astros' Phil Garner had been even more daring. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, he called upon his closer,
Note the term "top reliever." We are talking about perceived value, or more accurately, how the manager perceives his pitchers' roles. That the Angels used
Over the past decade, there have been some cases of a team leader in saves, or someone who had the closer role for part of a season, making an early appearance.
The last clear closer for a playoff team to come in before the eighth inning was
The last time a pitcher with at least 20 saves entered a postseason game before the eighth inning was in Game Five of the 1993 ALCS.
So Garner wasn't just going against the book, but against a decade of examples that said teams don't use their best relief pitchers in the seventh inning. Now, it didn't work out--while Lidge escaped the seventh, he allowed the tying run in the eighth--but the thinking behind the decision, to get the best pitcher into the toughest spot, marks Garner as more than just the guy who happened to not be Jimy Williams. Maybe the Astros win this series, maybe they don't, but Garner's stock went up a lot yesterday.
The Braves certainly tried to help Lidge along. The first five batters he faced went strikeout, single, walk, single, double. Thanks to the Braves running into outs, that sequence garnered them just one run.
The first baserunner kill provided an interesting contrast with how Wednesday night's game in New York ended. With two outs and
Remember that the Yankees won Game Two of their Division Series matchup when
In the eighth inning,
The Braves ended up winning in the 11th inning when Furcal atoned with a two-run homer off of
Blown opportunities didn't turn out so well for the Dodgers, who might have scored 11 runs in the first four innings last night with some better distribution of their actions. As it was, though, they hit three solo home runs while stranding seven runners in the first four innings.
Sometimes, you can see the moment when a dream dies. With the Dodgers having tied the game at three in the fourth, and having chased
Eldred got a fastball over for a strike, with Finley taking all the way. Finley then overswung at the 3-1 fastball, perhaps the key moment in the series. He then popped up a well-placed heater on the 3-2 pitch, ending the threat. The Cardinals picked up three runs in the bottom of the fifth, the Dodgers were shut out the rest of the way, and the series likely came to an end.
I thought there might be an upset to be had here, but the Cardinals aren't having an off week at the plate. It's a great offensive team when everyone's playing as they normally do. When