Egg nog, bullpen management, and walks

Ok.. the egg nog parties are now over for the most part, shopping is pretty much out of the way, and now it’s time to make a deal or two. Let’s see how active the Pirates get this week. I’m guessing you’ll be surprised.

Stay tuned.

YOU MAKE THE CALL:

You are John Russell, it’s about 30+ days before early camp arrivals, and you have to decide now your strategy on managing the Pirates bullpen in 2008 so that instructional plans are written. Which approach do you take with your current roster: bullpen by committee or assigned roles?

Tick.. tock.. tick.. tock. Got your answer? Ok.. let’s move on.

Jim Tracy and Lloyd McClendon assigned roles when they had the depth/luxury to do so, so it’s only natural that Pirates fans would select that method. But Russell has unique challenges assigning roles with the biggest and most obvious being that he only has three relievers with any real service time and one of those is his closer with the other two being southpaws.

Succeeding as a role player requires strong management knowledge of the pitcher’s capabilities. Certainly it would be easier for Russell to know where to use Marte than where Evan Meek should/could be used, for instance.

So does that mean Russell is stuck having to use a bullpen by committee next year? Will Capps be used in the 7th to get two outs with two men in scoring position and the Bucs up a run, or will Sanchez be brought out to "see what he can do" as if we are developing minor league players at the major league level for the ninth year in a row?

It’s hard to tell what Huntington will ask Russell to do, but I assume it will be to try and assign specific sixth, seventh, and eighth inning roles during spring training and then to implement them from the halfway point on to see how they work out.

That’s right.. that’s not going to work very well with such a small sample size. But that’s the entire point of this post – nothing is going to work not knowing the younger players abilities over time. Plus, the younger players who do make the club will be traveling probably for the first time in their careers, will have to make friends with an entire new peer group, and they know every single pitch they throw will be evaluated from the GM to the clubhouse manager loading film.

Talk about a pressure cooker.

With any luck at all, Huntington will pick up at least one more polished right-hand reliever with some experience who can mentor the younger players much like Morris will be doing with the starters. That will only require us to carry three newbies in the pen assuming Burnett doesn’t get one of the jobs as a starter or long reliever and we carry 13 pitchers which we almost have to do.

Right again.. what happens when someone gets injured like Grabow, or traded like Marte? Well, we’ll be in rough shape unless Huntington brings up Bullington and puts him in the pen which, despite Huntington suggesting the other day he would do that, probably won’t happen. Or, we trade for another player.

These youngsters are going to have to get work so I expect we’ll see more of the same management scheme we saw last year with Tracy – if the game is close, Russell will pull everything out of the hat he can to to try and keep it close. If we are down three in the sixth in an away game, expect to see the youngsters.

But a bullpen by committee scheme very well might keep us in more games longer. That could especially be true if Russell uses the Jimmy Leyland approach yanking a pitcher out mid-at bat with two balls on the batter because he gets that sixth sense the batter is going to walk if he doesn’t. Plus, he can’t be scared to pile innings on Capps who, I believe, should have more of an expanded role than sitting around getting fat in the pen waiting to close a game every three or four days.

I bet I have received 100 emails in the last month asking why Dave Littlefield signed Matt Morris. The clear answer: he was in save-my-job-mode and I’m sure that had at least something to do with it.

When we made the trade I said I thought it was a good idea but a bad financial deal for a small market team. I’ve always liked the idea of Morris being added even though he wasn’t going to provide the Pirates with significantly more wins than a replacement level pitcher would.

Why?

Stability, experience, and knowledge. He’s the kind of guy the players will look up and listen to, even though his stuff isn’t that great anymore. The value of that development can’t be measured over what they would learn from a Jeff Andrews who had a couple of years throwing in the minors and then 20+ years coaching in the same environment. Plus, it was pretty obvious none of them were listening very hard to Jim Colborn.

No.. allocating $10M+ for Morris wasn’t a smart move for a team heading towards rebuilding. But I think his signing goes to show us how unstable the Pirates ownership and management were overall because it seems logical they would have never allowed it had they known they were going to blow up the roster. Obviously they were playing the game by the seat of their pants.

The Pirates better plan with the rest of the NLCD teams to find a way to shut down the Brewers early season run. Man they look good this year and could be on their way to a 95 win year. Don’t be too surprised.

Not since 2003 has the Pirates offense walked more times than our pitching staff has allowed walks. That could change in 2008 and, if it does, it could mean the difference from being a 92 loss team and an 88 loss team.. or even more.

Now.. we won’t gain +4 wins from getting issued walks, but it carries over to our defense as well. OBP is still king in this game and if you don’t give it up while grabbing all you can, you are more likely than not to steal a few more of those close ones.

There are a couple of very good articles in the August 2007 issue of SABR’s By The Numbers newsletter you might enjoy reading. Victor Wang wrote "How Much is a Top Prospect Worth" and Bill James penned "Future Expectations for Overperforming Teams." The issue is in PDF format.

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