Ron Washington, Joe Nathan, and the best time to use your closer.
Over the past week, baseball fans have been treated to some epic extended baseball games. This past Saturday, the Rangers and Blue Jays played 18 innings before they could decide the matter, and that wasn’t the longest game that day. The Mets and Marlins played 20 innings in their game. It made last Wednesday's White Sox-Mariners 16-inning game look like a quickie.
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Providing every team's bullpen picture at a glance.
Bullpen management: it’s one of the areas in which a major-league manager can make the most difference, and it’s also one of the areas in which we’re least likely to be satisfied with his work. But before we can pass judgment on a manager’s use of his bullpen, we have to know how he used it, and not just on an anecdotal level (although we agree that he made a mistake that one time your team lost a tie game on the road without using its rested ace reliever). On our Manager Pitching report, you can see how many relievers each manager used, and how many of those relief outings ended without a run being allowed. But that report won’t tell you who those relievers were, or when they were used.
Fredi Gonzalez's bullpen usage has had a major overhaul, but one reliever is resisting the change.
Fredi Gonzalez swore he would change, and he has. Dusty Baker never learned to love Mark Bellhorn, and Joe Torre never became a young player’s manager, but Gonzalez took the bullpen pedal off the floor. The Braves' manager started the 2011 season racing his bullpen around every turn, and by September the team was left with bald tires and in need of a pit-stop just sort of the finish line, blowing an eight-game lead to lose the wild card to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the biggest collapse in National League history. When the season ended, Gonzalez promised that next year would be different, and he changed… but perhaps he isn’t the only Brave who needs to adjust his strategy.
Gonzalez’s mantra in early 2011 was win early and win often, seemingly viewing nearly every game as an opportunity to use one of his big relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and closer Craig Kimbrel—a three-headed, three-armed force of despair and dashed hopes for a comeback. If the Vikings sacked villages and carried off its riches, the VOK-ings sacked opposing hitters and carried off their manhoods. Gonzalez went to them even if the situation didn’t follow the conventional wisdom as to when a manager should deploy his best relievers. This resulted in an unrealistically heavy workload for the trio, with the number of one-run games the Braves had in the first half (24) only serving to exacerbate an-already unrealistic pace for the pitchers.
How should Pat Sajak and Grady Little adjust our view of measuring bullpen management?
In the article on the Archimedes Awards, we developed the metric BMAR (Bullpen Management Above Random) to quantify a key aspect of bullpen management: assigning the best pitcher to the highest-leverage situations. While it helped to isolate some of what we were looking for, especially when we normalized by "the best" that a manager could do with the UBBM (Upper Bound Bullpen Management) metric. The problem was that when one looked at the list, managers with consistent closers still seemed to rise to the top of the list. For gosh sakes, in 2008, Trey Hillman tied Ron Gardenhire for highest BMAR, mostly on the back of Joakim Soria.
Which managers did the best at understanding leverage in their handling of the bullpen?
"Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world"-Archimedes
There seems to be one baseball topic where there is agreement between the "old school" and the "new school" bullpen management. Frequently, former players-those who haven't played in 20 or more years-or color commentators talk about the demise of the fireman and the rise of the closer, and bemoan the fact that you don't see the likes of a Rich Gossage or Dan Quisenberry coming into the game at a critical juncture in the seventh inning any more, or only occasionally in the eighth. Similarly, the sabermetric community has shown mathematically (see Keith Woolner's piece in Baseball Between the Numbers), that a manager willing to break from the current mold could garner a few more wins per year by bringing in his "closer" in crucial seventh- and eighth-inning situations.
A preview of the Dominican Winter League, taking a look at the teams, stadiums, managers, and players to watch for.
The "National Religion" came back on October 16th, as the Dominican League launched its 56th edition. Reliably praised as having the highest level of talent among the winter leagues, one should expect to watch another mix of highly ranked prospects, mid-level major leaguers, a few recognizable American players, veterans looking for another shot, and some major league stars between now and the end of the Caribbean Series in February. The league format has six teams playing a 50-game regular-season schedule, with the four best records advancing to a long 18-game round-robin playoff, and the two remaining best clubs play a best-of-nine final series to decide the league's champion. Without further ado, here's what this season will bring us:
Tigres del Licey (Licey Tigers)
Home: Santo Domingo
2008-09 record: 26-24, fourth place (tied) regular season; 12-6, first place round-robin; beat the Gigantes in the final series 5-0.
Ballpark: Estadio Quisqueya; strong pitcher's park, with a Park Factor of 92.
The success of a team's relief corps depends much more on specifics than it does on general results.
There's been a goodly amount of grousing on the subject of bullpen performance in the early going, and for good reason. Setting aside standard-issue Bronx hysteria, several projected contenders-and not just the Yankees-are getting horrifically bad, hope-crushing setbacks from their high-profile relief crews. In some cases, as in Cleveland, this is a repeat of past problems; in the case of the Angels or the Cubs, it's a matter of seeing deliberate off-season changes from one successful closer to someone else blow up in their faces in the early going. A few high-profile relievers struggle in high-profile situations, folks get angry, and we think we know what's going on. But in evaluating bullpen performance, we end up leaving a few things out: specific, critical situations, how managers adapt to them, and the pitcher usage patterns that skippers fall into.
I would suggest that, in assessing what's amiss with a bullpen, on some level we're conditioned as fans to interpret performance in a particular light. Perhaps that's by box scores, and perhaps that's the product of the selective ownership pressures that come with fantasy baseball, but we can tend to evaluate bullpen performance on the level of individual relief performances: saves earned or blown. Perhaps some middle-innings scapegoat singled out for special attention by repeated self-immolation on the mound; holds represent leads held and handed off as a proxy for saves to reward the set-up men who, before the ninth inning, can only blow saves, not log many/any of their own.
Beating the season's first pitch by hours, Joe whips around the senior circuit. Plus, some last-minute suggestions for those of you with money to spare.
The last week's travel schedule forces me to compress the entire National League into one space to get these out before Opening Day. I want to make one note here: there are some differences between my picks in these columns and the ones I submitted for staff picks. The others were done earlier and more hastily; these are my "official" picks.
Jeff Angus takes a look at how the White Sox' closer usage pattern stacks up against more dominant patterns, and has some illuminating insight into the 2005 Champions' brand of baseball.
The 2005 World Championship Chicago White Sox got the rap of
being a "hustle-ball" or "anti-Moneyball" team.
False. One of the pillars of their success was the ability to
deliver on an innovation that's best known as the failed child of
Bill James and Theo Epstein: The "Closer by Committee."
How Chisox General Manager Ken Williams and Manager Ozzie Guillen
delivered value from the discredited concept is enlightening,
and, because of the team's championship, it's something that's
likely (though not certain) to be imitated. As with most
competitive tools, it wasn't invented from scratch, but diffused--in this case, from the other side of Chicago.
The Angels spent lots of money on their rotation this offseason, but was it worth it? Kerry Wood is having a fantastic spring, with improved control. The Tigers have spent the past few weeks upgrading their bullpen in a search for 65 wins. A number of Expos are taking trips to ''club med.'' The Giants have failed to upgrade their offense, while the Dodgers have made small strides. And the Blue Jays traded Jayson Werth, but perhaps for good reason.
But they spent so much money (Part II)... Last time, we looked how Arte Moreno's money isn't going to buy a whole lot of runs. Apparently, Moreno's money won't save a lot of runs either. The Angels spent $66.75 millio to sign Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar, who are projected to post EQERAs in the 4.00s and be worth just a few wins above replacement, apiece. The Halos' starting staff needs to beat PECOTA's projection if the club is to be playoff bound.
Miguel Cabrera has a bright future ahead of him--at least according to PECOTA. Bernie Williams had a bit of a tummy ache; luckily Kenny Lofton is there to pick up the slack. And the Pirates have a slew of questions to answer regarding their pitching staff. All this and much more news from Florida, New York, and Pittsburgh in your Monday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
Computers like Cabrera: Surfing PECOTA cards is one of the most fun things a baseball fan can do in the off-season. Marlins fans will note that Miguel Cabrera has one of the brightest projected futures of any player. The system seems to think he's going to do well in the next two years, and then become one of baseball's best players from 2006 on. The high end of his forecast would make him one of the elite players in baseball, while the worst case... well, as with any player, it's awful. But many players only get the not-so-bad forecast, the expected bad forecast, and the really awful forecast.
Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' predictions for 1999. We'll go division by
division and each of our staff members will tell you what they think about the
races. Remember, there's a reason we don't print this stuff in the book; there
is no good way we know of to predict what a team will do before the season
begins. Consider these teamwide WFGs, take them with a grain of salt, and