By In Stuff

Modern Romonce

There’s a fundamental tension in spectator sports that goes a little something like this: The things a player or coach or team will do to win and the things that make the game fascinating and authentic and fun and are rarely the same. Much of the time they are at odds with each other.

We’ve seen this over and over and over in sports. The most obvious example of this involves performance-enhancing drugs. When players take PEDs, they obviously are not worried about their sport as a whole. They obviously don’t care how it will impact the fan experience or the sport’s integrity or any of that. Taking PEDs is a fundamentally selfish move which is, I think, the big reason why so many fans stay so angry about it.

But this is where the whole thing gets tricky because, in general, EVERYTHING a player or team does to win is fundamentally selfish. I don’t mean “selfish,” the way it’s usually meant in the sports context — where, say, a basketball player takes too many shots or a football player is more interested in individual glory than the team winning. I’m saying strategies to win rarely, if ever, take into account what will make the game more fun for a fan. That’s not the coach’s job. That’s not the manager’s job. That’s not the player’s job either.

Take the NBA in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Based on the rules and trends of the time, teams understood that their best chance to win was to play grueling basketball at a glacial pace, lots of physical play, lots of defense, lots of one guy dribbling as the shot clock went down. In 1998-99, in the aftermath of Michael Jordan, teams averaged 91.6 points per game, the lowest per-game total since the NBA was young. To me, it was just about unwatchable … and I was not alone. The ratings collapsed. Who wanted to sit through that? And it kept getting worse and worse; the 2003 NBA Finals between San Antonio and New Jersey had the lowest television ratings in modern NBA history. The 2007 NBA Finals between the Spurs and Cleveland was not much better.

The team found most often at the scene of the crime was Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs; but how could you blame him for brilliantly coaching the league’s most successful team. His job, the team’s job, was to win. And they did win, every year. Spurs fans sure enjoyed it. And if the style bored the heck out of many staunch NBA fans and turned off many casual ones, that was, as the saying goes, above Pop’s pay grade. That was for the NBA to figure out.

There are dozens of other examples like this, but let’s get to the title of this and discuss Sergio Romo. As you no doubt know, Sergio Romo started back-to-back games over the weekend for Tampa Bay. On Saturday, he pitched one scoreless inning, the Rays scored four runs in the top of the second, and quote-unquote “starter” Ryan Yarbrough came into the game and pitched a very good 6 1/3 innings, three relievers closed things out, the Rays won to get to .500 after a horrendous start to the season.

On Sunday, Romo started and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, and the Rays again took the early lead (though not until Romo was out of the game). Three pitchers could not hold on to that lead. Romoing worked, even if the Angels ended up winning.

Now, let’s say right off that I’m quite sure this Romo strategy is a winning one. Many of us have been talking about it for years; Joe Sheehan most prominently. Teams rarely use fewer than three pitchers in a game; they average about four pitchers per game. There have been 17 complete games all season. Seventeen. The concept of a starting pitcher as we knew it in the 1970s and 1980s and even 1990s has been blown to smithereens, so the question has been obvious for a while now: When will a team just finish the job and reinvent the whole pitching order of a game? If you KNOW you will use Sergio Romo for an inning at some point, isn’t the best time in the first inning, when he will face the top of the lineup, when you are hoping to grab an early lead in the game?

Romoing is a fundamentally sound strategy, even slightly brilliant, and the only reason nobody did it before, I believe, comes down to that one word: Tradition. We like to mock tradition here and elsewhere, but it’s often the only thing holding people back from taking a wrecking ball to the games we love. I remember a few years ago, Kansas City pitching coach Bob McClure came up with a new way to use pitchers; I think his idea involved three pitchers going three innings every game. It was interesting and, if memory serves, could have worked — and if any team was going to try something like that, it should have been the mid-2000s Kansas City Royals who annually lost 100 games and seemed as hopeless as a team can be.

The Royals’ manager Buddy Bell and the other coaches laughed McClure out of the office and rolled their eyes and shut down every time he started talking about it again. Tradition!

But let’s say something else about tradition. Let’s say the Romo strategy works, as I think it will. Let’s say every team begins to use some variation of it. Let’s say that teams start carrying two or three of the old-fashioned starters and then Romo their way through the other games using some kind of good middle-reliever for the first inning, some fifth starter type for as long as he can be effective, then hand the ball off to the other guys in the bullpen.

Let’s say that’s good for winning baseball games.

Is that good for us fans WATCHING and FOLLOWING baseball games?

I don’t bring that up because I have an answer. I bring it up because we should ask the question. Every one of us who has fallen in love with baseball has fallen in love with a game that treasures starting pitchers. Hey, who is starting tomorrow? I’m going to the game tonight, who is starting? Who will start the All-Star game? And so on. Starting pitchers are at the heart of baseball’s history, at the core of baseball’s romance, at the center of the most cherished moments in the history of the game.

Will the game be as delightful with interchangeable middle relievers starting games and going an inning? Again: I don’t have an answer to that or an answer to would apply to anyone else. I’ll love baseball if they use 27 different pitchers to get 27 outs; I’m hopelessly in love with the game. The point I’m making is that it’s not Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash’s job — nor in his best interest — to worry about what Romoing will mean for fans of the game, just as it wasn’t Lou Boudreau’s place to worry what the Ted Williams shift would become 70 years later, just as it wasn’t Sparky Anderson’s concern to piece together where his Captain Hook strategy of pulling his starters nightly might lead.

Managers and players will do what it takes to win. That is how it should be. Winning is their North Star.

And what’s our North Star as fans? I don’t know, exactly, but I do know it isn’t necessarily the same star.


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65 Responses to Modern Romonce

  1. Steve Schohn says:

    As always very smart, especially with your analogy to early-2000 NBA. But the follow-through to the analogy is, the NBA changed a bunch of things to make it enjoyable to watch again. And while baseball is on a 15 year journey to figure out the “smart” way to win under the current rules, favoring Three True Outcomes and tiring out pitchers and starting middle relievers and all that, I think the old 1980s-style baseball of bunting people over and stolen bases and first-pitch-swinging was much more aesthetically pleasing. What rules could be tweaked, analogous to hand-checking and illegal-defense, to bring some of that back?

    tl;dr if smart people figured out how to break the game, what can be done to fix it

    • Matt says:

      Yea, sorry. Gonna have to disagree. Bunting and playing small ball is boring.

      • KHAZAD says:

        I never liked bunting, but having more contact and some fundamental baseball would be still be more exciting than all the strikeouts. Strikeouts are easily the most boring part of baseball.

        • KHAZAD says:

          Also, walks, while a desirable outcome, are a close second. 31.3% of all plate appearances this year end in one or the other.

    • jeffrey mellman says:

      Would any care to chime in on this long running conversation I’ve been having w/a friend who’s always complaining about NBA defense in the “old days”, for example:
      “No Playoff games today, I search Youtube and watch classics. I couldn’t get 5 minutes in before the lack of Defense and Effort made me switch 5 years into the future. No one touches anyone, there’s like 3 ft of space between players; it’s like a freakin’ Middle School Dance out there!”

      One of my replies to him:
      I’m watching the playoffs right now, and on every play I clearly see defenders way more than 3 ft away from any offensive player. What they’re doing is “guarding space” (guarding no one) until they’re supposed to rotate and/or double-team the ball. And I’m not complaining, just saying it’s really hard to compare eras when the rules were so different.

      Of course, w/modern training, diet, and wellness techniques, today’s players are usually in WAY better shape than in the past– and therefore much better able to cover ground rotating, switching, and double teaming. And while I’m in 100% agreement w/you that today’s players are usually in better shape than guys in the past — (it’s all relative too, as in which training techniques are available to whomever you’re playing with), — the main reason in fact that “there’s like 3 ft of space between players” is probably because the rule book didn’t permit defenders to legally zone and guard space(guard no one), in order to rotate as the modern game does.

      So what you call “a freakin’ Middle School Dance out there”, might in fact just be those eras’ defenders straying as far from their man as their rule book LEGALLY allowed them to do. And you’d be a real hypocrite too, if you don’t acknowledge that today’s defenders are quite often positioned WAY MORE THAN 3 FT AWAY from any offensive player in order to be in position to rotate and/or double team the ball.

    • SDG says:

      That’s the commissioner’s job. The job of the team is to do what wins (legally). The fans don’t have a job, they’re supposed to be entertained and no judgement on what does that. The commissioner’s job is to ensure the fans enjoy the product.

      If multiple-pitchers, TTO baseball isn’t entertaining the commissioner should change the rules. Widen the strike zone, deaden the ball, get the umps to penalize batters and pitchers who step in and out of the box and dance around like toddlers needing to pee, and make pitches happen fast.

  2. Matt says:

    Our north star is to be entertained.

    • Yehoshua Friedman says:

      Yes,but being entertained is subjective. What it takes to win is in principle objective, based on whatever your best statnerd stuff says. If the fans don’t like that, would they like it better if your manager or coach did crowd-pleasing things that were cool and lost the game? Baseball is tradition. But tradition is already being destroyed. No starting pitcher will probably ever win 300 games again, and the win as stat has been eaten away by termites. But what if the Shohei Ohtani two-way thing becomes a new paradigm, or versatility going as far as a position player becoming a real bullpen option other than in a total lost cause? Then a new form of fan excitement is born. The game has a dynamic of its own, and we will learn not only to live with it, but to be excited by it in a new way. Old wine in new bottles.

      • invitro says:

        “But tradition is already being destroyed.” — Isn’t that a little extreme? In general, I think the changes to baseball in 1969 & the 1970’s — Astroturf, the DH, polyester uniforms, expansion teams, a new round of playoffs — changed the fan experience of the game more than the changes of the last ten years do. And I think the biggest change of the last ten years has been the huge increase in game time.

        • SDG says:

          ” I think the changes to baseball in 1969 & the 1970’s — Astroturf, the DH, polyester uniforms, expansion teams, a new round of playoffs — changed the fan experience of the game more than the changes of the last ten years do. And I think the biggest change of the last ten years has been the huge increase in game time.”

          Agreed, invitro. But it’s not on the teams to reduce game time to make the game more exciting for the fans. Right now, what wins isn’t what’s best for the game long-term and it’s the job of the commissioner to do what’s best for the game long-term without caring what that does to an individual team’s strategy. So Manfred does need to reduce game time, I think, although the way he’s going about it is dumb.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        I don’t think anyone is saying that a manager should do “crowd pleasing” stuff at the cost of winning. The real issue, I think, is whether the stuff teams do to win is crowd pleasing. What you are talking about, to me, are gimmicks that don’t make the game itself more exciting. When you have more strikeouts than hits, that seems to me a real problem that goes to the very heart of what makes baseball interesting to watch.

  3. Richard says:

    I have a gut feeling that such a strategy will dampen offense even more than it is at present.

    Then what will a manager do when the game goes to extra innings, and all his good pitchers have already been used in the game?

    • Matt says:

      If a manager hasnt used his best pitchers by the time extra innings come around, I hope hes not managing my favorite team.

    • SDG says:

      We’re already seeing that occasionally. Short-term, a utility infielder gets to step outside his comfort zone for a game or two. Long-term, managers stop relying on pitchers to throw 100mph every pitch, the game selects for pitchers who can make soft contact and get outs rather than strikes, the gameplay and strategy changes.

  4. Mark says:

    The part that makes sense to me is that we won’t have to require that starters put so much stress on their arms by throwing so many pitches they can’t pitch again for a week. If you limit it to 20-30 pitches, there’s no reason a guy can’t do that every other day for a full season, thereby getting more innings and less arm stress from each pitcher.
    Maybe pitching staffs will become like lines in hockey, where you’ll have the sequences pre-determined to maximize the effectiveness of the pitchers you plan (go lefty/righty, or heater and knuckler, etc)?
    The counter argument will be that the really great pitchers will never pitch enough to “find the zone” In Tennis, Fed is unbeatable when he finds “the zone” but that like never happens in the first set. The great ones need some time to find a rhythm.

    • SDG says:

      Or maybe starters go longer because they aren’t being asked to blow out their arms on every pitch and they don’t injure themselves as much/the game moves faster. I think that’s at the issue of the exploding game length. Pitchers wait more between pitches.

  5. Marc Schneider says:

    This is where sabermetrics has really hurt baseball as entertainment, even if it has helped teams figure out ways to win. Along those lines, there is a columnist here in Washington who, talking about the Capitals, gave a bunch of advanced statistics suggesting the Caps had little chance to win the Stanley Cup. He’s probably right-they will probably lose tonight-but, assuming that his stats were true and people bought into them, what would be the point of watching?

    I think sabermetrics is killing what Joe calls the “romance” of baseball. Will there ever be another moment like Jack Morris pitching a 10 inning shutout in the 7th game of the World Series? I seriously doubt. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s never another complete game in the World Series. I realize that GMs and managers do what they have to do to win, but, IMO, if you take away that “romance”, you take away a lot of what makes the game what it is. Watching guys strike out all the time and then hit a home run periodically is getting increasingly boring. But, the problem, as another commenter suggested, is that, unlike basketball and football, which could make rule changes to combat trends that were making the games less entertaining, I don’t know what baseball could do to make hitters stop trying to hit home runs every swing or have managers use multiple pitchers ever game. I’m afraid that sabermetrics is a runaway train that cannot be stopped (nor should it be) and that baseball will be increasingly difficult to watch. I don’t think I would ever stop watching baseball, but it’s getting very aggravating to watch.

    • CG says:

      Sabermetrics didn’t create the idea of teams/coaches/players seeking an edge. Heck, Joe mentioned several of them in his article.

    • invitro says:

      “Will there ever be another moment like Jack Morris pitching a 10 inning shutout in the 7th game of the World Series?” — Yeah, we used to see those 10-inning shutouts in the 7th game all the time, eh?

      • moviegoer74 says:

        Ha. It’s not often I find myself on the same side of an argument as invitro, but that was 27 years ago, man. The fact you had to go back that long to come up with your “will we ever have another..” moment should tell you something.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          Ok, good point, but the opportunity for such a thing is virtually gone.

          Yes, teams have always been looking for edges. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t really have a problem with sabermetrics other than the fact that the kinds of things that sabermetrics advances often seem to work to the detriment of the game as entertainment. I’m not saying it’s all the fault of sabermetrics. Basically, and this has happened in all sports I think, as the game becomes more of an industry and more professionalized and analytical, teams find ways to win that essentially suppress excitement. In the NFL, teams in the 60s and 70s went to various kinds of defenses that suppressed passing and scoring. For most coaches, that was fine because games based on ball control and defense give them more control and fewer ulcers. But they weren’t very exciting so the NFL changed the rules to open up passing. The same with basketball and the 3-point shot.

    • JayJay says:

      It’s obviously absurd to deny the effectiveness of Sabermetrics, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge the possibly negative impact they’ve had on our ability to enjoy baseball today.

      The fact is that Sabermetrics have taken the joy out of all sorts of ways we used to enjoy the game, such as –
      1 – Various batting races, like Batting Avg., home runs etc. These titles are meaningless now and almost no one follows them anymore.
      2 – Imagine someone making an assault on Dimaggio’s hitting streak. We’d have people (correctly) pointing out that the guy doing it is really only the 26th most productive player in his league over the course of his streak. Nice.

      You may argue that those pleasures were foolish, since they’ve proven to be inefficient ways of evaluating talent etc. But they were part of what made it fun to be a baseball fan. I could be wrong but I’m not convinced they’ve been replaced by new pleasures.

      • invitro says:

        Well, I think follow the batting average and home run races as much as I ever did… which isn’t a huge amount, but I check the leaders on about once a week. But I now follow the WAR and OPS leaders, too. I suppose I don’t care about the RBI leaders though.

        I remember really hating the attention given to win leaders way back in the early 1980’s. My favorite player, Nolan Ryan, won the ERA title in 1981, but won only 11 games, and so got a lot less attention than Carlton and Valenzuela, who each won 13 and beat Ryan in the Cy voting. But now I see that Carlton and Valenzuela also out-WAR’ed Ryan, despite Ryan having a big lead on them in ERA+ (they each pitched about 50 more innings than Ryan), so maybe the Cy voters (and fans) knew what they were doing. 🙂

    • Ty says:

      Make the “over the fence hit” a foul ball…

    • SDG says:

      “But, the problem, as another commenter suggested, is that, unlike basketball and football, which could make rule changes to combat trends that were making the games less entertaining, I don’t know what baseball could do to make hitters stop trying to hit home runs every swing or have managers use multiple pitchers ever game.”

      – Deaden the ball, raise the mound, widen the strike zone. These would all incentivise swinging.
      -Limit the number of pitching changes per game
      -Put in a pitch clock
      -More radical changes include putting a man on base in extra innings. Or mandading ballparks be a minimum size or have a minimum fence height.

      There are ways to do this. And it wouldn’t be the first time baseball tinkered with the rules to get the result they wanted.

      As for the rest of your points, sabermetrics have always existed, ever since we started recording stats. Teams have always tried to get an advantage to the consternation of purists who believed it would ruin the romance of the game. We heard this about defensive shifts, having fielders wear gloves, moving to the 3 man, then 4 man rotation, having actual relievers instead of just broken-down failed starters you used if your starter couldn’t complete his game like a real man, lefty-righty matchups, the farm system. All were going to ruin the game.

      The first team with a dedicated statistician was the Dodgers in the 1940s. All that’s changed is it’s now every team, and whole departments instead of one guy.

  6. Mac says:

    It seems to me that this is somewhat analogous to hedge funds and credit default swaps and a whole slew of other stuff that most people (including me) probably don’t understand. For the people doing it, they keep finding new ways to get an “edge” within (or perhaps beyond) the rules. Then someone else adapts and re-adapts and so on. It’s an arms race with no obvious end in sight.
    In other words, while it may be their stated goal “to win”, I challenge whether that _should_ be the over-arching goal, rather than “to provide entertaining baseball, while also making a reasonable profit.”
    We as fans would have a role to play in that: entertaining, but non-winning* baseball should be cherished nearly as much as entertaining (winning baseball) and–I contend–perhaps more than winning but boring (strikeout and walk-laden) baseball.

    *In this context, I treat “non-winning” as reasonably competitive that doesn’t yield championships or consistent playoff runs. Non-competitive, over-matched baseball is almost by definition, not too entertaining.

    • SDG says:

      It should be the role of teams to win. It should be the role of MLB and Manfred to ensure the game is healthy and sustaining. In your analogy, the federal government should have cracked down on credit default swaps. Here, Manfred is the federal government. He doesn’t need to ban anything, but he does need totinker with the rules to move the game in a more sustainable direction.

      In the old days it took 8 balls to get a walk. But then owners decided that was boring and took forever, so they changed it.

  7. John says:

    I think that the North Star is seeing more action on the field. That happens when the ball is put in play. Triples, guy trying to take the extra base, nice defensive plays. Three true outcomes are less interesting. Rules changes baseball could make to move us towards that are:

    – Deaden the ball so that it is harder to hit HR. Less incentive to swing for the fences.
    – More artificial turf so that speed is more relevant. (I know, turf is gross, but it makes for more interesting play)
    – Maybe a bigger strike zone so that hitters can’t wait for walks?

    Also, a pitch clock would make it so that we have to wait less time between the fun stuff.

    I’d like to do something to reduce the number of pitching changes but I can’t think of any simple non-intrusive solution to that one. Everything I can think of is complication and subject to being gamed.

    • Steve Schohn says:

      I think the solution to pitching changes is to handle substitutions like in all other sports. Which is to say, from the dugout the manager has a new pitcher sub in, and that pitcher immediately starts pitching. Kill the walk to the mound, the chat, the slow walk off the mound, and the warm-up pitches. In time, move the bullpens beneath the stands, have all warming up happen there, and kill the long walk in from the outfield. It’s not like NBA subs get to shoot seven free throws every time.

      • Yehoshua Friedman says:

        Great for the game, bad for the greedy owners. They want the commercial breaks at the pitching change. It’ll never pass. I want GB Packers type community ownership which will have a mandate to make the on-field product highest priority. But the multi-billionaires who own the game tank and screw the fans and still make money and won’t pay their minor league players a living wage. That’s obscene and it’s a swamp I want drained! Y’hear, Congersman Frog?

    • Yehoshua Friedman says:

      Turf is bad because it increases injuries and wear and tear on players. As a fan you don’t want good players on the DL more.

    • SDG says:

      I agree with most of these. DEFINITELY deaden the ball, widen the strike zone, and get umps to call it consistently. I’m not sure a pitch clock is needed right away. First, I’d like to crack down on rain-delay tactics on the part of pitchers and batters. This would hopefully lead to a lower run scoring environment, which incentivises triples, etc.

  8. Scott says:

    One of the small rule changes that I’ve been kicking around with some people regards pitching changes. My idea is that if there’s a mid-inning pitching change, the pitcher being removed cann’t pitch in the next game either. This would cut down on multiple mid-inning changes (not that there are many), which can cause a game to drag. It won’t hurt starters (who wouldn’t pitch the next game anyway) or injured pitchers, but would reduce the OOGYs. Perhaps something similar could happen to prevent excessive Romoing.

    It’s clear to me that the big change to speed up games is the pitch clock and keeping batters inside the box. One of the funnier reasons for why this can’t be done is because sign-stealing is more prevalent so teams need to send more signals. If they had less time between pitches, they’d have less time to steal signs.

    • SDG says:

      So crack down on batters leaving the box. Crack down on multiple warmup pitches on the mound and pitchrs dancing around up there. So what if teams steal more signs. Plan for that better. Steal signs back.

  9. Eric says:

    It’s fascinating to see the ideas of one of the real unsung heroes in the sabermetric revolution, Earnshaw Cook, come back to life. In 1964, in his book Percentage Baseball, he outlined how the bunt was severely overused, how platooning didn’t work in most cases, and, most relevant to this discussion, how a team should rarely let a pitcher bat (one pitcher for 2 or 3 innings, pinch-hit, the second pitcher for 2-5 innings [can bat once if he’s doing well], then a third pitcher to finish the game).

    The problem, of course, was that his writing style was so dreadful, his math so abstruse, that no one wanted to read his work. It took Bill James a few years later to explore questions with insight in an entertaining way (and why isn’t he in the HOF?). But Cook was there first, and given little credit for questioning the status quo. His book was certainly important to my thinking, and made me that much more receptive to James.

  10. shagster says:

    Wondered when we’d get to it.

    If it goes forward, it requires rethinking the meaning of ‘great’ for pitchers. I.E. would we know how awesome Verlander is as a pitcher, if he were only coming into games in the 2nd? Since many successful relievers are failed starters (KC’s Ahfeld comes to mind), it is likely true going the other way, too. Would Verlander even be the same pitcher?

    Then presumably a ripple effect occurs for how many more pitchers are carried on a roster, at expense of position players? And what does a position player now have to look like to get called up? Will there be a need for MORE two way Ohtani’s? (who WOULDN’T like that?)

  11. Steve Schohn says:

    Some more totally-infeasible ideas to value the entertainment aspect of the game:

    –Add Illegal defense! Defenders have to be in certain areas in the field. Eliminates shifts, encourages offense.

    –Can’t hold on runners! Pick-offs have to include the first baseman running from his spot. Would encourage stolen bases (good!), discourage the constant throwing to first (very bad!)

    –Foul out for strike 3! Maybe after getting two strikes, you get to foul off two pitches. After that, your next foul out is strike 3. This means no at-bat could take more than 8 pitches. Starters last longer, game moves faster.

    –And maybe craziest: choose to postpone at-bats. If you’re (say) winning 7-3 in the 6th, and your pitcher is rolling, instead of switching sides every three outs, elect to clear the bases and keep pitching the 7th 8th 9th until you want to hit. If the other team comes back, you’re still guaranteed your 27 outs later on, again clearing the bases every 3 outs.

    Totally infeasible! But I think crazy ideas are good, and something has to give to rebalance the sport.

    • moviegoer74 says:

      Banning the shift would not be infeasible. It would be easy. You just make a rule that the defense must position two fielders on each side of 2B. I don’t know if that would help a lot, but it would be easy to do.

    • Yehoshua Friedman says:

      You could make an illegal defense rule, but deadening the ball would encourage the hitters to hit to all fields and decrease the need for a shift. Artificial restructuring of the game by rule change decreases continuity and is not good.

  12. ceolaf says:

    1) Wouldn’t this add line-up construction debates to the pitching side of the equation? Wouldn’t this make line up construction on the hitting side MUCH more interesting? Wouldn’t this bring in MORE debate and discussion? Wouldn’t this demand more of managers? I see a LOT of upside, from a conversation/debate/columnist/second-guessing perspective.

    2) I think this approach would **highight** the value of real #1 stars/horses. Those would be the days that the opening pitcher(s) get to rest. When has a pitcher earned the actual opening role? Wouldn’t this be a good way to ease young/less experienced starters into the role, and see if they can grow into actually opening the game?

    3) Yes, it blows tradition. And it does weird things to their record books. But I’m don’t see how it makes the game less exciting or worse — unless managers fail to adjust their hitting lineups to adjust.

    What do we want from sports? The expected or the unexpected? Do we want the role unwritten rules, or do we want debate and discussion Isn’t second-guessing the manager/coach right close to the heart of being a sports fan? People say that NL baseball is better because there is more strategy there. Doesn’t this bring in more strategy, on both sides?

    I think this change would be good for baseball. Heck, it would even give old fogies more to complain about.

    Who loses?

  13. I believe it was Bill James who argued that the closer should come in when the game is on the line, not to “close” it out. So if the Dodgers were about to face the heart of the Rockies order tonight in the 7th, that’s when to bring in Kenley Jansen. I think that makes sense, and we need something statistically to explain it.

    But most managers won’t do that. So I wonder if doing something more radical, as Kevin Cash has done, might prove to be a pendulum move, where going wildly in the other direction will lead to something in the middle.

    • SDG says:

      Managers are starting to do that. Francona did that. Hinch did that. The closer usage is entering the mainstream.

  14. Craig says:

    This strategy (Romo-ing) doesn’t bother me, but neither is it obvious to me why it would be better than the current strategy, except (maybe) for the #4 or #5 starter. Assuming Romo is one of your better relievers, starting him just takes away his ability to pitch later in the game. And if you have a good starter, why does that help? Sure, you get to pitch to the top of the order, but you can do that later if you want to.

    • Hamster Huey says:

      Totally agree with this. Relief pitchers very seldom throw more than 100 innings in a year; even that’s a lot – it’s half what a durable starter logs. So the power of a great reliever is in the ability to maximize their innings is to make sure they are used in a high-leverage spot as often as possible, a la Andrew Miller. And while the top of the first in a 0-0 game is probably higher leverage than up 3 in the 9th… it’s also not as high leverage as saving those innings for the 6th or 7th or 8th in a game that happens to be close. Much of the time, you’d use this 1st-inning specialist in a game that never ends up being close – and then what was the point? Unless there’s some evidence that preventing runs in the first inning somehow has more value than it does later? I mean, the fact that you know good hitters are coming up isn’t unique to the first inning; that situation arises every time that part of the order comes up.
      So – if Romoing is meant for great relievers, it seems a suboptimal use of them. And if it’s meant for “meh” relievers, then… well… “meh”.

      • Hamster Huey says:

        To try to clarify what I mean: a lot of the power of using a great reliever is in choosing which game situations, and even which games, to deploy them in (i.e., only the close ones). So by using them in arbitrary games before you know whether or not they’re close, you lose that power. I’m totally unconvinced that this will be a generally successful strategy.

        • invitro says:

          But you can’t do this… you can’t pitch your great relievers any old time you want them to pitch. They want to know what inning they’ll be pitching in advance, for most of their appearances.

          Since the Rays go deep with analytics, I’m sure they’ve worked things out to see that this use of Romo gets better pitchers throwing more high-leverage innings. And let’s remember that the beginning of the game is always a close game, so the first inning is always a high-leverage inning (or is 90% of the time). And if your designated 1st-inning pitcher(s) really is good, using him that way should reduce the number of high-leverage innings that come later in the game.

          Also, even if you could always use your best reliever in high-leverage spots, often this would result in the pitcher before him leaving the game before he needed to leave. The pitching change between the 1st and 2nd innings avoids this problem.

          • Hamster Huey says:

            Aren’t you the guy who loves WPA? The way you get a reliever to get more WPA/IP than a starter is by pitching him in higher-leverage innings than the first. And yes, 1st innings are always close… and if the point of the game was to get the first lead, that’s the way you’d want to do it. But it’s a game of variance. Some days, your team will score 6+ runs – on those days, you will have needed a scoreless first inning a bit less. This isn’t that hard. It’s not just about scoring 8 in the bottom of the first. If you score 8 by the 7th (or give up 8 by then), you probably didn’t need your best pitcher in the first. And each will happen sometimes. Unpredictably, sure — from the vantage point of the first inning. But it’s pretty obvious from the vantage point of the 7th.
            I’m all for the Andrew Miller model. I’m less convinced by the Romo model. I think it may work in place of a poor 5th starter, but mainly by virtue of replacing innings by a bad pitcher with innings by a better pitcher.

      • moviegoer74 says:

        Yeah…if you use your Romo in the top of the 1st and then you go out and score 8 in the bottom of the 1st, you’re left wishing you’d just rested him that day and let the #5 starter soak up the innings.

  15. invitro says:

    Speaking of starting pitchers, do the Astros have the best starting rotation of the last ten years? Or even of all time? Who’s been better?

  16. BobDD says:

    Well, the one time in baseball history this was tried, it was for the entertainment value. Satchel Paige used to start five and six games in a week, go three innings and then turn it over to the other pitchers on his team (Kansas City Travelers). Too bad we don’t have complete statistics for those games. I’ve always thought if we did have all the Negro League stats that ol’ Satch would sport the lowest similarity scores of anyone. But instead of the coveted stats, we have so much myth that it isn’t even agreed on which is truth and which is myth.

    I’m thinking that star players and their agents would have enough pull in contract negotiations to not allow a style of game strategy that would not produce the kind of records that makes for the high pay.

    • invitro says:

      “Well, the one time in baseball history this was tried” — I’ll bet it’s been tried hundreds of times throughout baseball history. With a quick check, I saw that the Rays did this twice with Steve Geltz in 2015. And I remember teams occasionally having designated “bullpen days” from my childhood in the 1980’s.

  17. invitro says:

    Zack Cozart doesn’t like it… from :

    Cozart, who struck out Saturday but drew a walk in the second inning on Sunday, thought he’d be preparing to face Matt Andriese, who’d warmed up the inning before and appeared to be set to enter in the second. The change in plan perturbed the eight-year big-league veteran, who also had never seen such a thing.

    “It’s weird,” Cozart said. “I hope baseball doesn’t go in that direction to where it’s going to be more like spring training, having a pitcher go an inning or two and then change it out.

    “I don’t think that’s good for baseball, in my opinion. It’s definitely weird, not knowing who you’re going to face in your first couple of at-bats. … Usually, you have a starter and you think you’re going to have three at-bats probably. So, you’re going to use the first at-bat and you want to have success, see what he has if you haven’t faced him before, stuff like that. When you’re going spring-training style, it’s definitely a different ballgame. It’s spring training; that’s the best way I could describe it. I hope it doesn’t go in that direction.”

    • Spencer says:

      Good thing it doesn’t matter what Zach Cozart thinks

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Listening to ballplayers talk about anything is always an interesting experience because they are so uninformed and so rigid in their thinking. Basically, Cozart is upset because . . . well, it’s not good for him and how dare baseball do something that makes Zack Cozart uncomfortable. Amazing lack of self-awareness.

  18. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The former starters becoming middle relievers means that they get into the vital innings more often and the hitters don’t dope them out fast enough to hit them. Each start of a starter is a question of what stuff he has on what pitch etc. Two-way players could be a great bench and pen saver with a utility guy coming in as a PH and staying in the game to pitch etc. The two-way guy doesn’t have to be a superstar Ohtani. He can be a Sandoval throwing like Bartolo for an inning and they don’t have time to figure him. My other pet idea is to standardize the DH in both leagues by making DH/no-DH subject to a coin-toss at home plate. If you are pitching an Ohtani or a Bumgarner, you win the toss and call no-DH. You are the manager, you have to come to the plate with two or three lineups. You decide to DH Ohtani and pitch him a different day because the other guy won and chose DH. That would add strategy and force teams to build rosters without guys who could not play the field. Reactions?

    • KHAZAD says:

      I vote we do away with pitchers hitting altogether. Ohtani’s team chooses not to have him DH on the days he is pitching no, and he is a once in a century 2 way talent. NO ONE is going to choose Bumgarner over a DH, ever. Just because Bumgarner is considered a good hitter for a pitcher doesn’t mean he can hit. Bumgarner has over 500 PAs in his career, and his OPS+ is 53. There are 407 active position players who have accumulated 500 career PAs, and 404 of them have an OPS+ higher than Bumgarner.

      Also, position players pitching is cute and all, but they could not do it on a regular basis. It will always be a niche/blowout loss type thing. Once it became obvious a guy might be used more often they will have film and scouting reports on him. Pitching is a singular skill. He will get shelled if overexposed,and the active position players who have thrown a pitch in a game have an ERA of well over 7 even with the element of surprise thrown in.

  19. Mark Daniel says:

    I keep thinking of this and I’m not sure if it will help in the long run. The idea is to prevent the starter from seeing the top of the order 3 times. I think that’s a pretty clever idea. And it seemed to work the first time TB tried it. Cozart’s comments posted by in vitro above suggest a mental game at work as well.
    But at the same time, you’re exposing your bullpen guys to the top of the order more often. In two games, Trout, Upton and Cozart each faced Sergio Romo twice.
    The series is over, and they won’t face each other again until like August, so maybe it’s not a big deal. But you also have to face divisional opponents 19 times a year. Maybe you’ll exposing your starters to less of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, but your bullpen will see them more.

    I guess the question is what is worse, facing a pitcher 3 times on one game or facing a pitcher once per game but in multiple games.

  20. steve says:

    I appreciate a good pitcher’s duel. (Or pitchers’ duel.) And every now and then a 10 – 8 game. 4 hours of a 12 – 3 game, even if my team is winning, drives me out to work in the yard. The closest MLB city to me is over 500 miles away, so I am mostly a watcher. Maybe I’d feel differently if I was at the ballpark. Which brings up the question: how does live vs. tv influence fan perceptions?

  21. Kuz says:

    As (almost) always thought provoking, Joe. Gotta give the commentor credit for advocating artificial turf. First belly laugh of the day. Look, you gortta play the game to win. If the general public doesn’t want to watch, I don’t care, as long as I can. As for Sabermetrcs, I deal blackjack part time at a casino. The dealer has to play his or her hand according to the rules, no free will. The player has free will: hit, stay, split, double down, surrender. The dealer is the saber metrication. The player is the “eye test” practitioner. The dealer has the statistical advantage. There’s probability and there’s outcome. A lot of times the outcome trumpts probability. But over, say, 162 hands, the probability triumphs. So the Sabermetricians are correct, but not always right. Back to popularity: baseball is shaped like a slice of pizza pie. Football is shaped like rectangle. Television is rectangular. Television became ubiquitous in the early-mid fifties. Correllation is not necessarily causeation, but the NFL took off with the dissemination of television. Why hasn’t rectangular futbol eclipsed baseball in the last 15-20 years as predicted for the last 45-60 years? Just asking. Anyone have any ideas on developing a pizza pie shaped display for remotely viewing baseball games?

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