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There has been a lot of talk of the 'good old days' lately - how a deeper bench is more useful than a bigger bullpen. But how true is that?  Lets try to find out.

First, how do we check.  My first thought is a simple measure of ERA for bullpens.  To keep from doing too much data mining lets check ML bullpens every 5 years...2013, 2008, 2003, 1998, 1993, etc. back to 1948 (you'll see why).
    Appearances ERA OPS Against Pen vs Starter
Runs Saved Per Year
YearTeamsReliefPer TeamReliefStartSpreadReliefStartSpread
2013 30 14336 478 3.59 4.01 0.42 690 726 36 68
2008 30 14157 472 4.10 4.44 0.34 731 759 28 55
2003 30 12958 432 4.16 4.52 0.36 736 764 28 58
1998 30 11962 399 4.19 4.55 0.36 734 765 31 58
1993 28 10301 368 4.04 4.26 0.22 727 739 12 36
1988 26 7331 282 3.54 3.81 0.27 693 697 4 44
1983 26 6760 260 3.59 3.99 0.40 699 721 22 65
1978 26 5891 227 3.61 3.72 0.11 706 701 -5 18
1973 24 5323 222 3.71 3.76 0.05 707 702 -5 8
1968 20 4790 240 3.00 2.98 -0.02 645 636 -9 -3
1963 20 4808 240 3.44 3.47 0.03 683 680 -3 5
1958 16 3555 222 3.75 3.90 0.15 715 720 5 24
1953 16 3113 195 4.27 4.10 -0.17 741 724 -17 -28
1948 16 3049 191 4.25 4.09 -0.16 715 708 -7 -26

  • The biggest spread in ERA/OPS is the most recent year, the one with the most appearances by relievers. 
  • The year with the biggest negative difference was the 2nd last year listed, which saw just 4 more appearances per team than the 2nd worst in most categories.
  • The games per team grew every time up to 1968 when it stayed stable, then dropped in '73, started to recover in 78 and back to the normal pattern in '83 although the ERA/OPS against had a heck of a peak in '83 which wasn't beat until this year.
  • Massive improvement from '73 to 83 but nothing revolutionary since, although if you take out '83 you get reasonable improvement up to 1998. 

I suspect key elements are...

  • 50's to 60's: Save leaders used to be sub-20 with rare exceptions (save wasn't an official stat but it does show guys trusted with leads late).  1959 was the last year of that (3 guys tied for ML lead with 15) then guys like Roy Face started showing there was value in a closer.  1965 saw the first 30 save man (Ted Abernathy) the year after the first 29 save man appeared and the record was broke again the next year.
  • Mid-70's: Goose & Fingers were the class of the multi-inning firemen who'd come in the 7th or 8th and last to the end.  Then Bruce Sutter came on the scene and averaged around 100 innings a year from 79-84 and led in saves all but one of those years before blowing out his arm, showing the value of more specialization.  We also saw the Yankees sign Goose even though their closer won the Cy Young the year before and they had a good setup man too, then they won the WS again after doing that which would've opened a lot of eyes.
  • Early 90's: Oakland and the LOOGY/ROOGY/pure 1 inning closer - Tony LaRussa introduced us to the 6 and 7 man pen in this era with super specialization. Note how appearances per team jumped by over 80 from '88 to '93.
  • Mid-2000's: Acceptance - games per team jumped by 40 from 2003 to 2008, partially due to teams in general accepting the 7 man pen due to the wear and tear of the steroid era I suspect. Clubs started needing more and more specialists to get through the Barry Bond types of that era and learned that more relievers means more ways to beat the other team. You can see overall ERA's have dropped since 2008, back to pre-1993 levels but the massive use of relievers is just growing and the effectiveness is finally over that freakish 1983 season.

The next revolution will be teams going to tandem starters I suspect - limiting starters and all relievers to one shot through the batting order ultimately in order to maximize their usefulness.  I'm sure many in different teams have noticed that the pen, despite adding 2 guys since the 80's and adding 4 more teams (thus another 4 full pitching staffs) are seeing lower ERAs and lower OPS against.  Focusing pitchers on using all their skills for fewer innings per game leads to better results. There is no question on that one. We see guys who in the 50's wouldn't be in AAA due to lack of multiple pitches who are getting ERA's in the 2s and even the 1s at times thanks to more focused use.  I'd bet strongly that Gibbons would love to do that - go to a 3 inning max for all pitchers - due to his ability to juggle a pen effectively.  Of course, that would probably lead towards a 15 man staff (5 guys available per game, 3 day rotation, 3 guys per start with 2 relievers available each game to bridge any gaps).

Now, what about offense?  I'll save that for another day (trying to figure out a good method to measure regulars vs non-regulars... first attempt showed regulars, 500+ PA, reducing in quantity while relief use increased which seems counter to what one would expect so I'm going to have to think about it some more).

The 8 Man Pen and the Good Old Days | 28 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
katman - Saturday, March 22 2014 @ 10:17 PM EDT (#283600) #
Mike Wilner actually wrote something that I agree with, and made a good case. Obviously, this could change if McGowan shows more than usual soreness, or Rogers shows more signs of putting it all together (can pitch with a pitch not working, changeup becoming real option, etc.) As much as I worry about his arm, the arguments in this article are convincing to me. Start him in the rotation if he can stretch out without problems, and move him to the pen later in the season to keep his innings in control. We'll wither be out of it by then, or have more options for the #5 slot.

Let Santos, Janssen, Delabar, Cecil, Loup, Rogers, Redmond hold the pen, with Redmond sliding into the Danny Cox role if he isn't traded to the NL. Let Happ start on the DL, and pitch himself out of the minors or not. Let Jeffress go through waivers if he can't be packaged in a trade. We have Happ & Rogers as starter options if DM goes badly, and they'll be in better shape by then. We have Stroman, Stilson, maybe even Sanchez as decent bullpen options if we need another reliever (the latter will have 2014 innings issues anyway, start him like we started Key).

So we're not totally exposed if he blows up, and Mike is right - you're not getting a ton of innings out of any #5 slot Jays, may as well go with the option that offers the a decent possibility of 5 dominant innings instead of 5 you might survive. Thoughts?

katman - Saturday, March 22 2014 @ 10:19 PM EDT (#283601) #
Mike Green - Saturday, March 22 2014 @ 11:31 PM EDT (#283602) #
"Schadenfraude will predispose one to reflux"

Satchel Green

Richard S.S. - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 01:47 AM EDT (#283606) #
OK. Dustin McGowan as #4 Starter should give a consistent 5 quality innings. Esmil Rogers then pitches then next 3 or 4 innings as McGowan's primary backup. Rogers could pitch one inning in relief (as a Starter throws on the side) either two days before or one day after (same thing). That gives you your best chance for winning games by your #4 Starter.

Brandon Morrow could be given the same setup, only with J.A. Happ or Todd Redmond pitching 3 or 4 innings (just like Rogers).

In case of injury, either of the 3 or 4 inning Pitchers could easily stretch out to fill in.
John Northey - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 01:59 AM EDT (#283607) #
Love that idea Richard.  Hopefully the Jays are looking at it the same way.  With a potential 8 man pen I don't see any issues with a 4 or 5 inning starter for one or 2 slots, just avoid having them go on back-to-back days.
Richard S.S. - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 03:38 AM EDT (#283608) #
So far McGowan is their best possible # 4 Starter. I just can't see allowing him more than 5 IP, if only for possible health issues. Esmil Rogers is very good when he uses his two-seamer and not very good when he's using his four-seamer. I prefer his tandem-pitching with McGowan for just that purpose.

People forget Dickey played hurt, had missing offense and bad defense and still won 14 games. I can easily see him winning 3-5 more. Hutchison will really benefit from the "Dickey Effect". And he pitches mid-90's. Buehrle also had missing offense and bad defense and won 12 games. I can see a 2-3 game improvement here. McGowan has the best stuff of any Starter, including Morrow. Combined with Rogers, they could win a lot of games for this Team. Give me what I want in the #4 slot and you could put anyone in the #5 slot.

I suspect the Happ isn't ready yet to start the Season, because I don't think he's healthy enough. It's possible the same holds true for Morrow. I just hope we take the best 5 Starters with us when we go north, and not because of contracts.
grjas - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 10:54 AM EDT (#283609) #
"I suspect that Happ isn't ready yet to start the Season, because I don't think he's healthy enough. It's possible the same holds true for Morrow."

Yeah no kidding. Morrow has a total of 5 innings (McGowan may hit that on his next start alone) and Happ can't find the plate. Hopefully they DL both and maybe Jansen which delays waiver issues and allows more time to watch how all their pitchers perform in May.

The piggyback idea makes the most sense. But will Gibbons and AA buy in. Not sure...Their lineup management seems pretty conservative.
Paul D - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 11:20 AM EDT (#283610) #
Jeff Francoeur has been released.

He has a career .800 OPS against LHP and can play the corners better than Sierra.

I know it's Francoeur and we're all supposed to hate him because he was on the cover of SI... but would he make sense as the back up OF/platoon partner for Lind?

joeblow - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 11:39 AM EDT (#283611) #
It would be interesting to include IP of starters and bullpen in the table.

These stats are used to justify larger bullpens. But I'd argue that this trend is jeopardizing the health and effectiveness of starters. We're essentially talking about a 10-man bullpen for the Jays this year, with 2 pure starters and the others being "tandem".

This is just hypothesis but it's been nagging at me for several years now. By trying to protect their starters from injuries, teams are not stretching them out and allowing them to get strong and build endurance. There's one week of spring training left, why aren't all starters pitching into the 6th or 7th? What's the chance of any Jays starter not named Dickey or Buehrle pitching 9 innings before June?

Maybe it's not happening all over, but as a Jays watcher, there has been a trend to baby their starters. If you don't have the horses, then you have to build them.
John Northey - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 12:11 PM EDT (#283612) #
A good point to bring up an article I am reading ... The Injury Zone.  Basically, the Rays hired a guy who was well known for a study he did using pitch f/x and the like to figure out when a pitcher is likely to get hurt.  Now they are known for pulling key guys (like Price) in the middle of a start due to fears he is about to get hurt, even if it is just the 65th pitch.  That is something I've been wondering about for years, basically could pitch f/x be used (thanks to release points and velocity and movement tracking) to help tell when a pitcher is getting into the zone where he is likely to hurt himself, to a degree that no human could even pick up.  Given how healthy the Rays staff has been for years (6 starters with 22+ starts last year, but just one over 30 was the worst they've been in awhile... 4 over 30 in 2012, 4 with 29+ in 2011, 5 with 29+ in 2010, 3 with 30+ in 2009 [5 over 20], 4 over 30 (plus a 27) in 2008, 3 over 30 in 2007 (their last bad year) with 2006 seeing no one over 25 starts.  2006 was also the year their current GM and current manager took over.  Josh Kalk (the guy who instigated online studies of Pitch F/X) was hired by the Rays just before the 2009 season, with his first studies coming out just before the 2008 season.  Could his stuff have helped in this incredible run of health the Rays starters have had?  Maybe.

The end results scream that the GM and manager are doing something differently than other clubs (especially the Jays) and that these pitch f/x studies might have had a factor given the guy who pushed them hardest was hired by the Rays right around the time their amazing health streak started.  If I ran a team you bet I'd be digging into this stuff and trying to figure out how to put it in place from rookie ball to the majors ASAP.  Heck, might be worth raiding the Rays front office (offer $150k to Kalk ... if his stuff can just stop one injury he'd be worth far more than that).  Or sign the guy who wrote the followup article or just find a good statistical analyst and set them to work on it (probably the best idea as you want to get ahead of the Rays, not just catch them).
jerjapan - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 01:27 PM EDT (#283615) #
Thanks for a great read John!
uglyone - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 01:30 PM EDT (#283616) #
Morrow and Buehrle only have 5 official IP so far, but both have been pitching on regular rest and full pitch loads in minor league games - there's no injury issues with them now (apart from their normal injury histories of course).
Parker - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 01:30 PM EDT (#283617) #
I've been hoping for a while that the Jays would do with Tampa and Friedman what Boston tried to do with Beane. Spending an extra few million a year on a GM with a proven track record of success would seem to be a lot more productive than hiring one with no track record and letting him throw that money away on non-assets like Maicer Izturis and J.A. Happ.
John Northey - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 02:27 PM EDT (#283618) #
When AA was hired I hoped the Jays could steal someone from Tampa, although they were early days in the 'wow' stage so it wasn't a big concern and the JPR mess due to raiding Oakland's office was fresh in mind of course.  The Raptors tried that a few years back, signing the guy who was GM of the year a couple of times (iirc) but that flopped.

It is hard to know what is best to do with GM's.  Stealing Tampa's would be nice if AA is let go, but I'd wait until some of AA's farm system guys come up first.  Right now though AA is on the Gord Ash route - draft a lot of talented players, set up the farm and then get a big budget and blow it then get sent away and watch someone else screw up the young talent you built. 

Think about what happened to Ash's picks (he was GM from 1995 to 2001)...
1995: Halladay - just came back after his disaster 10.64 ERA season and had a good 1/2 season then Ash was gone.
1996: Casey Blake - didn't do anything until 2003, was allowed to leave via waivers by Ash, Josh Phelps - had a couple of good years right after Ash left, Billy Koch - a closer who had 3 good years for Ash (traded by JPR for Hinske),
1997: Orlando Hudson - called JPR a pimp and got extra minor league time before becoming a solid player, Vernon Wells - a regular in 2002, Michael Young - Ash traded for Loaiza (aka 'he who shall not be named') in desperation trade in 2000, Mark Hendrickson - useful spare part starting in 2002
1998: Felipe Lopez - 49 games for Ash all-star in 2005, Jay Gibbons - lost in rule 5 draft by Ash (!!!), Bob File - good reliever for Ash in his final year just 37 ML innings after
1999: Alex Rios - regular in 2004, star in 2006; Reed Johnson - regular in 2003; Brandon Lyon - decent starter for 11 games for Ash, but decent reliever for years after
2000: Dustin McGowan - still hoping...; Vinnie Chulk - decent reliever in 2004 lasted until 2012
2001: Gabe Gross - decent 4th OF at times; Brandon League - making millions as a closer

Clearly a lot of talent was drafted but only Koch really added ML value for more than 1/2 a year while others like Young, Blake, Gibbons were lost for very little during Ash's time.  It does point out the dangers for GM's who are good at drafting but not so good at trades and free agency (best move was signing Roger Clemens but that was viewed as a Paul Beeston move).
Richard S.S. - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 07:00 PM EDT (#283621) #
Janssen was scheduled to pitch today in the Buehrle Start and didn't. That has D. L. implications. Does anyone know anything more definite?
katman - Sunday, March 23 2014 @ 08:15 PM EDT (#283622) #
I'm good with Janssen joining Happ on the DL to start the year, Santos as closer with Cecil & Delabar to set up, and Jeffress in middle relief. Also lets us keep Rogers and Redmond for the tandem starter/ long-relief gig, and gives us that extra bench slot.
AWeb - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 01:23 AM EDT (#283627) #
Also agreed on the Wilner piece and using McGowan as a starter. McGowan is 32 in a few days - does he eventually retire from old age without the Jays finding out if he can start again? If they start him, and he only makes it 1/3 the year, that's still a full year's worth of bullpen innings. Try something interesting with him; 3-5 inning starts with a lefty in reserve makes more sense to me. In the pen, he's another great arm giving you 55 innings - it'll come back to haunt me, but don't the Jays have enough of those guys already? Isn't that literally the only type of depth this team has?
China fan - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 04:12 AM EDT (#283628) #
"....Janssen was scheduled to pitch today in the Buehrle Start and didn't. That has D. L. implications...."

Amazing that some people are already putting Janssen onto the DL list as a result of this false information. The lineup card from yesterday's game is readily available, and it shows that Janssen was never scheduled to pitch. Here it is, have a look:

Moreover: Janssen pitched on Friday with no problems. On Saturday he said he was fine. He is scheduled to pitch today (Monday) and twice more after today, before the start of the season. There's no indication that he has any health issues that would put him onto the DL, and I've seen no speculation about this from any of the Jays beat writers. More details are here, from a Saturday report that everything is fine with Janssen's progress:
China fan - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 12:05 PM EDT (#283635) #
Janssen is scheduled to pitch against the Phillies today. See the lineup card with the list of expected pitchers:
ComebyDeanChance - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 04:24 PM EDT (#283643) #
CF, I agree with what you wrote, but I did see Casey pitch today and he sat 85-86 with the fastball, touching 87 twice.
Mike Green - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 04:47 PM EDT (#283645) #
In reply to Paul's question about Francoeur, he hasn't hit a lick against righties or lefties each of the last two years.  I'd rather have Sierra as a platoon partner for Lind, granting that he would not be a good choice.  And no, I don't hate Francoeur; he's just another toolsy ballplayer who was overhyped.  That wasn't his fault.
China fan - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 05:17 PM EDT (#283647) #
"....I did see Casey pitch today and he sat 85-86 with the fastball, touching 87 twice...."

Isn't that roughly the same as what he did last year in spring training? Came along slowly, turned it up in the final few days, and was ready for opening day? He has 2 more tune-ups scheduled, so there's plenty of time for him to get ready again. Or are you seriously agreeing with the earlier claim that he's heading for the DL?
Mike Green - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 05:32 PM EDT (#283648) #
I don't want to put words in CBDC's mouth, but I am guessing that he's in the "we'll see" camp on that one.  Did I guess right?

Paul D - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 05:58 PM EDT (#283649) #
In reply to Paul's question about Francoeur, he hasn't hit a lick against righties or lefties each of the last two years. I'd rather have Sierra as a platoon partner for Lind, granting that he would not be a good choice. And no, I don't hate Francoeur; he's just another toolsy ballplayer who was overhyped. That wasn't his fault.

Yeah, as I looked into it more, particularly given how bad his past two years have been, and that his defence is not great shakes, my suggestion was a poor one. Sierra, or possibly someone else who becomes available over the next week is a better choice.

China fan - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 07:30 PM EDT (#283655) #
For what it's worth, here is Gregor Chisholm's latest report on Janssen:

One potential alarming part of Janssen's outing was that he didn't top 86 mph on his fastball, according to the radar gun at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. That's a concern, but still not quite as big of a deal as it would be for some other pitchers. Janssen has never been an overpowering reliever, and he typically relies on control and a wide array of pitches to get through his outings.
Janssen averaged 90.1 mph on his fastball in 2013 according to FanGraphs, but his in first few outings of the year, he was typically throwing in the high 80s. He has a couple of outings remaining in the spring to get back to that level, and his expectation is that his velocity will continue to climb once the regular season starts.
The native of California is scheduled to pitch again on Thursday before making an appearance on Friday night at Olympic Stadium in Montreal as part of the two-game exhibition series vs. the Mets.
"As I continue to challenge my arm, my velocity will come," Janssen said. "Still kind of feel like you're breaking through some stuff from the winter. Each and every day, you kind of hit a new high and continue on like that. I'm a command guy, I don't normally look back at the radar gun, because it doesn't really matter to me. Whatever I have that day is what I've got, and I try to use it."
bpoz - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 07:56 PM EDT (#283659) #
IMO Janssen has been handled well. I do not know who is responsible for this. I always liked him and hoped/expected him to become a starter. When healthy he has done a great job in any role. I now know that his arm is fragile so starting is most likely a very bad idea. He has had 4 good years in a row as a very good reliever.
92-93 - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 08:26 PM EDT (#283663) #
I don't necessarily think Janssen can be ready for OD, but I also don't think his fastball velocity in his first spring appearance matters one bit. I wish the stadium didn't even have a publicly visible gun, because all it does is provide fodder to fans and we have no idea how to interpret the information.
ComebyDeanChance - Monday, March 24 2014 @ 10:42 PM EDT (#283671) #
Did I guess right?

Yes, you interpreted me correctly.

I was agreeing with CF that resignation Janssen will be on the DL was premature, while wondering whether his lack of velocity today suggests he may not be ready. We shall indeed see.
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