How to Build a Better Bullpen?

I don’t like the constant pitching changes and the lefty/righty matchups.  In the short term, you may get the out and win a game or two here or there, but in the long run it’s a recipe for disaster, an overall weakened bullpen, and a game of Russian Roulette.

Not every pitcher is going to have it on any given night.  When you’re running four, five or six relievers out there during a game, you’ll eventually run into that pitcher that’s not going to be effective.

If you have a pitcher that’s pitching effectively, let him pitch.

The way the bullpens are being used today, you need to have seven guys in the pen and further depth in the minor leagues, because there will be turnover.  You need the pen to be 10 to 12 guys deep the way the game is currently being played.  That’s placing crucial outs and crucial game situations into the hands (particularly later in the season when injuries and fatigue builds up) into the hands of players that shouldn’t even be there in the first place.

Bullpens are always a crap shoot.  If you want to increase the odds in your favor, shorten the bullpen.  How can you do that without both burning out your best relievers and not overtaxing your starters?

Change your thinking and learn from history.

The days of the starter being his own closer are long gone.  You need a bullpen.  If you get a starter to go through six innings, you’re looking for your bullpen to get you three innings every night.  Some days will be more.  Some days will be less.  But let’s start with that benchmark.

The focus should be on getting four key guys in the pen.  It’s much easier to find four good bullpen arms than it is to find seven to break camp and going even further in the minors.  Find four guys and utilize them to maximize results.

How?

Designate one guy as your closer.  Just like now.  This role will remain unchanged.  Just like today.

Let three relievers earn their spots as two inning setup men.  The goal will be to pitch the 7th and 8th innings every three days.  Over a 162 game stretch, that will come out to 108 innings for these three setup men.  This isn’t an overload of work if a pitcher is going to get rest between appearances, won’t be getting up every day in the pen, and won’t be working every day.

That’s 54 total appearances, which isn’t an unreasonable amount.  The individual appearances may also be stronger since they won’t be pitching on tired arms.  You’ll also have starters going more than 6 innings from time to time, which will also drop that 108 inning total down.

Relief pitchers did this all the time before and were fine.

Now you have three extra pitchers in the bullpen.  You can truly have a long man in the pen for when a starter isn’t effective.  You also have two other pitchers to come in when other innings need to be eaten and/or your main relievers are having an off night.

Isn’t the objective to win games?  Why not put the best pitchers in the pen into situations when you have the greatest percentage to win and when their efforts are truly maximized?  Bullpen turnover may be less.  You won’t burn out your best relievers.  You’re reducing the number of good relievers you need to hold onto.

In games you need to win, you’re getting your best pitchers pitching the most innings.  After all, doesn’t pitching win championships?

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