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Monday, February 18, 2013

Bill James Mailbag - 2/9/13 - 2/17/13

Seems perfect for the Red Sox.

Have you read My Baseball Diary by James T. Farrell? He wrote a ton of books, most notably the Studs Lonigan trilogy. His baseball memoir has a lot of great reminisces about baseball during the teens. Apparently one of his first literature essays was a high school paper called The Fall of Prince Hal, written in 1920 after finding out that Hal Chase, one of his favorite players ,had been involved in fixing ball games.

I generally dislike the genre. . ..personal reflections on my history of being a baseball fan.  There are a hundred books like that, and my friends often recommend them to me, but they always seem to me self-centered and precious.

So, if you became a baseball manager, what current orthodoxy would you go against. Use your closer like a 60’s closer? 4 man rotation? Chocolate donuts in the dugout?

... Let’s say that the manager brings in a lefty reliever to face a lefty 200 times over the course of a season, which sounds like a lot; I doubt that any manager actually does that 200 times in a year… A lefty hitter would typically hit. . .what, 30 points higher against a right-handed pitcher?  That’s six hits…

Six hits and some number of them extra base hits, yes, and maybe a walk or two, and let us assume that these tend to be high-leverage situations… Let us say, to be generous… By making that move 200 times, you save six runs.

But what do you give up?  You’ve shrunk the bench to where you can’t platoon.  I would argue that you can gain much, much more than 6 runs by platooning, in many cases…

Right or wrong, it is my opinion, until somebody can show me where I’m wrong, that carrying left-handers in the bullpen is a complete waste of time and resources.  You not only don’t need THREE left-handers in the bullpen; you don’t need one…

I would even argue that platooning SAVES more runs than using lefty relievers, because when you have platoons one of the players will usually be better defensively than the other, so when you have a lead late in the game you can go with the better defender. 

Another way to state my essential thesis is that you can control the platoon advantage much more effectively if you control it from the offensive side than if you try to control it from the pitching side.    But. ...I can’t convince anybody.

Just an observation, Bill, but sports fans have funny hot buttons. (Perhaps, it’s not just sports fans, but all of us.) Tell them Al McGuire doesn’t quite meet your criteria of “great”, and you get a wave of upset readers, at least, one of whom accuses you of denigrating him. In a Scoresheet forum, I mentioned Jose Altuve and Robbie Alomar in the same sentence (they both happened to be N.L. all-star second-basemen shortly after turning 22, then became Americans Leaguers the next year.) . . . and I get thrashed for saying Altuve is going to the Hall of Fame. I guess my question is, how do you keep yourself from getting totally discouraged with your public?

It is a challenge, and I actually appreciate your asking that exact question.  My audience includes many people who are brilliant, incisive and disciplined thinkers.  But DISCUSSIONS, by their nature, are rambling, incoherent events that wander backward and forward.  Discussions among groups of people, by their nature, tend to take sweaters and turn them into strings of yarn.  The challenge of leading is a discussion is to construct the discussion in such a way that it advances our understanding of the issue; in other words, to try to take yarn and make a sweater, rather than the other way around.    It’s very challenging, and I have to discipline myself, sometimes, to ignore very interesting things that people say, ignore them and not publish them, because, while the comment is interesting in itself, it unravels the discussion.

I think you are a proponent of baseball having non-standard dimensions for its parks. All the other major sports however have taken the opposite view of standardizing everything… would you support the idea that each team can set those dimensions as they want, within a league-imposed min/max range?

From the standpoint particularly of basketball, I wouldn’t think of it as one of baseball’s charms; I would simply argue that it is better.  It is better from everyone’s standpoint.  If you make the court wider, for example, you favor a smaller team with more quickness, and put a premium on ball-handling skills.  If you make the court more narrow, it favors big, burly guys, puts a premium on passing, and minimizes the importance of dribbling.

Allowing different teams to experiment with different sized courts allows the game to breathe, allows the game to search out the most satisfying combinations.  Mandating one size for all courts makes the game rigid, unable to adjust.

The District Attorney Posted: February 18, 2013 at 11:47 AM | 162 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: basketball, bill james, books, sabermetrics, strategy

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   101. AROM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:47 PM (#4372624)
I think platooning the way Earl Weaver did it was an ideal tactic in his time but would not work so well today. The reason being that pitchers cannot handle the workloads they could in 1970, because the hitters have gotten too good. Back then you'd face 2-3 guys in the lineup who worked the count and were threats to take you deep. Now you face 5-6 guys like that every lineup, and fewer weak hitters who you can coast against, and save your best stuff.

Having the best defense of all time helped Earl quite a bit here - his defense enabled his pitchers to handle greater workloads. First in the form of more balls in play turning into outs, and preventing other hitters from ever coming to the plate, and second in allowing pitchers to pitch to contact with confidence, avoiding long at bats.

As evidence of the last assertion, look at Jim Palmer's strikeout rates. He was a pitcher with great stuff. He struck out 13.7% of batters faced. How many could he have struck out if he had gone for the K more often? With runners on 3rd, less than 2 out, he struck out 15.6%

Not sure how that stacks up to league averages. All pitchers should want more K in those situations, but at the same time the batter should be doing what he can to avoid the K.

   102. Mike Emeigh Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:12 PM (#4372652)
MCoA:

I'm in the process of recreating my Retrosheet data set. Every time Retrosheet updates I have to do a more-or-less full data replacement since I haven't had a change log for each release, although since Ted Turocy has created a github repository now I might not have to do that any more. Rebuilding the data set takes time, which for various reasons I haven't had. I don't recall the number of games affected over the course of a season.

-- MWE



   103. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:13 PM (#4372654)
High/Medium/Low leverage tOPS+ (all NL)
1972: 108/102/94
1982: 108/102/94
1992: 98/95/95
2002: 98/102/98
2012: 98/105/101
The leverage numbers have improved since the 70s and early 80s, but aren't really any better than they were at the onset of specialization around 1992 (as the chart in 13 indicates).

But the big changes in pitcher usage took place starting in the early 80s. Below are # of pitchers per team over time, and you can see that the 80s is when the big shift started. The tOPS+ #s seem a little screwy -- in 1992 pitchers were above average at all leverages! Also, OPS+ is not a perfect measure of offense in high-leverage situations (BBs are less valuable, hits much more valuable), so looking at runs scored is a better metric. But overall, your results seem to suggest that modern pitcher usage had a big positive impact, in terms of reducing offense when it matters most.

Also keep in mind that as innings are reduced for starters (going down from about 7 to 6 on average), they are benefitting as well, facing many fewer batters for the 3rd and 4th time. So that will reduce starters' OPS+ at the same time you are giving more innings to relievers. This will tend to mask the effectiveness of changing pitcher usage, by making it harder for relievers to outperform starters.

Year Pitchers/team
2012 22.1
2011 22.1
2010 21.2
2009 22.1
2008 21.7
2007 22.2
2006 21.2
2005 20.2
2004 21.1
2003 20.4
2002 20.3
2001 19.7
2000 20.2
1999 19.5
1998 18.6
1997 19.1
1996 19.2
1995 19.7
1994 16.8
1993 18.1
1992 17.0
1991 18.3
1990 18.6
1989 17.3
1988 16.8
1987 16.4
1986 16.0
1985 15.9
1984 15.1
1983 15.0
1982 14.5
1981 13.8
1980 14.6
1979 15.0
1978 14.2
1977 14.3
1976 13.5
1975 14.1
1974 14.3
1973 13.8
1972 14.1
1971 14.3
1970 15.1
   104. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:13 PM (#4372656)
#98 He had those well known index cards and relied on them -- although he was mostly looking for outliers. The example he specifically brought up time after time was Mickey Lolich versus Boog Powell (Powell hit under .200 with no power and not many walks against Lolich. Eventually Weaver stopped playing him against Lolich and was asked about this many times. But he didn't stop after Powell went 1-9 or something like that. Powell accumulated 96 PAs against Lolich). But he seems to have understood sample size issues and also payed attention to the PA as a whole, not just the result. An 0-1 that was a line drive that happened to be caught wasn't a negative. An excuse me single when the hitter was completely overmatched but just happened to get a piece of the ball wasn't a positive.

He also used type matchups. Memory says that Curt Motton couldn't handle a good breaking ball so he'd try and keep Motton away from lefties who had a good breaking ball even though Motton's primary role was RH pinch-hitter. I know he had one pinch-hitter (blanking on who. Ayala perhaps. Ayala was another guy Weaver talked about a fair amount and was pretty successful as a PH) who simply couldn't handle a top notch fastball. So he wasn't generally asked to.

As I've mentioned before, he would bat Mark Belanger 2nd against pitchers he though Belanger could handle (typically pure power pitchers who had less than total command of their A stuff. The idea being they'd be afraid of walking him and would not throw him their best stuff.) This falls into the operation sort of successful, but it's Mark Belanger category. Belanger did have a pretty good walk rate while batting second, but a mediocre BA and no power.

In later years he's sometimes go with what you might call defensive based platoons. Sometimes starting a pure glove in CF (Harlow for instance) and sometimes benching Belanger for a better hitter (if he had a flyball pitcher, or a guy who didn't give up many chances to the left side).

As James noted, there was a specific role for everybody on the roster and Weaver agonized about the last few roster spots. Endlessly playing potential scenarios out in his head.
   105. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:35 PM (#4372680)
As I've mentioned before, he would bat Mark Belanger 2nd against pitchers he though Belanger could handle... This falls into the operation sort of successful, but it's Mark Belanger category.

No, this falls into the category "even geniuses sometimes do stupid things." Mark Belanger had a .596 OPS batting second. The second slot is ideally where you should put your best hitter, but Weaver non-infrequently put his worst hitter there (plus a full season's worth of PA batting leadoff). Batting weak-to-average hitters second is still a common error by MLB managers (#2 hitters are about average overall), but Weaver took it to a ridiculous extreme.
   106. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:07 PM (#4372709)
but most hitters have significant platoon splits and are significantly worse vs one hand of pitcher such that their backups are a better option.


Is that true? I thought that yes, left handed batters could have significant splits, but that the rule was "there is no such thing as a lefty masher" meaning that the splits among right handed bats is pretty consistent(I think it was a constant 9% swing from a right handed batter facing one hand versus the other)

Yes, it does. Why else have teams added pitchers, if it didn't provide a competitive advantage? That isn't to say teams necessarily deploy resources perfectly. But MLB teams are, if anything, change averse. They won't change unless they need to. Yet something caused teams to evolve, over time, from 10-11 pitchers to 12-13 pitchers. Clearly, teams were being rewarded as they added pitchers. (Up to a point -- I don't expect to see this trend continue.)


And many of these evolves are probably incorrect, the change in how to use the ace reliever in the past 20 years is proof of that. We've changed the closers role to maximize the save stat, not to maximize the value that the pitcher brings to the the game over the course of the season. If one team(TLR's A's) was successful with a lefty specialist, other people tend to copy what works, without regards to the value that it actually brings to the table. Many people like to point out that it's especially poor decision making on non-contending teams, to have a loogy instead of trying to maximize with platoon advantages.


No, this falls into the category "even geniuses sometimes do stupid things." Mark Belanger had a .596 OPS batting second. The second slot is ideally where you should put your best hitter, but Weaver non-infrequently put his worst hitter there (plus a full season's worth of PA batting leadoff). Batting weak-to-average hitters second is still a common error by MLB managers (#2 hitters are about average overall), but Weaver took it to a ridiculous extreme.


Agreed.(although how many of Belanger's batting second was a result of it being an away game and Weaver batting someone else in that role in the first inning, then putting Belanger in at second in the bottom of the inning?) Out of all the lineup spots, the second spot is the most screwed up by good managers. Even before I had ever read anything about optimal lineups, I knew that managers were screwing this up. Constantly putting contact hitters in the number two hole(It seems so counter intuitive to me, why put a guy who has a good chance of forcing out your good obp leadoff hitter in the two hole, instead of a strike out, high obp guy.....Jim Edmonds makes a much better number two hitter than someone like Placido Polanco)
   107. AROM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:09 PM (#4372710)
I'm in the process of recreating my Retrosheet data set. Every time Retrosheet updates I have to do a more-or-less full data replacement since I haven't had a change log for each release, although since Ted Turocy has created a github repository now I might not have to do that any more. Rebuilding the data set takes time, which for various reasons I haven't had. I don't recall the number of games affected over the course of a season.


Me too. What database are you using? I've had everything in multiple Access databases, with about 5 years data in each. Makes it more time consuming for some queries that have to be repeated, but Access has the 2 GB size limit. I am trying to go with MySQL because that's the direction all the smart people seem to be heading in. I don't know how the performance will compare, or how well it can handle nearly 70 seasons worth of data.
   108. Mike Emeigh Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:30 PM (#4372735)
What database are you using?


MySql, on my laptop. All I can say about it is that the performance is better than Access, which isn't saying much. We're in the 10 million rows range with the event data, and I've indexed it to the hilt and it's still pretty slow.

Wonder if we need to look for a Big Data Solution?

-- MWE
   109. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:32 PM (#4372739)
Is that true? I thought that yes, left handed batters could have significant splits, but that the rule was "there is no such thing as a lefty masher" meaning that the splits among right handed bats is pretty consistent


It's just really tough for a right-handed hitter with large platoon splits to stay a regular. As you can see below, 41% of LH hitters had platoon splits of 125 points or greater and only 16% of RH hitters had those kind of splits (and playing regularly)

I suspect that the actual distribution for RH hitters is the same as for LH hitters, it's just that the RH hitters with extreme splits are significantly less likely to see significant playing time.

I(from a post in 2001). Don't recall the criteria for selection, but it's based on 13 years of data (all that was available in 2000. My how rapidly things have changed.)

Career platoon splits

OPS diff     Both Left Right
176
+          12%  14%   3%
126 to 175     8%  27%  13%
76 to 125     17%  24%  29%
26 to 75      34%  27%  41%
25 to -25     29%   8%  12%
-
26 to -76               2%
-
76 +                    1


None of the LH hitters in the 25 to -25 group actually hit LH better. At one point Dave Justice had the smallest career platoon split but I believe that's changed. Can't recall who took his place. I do know that Andy Van Slyke and Lou Whitaker had the largest platoon splits. (among regular players that is)
   110. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:36 PM (#4372744)
Wonder if we need to look for a Big Data Solution?


Funny. I just had to sit through Oracle pitching Exadata. For a mere $600K ...
   111. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:40 PM (#4372749)
And many of these evolves are probably incorrect, the change in how to use the ace reliever in the past 20 years is proof of that.

One change is "proof" that many evolutions were incorrect? By what logic? And in any case, what is the evidence that the change in use of top relievers has hurt teams? I very much doubt that has been the case.

What may be true is that teams could use their best relievers even more effectively than they do now, by deploying them for hi-leverage PA in the 8th (or even 7th) inning, and using them less often for 3-run saves. We don't know if this is true, since we don't really know how much benefit (if any) accrues from giving pitchers a regular, predictable role. But even if we assume that further improvements are possible, it doesn't change the fact that the evolution of the bullpen over the past 30 years has clearly improved pitching effectiveness.
   112. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:05 PM (#4372781)
One change is "proof" that many evolutions were incorrect? By what logic? And in any case, what is the evidence that the change in use of top relievers has hurt teams? I very much doubt that has been the case.


If you insist on only accepting that established norm, then that is fine. But the current usage of closers is moronic, and unproductive. There is no way around it, as you point out, there is better ways to use your ace reliever, that is obvious to everyone but managers and agents.

Concentrating on a stat is not a good way to handle your team. Allowing players to fall into that mental trap of thinking that they have well defined roles with no variance in usage, is not good for the team. I don't argue that bullpens haven't improved over the years, that is just as obvious as knowing that the evolution of closers role is not the optimal strategy.

1. Bullpens are better now than they have been in the past.
2. Ace relievers role is sub-optimal
3. More than one loogy is overkill, and arguably one loogy is overkill.
4. As you pointed out, teams are risk averse, so when they see something that works, they will follow it, even if they have an incomplete understanding of why it worked. Teams are saying "TLR and others have won with a lefty specialist so we have to have one" followed by "If one is good, then two is better".

Teams will follow a successful strategy to absurd lengths, until someone comes along and shows a better way. The loogy experiment has tilted too far, the closer usage has also tilted too far. Both need to be reigned in.
   113. AROM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:12 PM (#4372788)
Funny. I just had to sit through Oracle pitching Exadata. For a mere $600K ...


Any big data solutions out there that cost less than a house?
   114. Mike Emeigh Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:18 PM (#4372796)
Ace relievers role is sub-optimal


And yet on almost every team, ace relievers have both the highest average leverage and the most concentrated usage in high-leverage situations. They're getting used most often, and most regularly, in the highest leverage situation that a team faces in a game.

When you argue that ace reliever usage is sub-optimal, you have to avoid the temptation to focus on outcome - specifically those occasions where teams won't put ace reliever into a tie game on the road and wind up losing the game "because they're saving the ace for a save situation", or those occasions where the ace reliever sits on the sideline in the 8th while a setup guy blows the lead. You also have to consider the whole context of a team and a season (i.e. "if I bring ace reliever into game here, what are the chances that I won't have ace reliever when I need him down the road"). Part of the reason that usage has evolved in the way that it has is that teams were looking for ways to balance the usage of relievers more carefully to maximize the likelihood that the best reliever would be available for the highest-leverage situations more frequently.

I'm not suggesting that we're in a perfect usage model, by any stretch. But I think that given current roster limits (which essentially make it impossible to add any more pitchers to the active roster) there isn't sufficient efficiency to be gained by shifting back toward more concentration of innings into fewer pitchers - and the fact that literally no one has shown any sign of moving in that direction is an indicator that perhaps we're close enough to perfect for MLB.

-- MWE
   115. smileyy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:26 PM (#4372802)
[113] Many of Amazon's AWS offerings would meet this bill. S3 + Elastic Map Reduce (maybe even running HBase) is one, Redshift might be another.
   116. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:31 PM (#4372806)
I'm not suggesting that we're in a perfect usage model, by any stretch. But I think that given current roster limits (which essentially make it impossible to add any more pitchers to the active roster) there isn't sufficient efficiency to be gained by shifting back toward more concentration of innings into fewer pitchers - and the fact that literally no one has shown any sign of moving in that direction is an indicator that perhaps we're close enough to perfect for MLB.


I'm suggesting that they could shift innings around even more. 3 run game, bring in your 4th best reliever in the ninth inning (provided you have used your closer sometime in the previous 2-3 days---obviously if you haven't used your ace reliever in a few days, it makes sense to bring him in to keep him fresh) The number of easy saves that some relievers get is ridiculous, and makes teams overrate the value of mediocre pitchers. I'm not even sure that leverage is fair to look at the closers, K-rod does well on the leverage scale, and he is the poster boy of what is wrong with the usage of closers and the save stat.

I'm not advocating for more innings for your ace relievers, I'm advocating a better awareness of actual leverage situations and using the best you have or the less than best you have depending on how severe the situation is. If you have a guy on your roster, that you can't trust with a 2 run lead to start out the 9th inning, then the problem is not the pitcher, but in your roster construction.

note: one problem with leverage is that it is a running total, a guy who comes into the 7th inning and pitches out of a jam and his team scores in their half of the inning and he pitches the next inning, is going to get a lower leverage, meanwhile a closer's leverage is almost always going to stay consistent from his first batter faced to his last, unless he happens to up it by not pitching well and putting men on base.
   117. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:52 PM (#4372827)
I'm always amazed by the level of certainty some people here have that they are SO much smarter than the people who actually run teams. I know this disease has been with us since the game began, but personally I blame Moneyball for making it an epidemic.

Look, the typical closer has an average Leverage of something like 1.75. It's hard to imagine this could realistically be increased to much more than 2.0 -- that would be an enormous gain in efficiency (assuming your goal is to use your best reliever in the highest-leverage situations). If a typical closer contributes about 2 wins, this would increase his value by something like .3 wins. Of course, then we have to consider who the closer took these high-LI from -- which will usually be the team's 2nd or 3rd best reliever. These pitchers will contribute fewer wins as their leverage declines. Because the difference in talent among these 3 guys isn't that large, you are talking about a very small gain. Maybe .1 or .2 wins in a season. It's just not that big a deal.

And even this tiny gain may be offset if your closer has trouble being as effective when entering in the middle of an inning, which could often be the case. There is some reason to think that coming in from the bullpen fully warmed up is an advantage (this would explain the huge HFA in the first inning).
   118. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:13 PM (#4372848)
Look, the typical closer has an average Leverage of something like 1.75. It's hard to imagine this could realistically be increased to much more than 2.0


Again, the closers leverage is helped by their own incompetence and strict adherence to usage. A closer is automatically going to have a fairly high leverage index because of their usage. (top of 9th inning with a 3 run lead is a leverage index of .8...make it a 2 run lead and it's 1.6, put yourself on the road and it's even bigger, same situation is worth a L1 of 1.0 for entering the bottom of the ninth with a 3 run lead, and 2.0 with a two run lead) the closer starts out more often than not with a decent leverage index, he puts a man on base and it goes up.... leverage index is a good tool, but in this situation, it only has a little bit of value, and only if you average up all the L1 that the relievers are facing only with the first batter they faced per appearance.

Just look at the l1 for the ninth inning alone, it's nearly impossible to pitch in the ninth inning and not get a bump on L1.
   119. Mike Emeigh Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:16 PM (#4372849)
I'm suggesting that they could shift innings around even more.


And what Guy's suggesting - and I agree - is that the reward from shifting innings around is likely to be small compared to the risk of disruption of your pitching staff that you run by doing so. There's a bigger picture beyond today's game - that's why I said that you can't just focus on outcome, specifically today's outcome. You want to balance your starter and bullpen usage to maximize return over the complete 162-game schedule (plus postseason, if you get there).

-- MWE
   120. smileyy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:24 PM (#4372859)
I'm always amazed by the level of certainty some people here have that they are SO much smarter than the people who actually run teams.


There might be more knowledge here in some certain focused areas. The problem becomes scaling that information dissemination and decision management, and also weighting the optimization in one dimension against other important dimensions involved in constructing and managing a team.
   121. SoSH U at work Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:34 PM (#4372871)
And what Guy's suggesting - and I agree - is that the reward from shifting innings around is likely to be small compared to the risk of disruption of your pitching staff that you run by doing so. There's a bigger picture beyond today's game - that's why I said that you can't just focus on outcome, specifically today's outcome. You want to balance your starter and bullpen usage to maximize return over the complete 162-game schedule (plus postseason, if you get there).


There's also the issue of warming up, that 7th inning usage fails to accurately convey. High-leverage situations earlier in the game can happen quickly, with little advance warning. To effectively use your ace reliever in such situations, you'd probably have to begin warming him up earlier, often for high-lev situations that never occur. You can't just plug your best guys into every high-lev situation.

   122. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:36 PM (#4372877)
And what Guy's suggesting - and I agree - is that the reward from shifting innings around is likely to be small compared to the risk of disruption of your pitching staff that you run by doing so. There's a bigger picture beyond today's game - that's why I said that you can't just focus on outcome, specifically today's outcome. You want to balance your starter and bullpen usage to maximize return over the complete 162-game schedule (plus postseason, if you get there).


I don't have a problem with the big picture. My problem is the strict adherence to the save stat, and accepting that the evolution of pitching usage is the best for the team, because everybody's doing it that way. I can't for a second, believe that any reasonable person, can honestly think that the adherence to the save stat is the optimal usage, and to suggest it is, is preposterous to me. Bullpen usage has improved, absolutely no doubt in my mind about that, but it has also been led astray by the save stat. What should have been an evolutionary change in usage has instead resulted in just a change in usage, that is hopefully in mid evolution to where it should be, as it's clearly being disrupted by the save stat.

They have the balance part right(or close to it) they just don't have the usage patterns perfected yet. Eventually some enterprising stat guy is going to come up with a leverage stat that is going to get accepted by the mainstream(in the same way that the save has) that is hopefully going to shape bullpen usage over the next 20-30 years in the same way that the save has. The only drawback, is that the enterprising young guys who can do this, are too out of touch with real people and insist on making the most accurate stat(to the decimal) available, instead of a simple stat that the populace can grasp. (Say Leverage save, the pitcher who appears after the 7th inning, facing the highest leverage situation and reducing it the most---gets the leverage save...or something equally as silly, but understandable with a nice number that isn't based upon theoretical wins etc.)

There's also the issue of warming up, that 7th inning usage fails to accurately convey. High-leverage situations earlier in the game can happen quickly, with little advance warning. To effectively use your ace reliever in such situations, you'd probably have to begin warming him up earlier, often for high-lev situations that never occur. You can't just plug your best guys into every high-lev situation.


Again, I agree. My beef was with the assumption that the current usage pattern has evolved to where it is, and therefore must be the best pattern since everyone else is doing it.

   123. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:42 PM (#4372886)
A closer is automatically going to have a fairly high leverage index because of their usage.

Is this a joke? You might just as well say "Votto is automatically going to have a high OBP, because of all those hits and walks he gets." Yes, closers have a high LI because they tend to be used in the late innings, when LI is higher. And that's exactly what we want! And yes, giving up baserunners can increase leverage, but I'm not sure what your point is -- all pitchers give up baserunners, and closers actually do this less than anyone else.
   124. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:48 PM (#4372895)
My beef was with the assumption that the current usage pattern has evolved to where it is, and therefore must be the best pattern since everyone else is doing it.

That was never my claim. What I said -- very, very clearly -- is that when all teams move together in a certain direction, in a sustained way, that change is invariably a positive change. That doesn't mean it is the best possible change, or that no future change should occur.

That said, I suspect that MWE is right that we have now gotten very close to ideal reliever usage, unless/until something changes the game. If there's a big change in pitcher usage in the next few years, I think it will be eliminating the #5 starter in favor of regular bullpen games.
   125. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 05:14 PM (#4372911)
Is this a joke? You might just as well say "Votto is automatically going to have a high OBP, because of all those hits and walks he gets." Yes, closers have a high LI because they tend to be used in the late innings, when LI is higher. And that's exactly what we want! And yes, giving up baserunners can increase leverage, but I'm not sure what your point is -- all pitchers give up baserunners, and closers actually do this less than anyone else.


No it's not a joke, yes closers are going to be used in higher leverage situations(as are all relievers), but to point to the L1 as evidence of proper usage of higher leverage situations is the redundant part. Saying "Oh they have a high L1, so they must be, being used correctly" is not a good argument. The ninth inning is a high leverage situation no matter what, but that doesn't mean that you wait for the ninth inning to role around to save for your closer. The save stat has created this issue and strict adherence to it, is not the best use of your reliever, teams need to move away from caring about the save stat, and return to using their ace reliever in the best situations for the team.

Saying they have a 1.75 or higher is not a point of evidence for the evolving nature, after all, the closers of old routinely had similar high level leverage, without being saved strictly for the ninth inning.

We have gotten close to ideal reliever/starting pitcher split. We have not gotten to the ideal reliever usage pattern, and we wont, as long as the save stat remains in importance.
   126. The District Attorney Posted: February 20, 2013 at 05:23 PM (#4372920)
It's worth it to note that James has strenuously argued that the closer model has succeeded in maximizing the performance of the pitchers used as closers, and is nonetheless now arguing this.
   127. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 05:34 PM (#4372927)
#126 When did he update his suggested optimal use of a relief ace?

To be specific, the pattern of use he advocates if you have a great relief pitcher is: (Quoting now)

The very optimal usage pattern, I believe, would be to use the relief ace:

two innings a game when the game is tied
two innings a game when you have a one run lead, and
one inning at a time in other games when the game is close
at the end and the relief ace hasn't been used for a game or two.

(end quote)

His research shows that the greatest potential impact comes in the late innings of tied games and modern closers rarely pitch then. Another high impact situation they rarely pitch in is down by one in the bottom of the 8th, top of the ninth.

Overall this rates to produce a workload of about 69 games and 113 innings. Almost all of them high leverage. There's no particular reason to think that a pitcher couldn't handle that load.

Quoting again (talking about the workload of a relief ace)

But while it was neccessary to limit a relief pitcher's role, many modern relievers now are working 70 to 85 inns a
season -- AND THEY'RE NOT EVEN WORKING THE RIGHT 75 INNINGS. (emphasis his)

and a little later:

A relief ace, used in this way, would not save 50 games -- but he could win 20, and he might win 30. A reliever used in this way, having an outstanding season, could win 20 games and also save 20.
   128. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 05:54 PM (#4372942)
Saying "Oh they have a high L1, so they must be, being used correctly" is not a good argument.

I do not this this word "leverage" means what you think it means. If closers have a high LI, then they are being used effectively. It really is just about that simple. I agree that you could probably increase that average leverage a bit, but as I showed you, it will make very, very little difference.

We have not gotten to the ideal reliever usage pattern, and we wont, as long as the save stat remains in importance.

It would be great to stop giving credit for the 3-run save. That might lead to a slight increase in 8th inning use of closers. But we're talking about changes very much at the margins here. I think the preference of managers (and probably pitchers) to enter at the start of an inning is strong, and may well improve the closer's performance. Now, if you eliminated the requirement that a pitcher record the last out to record a save, that might have a somewhat larger impact. But I can't imagine that every happening.

Overall this rates to produce a workload of about 69 games and 113 innings. Almost all of them high leverage. There's no particular reason to think that a pitcher couldn't handle that load.

Right. No reason at all. Well, except for the little fact that no current reliever pitches anywhere near this number of innings, despite the fact that teams would benefit greatly from getting more innings out of their best reliever (and these workhorse relievers could increase their annual salaries by many millions of dollars).


   129. dlf Posted: February 20, 2013 at 05:59 PM (#4372945)
RonJ ~ I think those quotes are coming from things BJ wrote more than a decade ago. It seems that his thinking on relievers has evolved, particularly since he has been working with the Red Sox. If you have insider access, his write up of the aftermath of the 'closer by committee' debacle suggests a different approach suggesting that you get the best work by clearly assigning roles and limiting use. Subscription required -- http://www.billjamesonline.com/the_closer_by_committee/?AuthorId=3&Year=2012
   130. BDC Posted: February 20, 2013 at 05:59 PM (#4372946)
I've long been of the opinion that today's pitching doctrine is driven as much by personnel-management issues as anything else. Pitchers like to have strict roles, and even if there isn't a huge tactical advantage or much of one at all to how it's now done, there's the strategic advantage of letting guys know what their job is with great clarity. And this makes sense when even rookies and journeymen are making >$400K. Gabby Street could put a baseball in his starting pitcher's locker to let him know what he was doing that day, but guys today like respect and like to know their assignments - and why not?
   131. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 06:04 PM (#4372952)
Guy. Teams copied what LaRussa did with Eck. LaRussa had the luxury of cutting his ace reliever's workload. Rick Honeycutt and co were all quite good. And it's plausible that specifically Eck couldn't have handled a heavier workload.

But who are the relief pitchers that broke under a workload comparable to what James is talking about? Do you in fact have any evidence supporting your position (beyond the appeal to authority)

Relief aces aren't being limited by fears of over-work, it's being shaped primarily by the desire to use them as save accumulators.

EDIT: I should note I that I went looking for relief pitchers who did handle that kind of workload. The first I came up with was Kent Tekulve. 8 full years plus the strike season of 1981. Averaged 75 games, 105 IP and compiled a 134 ERA+ with no obvious problems related to the workload. Quisenberry handled it for 6 full years plus the strike season. (163 ERA+).
   132. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: February 20, 2013 at 06:06 PM (#4372954)
I've long been of the opinion that today's pitching doctrine is driven as much by personnel-management issues as anything else. Pitchers like to have strict roles, and even if there isn't a huge tactical advantage or much of one at all to how it's now done, there's the strategic advantage of letting guys know what their job is with great clarity. And this makes sense when even rookies and journeymen are making >$400K. Gabby Street could put a baseball in his starting pitcher's locker to let him know what he was doing that day, but guys today like respect and like to know their assignments - and why not?

Exactly.

Relievers don't pitch 113 IP seasons because there's no commonly-understood role that would get them to that number. Closers pitch the 9th and an occasional extra inning. "Seventh Inning Setup" and "Eighth Inning Setup" are practically set in stone now and neither of those will get you to 113. LOOGY -- no chance.

The only guys with a real chance would be middle-inning swing guys on crappy teams, and no one cares about them.
   133. Nasty Nate Posted: February 20, 2013 at 06:25 PM (#4372966)

The only guys with a real chance would be middle-inning swing guys on crappy teams, and no one cares about them.


Or possibly super-trusted set-up guys. Scott Proctor topped 100 relief innings in a season; johnny venters was in the high 80's; JP Howell reached 89 in '08.
   134. AROM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 06:34 PM (#4372974)
And it's plausible that specifically Eck couldn't have handled a heavier workload.


He might have been able to handle a heavier workload, but not have been able to keep ridiculous rate stats like 73-4 K-W, .614 WHIP, 0.61 ERA while doing so.
   135. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 06:35 PM (#4372977)
Can't edit 131 any more. Yeah. Sidearm pitchers. Gossage did follow his high in relief innings with one of his worst seasons, but he was healthy all year. Just wasn't successful as a starting pitcher. He did have an injury after seasons of 141.2, 224 (starter), 133, 134.1 IP but it wasn't workload related. It was from a fight with Cliff Johnson. After that, he had 4 fine seasons with workloads heavier than modern closers (and a huge year during the strike season) 99, 46.2 (strike), 93, 87.1, 102.1

I'm just not seeing evidence that cutting back dramatically helps. Eck had a great 4 year run and frankly with pitchers you just never know.

Clearly Granger and Dick Radatz broke under the workloads they were given. Mark Eichhorn didn't precisely break but was never the same after being given an insane workload. But I'm not seeing any empirical evidence that something around 100 IP is too much.
   136. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: February 20, 2013 at 06:40 PM (#4372980)
Danny Darwin's a decent example. Roughly half starts/half relief appearances in his career, hit 109 IP with only two starts in 1980 and 122 IP with no starts in 1989. Nice years both times -- 148 and 144 ERA+. In '90, the Astros gave him 17 starts, so he worked 162 IP, leading the NL in ERA and ERA+, and the major leagues in WHIP.

Come to think of it, Danny Darwin 1990 is almost the perfect model for how to use a durable, talented pitcher who can both start and relieve. There should be a lot more Danny Darwin 1990s on modern pitching staffs and they never should have become so unfashionable.
   137. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 07:03 PM (#4372996)
But I'm not seeing any empirical evidence that something around 100 IP is too much.

Well, one important clue is that all of your examples of pitchers doing this are from 20 or 30 years ago. This doesn't happen today. At all. That's not an "appeal to authority," it's an appeal to actual experience. Teams and pitchers have every incentive in the world to get more innings out of their best pitchers, but they don't.

These guys who threw 100+ IP in the past simply weren't throwing as hard as today's closers. Gossage, as a reliever, posted a 7.75 K/9, 2.13 K/BB, and an ERA+ of about 137. Those are good numbers for a starter today, but they don't make you an elite closer. They don't even make you a good closer. We know that today's closers throw many fewer innings, and we know that they perform at a much higher level. Does anyone seriously think that's a coincidence? And even if you do, surely the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate it's possible to combine 1970s workloads with 2000s performance levels -- not on me to prove that it isn't. The evidence that someone could throw 113 innings and match the performance of today's closers is approximately zero.
   138. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: February 20, 2013 at 07:15 PM (#4373004)
These guys who threw 100+ IP in the past simply weren't throwing as hard as today's closers. Gossage, as a reliever, posted a 7.75 K/9, 2.13 K/BB, and an ERA+ of about 137. Those are good numbers for a starter today, but they don't make you an elite closer. They don't even make you a good closer.

Offenses don't care as much about striking out now -- that's the biggest reason the strikeout numbers are up.

You're confusing all kinds of trends and changes and effects.

And, I'm sorry, John Axford is not a better pitcher than Danny Darwin was.
   139. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:06 PM (#4373037)
I'm always amazed by the level of certainty some people here have that they are SO much smarter than the people who actually run teams. I know this disease has been with us since the game began, but personally I blame Moneyball for making it an epidemic.


I am pretty certain that I was certain that I am so much smarter than the people who actually run teams long before Moneyball.

EDIT: My serious answer is that I believe I'm smarter in some aspects - such as the proper way to run a bullpen. If I put time in to climb the ladder in a front office could I be better all-around than the people actually in front offices now? No idea. (20 years ago it'd have been easier.)
   140. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:17 PM (#4373046)
Well, one important clue is that all of your examples of pitchers doing this are from 20 or 30 years ago. This doesn't happen today. At all.


Then it's kind of hard to find examples of pitchers today handling that workload, now is it?

That's not an "appeal to authority,"


Yes it is, and this drives the appeal to authority home:

it's an appeal to actual experience. Teams and pitchers have every incentive in the world to get more innings out of their best pitchers, but they don't.
   141. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:21 PM (#4373049)
I agree with Ron. That said, if I were trying to look for pitchers who broke under a 100-IP workload I'd point to Duane Ward. Five consecutive 100-IP seasons before he broke.
   142. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:22 PM (#4373050)
BP's comment on Derek Lowe in their 2000 annual seems relevant here. I'm not sure how instructive it is:

The key man in the bullpen, Lowe was nearly as good as Pedro in half as many innings. Recently, four relievers have put up as dominant a season in middle relief as Lowe did, after which their paths diverged. Some stayed in middle relief, others moved to closer, while others started. Their performances:

W L G SV IP H HR BB SO ERA
Xavier Hernandez 1992 HOU 9 1 77 7 111 81 5 42 96 2.11
Duane Ward 1992 TOR 7 4 79 12 101 1/3 76 5 39 103 1.95
Pedro J. Martinez 1993 LA 10 5 65 2 107 76 5 57 119 2.61
Mariano Rivera 1996 NY 8 3 61 5 107 2/3 73 1 34 130 2.09
Derek Lowe 1999 BOS 6 3 74 15 109 1/3 84 7 25 80 2.63

The contrasts are striking. Duane Ward's 1992 was his fifth straight 100-inning season. He managed to pitch 71 innings and log 45 saves in 1993 before his arm fell off, ending his career. Xavier Hernandez carried a heavy load again in 1993 and put up an excellent campaign. He developed arm problems in 1994, and while he never got close to that level again, he had a few decent years as a middle reliever. Mariano Rivera became a closer, his workload dropped by a third and he went on to be a World Series MVP. Pedro Martinez was moved into the rotation in 1994 and, well, we all know the story there.

The bad sign for Lowe is that the two pitchers who were worked hard in multiple years were the ones ho broke down. Lowe threw 126 innings in 63 games in 1998. He's too good a pitcher to jeopardize by asking him for another 100 innings in relief. He ought to move into the rotation or have his relief workload reduced slightly (while being restricted to high-leverage situations). Whether Lowe becomes Mariano Rivera or Pedro Martinez remains to be seen; his interest in starting may tip the scales.
   143. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:33 PM (#4373057)
By the way, setting aside the ethics of it, if you knew you could get six years of Duane Ward out of the pen totaling 630 innings and a 134 ERA+ before he breaks, I think it's pretty clear that you do it.
   144. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:57 PM (#4373069)
By the way, setting aside the ethics of it, if you knew you could get six years of Duane Ward out of the pen totaling 630 innings and a 134 ERA+ before he breaks, I think it's pretty clear that you do it.
I agree. The problem is that for every Duane Ward who gives you huge value, you're going to lose out on several more potential Duane Wards who either get hurt or don't pitch as well with a less structured workload.

------

While I'm more on the GuyM/Emeigh side on this argument, I think it's worth noting that there are aspects of closer usage that are unquestionably wrong. If you replace +3 9ths with tied 9ths, you're going to get more value out of your closer. This doesn't mean that the whole structured bullpen / LaRussa model isn't better than the Gossage/Marshall fireman model. It almost certainly is. But one of the reasons people object to the model is that some of its infelicities are so blindingly obvious.
   145. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:00 PM (#4373073)
But one of the reasons people object to the model is that some of its infelicities are so blindingly obvious.


Yes. There are simply situations screaming for the team's best reliever but he doesn't get into the game because a Save Situation has not materialized. So you end up trying to stay close and win the game with inferior relievers. And sometimes the inferior relievers blow your chance to win the game so you end up burning through your pen in a winnable game that you lose while bizarrely never using your best reliever.

Then the next day it's a blowout and, well, he hasn't pitched in five days, so you bring him in.

The idea that the current bullpen usage is optimal is odd.
   146. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:05 PM (#4373075)
The idea that the current bullpen usage is optimal is odd.
However, it does not follow that because current bullpen usage is sub-optimal, the bullpen model which held in the 1970s is superior.

It seems evident that limiting reliever innings, increasing pitching changes, and increased structure to reliever usage have all been positive expectation moves.
   147. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:08 PM (#4373079)
And, I'm sorry, John Axford is not a better pitcher than Danny Darwin was.

Thank you for making my case. The whole point is that modern usage patterns can make pitchers better than they otherwise would be. Even John Axford can become a dominating pitcher over 65 IP!

That's not an "appeal to authority,"
Yes it is, and this drives the appeal to authority home:


You are confused. My argument was not "managers and GMs say this can't be done," it is "no pitchers in modern history have ever done what you claim is possible." Can you really not see the difference? Yes, relievers in the past threw 110 IP, at performance level X. Today they throw 75 IP, but at performance level 2*X. You can't just assert that it's possible to do 110/2*X, and demand that others prove you wrong. It's like observing that some Olympians run 100 meters in under 10 seconds, while others run 800 meters at a much slower rate, and so we should just enter some of those 100-meter guys in the 800-meter races and blow the field away by running at their sub-10 second pace. Your argument only appears more plausible because the passage of time obscures the substantial difference in reliever performance.

I am pretty certain that I was certain that I am so much smarter than the people who actually run teams long before Moneyball.... My serious answer is that I believe I'm smarter in some aspects - such as the proper way to run a bullpen.

And I'm sure that once you tell them about your DMB success, a number of teams will want to snatch you right up! My serious observation: looking just at your worst idea from this thread -- that half the hitters in MLB should be platooned -- it is so obviously wrongheaded that by itself it's pretty well disqualifying for an MLB job. So, keep the day job.....
   148. smileyy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:09 PM (#4373080)
The problem is that for every Duane Ward who gives you huge value, you're going to lose out on several more potential Duane Wards who either get hurt or don't pitch as well with a less structured workload.


Its hard to say that one particular usage style made a guy's arm fall off, when every pitcher usage style ever tried in baseball has made some guy's arm fall off.
   149. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:12 PM (#4373086)
It seems evident that limiting reliever innings, increasing pitching changes, and increased structure to reliever usage have all been positive expectation moves.


Serious question: how is this evident?

I'll consider something like "Because the gap between reliever performance (e.g., ERA+) and starter performance has widened and relievers are pitching better now as a group, and also bullpens are getting a greater percentage of the innings at this increased rate of performance." If the first part of this is actually true (I know the second part is).
   150. GuyM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:14 PM (#4373089)
But one of the reasons people object to the model is that some of its infelicities are so blindingly obvious.

I think that's exactly right. However, the actual cost of the infelicities are vanishingly small. It's very similar to lineup construction. Fans love to debate lineups, and ##### about their manager's lineup choices. I do it too -- it pisses me off if my team puts a weak hitter in the #2 slot. But the reality is that lineups hardly matter at all. The difference between the average lineup and the optimal lineup is probably 2 or 3 runs over a season. Is it frustrating to give runs away? Yes. But the reality is it hardly matters (and that's assuming the player ego/psychology factors used to justify many sub-optimal practices are totally wrong, which may not be true).
   151. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:15 PM (#4373090)
You are confused. My argument was not "managers and GMs say this can't be done," it is "no pitchers in modern history have ever done what you claim is possible." Can you really not see the difference? Yes, relievers in the past threw 110 IP, at performance level X. Today they throw 75 IP, but at performance level 2*X. You can't just assert that it's possible to do 110/2*X, and demand that others prove you wrong.


I don't think I did that. In any event, I'd settle for having them pitch the proper 75 innings.
   152. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:57 PM (#4373107)
However, it does not follow that because current bullpen usage is sub-optimal, the bullpen model which held in the 1970s is superior.


Nobody has said that as far as I can tell. I've been saying that the bullpen of today is better, but has a way to go, and unfortunately it's not going to improve, as long as the save stat is still getting credence. The save stat is preventing optimum bullpen usage, it's that simple, to not see that is to ignore the game going on right in front of you.
   153. Ron J2 Posted: February 21, 2013 at 09:29 AM (#4373219)
#141 Yeah, but really is 5 years an indication of a problem? Eck only had 4 great years under fairly gentle handling.

Some pitchers are going to break under almost any workload. The issue is how you go about maximizing value in both the short and long(er) term. Don't sweat the real long term because you don't own that. Not that there's any indication that James' propose handling is long-term destructive.

In contrast, I once went through the established starters of the 1969 season and it was startling the number of guys who had been pushed too hard and had broken. There's empirical evidence that old starter workloads were just too heavy for most pitchers to handle.
   154. Ron J2 Posted: February 21, 2013 at 09:36 AM (#4373223)
dlf -- as I've pointed out many times before, James has quite literally never advocated (or even used the words before that article) closer by committee. Other statheads have to be sure, but James wasn't advocating old style handling (best reliever first in)

And in the article I'm quoting from, there is a clear role for the relief ace. It's just not designated save accumulator. The relief ace would absolutely know his role under those handling rules. (It's late, it's close)
   155. Ron J2 Posted: February 21, 2013 at 09:40 AM (#4373224)
I agree. The problem is that for every Duane Ward who gives you huge value, you're going to lose out on several more potential Duane Wards who either get hurt or don't pitch as well with a less structured workload.


First of all, Ward's workload was pretty structured. Anybody who watched the Jays then could absolutely predict when Ward was coming in.

Second, what evidence do you have to support the assertion that Ward's handling is generally destructive?
   156. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 21, 2013 at 09:45 AM (#4373228)
I've been saying that the bullpen of today is better, but has a way to go, and unfortunately it's not going to improve, as long as the save stat is still getting credence.
Well, I think a lot of people (Bill James for one) have been advocating for a significantly larger and less structured role for a relief ace. To Ron, I'd say that "late and close" is a role, but it is not nearly as structured a role as "9th inning, lead <3 runs". Also, one of the major keys to contemporary reliever usage has been the strong preference for your best pitchers to start an inning. A relief ace / "late and close" role is one with a much higher percentage of middle-inning appearances. That's a role, but it's a role that the contempoary system has gotten away from in a quite definitive way.

I'm proposing that the role of the relief ace should be basically the same, except that a lot of +3 9ths should be shuffled to secondary relievers, while all tied 9ths should be assigned to the relief ace. That's a shift which retains the basic structure of the role, and the high level of structure in bullpen usage that dominates the game, but moves a few innings around for purposes of optimization.
   157. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 21, 2013 at 09:49 AM (#4373230)
Second, what evidence do you have to support the assertion that Ward's handling is generally destructive?
I'm looking at Mike's data showing improved outcomes in the super-structured bullpen era, and GuyM's data showing the increased effectiveness of contemporary bullpens in important situations.

Quoting GuyM from the last page:
In short, everything we know tells us that the less often you use a pitcher (within reason), and the fewer innings you ask him to pitch, the more effective he will be. This is perhaps the most important truth that baseball has discovered over the past 3 decades -- vastly more important than the importance of OBP -- and yet many fans continue to miss this simple truth.
   158. SG Posted: February 21, 2013 at 09:51 AM (#4373232)
I've always felt (without actually doing the analysis) that part of the problem with reliever usage these days is they've substituted frequency for innings. So instead of asking a pitcher to pitch 100 innings over 60 games, they're pitching 75 innings over 75 games. I think extra rest days would allow them to pitch more overall innings.
   159. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: February 21, 2013 at 10:13 AM (#4373243)
Today they throw 75 IP, but at performance level 2*X. You can't just assert that it's possible to do 110/2*X, and demand that others prove you wrong. It's like observing that some Olympians run 100 meters in under 10 seconds, while others run 800 meters at a much slower rate, and so we should just enter some of those 100-meter guys in the 800-meter races and blow the field away by running at their sub-10 second pace.

You're begging the very question at issue. The blithe assumption that someone like John Axford (not to single him out, since there are dozens like him) is pitching at a "faster pace" than someone like Danny Darwin or Rich Gossage (*) is just that -- a blithe assumption. Certainly, their strikeout totals don't show it -- in years like 1977 and 1980, Gossage's strikeout rate was significantly better than Axford's adjusted for environment (**). Axford might have had two decent seasons as a "closer" because he was used correctly -- or, just as likely, had two decent seasons that were merely a function of momentum and small sample size.

And even if it's true, you have to account for the fact that the "pace" at which a modern closer pitches means that he's leaving 60+ innings of slack that a Gossage or a Darwin wouldn't have left for someone else to pick up. Those innings have to be pitched by someone presumably not as good as Axford, with the attendant risk that the manager picks the wrong pitchers to pitch them.

(*) 141 IP, all in relief at a 212 ERA+ in 1973; 133 IP, all in relief at a 244 ERA+ in 1977; 134 IP, all in relief at a 181 ERA+ in 1978, etc.

(**) Gossage 1977 -- 10.2 K/9, league 5.4. Gossage 1980 -- 9.4K/9, league 4.6. Axford, 2011 -- 10.5 K/9, league 7.3. Axford, 2012 -- 12.1 K/9, league 7.7.
   160. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: February 21, 2013 at 10:41 AM (#4373259)
In short, everything we know tells us that the less often you use a pitcher (within reason), and the fewer innings you ask him to pitch, the more effective he will be. This is perhaps the most important truth that baseball has discovered over the past 3 decades -- vastly more important than the importance of OBP -- and yet many fans continue to miss this simple truth.


If this is true -- and it likely is -- then it calls the typical methods of cross-era comparisons into question for starting pitchers as well. If 21st century starters were able to pitch at a faster pace, then they were engaging in a structurally different activity than their predecessors and things like ERA+ don't really work as well as everyone assumes.

This is probably the most plausible explanation for the dearth of 70s/80s era pitchers in the HOF, and for the generally higher top-end ERA+s in the 90s and 21st c. Pedro Martinez was asked to go balls out as long as he could; Dave Steib's marching orders were completely different.

   161. FrankM Posted: February 21, 2013 at 11:22 AM (#4373286)
You can certainly make it more structured than "late & close". Like "8th inning tied or ahead by one".
   162. Bug Selig Posted: March 27, 2013 at 09:02 PM (#4398034)
I'm never very convinced with the 'we can't fix it 100% so why bother at all' arguments.


Just as many of us aren't going to clamor for a solution (partial or complete) to a condition that is not generally agreed to be a problem.
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