There is a somewhat recent school of baseball nerd thought which suggests that relievers are all, basically, the same. Replacing relievers is easy and the life of a relief pitcher is volatile, so why bother paying top dollar? The Rays are a team which (ordinarily) employ this method of bullpen construction to great effect – they often turn over their ‘pen greatly from season to season without missing a beat.
As with most good ideas, the belief that “replacing relievers is easy” gave rise to a perversion of the original vision: the flippant attitude that relievers are essentially worthless gained traction among “analysts” and the like. Any old chump off the scrap heap can fill-in, heaven forbid a team sign a reliever in free agency!
That relievers are abundant and can all provide reasonable approximations of each other is obviously not true. Building a good bullpen isn’t easy as it often requires a crystal ball as much as scouting acumen. The one thing there can be replacement for in the bullpen is depth. Be it injury or ineffectiveness, having plenty of good pitchers ready to step in and accept an increased role is crucial over the 162 game season.
The Boston Red Sox are putting this idea to the test and it is only May, as members of their vaunted bullpen are suddenly dropping like flies.
For the first month of the season, the Red Sox featured a nearly unhittable bullpen. Starting with Koji Uehara and moving through Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, the Red Sox had the ability to shorten games considerably. Then Hanrahan went down with injury. The Sox didn’t miss a beat, sliding Andrew Bailey back into the closer’s role and increasing the leverage for Koji and Tazawa, the latter being used often in multiple inning outings.
Because Andrew Bailey is Andrew Bailey, he felt some discomfort in his right biceps after a few weeks. The Sox placed him on the DL yesterday as a precaution, meaning Joel Hanrahan got his old job back as closer and the Sox were ready to roll.
Until last night, when Hanrahan felt “a little pull” in his forearm when closing matters out against the Minnesota Twins. A few pitches later, he could barely get a pick-off throw to first base and was on his way out of the game. He’ll be evaluated later today to determine the nature of his injury.
The Red Sox went from having enviable bullpen depth to facing all manner of questions after last night’s 11 inning walkoff win. Craig Breslow came off the DL as Bailey went down but, if Hanrahan needs to miss time, they’re looking for a closer again.
Enter Koji Uehara. Not many teams have a talent like the mighty Koji at their disposal but the Red Sox snapped the incredible right-hander off the free agent market for a mere $4 million for 2013. A good signing at the time that looks better (17K and 0 UIBB in 15 appearances, only four runs allowed) and better as his role increases due to injury.
There is no substitute for depth. It takes a village to raise a bullpen, or something. Players go down with injury, players lose their jobs do to ineffectiveness, a bullpen is an incredibly fluid place. The only way to ensure things keep sliding along efficiently is with enough talent to absorb the bumps and bruises a big league season offers.
There aren’t many Mariano Riveras in the world, don’t build your bullpen under the assumption (and hope/prayer) that your great 9th inning hope is going to be any different than just about every other reliever in the game – subject to sudden and unannounced change at any time.
And the rest
Get ready to lose hours off your life – the Diamond Minds exhibit is now online and it is amazing. More on this later, dig in now to beat the crowds. [Baseball Hall]
MarLOLins doing their best AstLOLS
Sequencing and how the “when” you hit matters a lot in the early going [Lookout Landing]
Get to know a stat: understanding wOBA and wRC+ [Nationals 101]
Changing the interleague schedule means changes in the way fans consume interleague baseball. [Fangraphs]
“Integrity” means different things to Charlie Manual than it does to you or I [High Cheese]
Pretty sweet little feature from Yankees broadcasts (via Mike Axisa): YES view
More like R.I.P Dickey, amirite? [ESPN Stats & Info]
Note to Jarrod Parker: that sensation you’re feeling is called “shame”