If the Nationals had handled their ace's innings limit a little more like the Braves massaged Kris Medlen's, they might not be facing a Strasless October.
WARNING: Here there be hindsight.
We can’t say Mike Rizzo didn’t warn us. “There’s not going to be a whole lot of tinkering done,” he said. “We’re going to run him out there until his innings are done.” That was on February 20th, the earliest reference by Rizzo I can find to any specific plan for limiting Stephen Strasburg’s workload. We knew then that the Nats weren’t going to get creative: they were going to pitch Strasburg like any other starter until he was fresh out of innings. What we didn’t know then (and what we still don’t really know now), is when that would be. For months, everyone assumed Strasburg would go into storage after 160 innings. Why 160? As far as I can tell, the 160 meme began innocently enough, with this sentence from an mlb.com article by Bill Ladson on February 19th: “He is expected to throw 160 innings, the same number his teammate Jordan Zimmermann threw last year after coming off elbow reconstruction.” Expected by whom? The article didn’t say. Certainly not by the Nationals. But before long, 160 was ubiquitous, and usually attributed to the team. By the time Rizzo denied the number had come from him in an article at BP in April, it was already accepted as fact.
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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.
Dusty Baker feels that Aroldis Chapman's best use right now is as Cincinnati's closer, and a conversation with Jesus Montero.
When Sparky Lyle strode from the bullpen the mound at Yankee Stadium during his days as a premier relief pitches in the mid- to late 1970s, organist Eddie Layton would play "Pomp and Circumstance." That probably wouldn't work as a ballpark song these days, but to hear Dusty Baker tell it, perhaps the traditional graduation accompaniment should be played on the sound system at Great American Ball Park when Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman takes the hill.
Umpires shouldn't settle for "close enough" when it comes to perfection.
The Weekend Takeaway
Did he go? That was the question percolating through every baseball fan’s mind after the White Sox’ Philip Humber threw the 21st perfect game in major-league history against the Mariners on Saturday afternoon.
Brendan Ryan, who pinch-hit for Munenori Kawasaki, worked the count full, fouled off Humber’s first payoff pitch, and then either swung or did not swing at a slider that broke well off the plate outside. But did he go?
The Red Sox bullpen put up yet another horrific performance yesterday.
The Tuesday Takeaway
In yesterday’sWhat You Need to Know, I wrote about the stellar performance by the Rangers bullpen over the first 10 games of the season. The Red Sox relief corps, on the other hand, has been as shaky as it was during the team’s September collapse, and its weaknesses were thoroughly exposed in last night’s 18-3 rout.
After Jon Lester was knocked around for seven runs in two awful innings, manager Bobby Valentine asked Scott Atchison to eat some frames in a game almost certain to end in defeat. Atchison did his job for four innings, and Matt Albers chipped in a solid seventh, but then Mark Melancon—who entered with a 22.50 ERA—decided to turn the eighth into a home-run derby.
The Padres’ array of inexpensive and effective relievers offer a course in Bullpen 101.
Several months ago, Tommy Bennettpenned a paean to the economy and efficiency of the Padres’ bullpen. In retrospect, his choice of topic seems particularly prescient, given that the Padres had played all of three games by the time his article appeared. 135 games later, San Diego’s relief unit has outperformed even Tommy’s lofty expectations, supplying league-best performance at a fraction of the costs associated with other teams’ firemen. Despite their recent 10-game losing streak, the Padres sport a 78-59 record and the best run differential in the National League, and much of the credit for their success must go to the relatively unheralded men who compose their relief corps.
The Padres’ offense, while not quite the utterly anemic attack that Petco Park makes it appear, still rates as something less than a strength: the team’s .258 TAv ranks 13th in the NL. San Diego’s .02 PADE qualifies as an asset, but not a spectacular one, ranking fifth in the NL, and while the Friars have performed well on the basepaths, their speed hasn’t been a major factor behind their success.
The Padres would have an effective—and cheap—bullpen even if they traded Heath Bell.
Bullpens sometimes get a bad name. Although by some metrics, elite relievers can be worth more than five wins to their squads, other metrics value the best relievers at no more than three wins. Because nearly all pitchers improve their rate stats (strikeout and home run rates in particular) when moving from the rotation to the bullpen, there is a common mood among the sabermetric community that relief pitchers are overvalued, overpaid, and that they should speak only when spoken to. I think the problem of reliever valuation is extremely tricky and I shout my ignorance of the answer from the rooftops. But I do have two basic observations: