Relief Pitchers Could Use Some Help
ALSO: MESSING WITH ALL-STAR GAME IS REALLY AWFUL IDEA
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Did you know…
Tampa Bay pitcher Nick Anderson was reduced to throwing in a Tampa parking lot during the lockout . . .
Lance McCullers, Jr. of the Astros is behind schedule because he was unable to consult with Houston medical people about his forearm strain . . .
After falling for four straight years, Red Sox attendance will take another hit as angry fans react to the 99-day lockout . . .
Boston’s ability to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the best-of-seven 2004 AL Championship Series took flight when future Hall of Famer David (Big Papi) Ortiz delivered a two-out single to center, scoring Johnny Damon from second and capping a 5-4 Bosox win over the Yankees in Game 5 at Fenway Park. The longest game in ALCS history ended at 1:22 am after five hours and 49 minutes.
Relief for relievers
The bulls in the pen could use some changes, too
By Jeff Kallman
Did you know that five relief pitchers, all in the National League as it happens, pitched 80 innings or more during 2021? Based upon fielding-independent pitching (FIP: the things a pitcher himself can control), the best of the quintet was Giovanny Gallegos of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Gallegos pulled down a 2.75 FIP over 73 appearances and 80.1 innings pitched. He struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings and tied with Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright by walking a team-low 2.2 per nine. He also threw 1,236 pitches with 311 opposition plate appearances against him, just shy of four batters per gig and also shy of four-pitches-average per plate appearance.
What I wish I could have seen more attentively, though, was how many pitches Gallegos really threw per day pitched. Including how many pitches he threw per bullpen warmup, whether or not he was actually brought into every game during which he did warm up.
Gallegos averaged an inning-and-a-third per appearance all 2021 long. A lifetime of watching relief pitching tells me that averaging 16 pitches a gig on the game mound means he might have thrown at least two innings’ worth of pitches getting himself heated up just in the games he actually entered.
And if those innings worth of bullpen warmups counted toward his official innings pitched, it means Gallegos at minimum threw 226 innings and 3,616 pitches last year. You guessed it: that’s about the equivalent of a good starting pitcher’s regular-season game workload.
The problem still seems to be that enough managers pay too little attention to the pitch volume relievers throw in the pen before they come into games . . . if they come into games. Some of those managers still think a relief pitcher hasn’t “pitched” unless he’s been in a game. Those men may well throw more innings’ worth of pitches in the pen than they’ll ever throw on the game mound. By my calculation above, Giovanny Gallegos threw only 34 per cent of all his 2021 pitches to live game batters.
If you’re my age, you remember the year Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Mike Marshall made 106 relief appearances and threw 208.1 innings: 1974, the year Marshall also won the Cy Young Award. He faced 857 plate appearances and averaged a hair short of two innings per appearance.
By itself that’s a slightly crazy season’s workload. They didn’t have pitch counts available for 1974, but let’s give Marshall four pitches per plate appearance against him on average for argument’s sake. That would be 3,428 pitches, and that was only when he was actually in the games. Now let’s give Marshall the equivalent of two innings’ worth of pitches thrown in the bullpen just getting ready to get into the games.
It means he threw over 48 pitches per appearance day; or, about 5,088 pitches all season long. Translating to 318 innings worth of pitches. That’s also without talking about the times he might have been warmed up but not brought into games.
That kind of workload is crazy enough for a starting pitcher on four or five days’ rest. (Perspective: Hall of Fame starter Robin Roberts averaged 319 innings a year from 1950-56. Over the next three or four seasons his fastball abandoned him and he’d never be the same pitcher again. He had to remake himself as a junkballer to survive in the Show, which he did respectably.)
For a relief pitcher whose average time between game appearances was a day and a half? The wonder isn’t that Marshall pulled down a 2.42 ERA and 2.59 FIP in 1974. The wonder is that his arm didn’t self-amputate, never mind get to pitch seven more seasons—though his FIP would never be below 3.00 again.
Gallegos’s 2021 workload wasn’t even close to Marshall’s 1974, of course. But if he threw the equivalent of 226 innings worth of pitches between the pen and the games in which he actually appeared, he’s probably still fortunate that his arm and shoulder didn’t bark at or attack him when the season was about three-quarters over.
How to make life a little simpler and careers a little longer for most relief pitchers? Here are a few ideas:
You warmed him up more than once without bringing him in? He gets the rest of the day off. For all you know, that reliever you warmed up, sat back down, then warmed up again and sat him back down again, threw far more than even just two innings’ worth of pitches. He might have thrown the equivalent of a quality start. He’s liable to be baked before he faces a single live batter, and you’re liable to see him and maybe your game get nuked rather promptly.
Call it the Whitey Herzog Rule, after the Hall of Fame manager whose bullpen policy included giving a relief pitcher the rest of the day or night off — if the White Rat warmed the man up twice during a game but didn’t bring him in.
Make it mandatory for bullpen coaches to chart the warmup pitches. Some teams do it already, so far as I know. Make it a mandate all around the Show. There’s no reason on earth why a smart manager shouldn’t know just how worked his bullpen bulls are before they even come into games. (Herzog: “The good skipper does his managing before the game starts. The guy you see out there managing is the one who’s screwing up the arms.”)
Eliminate the eight warmup tosses on the game mound for relief pitchers entering games in the middle of jams. Unless they’re coming in because they’re taking over for a pitcher injured on the job, they don’t need that additional warmup. They’re already as hot as they can be, assuming they’re not coming in baked already. On behalf of which . . .
Get rid of the three-batter relief minimum. Permanently. Unless you want another Bryce Harper/Didi Gregorius situation on your hands, that is. Last April, they both got hit back-to-back by another Cardinal reliever (Genesis Cabrera) who didn’t have it going in and was wild from the beginning. Only then-manager Mike Schildt couldn’t get him out of there until he’d faced a third batter. That day, the pitch bounded off Harper’s beak onto his wrist, causing him trouble at the plate until he finally went on the injured list for a spell. The next time, it might take his or someone else’s head off.
Cut the commercials for pitching changes. It actually takes less time for a pitcher to come in from the bullpen than it does to run the commercials accompanying the change. The last thing he needs after throwing two or more innings worth in the pen is having to wait those extra moments when he’s already heated up enough to get to work on the next batter and start getting you out of that jam.
Indeed, relief pitchers themselves could use more than a little real relief.
IBWAA life member Jeff Kallman writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research plus The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has been, alas, a Met fan since the day they were born.
Tinkering With All-Star Game Format Is An Affront To All Baseball Fans
By Dan Schlossberg
As a fan of baseball in the ‘60s, I loved the All-Star Game — even when the American and National Leagues played two games a year four times to raise money for the players’ pension fund.
It meant something to be elected to the starting lineup because players, coaches, and managers voted for starters — and were prevented from picking teammates — while managers filled out the pitching staffs and benches. The only requirement was that every team had to be represented.
Blundering Bowie Kuhn restored the fan vote in 1969, the year of the Baseball Centennial, but did nothing to prevent the ballot-box stuffing that convinced Ford Frick to eliminate the fan vote 11 years earlier.
To its credit, Major League Baseball made long-overdue changes to the voting system in recent years but still allows teams to promote voting for hometown favorites rather than the most deserving players.
The All-Star Game once stood alone as a true Midsummer Classic but has since been diluted by an onslaught of commercial ventures strictly conceived as a revenue raisers.
Home Run Derby, a baseball-related television concept of the ‘50s, somehow returned as a televised event the night before the All-Star Game. Again, it exists merely to make more money for broadcasters as well as Organized Baseball itself.
The same can be said for FanFest (or whatever it’s called these days), an enormous commercial extravaganza that contains everything from a mobile Women in Baseball exhibit to booths hawking baseball cards, All-Star programs, and memorabilia of all sizes, shapes, and descriptions. A rotation of star players even signs autographs for set time periods.
About the only thing left intact from The Good Old Days was the game itself. Now, thanks to the tiny print in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, even that is no longer sacrosanct.
According to my forbes.com colleague Maury Brown, any All-Star Game tied after nine innings will be decided by a Home Run Derby between the teams. While participants in the Monday night Home Run Derby aren’t necessarily All-Stars, participants in the tie-breaker Home Run Derby will be — and could even be players who have already left the game.
In addition to the new home run derby to decide the All-Star outcome, players and owners agreed to consider halting the contest mid-game — a baseball half-time modeled after the Super Bowl format — for some kind of concert.
Though both the mid-game concert and extra-inning competition must still be approved by the union, both ideas run counter to the original concept of baseball as a continuous game, played without a clock. They also run counter to the oft-stated pleas of Commissioner Rob Manfred to shorten pace-of-game.
If MLB truly wants to attract young people, it should turn back the clock to the way the game used to be played. Stopping it for a concert or any other so-called entertainment is a sure way to lose television viewers already annoyed by endless commercial delays.
Here’s hoping the union rejects both proposals — and anything else harmful to the future of the game.
Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has been covering baseball since 1969. The former AP newsman is author of 40 baseball books and contributor to Latino Sports, forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and more. Check out his website, www.DanSchlossberg.net or e.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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—Joel Sherman in The New York Post
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The Braves have a pitching prospect named J.J. Niekro, son of Joe and nephew of Phil.
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