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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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