Rethinking bullpen usage patterns

Blaming the umpire and not blaming the umpire
Fan Confidence Poll: June 1st, 2009

After watching Chien-Ming Wang pitch out of the bullpen yesterday, I’ve decided I like him out there. Well, not him specifically, but I definitely like that type of reliever. It’s one reason Al Aceves can be valuable to the Yankees this season: the ability to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen. The problem with having just Aceves, though, is that if he pitches three innings, as he did Friday night, he’s not available for a couple of days. So when, two days later, the Yanks need another long relief appearance, it’s nice to have a guy like Wang to fill that role.

It’s become standard practice for baseball teams to carry seven relievers on top of their five starters. This leaves the bench somewhat depleted, but for a team like the Yankees which normally has a stellar one through nine, it’s not much of an issue. That doesn’t meant that the way they construct the bullpen is right, though. In fact, with seven guys sitting out in the pen it might be time to rethink how they pick the relievers on the staff.

The general preference seems to be filling the pen with a bunch of one-inning, or even one-batter, guys. Sometimes they’ll go two, but for the most part you see a new reliever every inning after the starter exits unless he’s remarkably efficient, or the manager wants to play match-ups. But is playing match-ups necessarily the right move? After all, baseball is a game based on randomness. Anything can happen at any given time, and so playing lefty-lefty sometimes doesn’t work out. The percentages are supposedly in the pitcher’s favor, but probability, especially in an environment like baseball, isn’t exactly like flipping a coin.

What I’m getting at is the question of whether there’s an opportunity to capitalize in the bullpen. Start after start, we see starters exiting after six innings. That means three relievers between the starter and the end. Sometimes one of those relievers is Mariano, but what about those other two? Sure, you could have a lights-out eighth inning guy, but he can’t pitch every day. That, in fact, is one of my criticisms of Joe Torre’s “three-headed monster” schemes. If starters aren’t pitching past the sixth, you can’t just toss Quantrill-Gordon-Rivera every day. Torre did, and we saw the results at the end of the season.

What if the Yankees decided to use Aceves and one more designated long-man to fill multiple innings out of the pen? This would cost just two roster spots, leaving four more non-Mo spots in the pen. That goes to one-inning, high percentages guys. Think Bruney, Marte, Coke and eventually Melancon. So when A.J. goes six innings one day, Aceves can come in and finish the start. If there’s a one-run lead in the ninth Mo can come on. If he’s not available, Aceves can just finish what he startedrelieved.

If on the next night the starter can only go six, then you have the second long man to fill in. Again, Mo can pitch the ninth in a close game, or the long reliever can just finish it out, as he would the third inning of any start. It’s possible, in fact, that on these two consecutive games none of the one-inning relievers gets the ball. The long reliever is the guy who can take the game to the end (or, again, Mo can finish it).

This works well with the Yankees, who have a number of pitchers who can go deep into games. Sometimes CC will just finish what he started. Others he’ll leave only one or two innings left for the bullpen. This is where the one-inning guys fit in. When CC, A.J., and Andy go seven or eight, they can each pitch an inning in relief. Or, gasp, one could pitch two innings.

A while back, Phil Coke spoke about the bullpen not having defined roles. Well, this would shore up that problem nicely. Players A and B are long men. Players C, D, and E are one-inning guys. Player F is a LOOGY. Mo is Mo. Roles defined.

One of the biggest questions raised here would be of where to find a second long man. There are 18 weeks left in the season, not counting the All-Star week. If you can give one of the long men six innings a week (two appearances of three innings or three appearances of two innings), that comes out to 108 innings. They Yankees could, if they could find a way to guarantee he gets to his innings goals, slot Phil Hughes into that spot. It would allow him multiple-innigns work, keep him at the major league level, and also make him available, given proper notice of course, for spot starts, which would further increase his innings totals.

This idea is very rough and not even half-baked. It’s something I thought of while watching Wang pitch in relief of Hughes today. I’m also not married to relegating Hughes to this role. In any case, it seems like a creative way to utilize the team’s pitching surplus. Create a role called “finisher.” That reliever is called upon to pitch multiple innings and finish games. And, as always, Mo can finish the tight ones. Beyond getting more guys more innings, it is also a way to keep the one-inning guys fresh.

(Plus, if they can slot two quality guys like Hughes and Aceves into the long roles, they might not even need to carry 12 pitchers. If those guys are pitching every other or every third game and the starters are taking it to the seventh or eighth in the rest, it would seem the team could get by with just six guys in the bullpen. As an aside, it would also make sense to have a option-able guy on the bench so that the team could call up another reliever in case of emergency.)

How could we expand upon and refine this idea so it would work for the Yanks this year? The idea is to limit the usage of the crappy relievers, maximize the innings of the guys who are pitching well, and get guys like Hughes and Joba to their innings totals. It would seem that letting them go longer in the pen would be one solution. So how can the Yanks make it work?

Blaming the umpire and not blaming the umpire
Fan Confidence Poll: June 1st, 2009
  • Tom Zig

    I’m still looking for the ejection button on Veras’ seat…

    • Garry

      This idea works great in either a perfect world or a MLB 2k9 or something. It’s thought out well, but it’s just not realistic.

      1. No playoff contender team is going to slot 2 long-men on their squad. Teams hardly ever find the time to use even one properly.

      2. Sending Phil Hughes to the bullpen is ridiculous, mainly because the idea of sending a proven bullpen-monster in Joba Chamberlain there is cast off as ideas from a heretic. I don’t think Hughe’s makeup (emotionally or physically) would make him successful or even allow him to progress while in the bullpen for any length of time.

      3. Only 4 remaining bullpen sports doesn’t leave a lot of flexibility. You want 2 of these 4 spots filled by lefties, which leaves Bruney (who is no sure bet anymore) and a youngster. Meanwhile, Cokes walks too many batters and Marte isn’t nearly as good as advertised.

      Here’s my answer for this season, and this is by no means a long-term thing. Joba is going to reach his inning max this year and have to go to the bullpen anyway (has everyone fogotten this???). So just do it now and make the team better for the season.

      SP – Sabbathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Wang, Hughes
      9th inning – Mo Rivera
      8th inning – Joba Chamberlain, Brian Bruney
      Relievers – Coke (L), Marte (L), Robertson (R), Melancon(R)
      Jack of all Trades – Al Aceves

      That is 13 pitchers, which leaves 4 guys on the bench:
      C – Molina
      1B/DH – Shelly Duncan
      IF – Ramiro Pena
      OF – Gardner/Nady/Swisher

      Again, trash the notion of Joba going to the pen, but NEWSFLASH….he will be going there anyway this year. So the sooner it’s done, the sooner the yankees team gets locked in as a set roster.

      • Joseph Pawlikowski

        “Again, trash the notion of Joba going to the pen, but NEWSFLASH….he will be going there anyway this year. ”

        Right. Because you say so. That seems to be the argument du jour. “Joba goes to the bullpen because [I think] it’s obvious.”

        Brian Cashman told reporters, in no uncertain terms, that Joba is a starter. We just saw a report that Joba can’t really pitch out of the bullpen anyway. I don’t think it’s nearly as obvious as you make it out to be. Mainly because your entire argument is that “it’s obvious.”

  • Tom Zig

    Well I like the idea of the dual long men. I don’t know how I feel about Phranchise being in the pen. You don’t train for the marathon by running sprints. In terms of a long reliever, is Hughes a huge upgrade over someone like say…Tomko?

    • Greg F.


    • RollingWave

      anyone is a upgrade over Tomko and Veras

  • Matt M.

    what kills me about pitching specialization is how it leaves you so vulnerable to the law of averages.

    starter goes 6. then you piece together 3 innings with at least 3-4 relievers…chances are that one of those mediocre arms doesnt have it that night.

    the fact that we’re considering this is a testament to how deep our starting pitching is.

    our 6th and 7th starters are probably more reliable than anyone in that pen not named MO.

    if we’re deep enough to have 7 quality starters…let them pitch out of the pen and finish the game, i for one am sick of these one inning wonders

    • JP

      I have been saying this for years–the usage pattern of relief pitchers in major league baseball is WRONG!!!!!

      The model of having specialist, ultra-short relievers was created largely by Sparky Anderson and Tony LaRussa. But they hatched this idea when the average number of pitches and innings contributed by starters was much more than it is today, and when runs scored were lower.

      If you can count on a starting pitcher lasting into the 7th or 8th innings – something you generally could count on, most of the time, in the 70s and 80s – you can have a bullpen full of one-inning guys and you’ll be fine.

      However, when starting pitchers come out of the game in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings, routinely, it doesn’t require a slide rule to figure out you are going to need more pitchers if you insist on using them for just one inning.

      Matt is right–my friend Jeff Neuman calls the current usage model “The LaRussa Fallacy.” Meaning, if you need 5 pitchers to finish a ball game, you multiply the chances of failure by 5!

      If starting pitchers are going to be limited to 100-120 pitches from now on, and if MLB doesn’t take steps to tilt the scales a bit toward pitchers, we are going to have to develop a new kind of pitcher. A relief pitcher who can pitch 100-130 innings a season, making 50-60 appearances of 2-3 innings each. Every team will need 2 of these guys, probably, maybe three. Then, 2 or 3 short relief ace/firemen types.

      With their being so many teams in baseball, and the dice so loaded in favor of hitters today, baseball is basically up against the wall concerning pitching. There simply aren’t enough athletes who can pitch effectively under these conditions and get batters out routinely.

      In my opinion it’s gone too far. All the pitching changes, the long boring at bats with 8 pitches fouled off, etc. It makes the games drag. Yes, a long, contested at bat is exciting (Bob Welch v. Reggie…Paul O’Neill’s at bat in the 2001 WS…), but when they become routine the cease to be exciting and become an albatross.

  • http://deleted Tseng- Rename Cy Young the “Swisher” award.

    Veto to the idea of using Phil in the Bullpen. If he’s not going to start on the big league team, have him start in Triple A. I don’t want to risk screwing up his development.

    • ledavid

      I think he meant in a perfect world type way.

      Plus whats the deal with simulated innings?? If you had Phil throwing against our line up. Could that really be worse than AAA????

      Assuming the guys took it as seriously as they should.

      You’d have to think the boras boys would take it seriously. They are both signed up for another 8 years. Think of the input they could offer him.

    • The Artist

      David Cone, who pitched in and out of the bullpen his first 3 years in the bigs, thinks it would ADD to his development.

    • Bill

      You screw up his development by sending him down to face weaker competition. You also kill his confidence as he made some great strides in this recent stint pitching quite well. He’s done enough to earn a more permanent role in the bigs.

      The innings will be there for him this year. Even out of the bullpen he’ll still get at least 3 innings each time through the rotation. Not ideal, but he’ll make up the rest when someone goes down and he is asked to start. Even if no one goes down Joba still is also on an innings limit and may need to switch with Hughes at some point so he doesn’t get pushed too far.

  • crapmaster general

    it sounds like you’re describing the role that Ramiro Mendoza filled for several years on this team way back when. he would arguably have been a 3rd or 4th starter on a lot of major league teams at that time, but was probably the most excellent long man I’ve seen in my decades watching baseball. unfortunately, in the same way we as Yankees fans are spoiled by having one of the most automatic closers of all time, to a lesser extent I keep wishing a pitcher would magically appear to do what Mendoza did in situations like this in seasons past…

    • Slugger27

      whatever happened to that guy anyway?? i always thought he was a juicer and once the league started testing, he slowly fizzled out, never to be heard from again

      i remember hearing he would play in the WBC, but never actually saw him

  • Norland

    I guess you will get the same answer from Girardi answer to the question about Joba.

  • jim p

    Sticking with the hot hand an inning, or a batter, longer might go a ways toward the effect you are looking for.

    You hear starters always saying that out of 32 starts, they might be on for 10 or 11 of them. Another third is crap, and the rest they have to work hard. Does that ratio hold for most relievers? (Closer-capable seems to be a different breed.)

    One of the things that annoys me is seeing a reliever who is fully “on” that night, but he does his 2 batters or an inning and is gone, supposedly playing the percentages. But what’s the chance the next guy out is having a crappy day? Pretty high, but I guess the disasters make a stronger impression than the successes. When they drag 3 or 4 relievers out in a game, one of them at least causes problems.

    But an actual dedicated tandem of long-relievers makes a lot of sense. I’d guess they’d have to have some starter experience and training to do the role consistently.

  • Mike HC

    I like the idea if you have the talent to do that, but if a guy can effectively pitch 3 innings, why wouldn’t he be a starter? I thought this website was strongly against putting one of the young guys in the pen, going as far as completely writing off Joba/Hughes to the pen as unspeakably ridiculous. Now there is a post promoting this. This site has also called a six man rotation ridiculous and/or alternating starts between Joba and Hughes a bad move as well, but having them pitch 2 to 3 inning stints on irregular rest is the right move? This post seems to be completely against everything this site has promoted in the past. I thought you guys believed the key to developing our young starters was to have them pitch every five days without constantly changing their roles. I don’t claim to have all the answers, or really know whether this could work with our young guys, but it seemed pretty clear that you guys were ardently against this. This post confused me a bit.

    • andrew

      Although Ben, Mike and Joe have been against Joba in the bullpen from day one, they were mostly against him being turned into a one inning guy that would max out at 3 or 4 innings a week, consequently turning him into an 80 inning guy. Joe’s proposal advocates a 6 inning per week workload, essentially the same it would be for a starter, giving this type of reliever somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 IP. Granted, this proposal goes against the grain of conventional thinking(which as we know, can be flawed). I think this was Joe just exploring a stream of thought about whether or not this type of bullpen configuration would actually be more effective, as well as the possible effects.

      • Mike HC

        So hughes or joba should pitch three times a week, two innings at a time, or twice a week for three innings at a time? How can you even be sure they would be able to get the necessary work in? If Joba is available in a close game and it is the 8th, we would not bring him in because we want to save him for multiple inning appearances only? It does not really make that much sense.

        Joba would be able to pitch two innings if he was the set up guy anyway, as Mo did for Wetteland. I really don’t see any difference between this proposal and simply moving Hughes or Joba to the pen as the set up guy. Aceves is already our long man, so his role would be the same. How often do you need a guy to pitch three innings or more from the pen if it is not for mop up duty?

        While Joe couched the article like he would be redefining roles, he is just simply moving Joba or Hughes as the set up guy and would be willing to have them pitch more innings per game, but for fewer games. Starter goes six, set up guy goes 7th and 8th, and then Mo pitches the ninth. I’m not sure how that is really redefining anything. I mean, this post was extremely odd considering everything that has been written on this site in the past. I really don’t see how you can look at it any other way.

    • thisisthedavid

      Second time through the order is completely different, you have to switch pitching patterns. If you come in to go through the order 1 1/3 times its a completely different situation.

      • Mike HC

        So now there are completely different skill sets to pitch one inning, as opposed to two/three innings, as opposed to starting the game and going as long as necessary. We can start debating whether guys should be a “starter,” or a “finisher,” or a “closer.” Why not turn Mo into a finisher and have him pitch the 8th and 9th, or the 7th, 8th and 9th, like some relievers did back in the day, to maximize the amount of innings he can pitch outta the pen, and leave Bruney/Marte as one inning guys in case the “finishers” are unavailable? I just don’t see this as revolutionary, but simply a way to have the relievers pitch more innings. Doesn’t this get guys hurt? Hasn’t this been done already? Didn’t Mo effectively pitch 107 innings out of the pen in 1996? If you are willing to stretch out Joba and Hughes in the pen for more innings than normal relievers, why not do it with Mo, a guy who has done it before and is our best reliever? Again, I feel like I entered RAB bizarro world or something.

        • handtius

          Well, Mo does happen to be 39 years of age and his arm would most likely thud to the ground if he pitched that many innings now. They point was to define rolls. We have a few pitchers that tend to go shorted in games and some that go longer. For a guy who gets pulled in the 6th, they would go the rest of the way. You’re dismissing haft the article in your rebuttal. Main points: Volatility of bullpen arms, most starters are better then relievers, getting both Joba and Hughes enough innings to start next season in the big leagues instead of sending either down. I’m not saying i’m on board, I’d rather have them take someone from the minors who could be a fifth starter and maybe work them into that roll, groom them for that roll. kind of like what has been down with Aceves.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      As commenters below have said, the reason we don’t want starters in the bullpen is because of specialization. This would be a different story, as it would allow for multiple innings.

      I also said I wasn’t married to one of the young guys in this role. It’s just a creative way to get them multiple-inning appearances while keeping them on the big league club and managing their innings.

      “I thought you guys believed the key to developing our young starters was to have them pitch every five days without constantly changing their roles.”

      For the most part, yes, this is optimal because it simulates what they’ll be doing for the rest of their careers. However, this year, because of innings limits, if you just send them out there every five days they’ll hit innings walls in August and September. For all we know the Yanks plan to send Joba and Hughes out every five days and shut them down at some point. This is just an alternative to that.

      And, again, just a thought.

      • Mike HC

        I see that it is an alternative to keep them pitching the entire year rather than shutting them down, and that it was an idea to stimulate a conversation about bullpen roles and not necessarily promoting using them in that role. I guess I would just prefer keeping them regular starters.

  • ledarthdavid

    My crystal ball sees this in your future. Ian ..

  • alan

    Interesting point. And this sort of reminds me of the Wang debate not so long ago. I didn’t think it was a panic move when they activated Wang earlier than intended (though even the coaches later admitted it was themselves), because I thought rehabbing Wang wouldn’t help him get back that “feel” of facing major league batters. Using him out of the bullpen created a kind like finding innings for him, but so far, it has worked out.

    We already know Hughes can dominate minor leaguers, it’s how to get major leaguers out that he has to learn. So maybe keeping him in the majors and pitching here, albiet as a reliever, is more important than sending him back down and getting regular innings.

    But like you guys, I’m also afraid that this could backfire and screw up his development. Not to mention the games he could end up blowing…

    A delicate situation, but worth a good debate!

    PS: Nice of you to come up with the “finisher”, Joe. Me like it!

  • crawdaddy

    Great minds think alike. I was just thinking about that same scenario earlier in this evening. If you have Hughes and Aceves in the bullpen with Rivera then the Yankees can have Bruney, Marte, Coke and either Robertson/Melancon as their seventh guy out in the bullpen. This way you have two guys that can go multiple innings then you can utilize those other four guys in short stints and play matchups against lineups if you need to, before going to Rivera.

    IMO, I think that’s what Cashman and Girardi are already thinking, but won’t say so until they have Wang, Joba and Hughes pitching well and Bruney and Marte back healthy. This way Cashman doesn’t have to trade valuable trading chips for a reliever while giving Joba, Hughes, Coke and Robertson/Melancon valuable learning time on how to be an effective ML pitcher without having the weight of the Yankee season on how well they pitch this season.

    The keys to getting this to happen is getting Wang straighten out while both, Hughes and Joba show improvement in attacking hitters and getting them out without using as many pitches. Also, getting Bruney and Marte back healthy in June.

    I think the timeline for all this to happen is before July 1st so that it gives Cashman time to evaluate whether he still needs to make a trade or not for a reliever.

  • Will

    This would only work for the yankkes because we have more quality starters than available spots in the rotation. I can see Aceves, Kennedy, Kontos, and even Coke doing this, but Wang and Hughes should remain starters for sure.

  • ledavidisrael

    Ben Sheets>??





    • ledavidisrael

      *Ben Sheets

      I envision him more of a reliever

      • ledavidisrael

        This computer is acting crazy.
        *Ben Sheets

        I envision him more of a reliever

        • Bo

          Let’s make the guy who has elbow issues and has never relieved a reliever.

          Something tells me that Sheets isn’t too keen on this idea when he can make 13+ mill a yr if he is a healthy starter.

          • ledavidisrael

            LOLOLOLOL yeah man, relievers throw ALOT more than starters.

  • Jeff G

    The question is really one of dependability. You could have that guy going three innings be as terrible as everyone else not named Mo/Ace pitching out of our pen right now. Tomko could fill that role but he blows. Hughes multiple innings could be good for this year but how would that set him up to be our fifth starter next?

    Having two long men would indicate that the starters are not doing their job. Hopefully, Wang gets back to old form and finds himself in the rotation. He always had the ability to get late into games.

    Lastly, I think we just have to cross our fingers and hope Bruney and Marte come back soon and do well. If that is the case and our starters play up to their capabilities I see no need in having two long relievers.

    • DocBooch

      I have no problem with putting Hughes in this role as extended long man. He can dial it up to 94 now, when he wants, and his assortment of pitches can induce grounders pretty consistently, particularly his two seamer.

      With the way Wang has pitched over the past 2 appearances, I think he deserves his spot in the rotation back. They can hold of making the decision once they know Andy is good to go then slot him in right behind him in Hughes spot. Put Hughes in the BP in this role you mentioned and the Yanks are good to go, especially when Bruney comes back.

      Hughes might be younger than Joba, but developmentally he has more experience. The RS have Masterson who while 24 has about as much experience as Hughes. So, it wouldn’t be like the Yanks would be setting a precedent by doing this.

      • Jeff G

        I’m just unsure of how many innings he can get and if there will be the chance that he doesn’t get enough to put him at starter for the entirety of the 10 season.

  • Sonny Red

    I think this is a fine idea but how about Kontos and Aceves filling the roles of duel 3 inning long men?

    • yankees=warriors

      I was thinking the same thing!

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        And that’s the rub, here. If we give a pitcher this role of the frequently appearing, non-crappy “good longman” (i.e., not a longman in the Pat Mahomes sense of the word, the failed starter longman who only comes into blowouts and white-flag games to soak up innings; rather, a converted starter who pitches multiple quality innings in games that are still winnable), we want it to be a good starting pitcher who has enough talent to pitch big innings and retire major league hitters without allowing runs BUT we don’t want it to be an actual REAL pitching young, good prospect with a future.

        There’s a reason we’re all more comfortable giving a role like this to Aceves, or IPK, or Kontos, or Mendoza from the old-school days. Because we think they’re a good pitcher, but not a future stud starting pitcher, and we know there’s a good risk that putting a pitcher in this role could totally screw up their development. A role like this belongs to a classic 7th starter, not a 6th starter.

        Aceves and Mendoza are perfect for the role. Hughes and Joba may be perfect for it too, but the opportunity cost is way too great to risk putting them in the role.

  • RollingWave

    I think this is a good idea and a way to get Joba and Phil’s inning under control . espically Joba’s. later on in the year. If wang goes a few more solid outtings you really should start thinking about flipping him with Phil / Joba once they go past 90-100 innings or so.

  • The Artist

    I like this idea, Joe and I think the Yanks have the kinds of arms that could pull this off. Aceves could start, as could Hughes. So both of them could go multiple innings twice a week. You should be covered with them and a few specialists like Coke and D-Rob.

    I’m also looking for a promotion to AAA soon for Z-Mac, he’s the type of pitcher who would fit this role nicely as well, a sinkerballer who throws strikes.

  • The Artist

    Another thing this idea would do is expose how overrated the closers job has always been. If you have some guy come in for the 7th and throw 3 innings, it takes all the drama out of the late innings. No lesser arms coming in, getting in trouble and needing to be bailed out by the mighty closer. It would be ‘ho-hum, another win’.

    I like it.

  • The Artist

    It just dawned on me, there’s nothing new about this idea. Actually, this is how relievers were used for 100 years in Baseball, before Tony LaRussa and the age of specialization. Relief pitchers would be called on for multiple innings and would often finish the game. Even closers in the 70s like Gossage would often pitch 2-3 innings at a time.

    Between Mo, Aceves and Hughes we could have ourselves covered unless a starter gets knocked out early. Then you’d want a mop up guy around to eat up those low leverage innings.

  • Mattchu12

    I vote that we trade for Huston Street, talking to Rockies’ Fans, it wouldn’t take a great deal to get him and it would really make our bullpen better just by moving everybody down a spot role wise.

    CL (1 Inning) – Mariano Rivera
    SU (1 Inning, but capable of two) – Huston Street
    LRP (2-3 Innings) – Phil Coke
    MRP (1-2 Innings) – Mark Melancon
    MRP (1-2 Innings) – Brian Bruney
    MRP (1-2 Innings) – David Robertson, Damaso Marte, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Alfredo Aceves (or Coke if you make Aceves the long man), Jonathan Albaladejo, Brett Tomko, or any of the other dozen or so pitchers that could fill this role between the 40 man roster and the minors.

    It takes pressure off Bruney and Melancon, whom many have touted as the set-up men by years end, and they could easily take that job from Street, but getting Street gives you three solid relief options if you need a shut down inning of relief before Mo comes in. Coke does what he does best as a multiple inning guy, he has starter stamina, but can also be a short reliever if you need a lefty.

    And if you’re saying “hey, that’s only six pitchers in the bullpen, don’t we need seven to make it twelve pitchers on the active roster?” The answer is this: A six man rotation.

    1. CC Sabathia
    2. AJ Burnett
    3. Chien-Ming Wang
    4. Andy Pettitte
    5. Joba Chamberlain
    6. Phil Hughes

    I honestly don’t think Sabathia or Burnett would care, and it would take a few starts from them and keep them fresh for the playoffs. So many rotations get burned out, this would help a lot and get Joba and Hughes the innings they need. A friend recommended having Joba and Hughes split the fifth spot, and use them every other week with the one not pitching coming out of the bullpen in the three days between the ten days they’d be pitching, but that seems like a bit much.

    • DocBooch

      There is a reason why no one in baseball uses a six man rotation. They don’t work. There are a multitude of problems with it from taking the ball out of the your best starters an extra day to messing up a starters routine. Starters are creatures of habit.

      Just ask yourself this, would you really want CC to only pitch in 27 ball games as opposed to 33?

      • Mattchu12

        If it means that Phil Hughes gets to have a full-ish season in the big leagues so that he can take that next step in his development and we can avoid burning out CC, whom has had a huge work load these last two seasons? Then yes.

  • The Artist

    BTW-Here’s my take on the Hughes/Wang situation.

    I don’t think they’ll start Wang for another MONTH. It just doesn’t work out with the schedule.

  • gsloots

    I was thinking the same exact thing. This has two benefits Aceves has shown that he can also pitch an inning at anytime. He seems to have something of a rubber arm. That would make Hughes the #1 long man, so he would be assured of more innings and tack them on for this year. Depending on how successful each is one could move to a more prominent role come playoff time.

  • Rich

    That’s a fine idea in theory, but there’s one huge problem. 95% of all relievers have that job because they failed as starters. We’re talk guys who have serious trouble going through the line up a second time. Plus most teams have a hard time filling up their one thru five, needing a six and seven would kill them.

    PS: say we do this. What happens if Aj, CC, wang and Pettitte go 7+ innings in a row? Now these guys are fighting for one inning appearances?

  • Bill

    I like this bullpen strategy but in all honesty it only works if you have someone good in these long reliever roles. Aceves has been great, but no one wants to see Tomko going 3 innings in a game unless it is a total blowout. Given that you can never be sure which games will be close or not you need to have guys that can pitch in any situation. It also structures the bullpen almost like a starting rotation in that today Aceves is going to be the reliever, tommorrow it will be Hughes, the day after it will be a couple short inning relievers.

    The reason this strategy is working now is because we have two good options in those roles right now in Aceves and Wang. Both of these guys could be good starters right now, so you feel confident giving them 3 innings of relief in a close game. However most long relievers are guys who aren’t good enough to start at this level. Which makes them guys you don’t trust in close situations. Tomko would be the perfect example of this.

    I do think we should go to this strategy, but it will only work with someone good and that someone should be Phil Hughes. Given that Aceves has shown a lot of flexibility I think that we should be able to use him on a more fluid schedule whereas Hughes can take on this role in a more structured role (i.e. setup a schedule that should get him consistent innings). Obviously things will change game to game based on how far the starter goes, but if you push Phil back a day that’s not going to kill him. However if he is going to be in the bullpen you don’t want him just sitting around for several days at a time.

    Given our need in the bullpen and the fact that Hughes is better than everyone other than Mo and possibly Aceves in our bullpen it makes sense to keep him in the majors and give this a try. I think the innings will be there for him in the bullpen and then in the rotation when we need another starter (which will probably be sooner rather than later given our luck). Even if the innings aren’t there worst case scenario we can give him simulated games after the season to build up his arm strength for next year.

    • Matt ACTY/BBD

      The reason this strategy is working now is because we have two good options in those roles right now in Aceves and Wang. Both of these guys could be good starters right now, so you feel confident giving them 3 innings of relief in a close game. However most long relievers are guys who aren’t good enough to start at this level. Which makes them guys you don’t trust in close situations. Tomko would be the perfect example of this.

      No one’s saying to use Brett Tomko in this situation. He’s definitely not good enough to play this role and no one’s advocating for someone like him to do it. Sure, Aceves could start for some teams, but I think we’re all of the agreement he’s not good enough to get around the lineup more than once.

      Wang’s only in this role because of his problems and if/when he enters back into the rotation, I don’t think Tomko would be slotted into the role of second long-man/fireman. Hughes could fill that role, though I’m not sure how I feel about it. In the future, maybe someone like Ian Kennedy who’s had trouble getting through the lineup multiple times could do that role, or George Kontos because, like Aceves, his secondary stuff isn’t as refined.

      • Bill

        I know no one is saying use Tomko in this role, but if you want to go to this type of bullpen other than Aceves your options right now are Hughes, Tomko, or maybe Kontos. Also the point on Tomko was more of a generally speaking long relievers are guys who aren’t good enough to start and thus probably aren’t good enough to pitch late innings in a close game. Tomko is an example of the typical “long reliever” in today’s game. Whereas Aceves is probably good enough to be a starter (did well there last year). Wang is obviously good enough to be a great starter.

        Essentially my point was that you can’t really measure this strategy by looking at how Aceves and Wang have pitched. How often are you going to have two guys that good that can pitch multiple innings in your bullpen? Not too often. So the only way to continue that type of success from the two long reliever bullpen is to put someone good in that role like Hughes.

        On another note Aceves secondary stuff is pretty refined. Kontos at some point this year probably makes a nice bullpen option for us, but he is still quite unproven and may be better served as 1-2 inning guy as he is a strikeout pitcher and should see his velocity spike in the bullpen (ala Coke/Joba). Kennedy is pretty much done for the year, so not worth mentioning until next year. But he could be a possibility for this role, however he has still yet to prove he can pitch at this level.

  • Matt ACTY/BBD

    So when A.J. goes six innings one day, Aceves can come in and finish the start. If there’s a one-run lead in the ninth Mo can come on. If he’s not available, Aceves can just finish what he started relieved.

    This would make me so incredibly happy.

  • Pasqua

    This is most definitely an intriguing idea, but I can’t help feeling that doing the “clinical trials” in New York would be suicide. I would almost like to see a small market team, whose fanbase has no expectations, give it a go first. If it works, then there’s precedent and the Yanks (and other high profile teams) would be more apt to try it. The reason I say this is simply because of the media scrutiny in New York. The very nano-second that a crack shows in this new system, the media would go out of its way to cause panic and rebellion within the fanbase. As much as the tabloid writers complain, the one thing all of them fear is change. I don’t know that I could handle listening to the second guessing. It would be like “Joba to the ‘pen” X 1,000.

    • Matt ACTY/BBD

      Yeah, I agree with that but I think there’s another side to the coin. The MSM seems to hate the concept of specialization at times (except for the closer’s role) and I think the fact that Gossage got into the HOF shows that, at some however-small-level, they’d like a return to that type of closer/reliever. I know I sure would.

    • DocBooch

      They do it all the time…Johan was in the pen starting his career as was Liriano. If you want to go back, David Cone broke into the ML as a reliever for the Royals. 3 pretty damn good pitchers.

  • MattG

    This idea is very rough and not even half-baked. It’s something I thought of while watching Wang pitch in relief of Hughes today.

    I’ve been tilting at this windmill for years, but my solution is different than yours–and I think the Yankees are on the right path.

    Rather than have a pen of one inning relievers with defined roles and a pair of swing men, the solution is a cadre of 2 inning relievers that are somewhat interchangeable. If a one inning guy can occasionally go 2, a 2 inning guy can occasionally go 3…perhaps more.

    The only player the Yankees have graduated so far is Coke (Edwar gets an honorable mention), with Melancon on his heels. Once they have 5 relievers, of average or better quality, that can air it out for 40+ pitches, they are more than set. Add to that group a closer (my concession to the era), and you’ve got coverage for every inning of every game, including the occasional 2nd inning exit.

    Although I am not against swing men, it’d just be my plan B. Aceves and Wang could both start in the major leagues. That makes the task to find & hold onto swing men difficult. More years than not, the best candidates for the role will be talented pitchers that have not taken a rotation spot yet (Hughes and Kennedy, for example). This causes concerns over getting them innings and their development. If you don’t want to use them, you are instead using retreads (Tomko), looking for lightning in a bottle.

    The simpler, more sustainable route, is to load up on arms in the rule 4, and turn them into a replenishable source of 2 inning relievers you can control for 6 years.

  • A.D.

    Shame is this other long man role could have been good for IPK. His innings are less of an issue that other pitchers in the system, and he could use the experience of facing & challenging major league hitter.

  • DocBooch

    I’m not too sure that precisely what is outlined here won’t happen anyway. The Yanks have a perfect oppurtunity to insert Wang into the rotation now that he has pitched 5 scoreless innings in relief. On top of that, Hughes proved last night that he can mow people down going through the order once.

  • ledavidisrael

    How come we can’t have pitchers like joba and hughes throwing extended bp sessions? or have harder work outs? in order to increase work load. It would truly be something special if we could just pick from the cream of our pitching stock…

  • JP

    There is definitely room for creativity. I think one of the things that hurts pitching staffs today is that there is maybe too much specialization. The more specialized roles you have, the harder it is to be successful, since specialization means, usually, one or at most two men for one job. So if one man fails, the system breaks down.

    Matt’s idea of a group of standard, 2-inning, 40 pitch relievers, who you can mix and match is great. Everybody has the same basic job, but they will vary in terms of when they pitch.

    Another option which would greatly simplify things is to stop trying to get blood from a stone in the use of starters. If starting pitchers are going to be limited to 100 or so pitches, and if there is soooooo much danger in hurting them with higher pitch counts, then why not restrict them even more and use tandem starters.

    If a pitcher can throw 100-120 every 5 days, he probably can throw, say, 80 every 4 days, right? So just carry 8 starters on every team, and have them pitch in tandem every 4 days.

    The latter idea makes sense to me, but I’m certain baseball people would laugh at it.

    Another option is the Japanese model, using 6 man rotations. With most teams having one day off per week, you can basically structure a pitching staff with every guy pitching once a week. Maybe in this usage pattern, you could get 120-130 or so pitches out of everyone, stretching starters into the 7th or 8th routinely again, even racking up some complete games.

    I still say, though, that the dilution of pitching is at the root of all this. Baseball should seriously consider making some changes to help pitchers. It would help the game.

    • Bo

      Creativity and pitching decisions/roster changes do not go together. No team will do this and todays day and age with the investments they have made in players. Just not done.

      • JP

        No, not overnight. But if you told Walter Alston in the 1960s that he needed to limit Koufax and Drysdale to 100 pitches and use 4 additional relievers to finish their games, they would have said “no” to that, too.

        Things do eventually change.

        The current model of pitcher usage is flawed. There are more pitchers in baseball than ever, yet the level of pitching is as bad as it’s ever been (things are possibly a bit better today than at the height of the homer years in the late 90s early 00s, but overall, this era has been the worst, ever, for pitchers.

        Generally, when you have specialists handling tasks, the level of proficiency goes UP, not down. Today, starters are less effective than ever (hits/inning, ERA), yet they are asked to do less than they ever have. Same with relievers…you have situational specialists, and with the exception of closers, overall relief pitchers are equal or worse than in any time in history.

        Some day, some team will start making major changes in pitching usage. And as baseball managers are lemmings, within a couple of years every team will follow.

  • Bo

    Going to be tough sending Hughes back to Scranton when he is clearly one of the best 12 pitchers in the organization. Especially when Veras is getting the ball. What does Veras have to do to get DFA’d? Pull a shotgun on Girardi’s kids?

  • Ross

    Joe – My brother and I had this exact conversation during the game yesterday. Great minds…

  • nilnil

    Joseph! I am thinking the same pattern as you, but not clarify clearly as you. I think it works in many ways, but twist it a little bit. They can use 6 man rotation with Hughes and Joba alternatively start the game, the other guy will relieve that game. Thus, in those games, we would not need any reliever except Mo if necessary.

  • Pingback: An Old School Bullpen? | The Yankee Universe

  • Pingback: Unnecessarily pigeon-holing relievers | River Avenue Blues

  • Pingback: Joba and Hughes to the pen! | River Avenue Blues