Last fall, Andrew Miller pitched 19.1 innings in 15 postseason games. Extrapolated out to a full 162-game season, that would equal 209 innings. That is basically an impossible load for the modern reliever. Consider, for context, that the only relief pitcher since World War II to top 170 innings is Mike Marshall, who did it twice, including 208.1 innings in 1974. The last major-league reliever to top 150 innings was Mark Eichhorn in 1986. Since the strike in 1994, Scott Sullivan’s 113.2 reliever innings in 1999 represents the majors’ highest mark. No reliever has crossed the 100-inning threshold in the last decade.
All indications suggest that, if a bullpen revolution is really to occur in baseball, it isn’t simply going to be a matter of a single pitcher recording a ton of innings. Exhibit A in an argument against the reality of an Andrew Miller Revolution is that Andrew Miller himself is only on pace for around 88 innings this season. What Miller did in the postseason last year is likely to remain a product of the postseason.
There might be a different sort of bullpen revolution occurring in Ohio, though. Only, this one isn’t happening in Cleveland. Rather, it’s unfolding about four hours southwest on I-71. If there is a bullpen revolution brewing, it’s happening in Cincinnati.
Consider: if a team were starting a bullpen from scratch and trying to create an ideal bullpen, they would likely abide by three basic principles.
- Put the best pitchers in the most important situations.
- Ignore the save statistic.
- Use the best pitchers for multiple innings.
Let’s evaluate the Reds’ bullpen usage this season so far by each of these three principles.
1.Put the best pitchers in the most important situations.
The reasoning behind this one should be pretty obvious. It’s best to put a club’s best pitchers in the situations where they’ll have the biggest influence on the game. The Reds likely don’t have a great bullpen. Here’s what our Depth Charts say about the Reds’ bullpen for the rest of the season.
|Raisel Iglesias||61.0||10.2||2.9||1.0||.307||76.8 %||3.19||3.36||1.2|
|Drew Storen||61.0||8.3||2.8||1.0||.309||72.3 %||3.85||3.94||0.5|
|Michael Lorenzen||52.0||8.7||3.0||1.0||.307||74.1 %||3.70||3.90||0.4|
|Tony Cingrani||52.0||9.6||4.9||1.1||.304||73.6 %||4.15||4.34||0.1|
|Blake Wood||42.0||10.1||4.1||0.9||.312||73.9 %||3.71||3.69||0.3|
|Barrett Astin||38.0||7.7||3.3||1.4||.304||69.3 %||4.76||4.70||-0.1|
|Wandy Peralta||33.0||7.8||4.2||1.0||.306||71.9 %||4.30||4.46||0.0|
|Cody Reed||28.0||8.7||3.2||1.2||.309||73.0 %||4.11||4.21||0.0|
|Robert Stephenson||24.0||9.5||5.6||1.4||.304||71.9 %||4.90||5.03||0.0|
|Tim Adleman||19.0||7.3||2.6||1.5||.305||71.4 %||4.60||4.64||0.0|
|Jackson Stephens||14.0||8.0||2.6||1.2||.307||72.6 %||3.99||4.05||0.0|
|Nefi Ogando||9.0||7.9||4.4||1.0||.308||72.4 %||4.32||4.51||0.0|
|Austin Brice||9.0||8.8||3.8||1.1||.307||72.9 %||4.06||4.19||0.0|
|Nick Travieso||9.0||7.9||3.7||1.2||.306||72.1 %||4.37||4.51||0.0|
|Keury Mella||9.0||7.6||3.8||1.2||.306||71.8 %||4.48||4.62||0.0|
|Ariel Hernandez||9.0||8.9||6.0||1.1||.305||73.1 %||4.59||4.86||0.0|
|The Others||17.0||9.4||4.0||1.0||.322||72.2 %||4.21||3.97||0.0|
Raisel Iglesias is clearly the best reliever the Reds. After that, Drew Storen and Michael Lorenzen are close, but their performances last season and the early part of 2017 suggest Lorenzen is the better pitcher, with his projections potentially suppressed by a poor starting line. After that, the remainder of the relief corps is pretty much a mess. Here’s the average leverage index so far this season for the moments when Cincinnati’s relievers have entered games (minimum two appearances).
Yes, we’re just a little over a week into the season. Still, the Reds’ two best relievers have entered games at the most important times. Their importance is even more pronounced than this chart suggests, as both Iglesias and Lorenzen pitched on Opening Day in low-leverage situations, presumably to get their feet wet.
Since Opening Day, here’s how the important reliever opportunities have manifested themselves.
Lorenzen and Iglesias are responsible for six of the nine most important reliever situations this season for the Reds. Two of the three situations that didn’t involve Iglesias and Lorenzen occurred on April 11, when Lorenzen was unable to pitch after going three innings the day before in the highest-leverage situation of the season. Lorenzen came in with the bases loaded and no outs with a four-run lead. On average, at least one run is scored in that situation 86% of the time; on average, more than two runs are scored. The three batters Lorenzen faced that inning were the three highest-leverage plate appearances of the game for Reds pitchers. He got out of the inning, and the Reds cruised to victory (Hat tip to C. Trent Rosencrans who dared anyone else to notice, and has been paying close attention to the Reds’ bullpen shakeup for a while. Brian Kenny did notice).
So Lorenzen was unavailable on the 11th and Wandy Peralta and Drew Storen came in at important moments, but when Iglesias eventually came in, the leverage index was pretty close to the mark at which those other two had entered. When there are important outs to get, Reds manager Bryan Price chose to go with his best relievers.
2. Ignore the save statistic.
This one can be incredibly difficult for managers. If there’s a three-run lead in the ninth, a closer comes in. That’s just the way it’s done. Pitchers get paid for saves — especially in arbitration — so they want those saves. Generally speaking, a manager isn’t going to be way off base in using his best relievers in save situations. Getting the final outs of a close game will generally be pretty high-leverage situations. If you look at the leaderboards for leverage from last season, you will find a whole lot of closers near the top of the list. The Reds will likely best served by pitching Iglesias at the end of games when the team has a close lead.
However, not every save situation is the same. Take April 6, for example. Tony Cingrani got three important outs in the seventh inning, when the team was ahead 5-4 (on a Michael Lorenzen homer), but the Reds scored two more runs to make it 7-4 and had a three-run lead and a save situation headed into the top of the ninth. Raisel Iglesias had pitched the day before, but probably could have come in. The save situation wasn’t as demanding as many others, though. The Reds possessed a 96.6% win expectancy. The leverage index was just 0.77.
That seemingly minor decision had a positive ripple effect: benefiting from an extra day of rest, Iglesias was then able to come in during the eighth inning the following day, protecting a 1-0 lead and pitching two innings to close out a win. Raisel Iglesias is going to get a lot of saves this season, but he doesn’t need to get all of them to be most valuable to the Reds.
3. Use the best pitchers for multiple innings.
This strategy isn’t going to work for every team. Many veteran relievers have long become accustomed to one-inning outings, and their arms might not react well to going more than one inning. That isn’t the case in Cincinnati. Raisel Iglesias isn’t in the bullpen because he couldn’t go two innings. He’s there because he couldn’t go six. He started games last year, though. Lorenzen started games in 2015, and Cody Reed started games last season. If Robert Stephenson improves, he could go multiple innings, as well. Iglesias has gone more than one inning in his last two appearances; perhaps Lorenzen’s three-inning outing will lead to longer appearances, as well.
This aspect of the bullpen — and ignoring the save, as well — are both less important than point No. 1 above, but they serve to maximize the important innings relievers receive without overworking them. This situation might not work as well for all teams. Many teams have more reliable relievers than the Reds and it isn’t as necessary. If some sort of bullpen revolution is coming, it’s not coming in the form of Andrew Miller. It’s going to look a lot like what the Reds are doing right now by letting their best relievers get the most important outs. It doesn’t seem that revolutionary, perhaps, but strict roles and the save statistic have made usage rigid. Cincinnati is doing something different, and so far this season, they have gotten positive results. The Reds aren’t expected to be in contention, but Bryan Price, the pitchers involved and the rest of the organization deserve a lot of credit for moving forward against the more traditional model.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.