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February 8, 2010

Baseball Therapy

Why Not Two Pitchers?

by Russell A. Carleton

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It was the second game of a doubleheader last July 12, and the Cardinals were visiting Wrigley Field. In the top of the ninth inning, the Cards held a 4-2 lead, and the wheels were moving in the head of Cubs manager Lou Piniella. Piniella had brought lefty Sean Marshall into the game with runners on first and second and no one out to face the announced left-handed hitting Cardinals pinch hitter Chris Duncan (Tony La Russa countered by using Nick Stavinoha to pinch-hit). Marshall walked Stavinoha, and Piniella popped out of the dugout and called to his bullpen. In came the right-handed Aaron Heilman to face Brendan Ryan, and Marshall was dismissed from the mound to… left field. It was Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano who was headed for the showers, rather than Marshall. Piniella apparently wanted to keep Marshall in the game to face Skip Schumaker and Colby Rasmus, the next two hitters due up after Ryan. Piniella's strategy worked. Heilman struck Ryan out. Marshall then returned to the mound. He ended up striking out Jaret Hoffpauir (pinch hitting for Schumaker) and getting Rasmus to fly to left field, where Marshall's replacement, Reed Johnson, made a fine catch.

I happened to catch the telecast of this game flipping through the channels, and after it happened, I wondered why this doesn't happen more often. I knew of one other example from dithering around Retrosheet (yes, that's what I do in my spare time). On July 22, 1986, the Mets were involved in an extra-inning game with the Reds, and due to a few well-placed ejections after a brawl, found themselves short-handed with only seven position players in the game and no one left on the bench. Their solution: bring in Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell and have them take turns pitching and playing in the outfield. At one point, McDowell switched back and forth between left and right field with Mookie Wilson, presumably so that he was in the batter's opposite field and was less likely to be tested. As such, the box score from that day makes for a rather interesting read. The Mets had the final laugh in the end and won the game in 14 innings. And the 1986 World Series.

I've often wondered why this sort of thing doesn't happen more often, particularly in the National League. There have been other instances, although relatively few. I'm not thinking that it would be an everyday occurrence, but it shouldn't be so exotic that I should write an article about it, either. It would require a particular set of circumstances, but one that would probably come up a few times each year. And it would probably benefit the team that used it, perhaps a great deal.

I propose that teams should use a twin-reliever strategy more often. It may seem a little odd, but it fits within the rules. A team would have a right-handed reliever and a left-handed reliever in the game at the same time, and one would play in the field while the other pitched. They could switch as the situation dictates.

First off, let's consider the mechanics. Left and right field make sense as a hiding place for someone whom you suspect will be a poor fielder. Left field in particular is the type of position where teams put guys when they have no idea what else to do. Chris Coghlan, last year's NL Rookie of the Year, had played all of three games in the outfield in Triple-A. A natural second baseman, his path to the majors was blocked by Dan Uggla. So, the Marlins shrugged and sent him to the outfield where he got on-the-job training. And he did fine.

(A side note: In dire circumstances, when position players are called on to pitch, it's often a player who "pitched back in college/high school/little league." This is considered appropriate justification for such a move… OK, that and the fact that it's the 23rd inning. But many pitchers played in the field during their school days. Perhaps even in the outfield. Why should it be a shock that they might take a few reps out there now?)

Putting this strategy into effect means that a team has a left fielder who they don't mind pulling out of the game. If he's a spare part anyway, he probably won't be missed. Alternately, the spare part guy could be at another position, and the left fielder might shift there. The team will eventually need another "real" left fielder (or maybe not!) who will likely be a replacement-level player (by definition). But if a team is already living with a starting left fielder who is basically a replacement-level player, then the team has nothing to lose by taking him out of the game.

The strategy would probably also work best for a team that has only one lefty in the pen, or perhaps only one lefty that they trust. In a game against a team with a bunch of tough left-handed hitters, especially those who are staggered throughout the lineup (i.e., the lineup goes left-right-left-right-left-right), a manager is faced with the choice of putting in a new pitcher for every batter or letting his LOOGY face a few righties (and throw a few extra pitches) as well.

Finally, our twin-reliever strategy probably should also be kept for times when the pitcher's spot in the batting order has turned over. If the left fielder is batting eighth, that makes it all the better. This way, both relievers can be kept in for two innings or so before mangers have to start thinking about pinch hitters. If the team employing the strategy goes crazy and sends eight guys to the plate in the top of the next inning, it means a few runs have scored and it's probably time for a new bullpen strategy anyway, and for what it's worth, the manager can keep one of the relievers in the game if he chooses. The strategy would not work as well in the American League. If the pitcher moves to a defensive position, his team loses the designated hitter. While this strategy has been used in the post-DH AL (by none other than Piniella with the 1993 Mariners), it is likely to be a creature of the NL. Perhaps an AL team might use it in the ninth inning.

Here's how it would work. The first reliever would enter the game as he normally would and takes the pitcher's spot in the order (ninth, presumably). When it comes time for him to yield to the second reliever (of the opposite handedness), the first reliever trots out to left field, while the second reliever enters the game in the left fielder's batting spot (eighth?). If they go out for a second inning, one can take his normal warm-up tosses from the mound, while the bullpen catcher goes out and "plays catch" with the "left fielder" … in a crouch at a distance of 60 feet.

What's to gain? The obvious reason is that a team could have the platoon advantage against every batter (except switch hitters, but they could pick which side he would bat from). In 2009, left-handed hitters had an OBP of .317 against left-handed pitchers, but .347 against righties. Right-handed hitters showed a similar pattern, (.318 vs. .341). So, the platoon advantage is worth roughly .025 outs per each extra batter who gets "platooned." How much would having a non-professional left fielder cost? I created a toy defensive system called OPA! (out probability added above average) a few years ago. In 2009, the worst left fielder in baseball was Carlos Lee. He cost the Astros about .017 outs per inning last year with his fielding compared to the average left fielder. Even if our moonlighting pitcher is equal to the worst left fielder in baseball (or a little worse), the twin-reliever system more than pays for itself in one extra batter for which you can gain the platoon advantage (assuming that the replaced left fielder was average, of course).

There are also a few indirect effects. One is that it saves other members of the bullpen from having to make an appearance. In the event of an extra-inning game, the team has not burned through its available pitchers by using four relievers in the eighth inning alone. The LOOGY can face only lefties, and concentrate all of his allotted pitches on them, and the manager can stick with a righty that he trusts rather than having to bring in two or three of them. The one disadvantage is that it shortens a team's bench. You'd have to pinch hit for the pitcher's spot anyway, but now you have two non-hitters to think about. Then again, if a team did it at the end of a game (say, the eighth or ninth inning), it might not be an issue.

The math here isn't that hard to fathom, and surely someone has thought of this along the way. The question is why it doesn't happen more often. Again, I don't suppose that it would happen regularly, but neither does a suicide squeeze, and everyone knows what that is. It is something of an unorthodox strategy, and in baseball, those are (oddly) often looked upon with a little bit of suspicion. It's not that the rewards of such a strategy would be huge, but they would be net-positive. Perhaps teams are unwilling to change their game plan for what is likely a modest gain in win expectancy. However, the only cost to the team is a little more thought put into actually putting the strategy into effect. A team has very little to lose and something tangible to gain. Why wouldn't a manager do something clearly in his team's best interest?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this is not what people are used to seeing, and it takes intestinal fortitude to introduce something new. There will be nights when the twin relievers fail to hold a lead, and people will (illogically) assume that it was because of the use of the twin-reliever system. The manager will be decried as someone who "tinkers too much" and who should "stick to managing by the book" by the 40,000 other managers who paid to get into the stadium. One must be called a fool before being called a genius, and few people can handle being called a fool. But here's a chance for a manager to make a mark as the guy who popularized this strategy, and maybe won an extra game or two for his team.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

cinquad

Bobby Cox did this a season or so with Chris Resop, who shifted to left field (a position he played in college)

Feb 08, 2010 09:14 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Yeah this was chatted about during last season. The discussion then went into training utility players who are used only for their glove, or using converted pitcher-to-player types, to also be able to throw a batter or two.

Feb 08, 2010 13:41 PM
rating: 0
 
ddrezner

Park effects might impose a serious constraint on this strategy. If you think of Fenway, for example, I'm not sure you want a pitcher patrolling either left field (the Wall) or right field (vast area), even if you put them on the opposite field side.

If you were the batting team, wouldn't you have an incentive to draw out each at bat to make the fielding pitcher cool off? Or would the new pitcher be allowed to warm up with every stint?

Feb 08, 2010 09:15 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

You're right. It wouldn't work in Fenway, even if Fenway were an NL park. Your second point is some interesting counter-strategy. I hadn't thought of that. I'm not sure if the pitcher would get some additional tosses after switching. Let's assume not... but relievers when they throw two innings also have to deal with the break when their team is batting.

Feb 08, 2010 10:01 AM
 
G. Guest

The only other disadvantage I can think of is the potential injury to the pitcher playing the OF if he needs to actually make a play.

Feb 08, 2010 09:23 AM
rating: 1
 
G. Guest

I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Royals do this with Rick Ankiel this year, considering their love of utility players.

Feb 08, 2010 09:25 AM
rating: -1
 
Kampfer

Pitching itself is a dangerous activities

Feb 08, 2010 11:41 AM
rating: 0
 
antoine6

It is definitely a limited sample of teams who could employ this strategy. As the author noted, it's pretty much only NL teams. Of those, you can't imagine the Cards pulling Matt Holliday, the Brewers pulling Ryan Braun, the Phillies pulling Raul Ibanez, the Dodgers pulling Manny Ramirez, or the Astros pulling Carlos Lee. Their bats are simply too important to the lineup to pull for a platoon pitching advantage.

Feb 08, 2010 09:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

But on a day when Freddy Fourth-Outfielder is playing LF...

Feb 08, 2010 10:02 AM
 
ostrowj1

Or if any of the above mentioned outfielders made the last out in the previous inning. I would think this strategy would be most effective when the fielding has the lead going into the ninth (or an extra) inning, when, if all goes well, they wont be batting again.

I would love to see this happen more often! Maybe even relief pitchers can get reps in left field during spring training.

Feb 08, 2010 11:47 AM
rating: 2
 
eighteen

That's how Fidrych blew out his knee.

Feb 08, 2010 13:22 PM
rating: 1
 
Richie

I believe Whitey Herzog did this too.

Feb 08, 2010 10:01 AM
rating: 3
 
creativereason

I think he did this with Ken Dayley moving to LF to bring in a RHP a few times.

Feb 08, 2010 10:55 AM
rating: 1
 
jtanker33

I love the logic. I wonder if we can take it farther - why leave this to just the 8th inning? Why couldn't the Mets, for example, have decided against giving K-Rod his big contract before last year, and instead use a ROOGY/LOOGY combo as their combination LF/RF/closer?

With a 9th-inning lead, they could have brought in Feliciano to pitch to lefties (career 214/279/302) and Putz to pitch against righties (career 221/290/296). I know Putz didn't fill expectations last year, but, going into the year, that system would have provided great savings employing two specialists over employing one closer.

Feb 08, 2010 10:39 AM
rating: 0
 
dcweil

yeah, Herzog did it with Todd Worrell a number of times in the mid 80s.

Feb 08, 2010 10:52 AM
rating: 1
 
Evan
(47)

One problem with the approach is it puts two pitchers in your batting order, so unless you only intend to do this for an inning or so you're badly harming your offense.

Feb 08, 2010 10:54 AM
rating: -1
 
TGisriel

You assumed that if the strategy was used in the AL the DH would be lost. Wouldn't the second pitcher entering the game be substituted for the fielder/batter (the left fielder in your article) and take his slot, leaving the first pitcher in the pitching/non-batting slot, thereby retaining the DH?

Does the rule lose the DH if the pitcher takes a different position?

Feb 08, 2010 11:03 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Yes, once the pitcher moves off the mound and into the field in the AL, the DH is gone.

Feb 08, 2010 11:09 AM
 
morillos

Herzog did it a number of times in the 85 season, alternating Todd Worrell (righty) and Ken Dayley (lefty) on the mound and in right field. Before he called up Worrell, I think he also did it a few times with Dayley and Jeff Lahti (the main righty reliever for most of the year).

Feb 08, 2010 11:13 AM
rating: 1
 
t.smitty

this reminded me of an awesome blog post from royals minor league disco hayes, particularly the section "Why can't organizations teach their specialty and late relievers to play first base?" http://discohayes.mlblogs.com/archives/2009/09/getting_defensive.html

Feb 08, 2010 11:46 AM
rating: 2
 
sunpar

There's a guy who actually researched this: http://quirkyresearch.blogspot.com/2006/07/pitchers-who-played-other-_115381633653637031.html

Feb 08, 2010 12:15 PM
rating: 3
 
Michael
(736)

http://www.wezen-ball.com/2009-articles/may/forget-non-pitchers-pitching-how-about-pitchers-playing-the-field.html

That's another blog post on this topic.

Feb 08, 2010 22:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Drungo

I think part of the reason this is not regularly done is that most R/LOOGYs are sub-replacement level outfielders. The platoon advantages are probably no greater than the disadvantages of a Pete Incaviglia clone stumbling about the field in the late innings of close games.

Feb 08, 2010 12:37 PM
rating: 0
 
drmboat
(754)

I'm pretty sure you should check the rulebook. I don't have mine handy but I remember looking it up while watching this game. I believe there are a limited number of times you can shuttle the two pitchers back and forth. So while it might work for a short turn, I don't think you're able to run it for much more than one inning. I'll confirm when I get home.

Feb 08, 2010 13:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Peter7899

I was sitting in left field at Wrigley the night Piniella pulled this stunt. We thought that he was pulling Soriano for a double switch, which had us all smirking at Soriano for being the fielder pulled. We laughed even harder when it was Marshall who took his place (what a dis on Soriano!) We didn't get what Piniella was doing at first.

The other funny thing was Reed actually tripped and stumbled getting to the ball, hence the dive and the 'amazing' catch. That was one of the funnest night games of the year.

Feb 08, 2010 13:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Ira

One interesting thing that happened last year was on April 30 in the game at Tropicana field between the Rays and Red Sox. In the bottom of the eighth with one out, with the Rays up 12 to 0, and a runner on second, The Sox sent Jonathan Van Every to the mound. He had been playing right field. They then sent Javier Lopez to right field. Every finished the game, retiring Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist, but gave up a double to Iwamura and a walk to BJ Upton.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/TBA/TBA200904300.shtml

Feb 08, 2010 13:33 PM
rating: 0
 
bravejason

Rule 3.03 Comment: A pitcher may change to another position only once during the same inning; e.g. the pitcher will not be allowed to assume a position other than a pitcher more than once in the same inning.

I interpret this as saying that if you have a batting order handedness of R-L-R, you can't get two R-on-R matchups and one L-on-L matchup. One of the pitchers has to pitch against an opposite handed batter.

As far as I can tell, you could use the two pitcher strategy for all nine innings.

Feb 08, 2010 14:01 PM
rating: 2
 
j11forbes

I'm not sure you are interpreting the rule correctly. Here's how this would work:

Start the inning with a righty pitching to a righty, the normal left-fielder in the field, a lefty on deck and a righty in the hole. The right-handed reliever pitches to the right-handed batter. Then, the right-handed reliever moves to left field, the left-handed reliever comes in to pitch to the left-handed batter and the left fielder hits the showers. Then, the a replacement left fielder enters the game, the left-handed reliever hits the showers, and the right-handed reliever comes back from left field to pitch. So you can get two R-on-R matchups and one L-on-L matchup.

If the next batter is a lefty, the right-handed reliever cannot move back to an outfield position in the same inning and so either needs to stay in the game as the pitcher or leave it.

Feb 08, 2010 16:18 PM
rating: 4
 
Tarakas

I wonder if there are issues with keeping the pitcher's arm properly loose. Yeah, they can long toss in the OF, but then wait they may wait a bit in the OF to take their turn on the mound. I'm not a pitcher, so I have no idea if that is a problem, but it could be. And if someone hits to the opposite field, I could see there being problems with any sort of difficult play.

Feb 08, 2010 14:35 PM
rating: 1
 
smdavis

Just looking at the quantitative piece, it looks like the math indicates .025 extra outs/batter gained against .017 outs/batter lost (assuming pitchers are only as bad as Carlos Lee). Let's say a team does this with appropriate lineups (the ones that go RLR a lot) and only when those staggered orders happen late in the game in high leverage situations. That's probably only 1/4 of games at most. So, we'll take our counting stats based on 41 games.

Let's assume they pull this stunt for 5 batters and that they get the platoon advantage as a result on all 5 batters instead of on just 2 of them. The net change is going to be 5*(-.017)+3*(.025)= -.010 runs/batter. But, they also get their better relievers in the game for 5 batters instead of for 2-3. Let's call that the platoon advantage again: 2*.025=.050. Net is .040 runs/game that the strategy is used.

Making that into a counting stat, we've got 41*.040=1.64 runs/season. That's a *very* small sum, even if you deployed this every time you could. I'm not going to say it's not the right strategy in rare situations, but this is the sort of gain that ranks behind batting order optimization, and one that has some qualitative risks like pitcher injury and media fallout. I'm afraid I have to agree with most managers' decisions not to use this strategy.

Feb 08, 2010 14:55 PM
rating: 1
 
danlbfaks

It's 0.025 outs gained per batter, and Lee yields 0.017 outs per *inning*.

Based on the rest of your math and about four batters per inning, the net is more like 6-7 runs. But that's assuming pitchers with average platoon splits against average hitters at 1.00 leverage. All those can improve with good management.

If there's a time for it, it's the heart of the order close and late. You gain more outs with a platoon advantage against above average hitters, and they're far less likely to be pinched.

With the high leverage, 6-7 runs is more than .6-.7 wins.

Feb 08, 2010 18:04 PM
rating: 2
 
sbrousc

The Pirates also did this in 1979, with Kent Tekulve manning left field. IIRC, Tekulve made the final putout of the inning.

Feb 08, 2010 15:10 PM
rating: 1
 
Llarry

You are correct, sir. Grant Jackson was the lefty on the mound. I don't remember if Vincente Romo had already been used or was otherwise unavailable.

Now that was a bullpen. Romo had 70+ appearances, Jackson 80+ and Teke 90+.

Feb 08, 2010 16:44 PM
rating: 1
 
jmcguinn

When I was growing up in Chicago in the 1950s as a White Sox fan, I remember the White Sox employing this strategy "fairly often", or so it seemed to me at the time (and now), but maybe it was only once or twice. I think Paul Richards the Chisox manager employed this strategy, and that at least some of the switches involved Billy Pierce (a left handed starting pitcher) and Harry Dorish (a right handed reliefer).

Feb 08, 2010 16:11 PM
rating: 0
 
apollo

Sam McDowell played 2B for the Indians around 1970 . I believe he was moved to avoid Frank Howard. It worked for Al Dark. There was a ground ball to 3b and the throw went to 2B for the force out and Sam was there.

Feb 09, 2010 07:18 AM
rating: 0
 
andymc
(679)

Earl Weaver did this more than once.

Feb 09, 2010 09:03 AM
rating: 0
 
KevinS
(961)

Why not do it? Of course the pitcher will most likely be an inferior defender in LF/RF, but the pitcher/batter matchup is far more important than the level of the defender. Any mlb pitcher has shagged enough bp fly balls in his career to handle the routine plays IF they come his way.

Feb 11, 2010 08:05 AM
rating: 0
 
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