2017 MLB Playoffs: Could bullpenning change baseball?

After a 162-game marathon, it all comes down to 11 wins (or 12 for wild card participants) for those in the 2017 MLB Playoffs. Baseball’s top eight teams compete to be crowned World Series champions, but only one will prevail. Teams tend to rely on the old adage that defense wins championships.

But offense has been on the rise this postseason. Through 12 postseason games, the average combined score of each game has been over 14 runs per game. That has led some to question the traditional use of starters and relievers to try and stymie this outrageous offensive output.

From starters and relievers to just pitchers

2017 MLB Playoffs

Kenley Jansen posted a 1.32 ERA in the regular season, and could be a huge weapon for the Dodgers (espn.com).

There has been a growing movement among baseball to eliminate starters and relievers and their expected roles. Have the best pitcher start the game, and go from there. And in this postseason, that seems like a sound idea. In the first inning alone, 25 runs have been scored.

Starters like Luis Severino, Ervin Santana, Jon Gray, Taijuan Walker and Doug Fister all gave up three-plus runs in the first inning. That type of performance put their teams at a severe disadvantage, as three of those five lost their teams the game.

These struggling starters eventually gave way to their bullpen counterparts. And in the Twins vs Yankees AL Wild Card game, they came in hot and heavy. Yankees skipper Joe Girardi used four different relievers to bridge the gap between the first and the ninth inning.

But it wasn’t by choice, as starter Luis Severino gave up three runs before handing over the ball in the first inning. Even so, those four relievers (Green, Robertson, Khanle, Chapman) only allowed one run. They also struck out 13 Twins on their way to victory. Even though it wasn’t by design, the Yankees showed how effective bullpenning could be.

Blurring the line between starters and relievers

2017 MLB Playoffs

David Price has found the fountain of youth in the bullpen (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images).

The difficulty accompanying bullpenning is the use of pitchers not accustomed to pitching a high number of innings. Many of these guys pitch 60-70 innings a year, while starters can easily top 200 innings if they stay healthy.

But the playoffs are a whole different animal. Gone are the dog days of summer and the long home stands. With only a handful of games separating teams from immortality and oblivion, managers should utilize their best weapons in the ideal situations. And as previously proven, that would be at the beginning of the game.

But the idea of bullpenning isn’t limited to utilizing those 60-70 innings pitched guys like Chapman and Kimbrel. A new breed of reliever has started to take form: the super reliever. Pitchers like Chris Devenski and David Price have made the move from starting to the bullpen and have had plenty of success.

And with their experience of starting games, they give their respective managers a valuable weapon. They are capable of pitching multiple innings out of the pen. But what if they just skipped straight into starting the game?

How bullpenning could work

2017 MLB Playoffs

Chris Devenski has been a vital option for the Astros, both starting and relieving (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images).

Bullpenning is a new concept for a lot of traditional baseball fans. Many of us grew up watching dominant starters blow the opposing team away, and those types of performances can still be found. But the argument for bullpenning is not one against starters.

It’s main premise is to utilize the best pitchers at the beginning of the game to maximize their potential. This strategy would not work with a 162-game schedule, but in a condensed postseason (around 20 games or so), it could be a huge equalizer for teams lacking starting pitching.

The ideal situation for bullpenning would be to have the team’s best reliever start the game. That way the offense has the opportunity to score early while having the best chance to limit opposing runs. Said reliever would pitch an inning or two to maximize his potential, followed by another reliever and maybe a starter or long reliever.

By using this strategy, teams can essentially shorten the game and put the pressure on the opposing offense. And with the plethora of relievers able to hit 99+ mph and include effective breaking pitches, offenses could see their run totals plummet.

Relievers often enter the game when the score has already gotten out of hand or is precipitously close to doing so. Their ability to prevent runs is what their teams value the most. But what if, instead of trying to stop the bleeding, it never begins in the first place?

 

Feature image by Frank Franklin II/AP Photo

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Potential Dark Horse Teams for 2017 MLB Playoffs

Just as the leaves change each fall, so do MLB’s playoff teams. Each year there are a number of surprise contenders looking to make a run at the World Series. Whether they come out of the gate strong or turn it on late, you can almost guarantee that one team will fit the Cinderella Story narrative.

So with the season fast approaching, which teams are primed to be this year’s Cinderella? Let’s take a look at four teams who might be able to fit into the glass slipper for the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Colorado Rockies-NL West

Nolan Arenado looks to provide the power in a deep lineup. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP Photo)

The Colorado Rockies finished 2016 at 75-87, good for third in the NL West. While they were 12 games under .500, don’t let last years results fool you. They received strong contributions from home grown starting pitchers Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray. Both were in their first full seasons in the majors, and performed well; Gray struck out 185 batters over 168 innings pitched while Anderson posted a solid 3.54 ERA. With the offseason addition of Ian Desmond to play first base and the continued growth of Gray and Anderson, the Rockies could look to turn some heads in 2017.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- AL West

The Los Angeles Angels have one of, if not the best player on the planet. Automatic playoff berth, right? Not so much. In Mike Trout’s tenure with the Angels, they have only made the playoffs once, while Trout has won two MVPs in that time. The Angels are hoping to provide Trout with more support in 2017. With the acquisition of disgruntled second baseman Danny Espinosa from Washington, the Angels have added more pop to their lineup. Couple Espinosa with prime Trout and past-his-prime-but-still-dangerous Albert Pujols, and you have the core of a pretty good lineup. Couple in the additions of outfield speedster Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin and the Angels have a lineup that can compete with most any in baseball. If Pujols and Espinosa can take some pressure off Trout, the Angels could make a surprise run to the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Miami Marlins- NL East

2017 MLB Playoffs

Giancarlo Stanton looks to send plenty of balls into orbit in 2017.(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the loss of pitcher Jose Fernandez in 2016, the Miami Marlins lost more than an ace; they lost the soul of their team. With heavy hearts, the Marlins were able to go 79-82 in 2016, finishing third in the NL East. It was an inspiring finish to the season, and one I believe will carry over to 2017. The Marlins will look for Giancarlo Stanton to improve on his lackluster 2016 season, in which he posted a slugging percentage of .489, the lowest of his career. Stanton won’t have to carry the Marlin’s offense on his own though. Dynamic second baseman Dee Gordon will be back to start the season and will be joined by steady outfielder Christian Yelich and power hitting Marcell Ozuna. If starting pitcher Adam Conley can build upon his solid 3.85 ERA and Wei-Yin Chen can get back to his career average 3.90 ERA, the Marlins will have two good starting pitchers to build their staff around. If Giancarlo Stanton can deliver on his 40+ homer potential and the pitching staff can stay near league average, this team could mash it’s way to a playoff berth.

Tampa Bay Rays- AL East

Out of the previous three teams, this team will have the most difficult time of making it to the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2016 season at 68-94, 25 games back of first place in the AL East. The AL East is one of the most stacked divisions in baseball, with three out of the five teams making the postseason in 2016. But the Rays have one thing that every team covets; young, good starting pitching. The Rays have one of the deepest and youngest starting rotations in all of baseball, with five starting pitchers logging more than 100 innings pitched, and those same starters averaging 27 years old. With the addition of slugging catcher Wilson Ramos and the resurgence of third baseman Evan Longoria, the Rays will look for their offense to help carry them to the 2017 MLB Postseason.

The MLB season is full of surprises. Players and teams alike will burst onto the national stage, defying expectations. But while players look to their cleats to propel them from base to base, some teams will be looking for more dainty footwear. Maybe a glass slipper?

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