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Imploding bullpens make us all a little crazy. You've been warned.

It has long been my secret theory that the Blue Jays have suffered karmic punishment these last twelve years. They have offended the gods of baseball, and must be made to suffer.

The crime? Running Tom Henke out of town.

In 1992, Tom Henke saved 34 games during the regular season, with just 3 blown saves. He saved 5 more in the post-season; his one blown save in the post-season sent the final game of the World Series to extra innings. Where they won anyway. He had an ERA of 2.26, he was still striking 7.4 batters per 9 innings. He was a free agent, he wanted to return, he was still phenomenally good. He was, and still is, regarded as one of the very best people ever to play in Toronto. He was a man who did honour to the uniform every time he put it on.

The team didn't want him back, and the fans didn't want him back either. The prevailing sentiment, from the front office to the cheap seats, went something like "We've got another guy who's younger, and cheaper and better. Thanks for being a great pitcher for eight years. Thanks for being a credit to the the game and the community and the organization. Now get the hell out of town."

Well, there you go.

See what happens? See what you get?

Have Toronto fans really felt good about their bullpen since the big fella shuffled offstage, to save 91 games over the next three seasons? To retire at the absolute top of his game (1-1 with 36 saves and a 1.82 ERA for the 1995 Cardinals.) Since then, the position of Blue Jay relief ace has become one of those black holes that sometimes happens to franchises: like centre field in St Louis during the years between Terry Moore and Curt Flood, or third base for the Mets, White Sox, and Dodgers for decades at a time.

The plan was to replace Henke with Duane Ward, which worked well for one year. But after that:

1994 - Ward is done. Stottlemyre gives it a try, eventually Darren Hall becomes the closer.
1995 - Hall returns to earth. Tony Castillo eventually emerges as primus inter pares.
1996 - Mike Timlin, closer, saves 31 games.
1997 - Timlin struggles, gets traded. They mix and match for a while. A 21 year old kid named Kelvim Escobar comes up, throws heat, ends up saving 14 games.
1998 - FA signing Randy Myers saves 28 games despite being washed up. After he's traded, they go closer by committee for a while, and then try the insane Robert Person experiment.
1999 - Person starts the year as the closer. He's very bad. They try another kid, Billy Koch, who pitches OK and sure looks like a closer.
2000 - Billy Koch is pretty good.
2001 - Billy Koch is not so good.
2002 - Kelvim Escobar goes back to the pen. He's not dull.
2003 - First it's Escobar. Then it's Cliff Politte. Then it's Aquilino Lopez.
2004 - Lopez to Speier to Adams to Frasor to Speier to Batista.
2005 - Miguel Batista...

Which brings us, finally, to a cursory look at last night's game. Any time a relief pitcher gives up three runs in a game - it's a bad thing. OK? Three different Toronto pitchers did this last night: Speier, Schoeneweis, and Chulk. Granted, I'm not too upset about Vinnie Chulk - if you're going to come out of the pen and give up a three-run homer, I'd much rather you do it when the team is already losing by five runs. And even Schoeneweis had one of those outings where he was kind of nibbled to death by ducks. Let us simply not speak of Justin Speier.

Last night was the second time this year Scott Schoeneweis has allowed 3+ runs in a game, the first time for Speier and Chulk. Jason Frasor, Brandon League and Matt Whiteside had previously had similar games. That's a total of 7 really lousy outings.

Is this disturbing? Well, yeah. They've only played 18 games. Over 162 games, at this frightening pace, you would end up with 63 crummy relief appearances, which would be way, way more than we saw from last year's bullpen crew. Who didn't exactly play to rave reviews either.

But anyway, all this is yet another reason why I still miss Tom Henke. On April 19 1992, Henke came in with a 4-1 lead going to the bottom of the 9th at Fenway and couldn't get it done. A leadoff single by Winningham, Naehring struck out, Boggs doubled, Reed walked, Plantier reaches on an error that scores a run, Burks strikes out (game should be over, but he needs a fourth out), Greenwell singles in two runs, and David Wells comes in and gives up the final game-winning hit to Cooper. The Red Sox roughed up Henke for 4 runs, 1 earned, that afternoon.

It was the last time Henke gave up 3+ runs in a game in a Blue Jay uniform. It didn't happen again in 1992 - not in May, not in June, not in July, August, September, or October. It was the one and only time it happened against him all season.

Henke had better stretches than that, of course. On 13 August 1987, the White Sox got to Henke for 3 runs. He hadn't pitched in four days, and with the Jays losing 6-2 in the 8th, he came in to get some work. He gave up a sac fly, a homer, a triple, and another homer. The next time Henke allowed that many runs in a game was on a Sunday afternoon in SkyDome against the Yankees. On this occasion, he hadn't pitched in a week, and came on in the 8th with a 6-2 lead. He gave up a single, a triple, and a homer to make the score 6-5 before shaking off the rust and retriring the last five hitters to finish the victory. The date was 6 August 1989.

That's right: two years later.

The Blue Jays let this guy walk, didn't mind losing him? What, pitchers like this grow on trees? They're easy to replace?

I think the classical term is hubris.

In his 8 years in Toronto, in 446 relief appearances, Tom Henke gave up 3+ runs in a game just 13 times. (Duane Ward, by the way, had 30 such games in his 450 Toronto relief appearances.) Two lousy weeks account for four of Henke's games. Here are the details:

1985 (1) - Sep. 20 vs Mil (3 runs)
1986 (5) - Apr. 26 vs Blt. (6 runs); May 6 vs Oak. (4 runs); May 10 vs Sea. (3 runs); 
           July 13 vs Oak. (3 runs);  Sep. 11 vs NY (4 runs) 
1987 (2) - June 26 vs Mil. (6 runs); Aug. 13 vs Chi. (3 runs) 
1988 (0) - NADA
1989 (1) - Aug. 6 vs NY (3 runs) 
1990 (1) - July 24 vs KC (3 runs) 
1991 (2) - Aug. 8 vs Det. (4 runs); Aug. 13 vs Mil. (3 runs)
1992 (1) - Apr. 19 vs Bos (4 runs)
Last year, in 431 relief appearances (not quite as many appearances as Henke made in his Toronto career) Blue Jays relievers gave up 3+ runs in a game 38 times. Here are the gory details, and the culprits responsible:

Kerry Ligtenberg (7) 
1. May 14 vs Bos. (5 runs); 2. May 21 vs Bos. (3 runs); 3. July 10 vs Ana. (5 runs); 
4. July 27 vs NYY (3 runs); 5. Aug. 5 vs Cle. (3 runs); 6. Aug. 12 vs Cle. (3 runs); 
7. Aug. 28 vs NYY (5 runs)

Jason Frasor (5) 
1. June 11 vs Ari. (3 runs); 2. Aug. 15 vs Blt. (3 runs); 3. Aug. 26 vs NYY (3 runs); 
4. Sep. 4 vs Oak. (5 runs); 5. Sep. 11 vs Tex. (3 runs)

Vinnie Chulk (4) 
1. June 6 vs Oak. (3 runs); 2. July 8 vs Sea. (3 runs); 3. Aug. 15 vs Blt. (4 runs); 
4. Aug 16 vs Bos. (3 runs)

Mike Nakamura (4) 
1. May 17 vs Min. (3 runs); 2. May 26 vs Ana. (3 runs); 3. June 24 vs TB (3 runs); 
4. June 27 vs Mtl. (3 runs)

Justin Speier (3) 
1.Apr. 27 vs Min. (4 runs); 2. June 17 vs SF (3 runs); 3. June 28 vs TB (4 runs)

Kevin Frederick (3) 
1. Aug. 4 vs Cle. (5 runs); 2. Aug. 20 vs Blt. (3 runs); 3. Sep. 13 vs Blt. (4 runs)

Bob File (2) 
1. June 16 vs SF (3 runs); 2. July 16 vs Tex. (3 runs)

Aquilino Lopez (2) 
1. Apr. 16 vs Blt. (3 runs); 2. Apr. 23 vs Blt. (3 runs)

Dave Maurer (2) 
1. Aug. 25 vs Bos. (4 runs); 2. Aug. 28 vs NYY (4 runs)

Justin Miller (2) 
1. Aug. 6 vs NYY (3 runs); 2. Sep. 29 vs Blt. (3 runs)

Terry Adams (1) 
1. May 19 vs Min. (4 runs)

Sean Douglass (1) 
1. Sep. 17 vs TB (5 runs)

Ryan Glynn (1) 
1. Sep. 30 vs Blt. (3 runs)

Adam Peterson (1) 
1. June 24 vs TB (3 runs)
All of it - the last twelve years, in fact - has been punishment. Not for letting Tom Henke walk away. But for making Tom Henke walk away. For shoving him out the door. It is the Curse of the Terminator, and I say this unto you all:

The Curse will not be lifted until we see that number 50 up there on the RC Wall, in the Level of Excellence.

Where it belongs.

The very first thing Mike Wilner said tonight on his post-game show concerned bullpen management. In the 8th inning of a one-run game, he wondered, with the heart of the Baltimore lineup coming to the plate - Mora, Tejada, Sosa, Palmeriro - isn't this the spot for the best reliever on the team? If Miguel Batista is your best reliever, isn't this where he should be used? In what Wilner called "a high leverage situation," rather than to face the bottom of the Baltimore order in the 9th inning, hoping first that one of your lesser relievers had been able to get past the toughest part of the lineup?

Wilner explained that he wasn't ripping John Gibbons, because Gibbons played the situation exactly the same way every other major league manager does. He was just pointing out, as many others have, that the standard operating procedure makes very little sense.

Standard operating procedure is driven, in fact, by the most trivial of all considerations - a player's individual statistics. Not what happens to be the best thing for the team. The closer is held back for save situations, because the closer wants saves. Saves are money. Saves are rewarded at the arbitration table and on the free agent market. Gibbons followed standard operating procedure last night, and his best relief pitcher didn't get into the game.

This will end - it will end because it makes no damn sense, because it gets in the way of winning games. A manager and a team will eventually do things differently, and be successful doing things differently. And then others will follow. If Oakland had lost 90 games a year in the late 1980s (rather than winning 90 games a year), it's quite possible that so many games wouldn't be nibbled to death by LOOGYs - but LaRussa was successful using multiple lefty specialists, and all successful strategies get copied.

It will require a manager who feels absolutely secure about his position in the game, who is absolutely sure of his own judgement, who is willing to go his own way, and willing to contradict the conventional wisdom. Tony LaRussa is one of those people, but LaRussa is also one of the men most resposnible for turning relief aces into 9th inning specialists. Jack McKeon is one of those people, but McKeon, like other managers of his generation, thinks much more about his rotation than his bullpen. The first managers to truly obsess over the bullpen, to my mind anyway, were Whitey Herzog and Tony LaRussa.

It would help if there were no established stars in the bullpen. If you have a player who expects to save 40 games, whose agent expects him to save 40 games, there could be problems. The "closer" sees those easy one-inning-with-a-three-run-lead saves as his due, even if the only real reason to use him is if you want to pad his numbers. Today, however, all managers are happy to pad their players numbers. Why? Two reasons. It makes everyone happy, and it eliminates a decision. It makes their lives simpler, easier. I grow more and more convinced every day that half the things modern managers do are basically ways of reducing the number of real decisions they have to make.

Oddly enough, Oakland could be the place where the current conventional wisdom about the use of the relief ace could finally get overturned. This would be fitting - the 65 IP a year relief ace and the use of multiple LOOGYs got an enormous boost in Oakland. It could happen in Oakland partially because of management, and partially because of the ball park. Billy Beane is clearly a little skeptical about the myth of "proven closer" - he has already had some success inventing "proven closers" whom he buys cheap and sells dear. One of the reasons you can do this in Oakland is because you have a ball park that is working full time at making pitchers look better than they are. It's a great place to develop young pitchers, or to revitalize journeymen. It would be much, much trickier to try this sort of thing in Toronto (as J.P. Ricciardi has surely noticed.)

This year, with his young starting staff, Beane is building a very deep bullpen - which is also one of the things you would need - and he is probably getting ready to trade his "proven closer" before the deadline. If and when that happens, they'll have a chance to go forward without anointing a new one (especially as the apparent heir is a rookie.) Anyway, Oakland is where things could begin to change...

Still, that's not why the Blue Jays blew tonight's game. Tonight was, yet again, karmic punishment. It was destiny. It was fate.

And that's my Game Report.

Orioles 13, Blue Jays 5: The Curse of the Terminator (The Rant of the Magpie) | 14 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Keith Talent - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 08:52 AM EDT (#113322) #
More stellar writing from Mapgie. That was pure gold and I agree 100% with everything you said. "Relief Ace" makes perfect sense as not even the majority of games are decided in "save situations". Tom Henke, I remember him fondly but thanks for filling in the details of his career (for instance, I didn't realize he retired at the top of his game like that in 1995).

As for Duane Ward, he always made me nervous. By 1992 everyone forgot how brutal he had the potential for being the years leading up to then. Remember how he was always drowning in sweat while making his warm-up pitches? Sweating like crazy!

A terrific article.
Andrew K - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 09:20 AM EDT (#113323) #
I really liked that article. I've just watched the game, and it cheered me up. Suddenly, we are looking like last year's team again :(

Back to the bullpen. The very first time I watched a baseball game I was surprised by the clear distinction between starters and relief pitchers. "If you've got a great pitcher acting as 'closer', why isn't he starting games or at least pitching more than 1 inning?" I asked. My American friends told me I was being an idiot, because some people were good as starters and some as one-inning relief pitchers, and that's the way of the world.

I maintain my skepticism. Okay, now that I know more about the game, I can see that there is a clear distinction between having 2 good pitches and 3. But some starters only have 2 good pitches anyway, along with a dubious 3rd.

Why is it basically one thing or the other -- 5-7 innings or 1 inning (or 1 batter LOOGYs)? I can't believe that there isn't a continuum of optimal usage, with some players best suited to once-through-the-order (2+ inning) stints, some limited to twice-through-the-order, some ready to go the conventional "starter" distance, some limited only by physical constraints (Halladay at 100-120 pitches for health reasons) and some who will just blast away 1-3 batters.

This is independent of the question of who to use at which stage of the game. Whatever the answer, with increasing ability to use technology to evaluate wear-and-tear I'd be very surprised if pitcher usage is remotely as at present, 20 years down the line.
Named For Hank - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 10:27 AM EDT (#113324) #
Magpie, I love you.

Maybe I should make a giant #50 and hang it in the level of excellence?

Terry Adams (1)
1. May 19 vs Min. (4 runs)

Thanks for the memories! That was my birthday. Bleah.

Chuck - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 10:36 AM EDT (#113325) #
Totally off-topic here (and no disrespect intended for Magpie's wonderful essay)... Just browsing some player stats this morning and am seeing some curiosities, as one might expect this time of year.

* Ruben Sierra has 7 hits, all for extra bases
* Jeter has walked 13 times in 17 games
* Reds' outfielder Pena has 11 XBH out of 13 hits; teammate Dunn is 11/14
* The Tigers have no saves
* Magglio Ordonez has yet to record a hit
* Armando Benitez has yet to record a strikeout
* Torii Hunter has 10 stolen bases
* Johan Santana has a 37/2 K/BB ratio (though a 4.32 ERA)
* Brian Giles is hitting a "loud" .200 (200/359/433)
* cheap LH reliever Chris Hammond has allowed just 5 baserunners in 9.2 innings
* Oliver Perez is going through some growing pains with an 18/16 K/BB ratio (he was 239/81 last year)
* John Lieber has a lower ERA than any Yankee SP
* Pedro Martinez has allowed just 11 H in 29 IP (with 38 K)
* noted wild men Zambrano and Ishii have 24 BB in 36 IP; not so noted wild man Glavine has walked 13 in 23 IP
* Adrian Beltre's OPS is just slightly north of .600
* Vinny Castilla (1000+ OPS) has not been sucking
* Ryan Franklin has a sub-3 ERA despite just 5 K's in 29 IP
* Pedro Astacio has allowed just 20 BR (0 HR) in 22 IP
* Barry Bonds' aura has migrated to the body of Brian Roberts
* no idea what's happening in Colorado; I could not bring myself to check their team stats
Dr. Zarco - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 11:04 AM EDT (#113329) #
Magpie, that's a terrific article. I completely agree and I must say-I was thinking Batista should have been in during the 8th. Especially Batista, compared to a long-time reliever. Miggy was a starter just about 8 months ago so could clearly go 2 innings, with the second inning hopefully being easier. Who knows, maybe things could have been different.

Where is the line though? What if the heart of the order is up in the 7th? They'll probably be up again in the 9th, do you put Batista in hoping he can go 3 innings? Or do you trust the heart of the order to your "B" closer in the 9th, perhaps hoping it's no longer a tight game. I don't know, but I'd say the 8th is perhaps the earliest I'd bring him in.

I agree this movement will eventually happen. It seems the seeds are already planted, as Keith Foulke is getting more 4+ out saves, as is Rivera these days. It seems a step in the right direction.
Mylegacy - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 11:14 AM EDT (#113330) #
Brilliant work!

I remember that era well. I think the prevailing wisdom was that we'd lose Ward if we didn't make him closer. Ward was wimpering that he wanted to close. With Henke in the ninth and Ward in the eighth it was fantastic!

I remember when we got Ward one unnamed source at his old team (I think it was Detroit) said that the reason they were willing to let that "great arm go" is because their minor legaue people thought he was "uncoachable". He was VERY wild at times in the minors.
Mick Doherty - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 12:02 PM EDT (#113332) #
I'd believe n the karmic retribution theory a lot more if the Yankees hadn't pulled the whole "younger, better cheaper" routine on their dominant 1996 World Series MVP, John Wetteland (who went to Texas, in a Henke-like move, incidentally) ... and ended up with some guy named Rivera closing out games for a decade.

I don't think it's unreasonable to say that Ward as a setup man and Rivera as a setup man projected similarly as closers. Riveras was/is better, sure, but still ...

I think the difference here is that the NYC press essentially freaked out wondering if Rivera could "handle it" while you suggest that in TO, the Ward move was applauded. Yes?
Wildrose - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 12:09 PM EDT (#113333) #
Interesting essay Magpie. I think the fielders also have to take a bow for their part in last nights eighth inning debacle as well.

-Adams throwing error on the Tejada grounder
-Reed Johnson's in vain throw home , instead of firing to third were Sosa would have been nailed easily.
-Hinske not coming up with the hard grounder off of Matos which would have been a double play ball, ( in fairness to Hinske the infield was drawn in, but some coaches feel if you get a glove on the ball you should make the play) which after much deliberation the scorer chose( probably correctly) not to call an error. Basically that play was just plain bad luck, if the infield is back he gets to it easily.

I consoled myself by seeing KROD blow the lead for the Angels later last evening. Pitching in relief thses days to modern hitters is a very tough chore.
Dave Till - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 01:02 PM EDT (#113335) #
Nice article. I still miss Henke. He loved it here, and wanted to stay here. I seem to recall that Todd Stottlemyre was even willing to forego some of his salary to keep Henke in Toronto. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) He deserves to be on the Wall of Excellence.

But, to be fair: the Jays' bullpen was excellent in those years because Ward was at least as dominant as Henke, if not more so. And setup men don't get paid very much. Hindsight is 20-20; there was no way of knowing that Ward was about to implode and that Henke had several years left in him. Henke seemed to be struggling a bit more in 1992 than he had in earlier years, so you can understand why there was a changing of the guard.

Something that doesn't get mentioned much: Henke actually lost his job as the closer in 1989. He got off to a slow start, and Jimy Williams lost faith in him. When Cito took the job, Henke was slowly worked back into key situations, and became dominant again down the stretch.

Mike Green - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 03:58 PM EDT (#113367) #
Henke made $3.7 million in 1993. Morris made over $5 million that year, and the decision to acquire a veteran "winner" had its cost.

While I agree with the view that a bullpen ace should be used in high-leverage situations, it is not clear to me that Miguel Batista is a significantly better pitcher than anyone else in the bullpen. I guess we will find out.
Lefty - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 04:05 PM EDT (#113369) #
I guess the answer to your speculation is in. Batista couldn't hold em close today.
costanza - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 06:28 PM EDT (#113381) #
I guess the answer to your speculation is in. Batista couldn't hold em close today.

To be "fair" to Batista, he didn't get a lot of luck today. He was betrayed by his defence, not only by the two errors (yes, one of his own making), but it was the play that Russ Adams didn't make that started it all. The O's certainly weren't hitting him hard...

Magpie - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 06:34 PM EDT (#113382) #
The Jays signed Ward for 4 years prior to the 1992 season - so that year they were paying Ward $ 2.4 million and Henke about $ 3.3 million.

And just under $ 6 million was a lot of money for 157 IP, one must admit.

Ward was six years younger than Henke, and appeared to have passed him in 1992 - Henke was outstanding that year, but Ward was even better, and in significantly more innings. Ward had taken a big step forward in 1991, although that year Henke was still clearly better. Prior to that, of course, it's no contest.

Oh, one can understand the logic of it all!

jgadfly - Saturday, April 23 2005 @ 09:56 PM EDT (#113390) #
RE: Henke and "karmic punishment"...hopefully this is just a relief pitching thing and doesn't apply to firstbasemen
Orioles 13, Blue Jays 5: The Curse of the Terminator (The Rant of the Magpie) | 14 comments | Create New Account
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