Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for the ‘joel sherman’ tag

Someone is finally doing it: Tampa using “Openers” instead of “Starters”


Sergio Romo; Tampa's new #3 starter.

Sergio Romo; Tampa’s new #3 starter.  And #4 starter sometimes … photo via Zimbio.

The Tampa Bay Rays, thanks to a run of injuries to their starting rotation this spring, and perhaps a bit of typical organizational ingenuity, are doing something this year that has a lot of people talking; they’re essentially using a closer-quality pitcher to start games, get through the top of the opposing team’s order the first time, then hands it over to the real “starter” (or in most cases longer man) who pitches a typical starter-length outing.

They seem to be sticking to conventional outings for their two best starters (Chris Archer and Blake Snell) even now, but spring training elbow injuries to planned starters Brett Honeywell and Jose De Leon (both Tommy John surguries), plus recent injuries to #3 starter Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos  (not Laurel Chirinos!) and Nathan Eovaldi and a lack of upper-end SP prospects has led them to this point.

This strategy is getting put to its biggest test over the Memorial Day weekend series they have with Baltimore, announcing that they’ll be “starting” relievers all three games.

So far this season, they’ve used the strategy at least twice; with Sergio Romo starting on back to back nights.

  • 5/20/18: Romo pitches the first and strikes out the side before handing off to starter Ryan Yarborough, who pitches 6+ and gets the win.
  • 5/21/18:  Romo, going back to back nights, faces the first 6 batters; walks two, gets the other four out, zero runs; the rest of the game is a bullpen game, but the team loses to Shohei Ohtani and the Angels.

Of course, reaction to the moves is already as you’d expect it to be, given our current climate of hot-take/knee jerk reactions.  You’ve got “get off my lawn” types talking about how this isn’t “good for the game.”  You’ve got Joel Sherman (who has been around the sport long enough to know what they’re doing) calling the strategy “Bizarre.”  And you’ve got progressive types like Houston’s A.J. Hinch praising the move.


So, what do I think of this?

Well …. honestly this is the natural evolution of the trend towards specialized relievers that we’ve been seeing lately.  A mediocre/failed starter can be converted to a highly valuable reliever by just having them throw harder and focus on mastering two pitches instead of attempting to master three or four, and it happens All The Time.  See Rivera, Mariano and Eckersley, Dennis for hall of fame exhibits A and B here (ok .. to be fair Eckersley was by  no means a failed starter … but he would not be in Cooperstown had he not become a dominant closer).

Well, what if you had an entire roster of specialized relievers instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on a rotation?

Take the Nats: our top four starters this year are earning north of $80M this season.  What if you had spread that $80M around on a bunch of closer/near-closer types, the kinds of guys who go for significantly less per annum?  What if you had an entire team of guys like Ryan Madsen ($7.6M) or Sean Doolittle ($4.3M) or Brandon Knitzler ($5.5M).  Heck, why not load up y our team with pre-arb guys like Sammy Solis ($560k) and Matt Grace ($557k) and spend that $80M on improving the out-field players?

I’ve often wondered if a team couldn’t just have essentially 12 relievers and would basically turn every game into a bullpen game.  What if you deployed your staff kind of like this:

  • Three “Closer” quality guys (like our Doolittle)
  • Three solid RH 7th/8th inning types like Madsen and Kelley.
  • Three left-handed match-up guys (Solis, Grace)
  • Three long-men types who could soak up innings but who can’t turn over a lineup more than twice (kind of like Jeremy Hellickson but perhaps more like a 4-A starter, or what Edwin Jackson is doing in AAA).

You take half this squad and they’re the A-team; that gives you 5-6 arms to pitch the first game of the week.  Then, they all get a break and the other 5-6 arms get the next game.  In a typical week every reliever then gets three to four days off with off-games and off-days.   The long-men only go every two days, since you’re asking them to do 3-4 innings, but still get plenty of rest.  So a pattern of games could look like this:

  • Game 1: Closer1 pitches the 1st, RH1 and LH1 combine to pitch 2nd and 3rd.  Longman1 comes in and throws 4th through the 7th.  Then depending on where you are in the game he returns for the 8th or you go to your RH2/LH2 guy before handing off to Closer2 in the 9th.  So that’s 5 to 6 arms used in the first game.
  • Game 2: Closer3 starts.  RH3 throws next two innings.  Longman2 throws innings 4-7.  LH3 finishes it out, perhaps throwing Closer1 a second day in a row if need be.
  • Game 3: Closer2 starts.  Perhaps you go right to Longman3 for a 5 inning stint.  Back to RH1 and LH1 for the 7th/8th, then either let these guys do a 2 inning stint or go back to Closer3 for back-to-backs to finish the game.

So the workload for a 3-game series goes like this:

  • Closers: 2 innings each with an off-day
  • RH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • LH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • Long-men: 3-4 innings each with two off-days

That’s basically 27 innings across three games, assuming your middle relievers throw a couple of 2-inning stints in there, or one of your long-men does 4 innings instead of three.

Tell me why this wouldn’t work?  Everyone gets a ton of rest, and if you burn out one of your longmen you just call up re-inforcements from AAA to do mop-up games here and there.  You always have a closer going against the top of the order in the first inning, then you try to work it out so that you can do match-ups the next time they come up with a 7th/8th inning quality guy.  The best hitters on the other team will eventually get a shot at your “long man…” but under this plan, they’re getting four at bats generally against four different arms.  That’s going to give the advantage to the pitcher every time; batters don’t get to study up the opposing starter every night for research; they’re going to be seeing gas, trick pitches and one-trick ponies that have ridiculous BAAs and BABIPs thanks to their specialty.

So, who would love this?

  • Owners.  no more 9-figure contracts for starters who have like a 50% injury rate.
  • Some Pitchers: more opportunities for guys who just couldn’t cut it as starters but who crush it as releivers.

Who wouldn’t like this?

  • High end starters: less jobs, less demand for you.  Maybe.  I mean, right now Tampa is sticking with their two solid starters and only doing this for the other slots.  Maybe a team with two Aces like the nats just lets them roll normally then does this kind of bullpen game the other three games out of five.
  • Any baseball fan born before 1970, since they hate any change, any game modification.  I mean come on, there’s people demanding that we ban the shift (including the commissioner).
  • The Players union; you’d have to think salaries would plummet
  • Maybe most every baseball fan?  Offense drives fan interest … and this plan is specifically designed to neutralize the opposing team’s best hitters.


Why I’d support a Universal DH


Yes, I’d like to see more DHs like David Ortiz in the league. Photo wiki/flickr user Toasterb

Every once in a while, during a period of time where there’s a relative dearth of topics I’d like to blog about, I scroll through dozens of draft posts and starter topics I’ve got saved and find one worth expanding on.  And sometimes one of these random drafts written months or years ago suddenly becomes topical because two hard-ass old-school managers decide to one-up each other in a meaningless spring training game.  Further, seeing this random post on Beyond the Box Score, referring to a Joel Sherman article in the NY Post on the topic spurred me into action to dust off this post and put it up for your perusal and criticism.

Summary: Despite mostly considering myself to be a baseball purist, I support going to using full-time Designated Hitter in both leagues.  Here’s a few reasons why:

1. Standardize rules between the leagues.  It is rather ridiculous that in 2013 half of a major US professional sport plays by such vastly different rules than the other half.  It would be as if the NFC in football was forced to attempt 2-point conversions after every touchdown while the AFC forced the use of a point-after attempt instead.

Here’s another interesting observation; i’m pretty sure that the National League is the ONLY baseball league in the country that requires its pitchers to hit.  The DH is in use in the minors, in college ball, in HS and AAU ball, and even in lower-level youth leagues (not that anyone would actually use it down that low, when your pitcher is usually your best hitter).

2. Improve the fan experience. As has been more eloquently stated elsewhere, fans would rather see a power hitter batting in the middle of the order than see a feeble .180-hitting starting pitcher batting 9th flail at a 95mph fastball for the 3rd out of each inning.  Scoring would rise, and more offense means more excitement for the fans.  Forcing pitchers to bat (and, more often than not, bunt) forces managers into a small ball mentality that is counter to most advanced metrics that advocate never trading an out for a base.

3. Let NL fans see more AL Stars in Interleague play.  Related to #2; right now in interleague games AL DH’s mostly have to sit, or if they do play another starter has to sit.  As an NL home city fan when the Red Sox come to town I don’t want to see Jon Lester hit; I want to see David Ortiz hit.

4. Artificially limiting NL Starting Pitchers.  Lack of DH in the NL means that managers are forced to remove starters too early, too often, in order to continue rallies in the middle innings.  I’ve even seen people advocate starters getting yanked in the 2nd or 3rd innings of games in certain situations.  I’d rather see my starter go as long as he can instead of having the one-out matchup styles of some bullpen managers start in the 5th inning of an (inevitably) 4 hour game.

5. More hitters get longer careers as their defensive skills wane.  Right now there’s a number of halfway decent hitters who are older and thus defensive liabilities who have basically been forced out of baseball that could fit in nicely with one of the 15 NL teams that don’t use a DH.  If you don’t think the player’s union wouldn’t mind 15 additional jobs for career-twilight veterans (who are mostly at the upper ends of the pay scales), you’re crazy.  This is essentially why I think the players union would support a universal DH.

6. Double switches juggled lineup spots is overrated.  Purists love it of course, but purists also want baseball to still have the pennant winners immediately advance to the World Series and cringe at divisional play, wild cards and the expanding post-season.  But expanding and increasing popularity of the sport means reaching out and appealing to the masses, and the masses interests are the same as purists.  One of the big reasons purists maintain support for the DH is because of the notion that these double switches and earlier pitcher man management makes for a better managed game and forces NL managers to be “better.”  That’s great and all … but I buy tickets to watch the players play, not to watch some overweight aging manager waddle out to the mound in the 5th inning so he can get a lefty-lefty matchup.

7. NL Teams are at a disadvantage in every inter-league game right now, because they build their rosters for the NL style of play while AL teams are afforded a blank line-up spot for a no-defense slugger all season.  AL teams are also allowed to “rest” players and just bat them over the course of the greuling 162-game schedule by virtue of the DH, while NL players get no such luxury, meaning you can make the argument that AL teams have a slight advantage in the World Series against their NL counterparts (not that we actually see this advantage … but in theory it exists).  You can make the counter-argument that AL pitchers are ill-prepared to bat as compared to their NL counter-parts, to which I’ll say that a .180 hitting pitcher is only slightly better than a .120 hitting pitcher.

8. Interleague every day means that the #7 issue is exacerbated.  This is the gist of the Sherman post; now that Houston is in the AL and there’s 15 teams in each league, there’s inter-league games every day.  Which also means that NL teams are even more disadvantaged since they can no longer do roster-maintenance just ahead of known interleague stretches.  Likewise, AL teams now have to have their pitchers take BP all throughout the season.  Its just a bad strategic situation all around.

9. Pitcher Specialization leading to worse hitting Pitchers.  Related to Point #1 (where the MLB NL is the sole league in America that “forces” pitchers to hit), we’re in the midst of an obvious shift in pitcher specialization, both in the majors (bullpen specialized roles) and during development.  More and more, kids are identified as superb pitchers early in their amateur careers (in many cases early in high school) and literally stop hitting.  At age 15-16.  If you’re a grade-A pitching prospect, do you think you want to jeopardize your draft status or your full-ride by screwing around on the base-paths in some meaningless AAU game?  I think not.  So these kids who havn’t worked on their hitting since their sophomore year in HS then get drafted or go to college, play years of Div-1 or minor league ball, maybe make it to the majors at age 24-25 …. and they havn’t faced live pitching regularly in a decade!  Is that what *anyone* really wants?

10. Baseball needs to spur offense: every one knows that the proliferance of upper 90s bullpen arms and the cracking down on PEDs has inevitably led to less offense in the game.  Joe Sheehan had a fun stat that pointed out that fans in 2014 were less likely to see a “ball put in play” than at any point since the dead ball era, thanks to the massive spike in strikeouts in the game.  Adding a DH and eliminating a position that league-wide bats about .122 would help.

Its time.  End the DH.  I was hoping for a resolution in the last CBA, but we have to wait a bit longer.

post-publishing edit: for context here was the 2019 slash lines for Pitchers in baseball: Here’s the link: Major League Total Stats ” 2019 ” Pitchers ” Dashboard. they slashed a collective .128/.160/.162 with a staggering 43.5% strikeout rate and a -18 wRC+. 43% strikeout rate! Why do baseball fans advocate to keep this, at the same time when they’re probably complaining about … how often baseball players strike out right now. By way of comparison, here’s the DH slash line for 2019: .252/.339/.467 for a wRC+ of 110.

Written by Todd Boss

March 8th, 2013 at 9:12 am