Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Amazing Conversation on Relievers

Spending way, way, way too much time reading my baseball-centric twitter feed, I will occasionally have the honor of witness great 'Tweeting Wars'. Those are awesome. I wish I had one here for y'all today. But nope, you get to read an amazing discussion between some of the best baseball minds the public sphere has to offer, I promise you will be smarter and a better person for having read this. It took place Friday about 1 AM, and was primarily between Kevin Goldstein and Joe Sheehan. Goldstein, of Baseball Prospectus, is a smart guy with a ton of connections and regularly talks to players and management, while Sheehan is, for my money, the best independent baseball thinker around right now and he was an original founder of Baseball Prospectus who now writes for Sports Illustrated.

Below the break-

It started out innocuous enough:

I want to be the Dennis Eckersley of Twitter.

A couple more tweets between Sheehan and others about the fact he believed the 'closer mentality' was a myth and therefore did not matter. To which KG responded...

If you talked to 50 GMs/AGMs , and 45-50 told you it mattered, would you care?

I already know that the belief system -- which is what the closer myth is -- is entrenched. I'm saying it's empty.

Pitching is overwhelmingly about stuff and ability, but I refuse to think they're all robots who are completely unaffected by the situation.

Sure. I'd have two objections: 1) evaluation of mental capacity for closers is 99% outcome-based over a small sample...   ..2) three-out saves map poorly, often VERY poorly, to true game pressure.

Like many of these things (clutch, closer mentality, etc.), I don't like 'they don't exist'.' I like they don't exist as MUCH. And who are you to measure true game pressure?

Joe's response to the degree of existence-

I like, "they may exist, but are exaggerated to the point of creating huge inefficiencies."

Joe's response to the questioning of whether he can accurately measure true game pressure-

KG, if we can't agree that Bastardo faced more game pressure than Papelbon did tonight...

For the readers' information, Antonio Bastardo is an inferior Phillies' reliever who faced the middle of the opponent's lineup, while Phillies' superior pitcher Jon Papelbon meddled against the bottom of the order hitters in the 9th.  
Some might find getting outs in the ninth of a 3-1 game more difficult than 4-3 game in the 8th. Some might not.

I hate how bullpens are managed. But I think [closer mentality] exists.

I certainly don't think the gap is what you think, and I certainly believe pitchers have comfort in roles.

To which I interject: Could pitchers not find comfort in having roles based on leverage and situation rather than inning?

Does that comfort improve performance enough to make up for suboptimal usage? It's a pretty recent approach.

I agree usage is horribly suboptimal, what you and I disagree on really is what IS optimal.

I believe that flipping roles where guys go in the 7th inning one day, the 9th the next, etc, based on a concept of leverage would be ugly. I think relievers like to know their roles and have comfort in them. I think uncomfortable ones would be less effective and thus the break. It's the actual roles that are the problem.

We're a lot closer on this than is probably apparent from the exchange.

I just think that guy is more comfortable (and therefore better) knowing he has the last 4-8 outs. As opposed to 4-8 defined by an unpredictable abstraction of leverage.

Boog Sciambi, who enters here, is an ESPN TV commentator. Smart dude.

yes, guys like to know their roles but it's a matter of getting guys to buy into leverage usage. It can happen.

I'm not convinced guys would be comfortable with the 5th then the 9th then the 7th.

Like in perpetuity? They'll never be comfortable?

My belief is no. Guys like roles. I think we have to change the roles, but still have them.

You seem invested in the idea that that guy, whenever he comes in, closes the game. True?

I'm invested in the idea that guys should pitch at certain points in the game. Not absolutist on out No. 27.

Even A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy jumped in, with a sort of tangent-

and get guys used to the idea of being used innings 6-9. More than anything, pay scale would have to change

Note that in a rational usage setting, we'd probably have fewer pitching changes and warmups, so less dry-humping relievers. I'm the outside guy, but impression is that would be a huge net gain for work conditions that could offset some other stuff.

You'd also have deeper benches and better offense.

IMO, better baseball. The slate of in-game tactical options is a joke in 2012.

^alluding to 13 man pitching staffs with only 3 or 4 bench bats.

My problem is the size of the bullpen. Five men should do it. 180 innings going to 6th-8th best relievers. Silly.

 Almost seems like I might have made this case in a previous blog post... hmmmmm...

All stems from closercentric model, though. Have to break that mindset ("last three outs") to start the process.

Dave Schoenfield, who's all over the ESPN MLB pages had been in the convo for awhile, but I didn't include most of his contributions, but here's this:

For what it's worth, I once asked John Wetteland why the ninth inning is different. Thought he was going to tear my head off. "It just is."

Asking closers about the closercentric bullpen is pointless. It's their religion.

An interesting point here that Sheehan makes a lot. Citing confirmation bias in the insistence of former closers that there is a rare closer's mentality.

So, it kind of died off from there, but I think you can learn A TON from reading this, about bullpens, closers, usage and all kinds of other good stuff.

**The linearity of the discussion was tough to track, but I did my best to keep it in some sort of order.


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