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"I like it,'' says Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi flatly. "I think they're on to something.''

"I think it's great,'' adds Oakland GM Billy Beane.

The most innovative MLB front office minds agree that Theo Epstein is doing the right thing in Boston by not employing a Proven Closer. This report, by Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal, mentions the biggest reason most teams won't change:

(Grady) Little may find he will have to manage egos as well as innings as the experiment unfolds. Today's players are notorious for their need to have specified roles and the inherent uncertainty of the committee approach is bound to unnerve some.

Are you listening, Kelvim? If it can be "sold" to the pitchers involved, it's not only a more flexible approach, it's less expensive. Here's J.P. again, on baseball's reluctance to break with tradition: "We get afraid to do something because conventional wisdom tells us it can't be done.'' The new and improved Blue Jays are fearless.
Bullpen Committees | 12 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
_jason - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 12:50 AM EST (#99797) #
Check out the new pricing system being used for Jays games.
Craig B - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 09:12 AM EST (#99798) #
This explains why I haven't heard back from the Jays on my request for information about flex-pack tickets.
Dave Till - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 10:09 AM EST (#99799) #
Today's pitchers need specified roles not just because they have fragile egos, but because they need to know how to prepare to do their jobs.

For a bullpen by committee to work, a team needs three things:

(a) Enough good bullpen pitchers to form a committee. A couple of years ago, the Jays couldn't have had a bullpen by committee even if they'd wanted one - only Koch and Quantrill had any clue what they were doing out there. Would you have wanted the 2000 edition of Pedro Borbon out there with the game on the line?

(b) A manager that knows how to manage a pitching staff. Too often, a lack of defined roles means that the manager will overuse a hot pitcher, and leave his other pitchers to rot in the pen. The result is trips to the DL, shattered confidence, and a bullpen that doesn't get the job done.

(c) Pitchers willing to work under the new scheme. It's all very well and good to say that pitchers should check their egos at the bullpen door, but teams that are willing to massage their pitchers' fragile egos may very well wind up with a competitive advantage over those that do not. Pitching talent is a scarce commodity.

Having said that: a committee could be the best solution, provided Tosca and his staff make good decisions and manage their pitchers well. (They may have to trade Escobar first, though.) However, the hard part of the job is finding the three or four guys who are good enough to be in the bullpen. If you've got that, it doesn't really matter how you use them, provided you don't injure them.
_Jordan - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 10:12 AM EST (#99800) #
What the Red Sox are really talking about is a true bullpen by committee -- everyone's a closer, everyone's a setup man, everyone's a one-batter specialist, depending on the situation. People like Epstein and Ricciardi have known for years that this is a good idea, but I think it was Game One of last year's World Series that really got this issue into the mainstream. When Mike Scioscia left Troy Percival in the bullpen in the 8th inning, and allowed a lefty setup guy to lose the opening game of the Series, there was a backlash the next day whose thrust was best summed by Rob Neyer: "If you've lost a close game and your best reliever never pitched, you've mismanaged the situation." Scioscia escaped the jam by winning the Series, so Percival's non-appearance was relegated to footnote status. But had the Giants triumphed, a lot of people would have looked back at that decision as a critical turning point.

The multiple-reliever situation makes perfect sense, but you can't stop a speeding trend like this on a dime. The players are extremely aware that Proven Closers can make anywhere from $5 to $10 million a season, while setup guys are lucky to break a million or two. Octavio Dotel has been five times the pitcher Roberto Hernandez has been over the last couple of years, yet he makes about one-fifth as much. John Smoltz made $10 million last year to do a job that Mike Remlinger could have done 90% as well for 10% of the money. The closer's role is the Holy Grail of relief pitchers, and they're not going to like any system whereby the possibility of that Grail is taken away from all of them.

That's why, in my opinion, this plan is flawed in Boston's execution, because the five guys they intend to use are all former closers and/or veteran major-league pitchers. They know what it's like to retire the last guy, to get the handshakes and hugs from their teammates, to see the "S" next to their name in the boxscore, and to collect the fat paycheque. They'll all be saying the right things during the spring, about how they're going to work as a bullpen team and everyone will be equal -- but secretly, they'll all be thinking it's a competition, hoping and expecting that one of them will eventually become the regular ninth-inning guy, the de facto closer, and they won't really be happy until that natural hierarchy establishes itself.

Grady Little, a traditional manager who'll find this arrangement hard to operate, will actually be under an opposing and stronger pressure than most managers feel. Instead of being pressured to always go to the Proven Closer in the ninth, he'll be pressured not to always go to the same guy, for fear that four straight saves by Timlin will establish him as the Closer in everyone's minds: the bullpen, the team, the fans, the media. Although it's only a relatively recent development, the Closer is already deeply entrenched in the game's culture -- as it is in society itself, the archetype of the master operative arriving to seal the deal, complete the story, defeat the bad guys in a one-on-one showdown at the end of the day. It's the stuff of novels, movies, video games ... and baseball. Theo Epstein is going to find that a difficult current to fight.

JP, as usual, has the better idea: instead of former closers, he's assembling a bullpen of true journeymen, raw rookies, minor-league veterans and longtime setup guys. These players, by and large, are happy just to have a chance to pitch in the big leagues, and can be molded into a true bullpen committee with less difficulty (though it still won't be easy). The problem, as Kent points out, is Escobar. He's the walking definition of a modern closer: big ego, fragile psyche and tender arm, a one-inning pitcher who gets rattled and upset if he appears anywhere but the ninth inning with no one on base and nobody out. Escobar will never accept a setup role, not with the Blue Jays at any rate, and if JP really intends to democratize his pen, he has to start by shipping Kelvim to parts unknown. A bullpen composed of some combination of Cliff Politte, Jeff Tam, Doug Creek, Pete Walker, Aquilino Lopez, Jason Kershner, Brian Bowles, Evan Thomas or Doug Linton can carry the last three innings of ballgames at a low price, with few ego problems, and at least as effectively as arsonists like Koch and Escobar have done the last few years. If JP and Carlos Tosca can pull off a true bullpen committee with this staff, then they really will help revolutionize pitching strategy, and consign the likes of Tony LaRussa to the history books.
Dave Till - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 10:23 AM EST (#99801) #
Grady Little won't get four straight saves out of Mike Timlin, so I don't think he'll have that problem to worry about. :-)

I agree with the rest of your analysis, Jordan.
_Mick - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 10:43 AM EST (#99802) #
Dave's point about "enough good pitchers" is the key, of course, but even moreso, "enough good pitchers who are team players." And that, more specifically, can mean two things -- either a bunch of guys who know, understand and accept their well-defined roles or a bunch of guys who understand that everyone can fill any role. I think the latter is actually far more difficult because athletes tend to be creatures of habit.

It's funny, but the standard example of "committee" vs. "closer" usually ends up mentioning the 1990 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds of "Nasty Boys" fame and Eck's Oakland A's.

But in truth, both teams had similar bullpen structures. Dennis Eckersly (48 saves) and Randy Myers (31) were clearly the closers. Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton combined for 13 saves while Rick Honeycutt and Gene Nelson combined for 12. Both had a standard, very effective no-name middle inning guy (Tim Layana for the Reds, Joe Klink for the A's). Both had a former double-digit winning starter around for long relief (Mike Norris for the A's, Rick Mahler for the Reds). Both had a hard-throwing "future star starter" who never panned out in the bullpen (Todd Burns for the A's, Scott Scudder for the Reds).

Not coincidentally, I think, both had the same type of rotation, too -- two excellent All-Star types (Jose Rijo and Tom Browning; Dave Stewart and Bob Welch), one inning-eater (Jack Armstrong, Mike Moore) and after that, filler.

And yet, looking back, we tend to remember these teams as entirely different; one bullpen by committe that ByGodWonTheWholeDamnThing and one Hall of Fame closesr doing it by himself.

I think it will play out in Boston the same way it did in Cincinnati (except for the part about the World Series title, of course) ... someone, probably Alan Embree but don't count out Casey Fossum, will emerge as "the guy" and rack up 25-35 saves. But Mendoza and the rest will combine for another 15-20, the Boston media will eat up the idea of parroting Epstein's "we're a team, our bullpen is a committee, we will overcome the Evil Empire by these unorthodox means" tripe, and everyone all over the country will praise the Sox for being unconventional in their success, then immediately blame the lack of a defined closer for the September collapse.

Last point of interest: the existing tie from the current AL East race to Team Nasty Boys isn't in Boston, it's in New York, where Da Bombers have signed on former young lefty prospect Chris Hammond, who made three starts for the Reds that year.
Coach - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 11:31 AM EST (#99803) #
First, thanks to Jason for the nice catch on the new pricing policy, which has been dressed up in a slick package. It's palatable, for this year, but now that Paul "Pandora" Allamby has been allowed to open this particular Box, more and more games will be designated special in the future. $250 for the sleepover? I guess the ACC platinum-seat crowd will send their kids, with their nannies. I was imagining it as a way for the Jays to give something to families, not gouge them. For that kind of dough, Sammy Sosa and Carlos Delgado should come to your house and give you a b-, uh, back rub.

To those who I mentioned getting together with at the home opener, let's do it another night. I will only watch the premium games on TV, and I won't pay extra for my Hinske bobblehead or my Mr. Sub sports bag. The logical extension of this plan? One day, at a "value" matinee, Doc will pitch a perfect game, and the Jays' marketing department will block the exits, demanding another ten bucks from each customer.

On the bullpen topic, I deliberately left the manager-as-scapegoat argument out of my intro. Jordan nailed it with the most publicized, and most recent, anecdote. Scioscia felt the pressure from the legions of second-guessers throughout the whole Series. Agreed that Grady Little should switch to Scotch-and-Maalox.

A year ago, I touted Escobar to fantasy owners, saying the 2001 hand numbness never occurred in short outings, and he had never been given a clearly-defined role. But he's such a flake, it didn't matter. He found ways to pout and underachieve and blame two different managers for his own lack of preparation and consistency.

The Jays would need a thick-skinned, authoritarian skipper (check) with 100% support from management (check) and no prima donnas (bye, Kelvim) to make this post-neo-retro-radical idea work. Note to pitching coach Gil Patterson: if you are stuck with Escobar for another year, fine him or something when he insists on showing all four pitches to every hitter, including guys he could dominate with three fastballs, four at the most. All-too-typical AB: heater misses high; powerless .250 hitter, ahead in count, naturally lays off a splitter in the dirt and a slider away; takes the grooved 3-0 fastball, then ropes a changeup -- the only one he can get around on -- for extra bases. Limit Kelvim to fastball/slider unless it's a tough LH batter, or it's an 0-2 or 1-2 count. Please.
_jason - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 04:08 PM EST (#99804) #
I also assume the $2.00 Timber-Mart Tuesdays at Jays games will not be happening any more. Too bad, that was a sweet deal.
Coach - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 07:28 PM EST (#99805) #
Jason, I'm not so sure. The Jays' VP in charge, Paul Allamby, talked about the new plan on the official site, and said the following:

"Even during the premium events, something like 35 percent of the stadium is not re-priced. If you have a Toronto Star season pass, which gives you 81 games for $81, you're still only going to pay $81. You're going to sit in the Upper SkyDeck, but you're still only going to pay $1 a game."

If you have binoculars, that's the best deal in town. Another piece on includes a comparison chart of 2002 prices with the three new tiers. However, another change was not announced, merely slipped in -- some decent $7.00 front-row seats in the 500 level last year, and some $16.00 ones, according to the SkyDome seating map, will now cost $24.00.
_jason - Thursday, January 09 2003 @ 10:24 PM EST (#99806) #
Good find Coach, that Toronto Star season pass is just what my current unemployed butt needs. It seems "value" game protected as well.
Craig B - Friday, January 10 2003 @ 08:42 AM EST (#99807) #
They offered the Season Pass last year as well. An $81 season ticket, up in the Gods or not, is absolutely the best sports deal in the entire world, and I am dead serious. For those who can take advantage of it, I envy you.

It's not really a "season ticket" in that the pass is only good for you (it's non-transferable) but it's still amazing. For comparison, one upper-bowl seat for the Leafs (in the greens, not purples) will cost you $84.
Craig B - Friday, January 10 2003 @ 08:53 AM EST (#99808) #
secretly, they'll all be thinking it's a competition, hoping and expecting that one of them will eventually become the regular ninth-inning guy, the de facto closer, and they won't really be happy until that natural hierarchy establishes itself

Good! I want my men hungry, and always trying to outdo each other. I *want* my players to be less than "really happy"... if they can't handle something as simple as a bullpen-by-committee, I seriously doubt they can handle the stress of a seventh game, or a ninth-inning one-run lead.

As for the Escobars of this world, if you don't want to pitch, I am perfectly happy to trade you, or suspend you without pay and you can take it up with the MLBPA. Escobar has a perfect right to ask not to start, but to relieve instead, but to insist on being a "closer" is ridiculous. And I could not be in happier agreement with Coach about Escobar's pitch selection. Not only did he shake off Huckaby more than I thought possible, he insists on "pitching backwards" to hitters, which only serves to get him in further trouble. I want Escobar up there throwing 1-0 fastballs and 0-1 sliders and forcing guys to swing at his best pitches, not wait for his worst.
Bullpen Committees | 12 comments | Create New Account
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