One Month Into Cyclone
(Robins lead league in a lot of pitching stats... including pitching changes.)
So here we are 4 weeks into the regular season and we are starting to get a big enough sample towards defining whether or not the Robins plan to redefine pitching roles was good, bad, or just plain ugly. Keep in mind that it's still early and players tend to go through hot and cold streaks. So by no means is the book closed either way here. Just starting to sort through some of the data to figure out what is going right and what is going wrong.
The Stopper Role
This was a major selling point in jumping head first into this ideal. The traditional closer throws what? 60 innings? Half of those innings he comes in with no one on and a three run lead? And he is likely to be one of the best pitchers on the staff? Not in this house. The plan Brooklyn had for the stopper role was to milk everything they could out of last years rookie sensation Ryosei Akiyama (10/5/7 Ratings, 1 - 1, 1.44 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 26 K) and newly converted RP Jorge Perez (10/7/8 Ratings, 3 - 1, 3.09 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 38 K). Those two pitchers are probably #2 and #3 in ability on the Robins staff. But to have them throw 50-60 innings a piece would be just a waste of talent.
Thus far, this part of the plan has been excecuted to perfection. The dynamic duo is currently on pace to throw 297 and 2/3 innings and collect 7.6 WAR. Without fact checking I can just about gaurantee that is better production then any other back end of the bullpen in the Brewster. A lot of the success can be attributed to Perez's switch to the bullpen. A move that would not have even been considered before Brooklyns demolishing of the starters role. Perez currently leads the Johnson in Hits/9 innings and opponents batting average while ranking second in opponents OBP and WHIP. And I'm not talking about relief pitchers. Both Akiyama and Perez are pitching frequently enough to be listed among the qualified starters section of the leaderboard.
High Leverage Long Men
If you are just tuning in, Brooklyn is not using starting pitchers anymore. Every pitcher is a relief pitcher and some random guy starts each game. Most of the time it's based off the other teams ability and/or flaws, sometimes is based on availability, and other times it's just pretty random. Guys that would be Brooklyn starters are listed as either high or low leverage long relievers based on their talent level and all pitchers have strict pitch counts not greater then 50(some temporary exceptions apply) so they can come back every two to three days.
The high leverage long men for the team are Francisco Ruiz (10/7/6 Ratings, 2 - 1, 2.34 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 45 K) and Manuel Andres (10/7/5 Ratings, 3 - 0, 2.25 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 36 K). Both have come out of the gates hotter then the Caymen Islands. Ruiz currently leads the BBA with 8 starts. He also has 7 appearances out of the bullpen. Yet is still a good 10 innings behind the BBA leaders in IP. Ruiz is on pace to throw 221 innings and have a 7.3 WAR. Andres is currently leading the league in WHIP, opponents OBP and OPS. He is on pace for 167 innings and a 6.5 WAR.
There are a couple of takeaways I'm gaining here. First is that the inning distribution is working as planned. What the Robins consider to be their 4 best pitchers have thrown 46% of the allotted innings. This has helped propel them to the 2nd best team ERA in the Johnson. The other is charting how these pitchers do as starters compared to in the pen. I guess it's predictable that both pitchers here have strong upticks in strikeouts and downticks in walks. The hope was that the uptick would be spread across the board. It really shouldn't matter if someone is pitching innings 1 and 2 or 4 and 5.
So, you're ready to implement this system yourself? Might want to keep reading. Brooklyn has already sustained 3 pitching injuries. Two of them on the severe side. Ken Bates (10/6/7 Ratings) was most likely a coincidence. He is injury prone and didn't even pitch back to back days before going down. With the amount of injuries we've seen in the league this year, no one is suprised to see Bates out of action. Next up is 34 year old LOOGY Robert Hansen (7/8/7 Ratings, 0 - 2, 7.24 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 7 K). Hansen did start a game, throwing 40 pitches and then pitched the following two days in short relief totaling 10 pitches. He then had a day off before throwing 27 more pitches on the day he tore his labrum. Again. I'm not convinced this is anything more then an injury prone over 30 something losing the injury lottery.
The third one though.. this could be something. Manuel Romano (10/7/5 Ratings, 0 - 0, 5.40 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 21 K) is an able bodied 23 year old with a relatively clear injury history. During a recent trip to Huntsville, it made sense to stack up left handed pitching. The plan was to have Andres pitch games one and three while Romano pitched game two and game four with a 50 pitch limit. Long story short, manager Tom Valdez botched the plan. Andres pitched game one, then came on in relief in game two. Forced to start game three, he could only give one inning and Romano was called upon to mop up. Romano threw 137 pitches in a three day stretch and came up with some shouder busitis shortly after. Totally unacceptable.
I think this will be the prevailing factor in the success of this system. It will work as long as the pitchers are not abused too much. Can Perez and Akiyama withstand a starter workload throughout a full 162 game season? Will Ruiz become the first pitcher in baseball history to make the 40/40 club(4o starts and 40 relief appearances) or will his body breakdown in the process? These are real questions that still need to be answered.