In the opinion of pollster Nate Silver, creative use of the bullpen is ruining baseball.
The issue isn’t really with relievers who face just one hitter at a time. In fact, LOOGYs — Left-handed One-Out Guys — are already fading in popularity as teams realize that if a pitcher isn’t good enough to face multiple hitters in a row, he may not belong in the bullpen pecking order at all.That answers a question I raised last fall about pitcher preparation. "The act of throwing a hundred pitches, give or take, to record eighteen to 21 outs, every fourth or fifth day, is different from the act of throwing forty to fifty pitches to record six to nine outs every second or third day." Baseball teams still have a roster limited to 25 players, and you can't stock up on max-effort guys, and there are limits to swapping pitchers by sending one to the outfield.
Instead, the problem concerns teams that use a parade of relievers who enter the game from the sixth inning onward and throw the hell out of the ball, knowing they’ll probably max out at one inning at a time. (The Yankee bullpen is a prime example.) You might call these pitchers OMGs: One-inning Max-effort Guys. They can be incredibly, game-changingly effective, but they aren’t necessarily all that skilled.
In fact, the whole problem is that OMGs are a renewable resource, with no real constraints on supply. Teams can take failed starters with two decent pitches and, after some weeding out, turn them into OMGs who will strike out 25 or 30 percent of the batters they face, provided they only have to throw one inning every second or third day.
But is it really ruining baseball to have designated out-getters? Mr Silver thinks so, although he rests his analysis on a correlation of declining baseball attendance with increasing strikeouts, where the out-getters are able to be more effective.
It’s not just a coincidence that relief pitcher usage and strikeout rate are correlated in this way. When you take a starter and use him in relief — especially in a short stint that typically lasts only an inning or so — his strikeout rate will be usually be higher, and sometimes a lot higher. You can also expect him to throw harder and to use a more dangerous repertoire consisting of more fastballs and sliders.Thus it's time for baseball to re-think its roster rules, and limit the number of slots for pitchers (no more than ten, plus one position player designated as "emergency pitcher") and a few other rule changes.
In good policy-wonk style, what Mr Silver wants to do is "change teams' overall attitudes toward pitcher usage." The problem with any sort of wonkery is it leads to unintended consequences.
For now, the Milwaukee Brewers are back in training camp, and we'll see how their initial out-getter approach works.