Long-lasting 'pens

Monday, April 17 2006 @ 03:10 PM EDT

Contributed by: Mike Green

"6-4, Good buddy" says the C.B.  So, with the final score in the books, you turn from the ballgame to a country radio station.

Josh Towers brought his C stuff to the park yesterday, and that almost always means trouble.  But, the game will be remembered not for that, but for C. B. Bucknor's balk call after he called time while Towers was in mid-delivery.  His fan club (Jerry, they're not chanting "Buck-ner") wishes to note its appreciation. Between Towers' struggles, Bucknor's umpiring and the rain aborting a comeback effort, it was a game I would rather forget.  So, shall we go back to Friday's comeback victory again. 

Old friend Cliff Politte had a rough time of it on Friday.  Cliff's ups and downs got me to thinking.  Exactly how good is he? Well, if you look at his career line, it paints a pretty clear picture- 381 innings, 346 hits, 47 homers, 156 walks, 327 strikeouts, 112 ERA+. He's a solidly average relief pitcher, maybe a little better (relievers post better ERA+s than starters).  He is  32, and only now would I feel comfortable in making that judgment.  That's the hard thing about relievers- they're past their peak in most instances before you really know statistically how good they are.  The problem is that the seasonal look just doesn't tell you much.  Politte's 2004-06 THT statistics illustrate why.  He allowed over double the number of runs allowed per game in 2004 than he did in 2005, despite comparable walk, HR and K rates, and this is reflected in his fairly comparable FIP and xFIP statistics (between .2 and .4 runs per game better in 2005 than in 2004). 

We all know not to judge a starting pitcher based on their first 100-150 innings of work, and we tend not to have fairly settled opinions until they've thrown 300-500 innings.  The same principle applies to relievers, but with modern relief staff usage, it may take a reliever 4-7 years until he has pitched those innings. 

Cliff's struggles on Friday also got me thinking about the White Sox' bullpen's chances of repeating  their performance of 2005 in 2006 and 2007.  So, I thought about the bullpens which have succeeded over a period of 3 years since 1975.  I chose 1975 because that is approximately when we saw the beginnings of the modern closer, and 30 years is a nice round number.  So, meet the long lasting 'pens:

Cincinatti Reds 75-77: Rawly Eastwick, Will McEnany, Pedro Borbon, Clay Carroll, Manny Sarmiento, Dale Murray

New York Yankees 76-83: Sparky Lyle, Dick Tidrow, Grant Jackson, Tippy Martinez, Ken Clay, Goose Gossage, Ron Davis, Jim Kaat, Don Hood, Doug Bird, Tim Lollar,  Dave LaRoche, George Frazier, Rudy May, Dale Murray

St. Louis Cardinals 84-88 Bruce Sutter, Neil Allen, Tim Lahti, Dave Rucker, Ken Dayley, Ricky Horton, Bill Campbell, Todd Worrell, Pat Perry, Bill Dawley, John Costello

Oakland A's 88-90 Dennis Eckersley, Greg Cadaret, Rick Honeycutt, Gene Nelson, Eric Plunk, Todd Burns, Joe Klink

Toronto Blue Jays 89-93 Tom Henke, Duane Ward,  David Wells, Frank Wills, Jim Acker, Mike Timlin, Bob MacDonald, Pat Hentgen, Mark Eichhorn, Tony Castillo, Danny Cox

Atlanta Braves 93-02 (Nope, those dates are not a misprint): Greg McMichael, Steve Bedrosian, Jay Howell, Mike Stanton, Mark Wohlers, Brad Clontz, Pedro Borbon Jr., Terrell Wade, Allan Embree, Mike Bielecki, Kerry Ligtenberg, Dennis Martinez, John Rocker, Mike Cather, Rudy Seanez, Mike Remlinger, Kevin McGlinchy, Russ Springer, Bruce Chen, Jose Cabrera, Steve Karsay, John Smoltz, Chris Hammond, Kevin Grybowski, Darren Holmes, Tim Spooneybarger

Minnesota Twins 03-05 Eddie Guardado, J.C. Romero, Juan Rincon, LaTroy Hawkins, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Aaron Fultz, Joe Roa, Jesse Crain, Terry Mulholland

Most, but not all, of the pens had a dominant closer for most of the years.  Most, but not all, had a near-dominant set-up man.  The middle men were mostly typical players, but usually at their peak.  So, why was that?  There is no obvious answer.  One thing I did notice about these teams was the quality of the defence.  Concepcion, Morgan and Geronimo were fabulous for the mid-70s Reds.  The Yankee team defence was quite good.  The Cards of the mid-80s had, of course, Ozzie and a couple of other notable defenders.  The Jays at their peak had a good defence led by Devon White.  The Braves have had a good defence during their run, with Andruw Jones being the star. And the Twins' defence of 03-05 was very good.  The surprise White Sox' bullpen of 05 coincided with a great, great defence, with Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowand and Tadahito Iguchi as the centerpieces.   One might theorize that the quality of a team's defence disproportionately affects the middle and long men in the 'pen, as they tend to have lesser stuff and fewer strikeouts.  We'll have to wait until next time to test the theory. We will pick it up when the other Sox come to town.

"This game report was delayed by rain, and is suspended in progress."