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.
Joe Sheehan noted that the use of relievers tends to revert in October in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a "Prospectus Today" column on October 8, 2004.
A tip of the cap toward the effective set-up men who get little publicity unless they implode.
The role of set-up man is a tough gig. Serving as the bridge to the more famous, better-compensated closer, the set-up man carries all of the risks of a late-inning reliever with virtually none of the accolades. A closer who gets his requisite three outs (or more, as often happens in the postseason) might be credited for “shutting the door” on the opposition, but the eighth-inning guy is rarely mentioned in the aftermath of a victory. The only time the name of a set-up man appears in bold ink is when he gives up runs and incurs the dreaded blown save.
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When can you trust a ridiculous minor-league relief line?
Derek Law’s worst outing with the San Jose Giants probably came on Aug. 24, when he was brought in to protect a three-run lead. The leadoff batter in the ninth reached on an error, followed by a double, a single, a wild pitch and, with two outs, a full-count walk to put the winning run on base. Law would end up striking out the side to preserve the lead. That walk wouldn’t come back to hurt him, except in the most trivial way: it was the only walk he allowed in High-A all season.
The A’s don’t pay for relievers. Their top seven this year are making about $8 million and cost almost nothing in talent to acquire. The A’s also have the second-best bullpen FRA of the post-expansion era, behind only this year’s Braves. They make it look so easy! But this incredible success is also the answer to Ben’s question. Teams still pay for relievers because the A’s way of doing things takes so much friggin' effort.
A close look at four relievers who benefit from funky mechanics.
Starting pitchers tend to receive most of the attention devoted to pitchers, both in Raising Aces and within the general community of baseball evaluators. Yet some of the most intriguing pitchers in the major leagues hail from the bullpen. Starters tend to adhere to a prototypical build designed for stamina, but relief pitchers come in all shapes and sizes, often earning their roles as a direct result of the perception that they cannot withstand the rigors of a 200-inning season or a seven-inning appearance.
There are a multitude of reasons why a pitcher might be assigned to relief work, including body type, pitch selection, and/or mechanical trends. When it comes to mechanics, a pitcher with a funky delivery can be sent to the pen just as quickly as one whose motion is perceived as dangerous. These attributes can be intertwined, as the same elements that make a delivery look goofy can also present the risk of injury. Other times, a pitcher's mechanical approach is geared toward deception, creating strategic angles that are designed to exploitplatoon splits or to exaggerate downhill plane.
Do teams tend to overpay for bullpen help at the deadline?
Baseball lore preaches that a team “can never have enough pitching,” but we rarely hear the same thing said about hitting, perhaps because of a sister proverb, “Baseball is 75 percent pitching.” Pitcher fragility plays a big part, of course. But sometimes one poor start or relief outing will cause a team to press for more pitchers: a marginal arm blows up, and suddenly the team needs assistance. When a hitter goes 0-for-4 or 1-for-5, on the other hand, the line is common enough that we don’t bat an eye.
Mark Melancon and Rex Brothers take over for Jason Grilli and Rafael Betancourt, respectively. More on that, plus the updated rankings and earnings lie within.
Welcome to another installment of The Bullpen Report. As a reminder, closers are rated in five tiers from best to worst. The tiers are a combination of my opinion of a pitcher’s ability, the likelihood that he will pick up saves, and his security in the job. For example, a pitcher in the third tier might have better skills than a pitcher in the second tier, but if the third tier pitcher is new to the job or has blown a couple of saves in the last week this factors into the ranking as well.
Ten relievers who've racked up the strikeouts in the majors for the first time this season.
Here’s a stat about strikeouts: The percentage of 50-plus-inning relievers who struck out a batter per inning in 1990 was lower than the percentage who struck out 12 per nine innings in 2012. Remember the Reds’ “Nasty Boys” bullpen of Rob Dibble, Randy Myers, and Norm Charlton? They were three of only eight relievers with a K/9 of at least 9.0 in 1990. Relative to average, Dibble’s 12.5 K/9 that season was more impressive than, say, Aroldis Chapman’s league-leading 15.1 in 2013. But 15.1 is such an astounding number that it commands the attention anyway. Strikeout rates are rising too fast for the baselines in our brains to keep up.
Every season, a new crop of relievers arrives and astonishes us with their strikeout prowess. Some are promising rookie relief prospects who throw a million miles per hour and were expected to miss many bats. Others are rookies who’ve exceeded expectations, and still others are veterans whose latent strikeout powers were never suspected before they surfaced this season.
The nastiest fastballs and sliders seen out of the bullpen this season.
The halfway mark of the season is a natural point to stop and reflect on the remarkable performances of the baseball calendar to date. We reviewed the best stuff among starting pitchers at the quarter-season mark, so let's now turn our attention to the guys who come out of the bullpen.
Relievers’ stuff tends to be even more electric than that of their starting counterparts, given the sprinter-like nature of the job in addition to the fact that a less-varied repertoire is par for the position. With this in mind, we’ll delve into the fastballs and sliders that define the reputations of some of the game's most electric arms. Once again, we kindly ask the readers to add their own opinions to the mix, voting for one hurler from each category to represent the best stuff in baseball for the first half of the 2013 season. Please cast your votes in the comments section. (All stats are through games of July 1.)
The Yankees haven't produced many successful homegrown starters, but they have been churning out a wave of cheap relief arms.
Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Josh Norris has covered the Trenton Thunder and the Yankees farm system for The Trentonian for the last six seasons and spends his free time filming prospects in plush locales like Scranton, Allentown, Wilmington, Lakewood and Staten Island. Previously, he covered the Eugene Emeralds for Scout.com and Oregon club baseball (before NCAA baseball returned) for the Oregon Daily Emerald.