Friday, April 29, 2011

The Save Rule Has Ruined Bullpen Usage

an Francisco Giants' Sergio Romo walks off the field during his MLB National League baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals in San Francisco, California, April 8, 2011.   REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

The save has destroyed the way the modern bullpen is utilized. I wrote earlier this month about the egregious bullpen usage of Bruce Bochy and he's not alone in using his bullpen in a less than optimal manor.

There is an excellent article written by Matthew Leach of that hits things spot on.
A culture has developed around one individual stat to the extent that some managers and pitching coaches sometimes seem to focus as much on that number as on winning a game. That statistic is the save. The culture of saves has changed baseball strategies and tactics, and not for the better.

The save rule unilaterally decrees that the most important outs of the game are the final outs. Sometimes, that's the case, but often a game hinges on at-bats in the eighth inning or even the seventh. And too many managers worry more about having their best reliever available for a ninth-inning lead that may not exist if they don't get through the eighth.
The modern bullpen is a hierarchy or roles with some flexibility in the lower tiers. Each pitcher has their set innings or roles that they pitch in and only in the very rare circumstance do things change. When it comes to the ninth inning with a save opportunity, things get even more rigid.

It's rather surprising to me that something that appears to be so suboptimal in such a fiercely competitive league where a marginal win is measured in the $5 million range boggles my mind. Things were not always this way and it has really only been since the 80's that things have changed. Before then, the relief ace was a "fireman" who came into get out of jams. Now, that very important task is left to pitchers who are less talented and paid much less.

For teams that have more than just one good pitcher, this isn't as big of an issue, but for teams where the drop off in talent is high, this could be difference between a win and never getting the chance to use a closer in a save situation.

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