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Sunday, December 7, 2014

One inning wonders do not pitch every day.

Am I the only who thinks the current conventional wisdom of shortening games through dominant one inning relief pitchers is silly?

Are relief pitchers becoming too dominant? Mike Marshall 1974: 208 innings, 106 games, all in relief. Sunday, September 14, 2014

It seems like every pitcher who comes out of the bullpen averages more than one strike out per inning.  Actually it's only about half the relief pitchers...

Mike Marshall in 1974  won the Cy Young award: 208 innings in 106 relief appearances, SO9 6.18. ..

For some perspective: Mariano Rivera pitched 1995-2013.  Rivera threw 100 innings only once: 107 in 1996 when he was the setup man for John Wetteland.  That was also Rivera's best SO9: 10.6.  Rivera had SO9 better than 9 in only 6 of his 18 full seasons; low: 1998: SO9 5.3 in 61 innings.  Rivera's second most innings: 80 in 2001: SO9 9.3.  Rivera was under 70 innings in 8 of 18 seasons.  Rivera might be obsolete one year after retiring.


In 1996 John Wetteland led the league in saves with 46 but pitched only 62.66 innings. Mariano Rivera did the heavy lifting with those 107 innings. At the time it was said that they reduced it to a seven inning game. In 2014 it's been said that some teams, most notably the Kansas City Royals, have reduced it to a six inning game.  Kansas City was 11 of 15 American Conference teams in attendance.

Fast forward to 2014 and ironically it's the over-the-top Derek Jeter farewell tour Yankees who may most closely resemble that 1996 model.  Setup man Dellin Betances led all relief pitchers, those with zero starts, with 90 innings.  Closer David Robertson, now a free agent, had 39 saves and 64 innings.

But now three one inning relief specialists are the new model.  Let's look at those Kansas City Royals.

6CLGreg Holland2813.2501.4465060004662.13713103200900092402771.830.9145.30.42.913.04.50
7RPWade Davis2892.8181.007101100372.0388802301093012793991.190.8474.80.02.913.64.74
8RPKelvin Herrera2443.5711.417001200070.05412110260593012852822.691.1436.
As you can see, their innings in the regular season were: 62, 72, 70: 204 total innings, two fewer than Mike Marshall had all by himself in 1974 for the Dodgers in 106 games.  In fact the number of games for the three KC triplets was 206 but, of course, many of those games overlapped with two or all three appearing in the same games.

162 games multiplied by 27 outs = 4,374 outs over a full regular season.  You can probably see where I'm going.  The three headed monster accounted for only 612 (204 * 3) outs, which is 14%.

However, if they accounted for the final three innings in all their team's games that would be 33%.  So the threesome, no matter how effective, can impact less than half the games.

Since even wild card Kansas City won 89 games, what are we talking about?  Let's say that the three pitched in 70 of 90 wins.  That' 78%.  Pretty good.  But what about the other 90 games when they did not pitch?  Maybe some of those games could have been won had the manager not been waiting for his team to either take a lead after six innings or some other comparably restricted criteria.

Let's say the three pitched every other game no matter what the game situation.  That would be about 80 games, ten more than now.  But they would have no impact in half the games.  None.  They might as well be deactivated, which is something I advocate: 30 players on the active roster but only dress 25 for each game.

Dellin Betances in Baltimore
July 11, 2014
by Keith Allison
via Wikimedia Commons
The bottom line is that people who say that games can be reduced to six innings because a team has three lock down relief pitchers are mistaken.  Those pitchers are part time players.  It doesn't matter whether the model is the Lone Ranger Mariano Rivera or Betances/Robertson or Herrera/Davis/Holland.  Especially since the managers use them in a blind formula, ignoring pitch count, and simply have them pitch a particular inning, they are restricted and that restriction limits the number of games in which they pitch.

You might say that this doesn't matter because many games are not winnable and why waste these three in such games.  However, maybe many of those games that seem to be unlikely wins in the late innings could have been kept competetive had the three been used differently.

Try this case.  The first three batters in the first inning reach base and the starting pitcher cannot continue.  Which pitcher would you bring in to face the cleaup hitter with the bases loaded?  99% of the time the manager will bring in a so called long man, a pitcher who is neither good at starting or relieving.  Why not bring in your best strikeout relief pitcher?  In 2014 for Kansas City that would the 8th inning guy, Wade Davis: 13.6 SO per 9 innings.  Have him pitch to batters 4. 5. 6 and try to blow them away and then take your chances with lesser relief pitchers to get you to the 8th inning.  The "long" man is likely to allow multiple inherited runners to score and possibly some of his own because he is facing the power of the lineup.  KC might be down 5-0 after one inning and the late inning situation would justify not using the big three at all.  But using at least one of them early might keep KC in the game and make a win much more possible.

This is yet another chink in the armor of the one inning wonders who pitch less than every other game.

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