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Monday, November 04, 2019

Musings on Rule Changes and Bullpen Construction

Starting next season there are two new rules that affect most of the season:

1. Active roster size expands from 25 to 26.

2. Any pitcher who enters the game cannot be removed until the first of these three events:
- injury
- end of the half-inning (or game)
- they have faced at least 3 batters.

As the offseason begins, what do the new rules - the second one, specifically - mean for the Red Sox bullpen?

Well, it could mean a couple of things.

The most obvious consequence has already been forecasted when the changes were announced: the end of the LOOGY. We’ve all seen a lefty reliever brought in to get out a great LHB, and immediately get taken out before he has to face a RHB. The new rule increases the odds of a lefty specialist having to face at least two right-handed batters. Going through the OPS-against splits of Boston’s bullpen candidates on the 40-man roster, this would not bode well for Bobby Poyner (MLB career 1.49 L/R split), Brian Johnson (1.37), and maybe Josh Taylor (1.24) and righty-with-reverse-split Colton Brewer (1.20). It also would not look very good for righty “specialists” Ryan Brasier (0.63), Ryan Weber (0.78), and soon-to-be free agent Jhoulys Chacin (0.84), nor possibly for Trevor Kelley (0.51 in MLB in a very limited sample; mLB splits unavailable). Other than Chacin all of these players are low on service time, so there’s still opportunity for development.

The players with the least egregious career splits - Marcus Walden (1.10), free agent Andrew Cashner (0.93), Matt Barnes (0.94), Heath Hembree (0.95), Brandon Workman (0.96), Travis Lakins (0.98 in MLB/AAA/AA), and Mike Shawaryn (1.05 in MLB/AAA/AA) - seem like safer bets. Mind you, Hembree’s “good” half of his split is a 737 OPS, so maybe he’s not so safe after all. Cashner’s probably going to test free agency until he gets a good deal, so it’s unlikely he’ll be back. Lakins and Shawaryn haven’t been around for long, so we shouldn’t assume they will contribute materially to the 2020 team. That leaves a bullpen of Walden, Workman, and Barnes. It’s possible they would keep one of the lefty specialists, given the extra roster slot. In that case perhaps Poyner or Johnson (who might still be a rotation candidate?) would be retained.

The other thing the rule change could mean is… the opposite of the obvious consequence. Perhaps they will stock the bullpen with more specialists, instead of fewer? As other teams jettison their LOOGYs is there an arbitrage opportunity, picking up good relievers on the cheap? Bloom’s first transaction in his new role has been to acquire Josh Osich (1.35) from the White Sox. Maybe this signals that kind of strategy. Can that work?

Let’s contemplate game states where a LOOGY will be desired. For the moment we’ll ignore the score but assume it’s a close game; if it’s not close the platoon splits of the pitcher will be 174th among their priorities. Also, let’s for the moment set aside the pinch-hitting options on the bench: we’re bringing in a LOOGY to face a dangerous lefty batter, and seldom will a team pinch-hit for a dangerous lefty batter. The game states, in broad groups:

a) 2 outs. In most cases you want a LOOGY, or a LOOGY is no worse than several other options, if they get the out. If they don’t, they have 1 or 2 more batters to face, possibly losing the platoon advantage. As with most pitchers, even when they lose the platoon advantage they are still likely to get the batter out. IMO a LOOGY is still a viable option here. (2-out game states are 32% of all plate appearances.)

b) 1 out, nobody on. In all honesty it feels like it doesn’t matter if it’s a LOOGY or a ROOGY or someone else pitching. You need two outs and the lack of runners means you have some margin for error. Although when we move away from 2-out scenarios we should feel less comfortable with a LOOGY under the new rules, there isn’t going to be much difference among the various options. Thus a LOOGY is a viable option here. (18% of PAs)

c) 1 out, runners on. Things just got interesting. You need two outs, and frankly the benefit of getting from 1 out to 2, with no change in game state otherwise, is so much smaller than getting from 2 out to 3. Your better bet is to bring in someone who’s likely to get outs, because you’ll need them to get at least 2 that inning. Sparing that, IMO it’s better to focus on the immediate out. Although the game state benefit of the immediate out is small the severity of outcomes are so much worse if you don’t get it. If there’s a runner on 3rd, bring in the LOOGY to get the out and take away the sac fly possibility for the next batter. If no runner on 3rd, bring in whoever can get outs. (1 out, runner on 3rd is 4% of PAs. All other 1-out-runners-on scenarios are 12%.)

d) 0 out. I mean, you could argue in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game you might want the LOOGY for the immediate out, but now he’s guaranteed to face 2 more batters. In a close game with a good LHB coming up, I think even then you don’t want to go down this path. (34% of PAs.)

All of the above is just general. I mean, there will be specific scenarios where a LOOGY still makes sense within the “no LOOGY” sample, and vice-versa. Let’s say you have no outs, a runner on 3rd, and a L-R-L set of batters coming up. You bring in the LOOGY to get the out; then you intentionally walk the subsequent righty in order to face another lefty and get the second out. Then you can bring in whoever you want. The notion I’m contemplating is whether, in the 3-batter-minimum era, it makes sense to have a LOOGY on the roster. I think a LOOGY still makes sense in roughly half the cases (32%+18%+4%=54%) you might have used them before.

If you’d say “It has to be less than half, because we chose to ignore pinch-hitting scenarios”, well, we have pinch-hitting scenarios today, and yet we have LOOGYs just the same. That’s why I’m saying half the cases you might have used them before instead of half the game states.

Regardless of all that, we still have this fact: you still need someone to pitch these innings. The value of small-platoon relievers just went up, but that doesn’t mean the supply is going to rise to meet demand. The players formerly known as LOOGYs will pick up some of these innings. LOOGYs will just become large-platoon relievers - LOBATOGYs (Lefty One-Baserunner-And-Two-Out GuYs), if you will. And if that’s the case, then any team shedding LOOGYs is putting potentially capable relievers on the market for easy pickin’.

All that having been said, Josh Osich is not The Solution. It’s unclear if he will survive roster cuts before opening day. He was acquired on a waiver claim, and probably will make around $1m this year (he’s arb-eligible). His most useful role in the next 12 months might be the excuse for me to evaluate whether LOOGYs are going extinct or just being renamed. And the bullpen has far more issues than this one guy can address. Still, one of the issues is the lack of lefties, and Osich has a left hand that he likes to use for throwing baseballs. Perhaps that’s all that is.

This is where the other change comes in. If they have a 26th player on the roster, and they can’t mix & match relievers as much as they used to, how should they use it? Are they better off loading up with pinch-hitters to make things more difficult for opposing relievers? Or are they better off having a wider selection of relievers so they can be more sure to bring in the right one for the right occasion - including shortening the game for the starters? I still think bullpen construction is the more interesting topic. Certainly there’s no shortage of questions about that.

villageidiom Posted: November 04, 2019 at 07:00 AM | 1 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Textbook Editor Posted: November 04, 2019 at 05:36 PM (#5898581)
vi--thank you, that's some good stuff and things I hadn't even begun to think about w/r/t 2020...

If they have the extra roster spot, perhaps that means both JD *and* Mookie can be on the 2020 team?


[stares out window and waits for spring]

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