By In Stuff

Bullpens and luck

My latest for SportsWorld is on the Royals remarkable bullpen and how — luck or skill — Kansas City happened upon what might be baseball’s new paradigm.

I’m not sure how far this will go. But the Royals essentially have three closers with the firm: Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Will teams keep going in this direction? Is a sixth-inning closer something teams will consider in the future? How about a starter that goes four innings every four days and then five closers? 

I have little doubt as I talk to people around baseball that teams are watching this Royals team very closely and wondering if there are lessons to be learned.

The Power of Three on SportsWorld.

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22 Responses to Bullpens and luck

  1. mmaattw says:

    The three closer bullpen has been done. Check out the 1990 Reds who had the Nasty Boys.

    • Dan Shea says:

      It’s acknowledged in the article.

    • The Braves had this going on last year. Of course, once a pitcher is effective, the price goes up for next years contract. It’s hard to put three lights out closers together, keep them healthy, and then pay them after it’s worked (most non 9th inning bullpen pitchers are on one year deals). Bottom line, most teams try to pull this off already, but it’s tough to do and tougher to maintain. Tell me that all three Royals closers will be on the team next year. Tell me somebody isn’t going to offer at least one of them a nice multi year deal as soon as the FA signing period starts.

      • Mark says:

        Actually, all three of those guys WILL be on the Royals next year, as none of them will be free agents until after next season. Davis hits first in 2016; Holland in 2017, and Herrera in 2019.

        • Yeah, I thought about that after I posted. I wasn’t sure since I don’t know the team intimately, but I remembered that the pitchers were young. The Royals situation is even more unusual because they have some control over the contracts (for one more year in Davis’ case). Most times this happens (and for sure the Royals aren’t the first team to have a lights out bullpen for innings 7-9), one or more of the pitchers are veterans on one year FA deals.

          But, the other factor is that normally a lights out bullpen one year doesn’t translate into a lights out bullpen the next year. Injuries, slumps, bouts of wildness, loss of velocity…. all kinds of maladies are likely to hit one, or more, of the players. As always, health is a major factor in winning. This year, the injury bug didn’t bite the Royals very hard, if at all. I don’t follow the Royals, but I haven’t heard of any major injuries befalling them this year.

  2. Guest says:

    the penalty for three times through the lineup is the new pitch count, if not the new on base percentage. and it is coming of age under the reign of yost. my oh my.

  3. invitro says:

    Joe has an excellent ability to point out B.S. in other people’s writing. So I’m sure he won’t mind if I point out that his

    “Recognizing luck is the key to having luck.”

    is a steaming load of horse hockey. You already knew that, but just in case: there is no key to having luck. That’s why it’s luck.

    Also, “Lucky happens.” What does that even mean? That there are times in baseball when luck plays a factor? Does even one person have the slightest doubt about that? Is it also true that “Touchdown drives happen”? Or “Four-foot putts don’t happen”?

    At least he didn’t write “Lucky happens. Period.”

  4. Chris says:

    World Series game 1 as an armchair manager. Even with a loss there can be positives.

    3rd inning 2 on, pitch Duffy 2 innings…rough 4th and a lights out 5th. Good for confidence, plus he is available Wednesday (59 pitches leaves him questionable).
    6th, bring in Finnegan for 1 inning to give him series experience with no pressure

    7th Herrera
    8th Davis
    9th Holland

    I would sacrifice looks at pitcher for confidence hit. Media is all over Royals 7 8 and 9. Let it sink in. Make Giants stress about scoring early. Plus Giants 0-3 vs Royals regular season (in August as well with current rosters)..

    Let Giants know that they have to score early…pressure.

    Nevertheless, go Royals. Parades nonetheless.

    • I don’t think pressure is a factor for the Giants. They’ve been there, done that and are playing with confidence. And btw, they did score early. The Royals are the team that needs to figure out how to score early if they expect to ever have a lead this series that they can turn over to the bullpen.

  5. eric3287 says:

    It seems to me teams have ALWAYS (at least in the past 15-20 years) tried to build bullpens like this. Look at all the money that goes to closers and set up men, etc. Heck, the Reds basically paid 3 guys (Chapman, Broxton, Marshall) closer money in hopes of the same thing. The real turning point will come when a team figures out how to REPLICATE this success going forward. Isn’t that the real issue with bullpens? How unpredictable and inconsistent the vast majority of RP’s are?

  6. MikeN says:

    The Red Sox tried it with Mendoza and Timlin and Foulke.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      In 2003, the Red Sox had it with Embree, Timlin and Williamson.
      Those pitchers in the ’03 postseason:

      Embree: 6.2 IP, 4 hits, 1K, 0 runs
      Timlin: 9.2 IP, 1 hit, 11 Ks, 0 runs
      Williamson: 8IP, 3 hits, 14 Ks, 1 run

      Total: 24.1 IP, 8 hits, 26K, 1 run

      If this new mega-bullpen paradigm shift happened in 2002, there might never have been a Grady Little game.

  7. MikeN says:

    How about 8 starters that do 4 innings each?

    • My first reaction was that this is crazy talk. My second reaction is that someone, somewhere, will try it. If it works, others will follow.

    • Ross says:

      If a team goes down this path or one of the ones Joe suggests, it would make the pitcher win stat even less meaningful.

    • owenpoin says:

      I’ve thought about variations of this with the Mets next year. Obviously they won’t but with Harvey, Wheeler, Niese, Gee, Colon, Syndegaard, Montero and DeGrom they do have eight starters right now. If they kept all of them, they could have four starter pairs. First guy goes through the order twice, next guy probably does too. Then you figure out what to do with the pitcher currently in there and the remaining 3-4 bullpen guys. There are way too many reasons that won’t happen (too weird, and try convincing an old manager to replace a dealing deGrom with Gee in the middle of the 5th, also there would be too many games that the initial starter doesn’t make it through the 3rd) but the Mets have a lot of starters and this would help manage the load for Harvey, Thor, Montero and deGrom.

  8. Scott says:

    I think it is interesting to hear everyone talk about how successful the Royals are and how people might want to emulate them…

    Just a couple years ago there was no second wild card. The Royals would have been sitting at home watching the A’s play in the divisional series and everyone would have been talking about how the Shields trade didn’t work, a dominate bullpen wasn’t enough to overcome a bad offense and the Royals just weren’t good enough.

    • Dave says:

      No, look at the final standings and recall the “play in” WC game was Oakland AT KC.

      A couple of years ago, the A’s would have been sitting at home watching the Royals play in the divisional series after having concluded their 162 game season, one game behind the Royals.

      • MikeN says:

        From best record in baseball to out of the playoffs would have been a tough break. At least now they can claim KC is in their spot.

  9. MisterMJ says:

    Dodgers tried it with Perez (Indians closer 2010-2013, 2x All-Star), Wilson (Giants closer 2008-11, former All-Star), and Jansen but best laid plans are foiled by injuries or ineffectiveness. They even had another former All-Star closer in Brandon League and another guy, JP Howell, who led the Rays in saves in 2009. All for naught.

    I’d be more impressed in the postseason when a manager with cojones relies less on specific “roles” and instead, puts the best reliever in the game for the most high-leverage situations. Imagine if Yost put in Davis or Holland in the sixth inning in Game 4 when the Royals’ 4-2 lead was evaporating under the mediocrity that is the Frasor, Duffy, and Finnegan trio. The game ended 11-4 for the Giants so it hides the utter passivity of Yost – wasn’t he supposed to be more aggressive and small-ball?

  10. JGF says:

    I looked at percent change in SO/9 in innings 7-9 vs. innings 1-3 for select years. It has gone up over time. The table below shows SO/9 in innings 1-3, innings 7-9 and the percent change:

    1954 4.4 4.1 -7%
    1964 6.2 5.9 -4%
    1974 5.3 5.0 -5%
    1984 5.6 5.5 -2%
    1994 6.2 6.5 +6%
    2004 6.5 7.2 +11%
    2014 7.5 8.4 +12%

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