Sunday Notes: Reliever Innings, Second Basemen, Chapman, more

On Tuesday, 10 MLB managers shared their thoughts on what has become known as the Third Time Through the Order Penalty. The fact that it exists in one thing. What to do about it is another.

One idea is to develop relievers who are able to work multiple innings on a consistent basis. In other words, go back a few decades to where it wasn’t uncommon. Pitchers like Bob Stanley used to do it all the time, and not just in the middle frames. He earned numerous multi-inning saves.

A while back, I asked Stanley if there’s any reason today’s relievers couldn’t do what he, and several of his contemporaries, did.

“You have to remember, back in the day we only had 10 pitchers on the staff,” said Stanley, who coaches in the Blue Jays system. “We had five relievers and they could all go two or three innings. Now we have seven relievers and most of them can only go one inning. Could they go longer? Sure, although some guys aren’t as tough as they used to be. It’s a different game now.”

Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace — also in an older conversation — told me much the same.

“Conceptually, I get it,” said Wallace. “I just don’t think it’s going to play in today’s world. If you use a guy for multiple innings, then he’s down for multiple days. What we have now is guys you can use two or three days in a row, for two outs, three outs, four outs, depending on how many pitches they’ve thrown. You can have them available every day.”

Why not multiple innings every couple of days? Twins closer Glen Perkins once told me he thinks he could pitch 80 games in a season if he pitched literally every other day. He was referring primarily to one-inning stints, but recovery-time routine was his primary point. Today’s athletes are better conditioned, so given proper structure, shouldn’t they be able to handle a John Hiller-type workload? In 1973, the Detroit relief ace worked 125 innings over 65 games. The following season he worked 150 innings over 59 games.

Diamondbacks’ manager Chip Hale sounded intrigued by the idea of old-fashioned bullpen usage when I broached the subject at the Winter Meetings.

“If you know Zack Greinke is pitching tomorrow, you can probably go multiple innings with a reliever,” said Hale. “If it’s Greinke, Miller, Corbin, two of those three should give you length. I think one of the issues is that you have so many hard throwers in the game now, and they can maintain that velocity by only throwing one inning. (But) if you have someone in your bullpen that performs well for two or three innings, you can do that.”

Will we see Hale, or any other managers, begin to extend innings for his bullpen arms beyond mop-up duty? Times have changed, and with third-time-through numbers in mind, perhaps further evolution is in order.

“Starters don’t go as deep into games as they used to,” said Wallace. “Before, if that reliever went three or four innings, you didn’t need him anyway, because the starters in those days threw a lot of complete games. Today, it’s a whole different game. But could they go longer? Sure, if you developed them that way.”

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Nine days ago, in an article called Executive Viewpoints, a handful of front office execs weighed in on what happens behind the scenes when new leadership takes over. They did so anonymously, which allowed them to offer observations on rival clubs.

Looking through my unused-quotes folder a few days ago, I unearthed related subject matter courtesy of Jeff Luhnow. In a conversation that happened over a year ago, the Astros’ GM offered his perspective on how a major league coaching staff is assembled.

“There’s always a balance between the manager and the front office,” Luhnow told me. “You’re collaboratively identifying candidates, and considering their skills and personalities. Every baseball person, including every manager, has people around him that he trusts. That’s who he’s going to want around.”

Luhnow also touched on hirings within player development.

“The farm director is typically the one in charge of personnel,” said Luhnow. “You need a balance of different types of skills at different levels. The amount of teaching in the Gulf Coast League is different than it is in Triple-A, so the type of personality you need is a little different. You need to assemble a minor league staff that understands where we’re going and is able to utilize the information we provide them.”

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Further perusing my unused-quotes folder, I came across a good one from Jeff Locke. The Pirates pitcher was speaking prior to this year’s Wild Card play-in game.

“We play one game a day, but we never play one game where you might not have a tomorrow,” Locke told me. “We’re a bunch of marathon runners and they’re asking us to run a sprint. That said, we’ve done a really good job this year of focusing on worrying about today. When tomorrow comes, then we worry about tomorrow.”

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Detroit’s famous double-play duo, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, combined to accumulate 145.3 WAR. Neither is in the Hall of Fame. Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers, the Cubs’ equally famous double-play duo, combined for 100.9 WAR. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

Regarding the more contemporary pairing, there’s a decent chance you don’t know that Whitaker (74.9) had a higher career WAR than Trammell (70.4).

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How did the respective teams fare in the second-base circus involving Daniel Murphy, Brandon Phillips and Neil Walker? Based on my armchair analysis, the Mets fared best. Acquiring Walker for Jonathon Niese was no steal, but committing to one year of the former Pirate seems more prudent than paying what it would have taken to retain Murphy. Walker is the better player, plus the Mets gain a compensatory draft pick while the Nationals forfeit a first-round selection.

As for the Nationals’ decision to give the former Met $37.5 million over three years, Murphy is Mr. Versatile, but is he any better than Brock Holt, who makes a tiny fraction of that salary in Boston? Probably not. Washington reportedly wanted Brandon Phillips, which would coast them prospects and $27.5 over two years, but the longtime Red was reticent to move east. For my money, the Nats would have been better off had Phillips been willing to waive his no-trade.

As for the rebuilding Reds, they’re stuck in purgatory with Phillips. The good-D, no-OBP veteran seems inclined to stay where he is, which does no favors for Cincinnati’s future. The Pirates? They’re basically in purse-string purgatory, awaiting manna from heaven so they can afford to fill holes on what has been an overachieving roster.

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The Aroldis Chapman saga is an even-bigger burden for the Reds. Amid allegations that Chapman physically assaulted his girlfriend and fired eight shots from a handgun, he’s presumably persona non grata for the majority of teams.

Let’s not forget that this isn’t Chapman’s first brush with the law, nor is it the first involving a woman — the stripper tied up in the hotel room story, in 2012, was truly bizarre. I’m not suggesting that baseball players are, or should be, choirboys, but any GM trading for the controversial closer will have a hard time selling him to a sizable segment of the fan base.

That said, there are presumably a few teams out there who would bite the bullet thanks to Chapman’s 100-plus heater. But what if none of them are willing to meet Cincinnati’s asking price? Do the Reds keep a player they don’t need, and quite possibly don’t want, if the only other option is to sell low? It’s not an easy call.

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Blue Jays first coach Tim Leiper brought up an obvious-but-overlooked point this past summer when discussing centerfield defense. As intricate as positioning has become, simple tenets — we’re talking Little League level here — still hold true.

“When you’re playing someone straight up, you have to shade one way or the other based on the way the pitcher is falling off the mound,” explained Leiper. “You have to make sure you have a clear line of sight to the hitting zone. You don’t want to stick yourself behind the pitcher where you can’t see the swings and the ball coming off the bat.”

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Late this summer, Mets rookie Michael Conforto told me he’d been talking to Michael Cuddyer about coming off the bench. According to Conforto, the soon-to-retire veteran advised him to treat pinch-hitting appearances like his first at-bat of the game.

Conforto added that his mentor “Had a lot of success as a pinch hitter.” A quick check of the record book shows he did his homework. In 72 career plate appearances as a pinch hitter, Cuddyer slashed .355/.431/.548.

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ESPN has announced their Sunday Night Baseball schedule, and not surprisingly there is the usual dose of Red Sox-Yankees. If you think “overdose” is a more fitting term, raise your hand.

On a related note, might we see the players’ union lobby for teams playing these games to get Monday off? The idea was recently floated by a player rep, and it has merit. At least one of the two combatants plays their next game in another city, and with Sunday nighters pushing up against the midnight hour, they often don’t arrive until the wee hours of the morning. The MLB schedule is taxing, and these TV-money contests add yet another burden.

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In November 1997, the financially-challenged Expos traded Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox. Before doing so, Montreal GM Jim Beattie paid Pedro the courtesy of asking him which teams he’d prefer going to. The future Hall of Famer named four, including the well-heeled Yankees. The others were the Orioles, Indians and Giants.

If you’re a fan of one of those teams, it’s hard not to wonder what might have been.

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On Monday, the Red Sox announced that they will be retiring Wade Boggs’ number. The honor is well deserved. That said, Dwight Evans is even more deserving than his former teammate.

Only Carl Yastrzemski has played more games in a Red Sox uniform than Evans. The erstwhile right fielder ranks third in franchise history for runs scored, runs created, and times on base. He’s fourth in WAR, hits, and total bases. He’s fifth in home runs and RBI. Evans was awarded eight Gold Gloves.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Wade Boggs hit 118 home runs and had a .415 OBP over 18 seasons. Joey Votto has 192 home runs and a .423 OBP over eight-plus seasons.

Eddie Yost hit .269 in his two years with the Detroit Tigers. He led the American League in OBP both seasons: .435 in 1959 and .414 in 1960.

In 1943, Stan Musial had 20 triples and struck out 18 times. Over his career, Musial had 1,377 extra-base hits and fanned 696 times.

Tim Cooney was the only pitcher in either league to come to the plate at least 10 times in 2015 and not strike out. The Cardinals’ rookie had three hits in 10 at bats, plus one sacrifice bunt.

Per Ace of MLB Stats, Robinson Cano had 67 batted balls of 100-mph-or-more not go for a base hit in 2015, the most in the majors.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Positively Half St
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Positively Half St

I appreciate that Daniel Murphy was not a slam-dunk acquisition. However, I am not sure I agree that Brandon Phillips for 3 years and more money would have been better. You make the point that by signing Murphy, the Nats lose a draft pick and the Mets gain one (leaving aside that the Nats took a good offensive player from the Mets). If the Nats traded for Phillips, they would have given up a few prospects much closer to the Majors than the draft pick. I heard AJ Cole’s name thrown around, for instance. Chances are good that Phillips is already in his decline, as well.

Gfuzz
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Gfuzz

I believe people are sleeping on Murph’s offense and the great season he had from May 1 on, backed up by career best peripherals. Steamer projections love him.

TKDC
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TKDC

The Mets also were 99% going to get the draft pick anyway. Viewing this as the Nats giving the Mets an extra draft pick is foolish.

gbaked
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Also, the Mets will prob get a draft pick for Walker next year