In playoffs, bullpen strategy can make or break a manager
You don’t change the way you do things in the playoffs, right? Remember that outdated philosophy?
It’s obvious that the way playoff teams have dealt with their starters and bullpen during the postseason is far different than during the regular season.
Indians manager Terry Francona used Andrew Miller as early as the sixth inning only once in the regular season, but has used him in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth during the postseason. He has used him when the situation is deemed the most important of the game. Francona had the same approach with Daniel Bard when he was the Red Sox, which really was the brainchild of John Farrell, then the pitching coach under Francona.
Francona hasn’t had much of a choice given the shambles his Indians rotation is in. Having lost Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco and most recently Trevor Bauer hurting his finger, the Indians’ bullpen has really stepped up, pitching a lot of innings while ready to enter games early. The success of that bullpen enabled the Indians to sweep the Red Sox and beat the Blue Jays four games out of five.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has also used his bullpen quite often in the playoffs. The Dodgers ranked second in bullpen ERA during the regular season, and Roberts feels comfortable going to them, though the results have been mixed. Dodgers starters have pitched only 46 innings in 10 games. Even Clayton Kershaw has pitched 18⅔ innings in three starts, which is just under an inning less per start than he averaged during the regular season.
Roberts took starter Kenta Maeda out Thursday against the Cubs after 3⅔ innings. In Game 5 of the NLDS against Washington, starter Rich Hill threw 55 pitches, struck out six, and left trailing, 1-0.
Bill Chuck offers insight statistically about the bullpen use of the remaining playoff teams prior to Saturday’s game:
Dodgers relievers have had control issues, having walked 19 batters in 42 innings, while Cubs relievers have walked 12 in 34 innings and the Indians have walked only seven in 32⅓ innings.
Cody Allen is 5 for 5 in save opportunities with a 0.00 ERA.
Cubs relievers have yet to allow a home run, the Indians have allowed two, and the Dodgers six. Dodger relievers have only induced one double play, the Indians two, and the Cubs four. Dodgers relievers have allowed three stolen bases and the Cubs five, while the Indians have allowed only one.
Cubs relievers have struck out 28 in 34 innings, the Dodgers 46 in 42 innings, and the Indians 41 in 32⅓ innings. Another important number is batting average against, in which the Indians’ pen has had the best number — .212, while the Cubs are at .244 and the Dodgers at .247.
The superstar has been Miller, the MVP of the ALCS. He’s struck out 21 of the 41 batters he’s faced. Five have reached with hits and two with walks. He has a whopping 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
Miller has not allowed a grand slam since July 15, 2011, when he was a starter for the Red Sox, and it came against the Rays. The hitter? Ben Zobrist, now a Cub. The winning pitcher in that game was Rays lefthander David Price and hitters in the Red Sox lineup included current Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Reddick.
So, why the shift to relievers?
“Probably a few reasons,” said Farrell. “There’s a day off in the schedule [which allows for rest] and more attention being brought to high-leverage situations. Seems the pendulum has swung far to the side of reliever use vs. starters. Makes sense if you have five relievers better than your starter.”
Farrell oversaw one of those bullpens in the 2013 playoffs. Closer Koji Uehara allowed one run in 13⅔ postseason innings and was named ALCS MVP. But Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow were also top-notch ahead of him.
The hope here is that while it’s true the game is heading toward a bullpen-oriented existence, it shouldn’t be to the extreme we’ve seen in the playoffs. The Indians’ reliance on the bullpen is understandable, but Roberts has had quick hooks on Hill and Maeda.
Yes, starters may be fried at this time of the season and perhaps that’s driving the decisions. But it’s a trend I hope doesn’t overtake baseball in the regular season. If you tried this during the regular season you’d burn out your bullpen. Yet it certainly speaks for building the best bullpen you can with pitchers able to fill multiple roles.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED
Indians’ influence felt around game
Years ago as a young baseball writer, I took the opportunity each week to make fun of the Indians. There was a section in my Saturday notes column for the Patriot Ledger during the 1980s that I called the “Cleveland Indians Comedy Corner.”
Invariably each week there’d be a crazy or pathetic occurrence that would make for great fodder. My, how that changed in the 1990s.
John Hart began an era of some pretty innovative stuff and he began a tree of front office personnel and on-field talent that still extends to today’s organization, while branching all over baseball. His front office staff at one time was Dan O’Dowd (former Rockies general manager), Mark Shapiro (former Indians president, now in the same role in Toronto), Josh Byrnes (former Arizona and San Diego GM), Neal Huntington (current Pirates GM), Ben Cherington (former Red Sox GM, current vice president of player personnel with Toronto), Paul DePodesta (current Cleveland Browns president), and Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ current president of baseball operations.
“It was a special place,” Antonetti said recently. “We had so many great baseball people and we had so many great ideas floating around. It was a fun time.”
And it branched out to Ross Atkins, the Toronto GM under Shapiro; recent Twins GM hire Derek Falvey, a former Antonetti assistant; and Brewers GM David Stearns. There were organization types such as John Farrell, the team’s farm director and Charlie Manuel, the team’s manager. There was Terry Francona, who was a special assistant under Shapiro two years before he became Red Sox manager.
There were others such as Eric Wedge, former manager of the year in Cleveland, and Torey Lovullo, the Red Sox bench coach who may soon become the Diamondbacks’ manager under Mike Hazen, who once worked as an advance scout for the Indians. Former Padres manager Bud Black was a special assistant under Hart in the ’90s.
Hart created what he called a “think tank” of young executives. He didn’t consider it an analytical group, but more a young-ideas group. Yet he always turned to his top scout, Tom Giordano, for the final say on moves.
This is how loyal Hart was. When he moved on to Texas he brought Giordano with him. And when young Jon Daniels, who was groomed by Hart, took over as Rangers GM, he kept Giordano. When Hart became president of baseball operations in Atlanta, he brought Giordano with him. Giordano is now 91.
“People were exposed to all aspects of baseball operations,” Farrell said. “This would vary depending on the level of individual and sensitivity to discussions, but exposure and ultimately individual growth was at work. Also, there was always an investment in people and their development to advance. It didn’t always succeed but advancement and realizing professional opportunities was always a driving force.”
So the tree is pretty unique and special. Hart’s tree has been very successful. And you can still see it on full display next week in the World Series.
Apropos of nothing
1. Xander Bogaerts is in excellent shape so conditioning couldn’t have been at the root of his second-half dive. Obviously, fatigue was a factor. He plays a demanding position and he played in 157 games. The feeling is to reduce that next season to about 150. The issue could be whether the Red Sox have an adequate backup shortstop to play in a dozen games or so. That would appear to be Brock Holt, but there is likely to be a competition for that backup infielder spot in spring training between defensive whiz Deven Marrero or the more offensive-minded Marco Hernandez.
2. A look at the uptick in 2016 offensive figures over 2015 figures: Thirty-two players with 30 home runs or more, 12 more than 2015. Sixteen players with a .900 or higher OPS, up from 11 in ’15. But David Ortiz was the only player with an OPS of 1.000 and higher, while there were three in 2015. Twenty players had 100 RBIs or more, after only 13 in ’15. Twenty-five players hit .300 or better, while there were 20 in ’15.
3. What do Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop, and Houston outfielder George Springer have in common? They were the only players to appear in all 162 games.
4. As the Larry Lucchino PawSox ownership explores sites in Pawtucket for a new ballpark, the organization has received praise for its work in the community. The Providence Business News selected the PawSox for its Community Involvement Award. “The Pawtucket Red Sox have been an engaged member of the community throughout their history,” said Mark S. Murphy editor of the Providence Business News. “Their community track record has been especially strong since the 1999 establishment of the ball club’s charity program, through which the team has donated more than $1 million to organizations serving the underprivileged throughout New England.”
5. Head researcher Elliot Kalb of MLB Network found this gem in the Jan. 18, 1915, edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Many years ago there was an Indian named [Lou] Sockalexis who was the star of the Cleveland baseball club. As a batter, fielder, and base runner he was a marvel. Sockalexis so far outshone his teammates that he naturally came to be regarded as the whole team. The ‘fans’ throughout the country began to call the Clevelanders the ‘Indians.’ It was an honorable name, and while it stuck the team made an excellent record.”
Updates on nine
1. Mark Melancon, RHP, free agent — You could see him in an Andrew Miller-type role. Melancon has pitched all of the back-end innings. Of course, you’d have to pay him closer money. Don’t kid yourself, one reason Miller accepts his role is because he earns closer money. At some point we’re going to see baseball adjust to this hybrid reliever and pay them closer money and beyond. The hybrid reliever may become the highest-paid one. Melancon should derive plenty of interest either as a closer or in this hybrid role. This is a guy a lot of teams, including the Red Sox, should have an interest in. The Nationals are expected to go hard for him.
2. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cubs — No doubt Brian Cashman would like to get back into the hunt for Chapman after dealing him to the Cubs at the trade deadline. The one problem is the Yankees GM traded him to the Cubs, who have the resources to re-sign him.
3. Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers — The soon-to-be free agent was barely on anyone’s radar as an everyday player, but what a difference a year makes. A lot of teams want a power-hitting third baseman. Turner would like to stay in Dodger blue and they certainly have the resources to make it happen. If they don’t, there would be considerable interest for him.
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers — There’s a sentiment among Tigers fans that the team should think about moving him and/or Justin Verlander to rebuild. Easier said than done. Sure, Cabrera would look terrific as Boston’s DH next season, but the contract Dave Dombrowski signed him to is likely to keep him just where he is. Cabrera started an eight-year, $248 million extension that Dombrowski negotiated last season. He’ll earn $28 million again in 2017. From 2018-21 he’ll make $30 million per season. From 2022-23 he’ll earn $32 million per season. He has $30 million options in 2024 and ’25. Cabrera will be 34 on April 18. Worth it if the Tigers pay some? Sure, because he’s one of the greatest righthanded hitters ever. As for Verlander, he was outstanding in 2016. He, too, has a huge contract that Dombrowski negotiated. Verlander earns $28 million per year through 2019 and then has a vesting option for 2020 for $22 million.
5. Ian Desmond, OF-INF, free agent — He had an excellent season working on an $8 million bubble contract. The Rangers want to retain him, after he hit 22 homers, drove in 86 runs, and had a .782 OPS. Desmond can play first, shortstop, third base, and the outfield. The Red Sox could use Desmond as their righthanded Brock Holt at various positions and take advantage of his righty power at Fenway.
6. Gary DiSarcina, first base coach, Angels — The Billerica native is scheduled to return to Mike Scioscia’s staff, but here’s a couple of interesting scenarios: DiSarcina was Mike Hazen’s Pawtucket manager at one point. Would Hazen be interested in him as the Diamondbacks’ manager? Or, if Torey Lovullo leaves to take the Arizona managing job, could DiSarcina be offered a more high-profile coaching job on John Farrell’s staff in Boston?
7. Wally the Green Monster, mascot, Red Sox — “Wally and Tessie’s Halloween Party” will be at Fenway Park Oct. 30. Children and adults will have a chance to trick-or-treat at the ballpark, paint mini pumpkins, and enjoy other kid-friendly activities. The party will take place from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Kids Concourse.
8. Rich Hill, LHP, Dodgers — The better he does in the playoffs, the more he’ll be worth in free agency. Could a three-year, $45 million deal be farfetched for the 36-year-old lefty? It’s the figure major league sources often reference. The Dodgers could also make Hill a $17.2 million qualifying offer, which he would likely reject given the limited pitching market.
9. Yoan Moncada, 2B, Red Sox — He is playing second base for Surprise in the Arizona Fall League and off to a decent start, hitting .333 in his first 21 at-bats but striking out nine times. He also had a .915 OPS. Sox shortstop Mauricio Dubon was hitting .318. Trey Ball had 4⅔ scoreless innings in relief, while Michael Kopech had five strikeouts in three innings.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Here’s a disturbing trend from David Price: After four years of issuing decreasing walks, in the last four seasons he’s been going in the opposite direction — he’s issued 27 BBs in 2013, 38 in 2014, 47 in 2015, and 50 in 2016.” . . . Happy birthday, Felix Doubront (29), John Lackey (38), and David Riske (40).