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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Price on bullpen use

Sean Marshall has historically had good success against
both righties and lefties.  Photo Credit: spablab
I thought this was an interesting comment from Bryan Price on bullpen usage:
"I've said to myself I don't know what it's like to be an everyday player professionally," he said. "But I do understand what it's like to be a pitcher and what these guys go through on days they don't pitch. 'Is so-in-so available?' Well, we got him hot three times yesterday and he pitched the two games before.

"It wasn't really a day off. Sometimes, as a manager (who was a position player), you may see that the guy got loose. But they see it as a day off. It's not. It's completely different. If you don't respect that, you end up over-utilizing your guys – even if they pitch in 65 games.
"There are going to be times when you bring in a right-hander to get that right-hander out based on the history of the pitcher that's in there at the time. But, to me, it just doesn't bode well when you match up. I don't like situational match-up pitchers because they beat up you bullpen. I've never liked it. I'd much prefer to have guys who get lefties and righties out.

"You never want to lose a game because you feel like you have the wrong matchup in," he said. "But if you want the right matchup every single game, you're going to blow out your bullpen."
It's going to be interesting to see whether his stance evolves over the season.

I think he makes a lot of good points, and important ones.  There's no question that platoon splits are real, and you absolutely do gain when you use righty-on-righty and lefty-on-lefty matchups.  I imagine that there are other kinds of match-ups that are worth exploiting, like using sinkerballers, breaking-ball specialists, or power arms against hitters that are particularly vulnerable to those pitcher types.  But I also think he's right about the importance of considering how often a guy is asked to get up and get warm as part of a reliever's usage load.

This is going to sound ridiculous (it's akin to pontificating about how to fly an airplane based on experience playing a flight simulator video game).  But my favorite baseball "video game" is Out of the Park baseball, where you play the role of the general manager and manager.  In terms of reliever usage, what I've taken to doing when deciding what reliever to bring in is to consider at least the next three batters that they will face.  Mostly, I consider handedness, but there's always some weighting for quality as well.  Ideally, there will be a rhythm to the opposing lineup, such that there is an optimal time to switch between a lefty and righty reliever that is spaced by at least three hitters.  Best case scenario, I can plan several innings in advance.  This lets me play matchups, at least in a coarse sense, but also avoid overtaxing my bullpen by using relievers for only a batter or two at a time...except in emergencies, of course!

I think (hope?) that's what Price is talking about here.  Yes, Sean Marshall will get to throw against righties.  But one should still try, at least generally, to use your top lefty reliever against the opposing team's top lefty hitters.  It's much better than blindly following a "Broxton in the 7th, Marshall in the 8th, Chapman in the 9th" plan.