Bullpen By Committee

With Armando Benitez presumably unlikely to return to the Mets, and assuming the organization does not acquire someone from outside the organization, we take a look at the best way to solve the situation with the players that are currently in the system. <p><I>Free example of premium content.</i>

The proposed closer-by-committee represents an attempt at a more rationally use of relievers and to preserve the bullpen --a critical element of winning baseball.

1. Saves and holds are very overated. It's more important to bring in a dominant reliever with the bases loaded with 1 out and a team down by 1 run -- a non-save or non-hold situation-- is far more valuable than having a pitcher pitch 1 inning with a 3-run lead. It's more important to have a pitcher to throw 2 or 3 innings than to come in and get 1 hitter out with no one on base.

2. Preserving a bullpen over a 162-game schedule is far more important than winning a game here or there with great bench coaching. At most a good bench coach will be responsible for 3-5 wins. A tired bullpen will lose a lot more than 5 games over 162 games schedule. It is not the number of innings that a relievers pitches that leads to tired arms, rather it is how often pitchers are used or warms up that burns out a bullpen.

Throwing a baseball is an unnatural motion. The human shoulder is designed to toss objects underhand, not overhand or three quarters. As such, throwing a baseball over hand places excessive strain on the shoulder muscles. Thus, pitchers' arms need regular and consistent rest.

I am persuaded that comments on bench coaching by the legendary Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden - winner of 10 NCAA Championships in 12 seasons - are relevant for baseball as well as basketball. To wit, winning requires that you get the best talent and then teach/prepare that talent to execute. If you make the greatest strategic or tactical decision and the players don't execute you will still lose.

If you make poor strategic or tactical decisions and the players execute you still have a chance to win. Obviously, I believe that preparing/teaching talented players execution is far more important than bench coaching genius.

My recommendations are based upon observation of the Mets and Sparky Anderson's big Red Machine. In 1969, Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw shared the Mets' closer's duties. The bullpen was very effective. The Mets bullpen was very effective with Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell sharing closer duties. I've always considered Captain Hook Sparky Anderson to be the best handler of a bullpen ever.

The critical elements of the suggested bullpen by committee.

1. a fireman who appears primarily in critical situations with men on base in close games regardless of whether the team has a lead of not.

2. two 2-inning finishers who are expected to pitch at least innings on a regular basis, but rarely 3 innings. Most of the time the 2-inning finishers will enter games with no one on base. One of the 2-inning finishers should serve as the back-up fireman.

3. one 3-inning finisher who is expected to pitch at least 2 innings and often 3 innings.

4. a middle reliever who is expected to consistently pitch 2 or more innings.

Using the fireman in critical situations represents a more important use of a dominant pitcher than in most close or hold situations. Since it's appearances and not innings that wears out relievers, using relievers consistently for 2 or more innings will reduce appearances. Managers regularly use 4 relievers even when the starters pitch 6 innings. Thus, the current managerial trends require a lot more appearances for the bullpen.

The goal should be in most games to use only 2 relievers, if the starter pitches at least 6 innings or even if they pitch 5 innings. This is how to preserve a bullpen. It obviously eliminates including pitcher who can't get both left-handed and right-handed hitters out. It doesn't need nor want specialists.

This idea requires managers to set up a relief pitching rotation so that pitchers are rarely used on back-to-back days. It allows the manager to set up a bullpen rotation that will allow the hot reliever or a reliever with great success against a specific opponent to be used more often. In particular, the manager should set up a rotation for the 2-inning finishers and stick to it unless 1 is hot or works more effectively against a given opponent.

This closer-by-committee approach represents a more rational use of the bullpen. It will also better preserve a bullpen than current managerial trends would.

As the Mets are in a rebuilding mode for at least 2003, this represents an opportune time to consider a bullpen by committee. Since young, hungry players will be appreciative of the opportunity rather than be concerned about their roles. It also means that during arbitration that the Mets will need to emphasize role and effectiveness rather than holds and saves.

The Mets should realistically use the rest of 2003 and 2004 as a trial not only of closer-by-committee approach, but as a trial to the plethora of pitchers the Mets will have ready before the end of the 2004 season. Included among those pitchers are relievers Ed Almonte, P. J. Bevis, Heath Bell, Jaime Cerda, Joey Cole, Jeremy Griffiths, Jake Joseph, Orber Moreno, Royce Ring, Pat Strange, and Tyler Yates.

I didn't include Dan Wheeler or Pedro Feliciano since the Mets have so many prospects that will be rule 5-draft eligible. It will be difficult to justify including them on the 40-man roster. Thus, both will have to pass through waivers and be re-signed to minor league contracts. Franklin Nunez also isn't included. Nunez shouldn't be added to the roster but simply re-signed to a minor league contract with the promise of a real opportunity to make the team in 2004. Bell and Cole will have to survive the rule 5 draft.

Griffiths and Josephs are included because I feel they won't be better than end of the rotation pitchers who will be more effective out of the bullpen.. I've long been a supporter of Strange. But, he currently lacks the repertoire to be an effective starter. In particular, his slider isn't really MLB-solid and he lacks command of his cut change up. Basically, Strange only has 2 effective pitches - a fastball and a circle change. The Mets have to allow him to begin throwing his split-fingered fastball 3 or 4 times a game as a reliever.

I am not a fan of pitchers under 25 years throwing a split-fingered fastball 15-18 times a game that Strange needs to do to become a front-end starter. Strange will need to be able to throw his cut change up for strikes to a good spot between 60 and 65 percent of the time. Strange should remain in the bullpen until he has the arm strength to throw his split-fingered fastball and gains command of the cut change up.

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