The Bullpen Organism

After watching the highly entertaining Jays/Orioles series we witnessed a battle of strengths.  We watched the Jays offense strike at a Orioles pitching staff.  We observed the Orioles relievers shutting down Toronto’s big bats.  What was the end result?  It doesn’t matter how many runs you score, when the pen can’t hold the lead.   Their bullpen is leaky.  Not one pitcher on the back end can get consistent outs.  Many of the best teams now want to be able to shorten the game.  One of the biggest reasons that the Royals made it as far as they did last year is because they were able to play a 6 inning game.  As soon as you hit the 7th teams know that they’re going to have to face Herrera, Davis, and Holland.   Game over!

What this causes is batters to really put pressure on themselves to put up some runs to prevent the bullpen from coming into the game.  Your mentality completely shifts.  You don’t have the first time through the order against the starter to feel him out.  You need to jump on him early and often.  What does this cause?  Lack of patience and overly-aggressive swings.  Why do you think Jeremy Guthrie, Joe Blanton ,and Chris Young can start for this team?  Starting pitchers for playoff teams are asked to do less and less.  Just give them a solid 5 or 6 innings, and they can turn it over to the bullpen.  Even the way that the relievers are constructed is important.  If you look at the Orioles they have a bunch of parts thrown together to make their bullpen.  Smart managing and scouting have been their key.  Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton are not household names.  But they have their purpose.  O’Day’s unorthodox delivery can lead directly into Britton’s sinker.  Changing eye levels and leaving the hitter adjusting constantly at the plate.  Even Chaz Roe has been a pleasant surprise.  His slider gives the players something else to think about.  The pen is nearly as important as the starters in today’s MLB.

The mentality of the bullpen is almost as important as the talent.  It is an organism.  You will see all pitchers do well or all pitchers struggle.  Pitchers feel comfortable in certain roles, but completely uncomfortable in others.  The most talented guy doesn’t necessarily need to be the closer.  It’s the player that has that closer mentality that is key.  Confidence and an intimidating presence are nearly as important as stuff.  Trevor Hoffman threw change-up after change-up, and he was the best in the business for a decade.  You do need an out-pitch as a closer though.  Something that the player can’t foul off constantly until he gets something to hit.   An arsenal that includes a weapon that has a 95 mark in a video game rating.

There are multiple closers on the market this year in baseball.  Chapman, Rodriguez, Papelbon, and Clippard are all available for the right price.  You now see many teams load up on closers for the post season.  Throwing them in the 7th and 8th innings.  Trying to emulate what the Royals did last year.  Sometimes they will be planted into the organism and be rejected.  You need the perfect fit for the rare species.  These are players that spend the majority of the game sitting together, doing very little for nearly the entire game.  They might only be called upon for one batter. You might need a side-armer that throws 86mph, with a devastating slider.  Or you might need a herky-jerky left handed specialist with a loopy curve-ball.  It’s not an exact science.  Not every team can afford 3 would-be closers like the Royals have.  Sometimes you just have to plug pitchers in to see what works.  The one thing that I can guarantee is that the two teams that will be in the World Series will not have question marks in their bullpen.

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