Does anyone want to see an 8-man bullpen?

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, which may or may not change if the Vikings get beat by the Lions again in a few hours. But since the Vikings loss last year didn’t change things, I don’t expect a potential one this year will, either. Perhaps it’s not the implied blessing to watch football all day long that makes Turkey Day my favorite. Perhaps it’s the idea that we should stop trying to be so selfish and instead be grateful for whatever blessings we have. The idea that we can quit complaining, if even for just one day, is one that’s really appealing.

It’s human nature to want what we don’t have. Hopefully we reach a point where we get past that because sometimes the things we want are counter-productive. When my age was in single digits, my desire was for the Mets to have an artificial turf park like they did in so many other NL cities. It’s difficult to remember why that was a wish of mine – maybe it was the Zamboni that would vacuum up the rain and make more games playable.

Whatever my reason, the Mets never installed turf and that turned out to be for the best. The fields that are in the majors today all have superior draining and there’s no need for a Zamboni. And they’re not the equivalent of playing on concrete, either, so we don’t see people’s bodies breaking down because of the field. So that’s good.

Today, not many people would prefer to travel back in time and play on Astro Turf. But they all seem to long for the actual game that was played on those artificial fields. One where speed and athleticism ruled the day. One where no one had yet to coin the terms PEDs or Tommy John surgery.

I don’t blame any of the greybeards for wanting a return of the game of their youth. There’s a really strong impulse to romanticize the things as they used to be, to build up a mythology around when life was simple and things were pure. There’s a reason you remember your first car or your first kiss or your first job.

Of course, proponents of the 1970s game will insist that it goes far beyond romanticism. And they’re not completely wrong, even if they are diminishing the role that nostalgia plays in their ultimate wish for the game. Few would deny that it’s fun to see a guy like 2011 Jose Reyes hit the ball in the gap and turn on the jets and wind up on third base.

One might even argue that the yearning for 1970s baseball goes beyond romanticism and into the realm of the political and how we identify as Americans. Cue Crash Davis:

Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.

One of the most exciting non-Mets moments for me in baseball was the last out of Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. Bruce Sutter was on the mound for those running Cardinals and slugging Gorman Thomas was at bat for the Brewers. The game wasn’t in great peril – Sutter maintained a one-run lead with a perfect eighth inning and the Cardinals tacked on two runs in the top of the ninth.

Rather what made it exciting was the matchup and the execution. Sutter was going for a multi-inning Save and his splitter was the most-feared weapon of any reliever at the time. And Thomas, who led the AL in homers that year, was having just a dreadful World Series. Could the slugger get some redemption against the elite closer and keep the magical season alive for the Brewers?

Thomas fouled off several two-strike splitters but eventually struck out when Sutter threw him a fastball.

For me, I prefer a game with home runs and strikeouts. The problem comes in how teams try to both achieve and combat those things. We see managers make multiple pitching changes, we see batters constantly stepping out of the box, we see pitchers take extra time to deliver the perfect pitch.

A four-hour game is ugly and it makes no difference if it takes four hours because there were 10 pitching changes or it takes that long because pitchers constantly throw over to first base and hold the ball forever to combat the running game. As Tim McCarver once said, nothing slows down the game like speed.

We may never agree on what style makes for the ideal game and it’s probably best if we don’t. Now that would be fascist, if someone in power told you what type of game to enjoy. But I think we can agree on the enemy and that’s pace of the game.

The question becomes: What should we do about it? On one side you have people who champion for the game to find its own equilibrium, that eventually something new will come along and the game will find a proper balance without any outside interference. And on the other side we have people who want to tinker and legislate to force the game into a better state. Limit pitching changes, put in a pitch clock, really enforce batters staying in the box are just some of the suggestions out there.

My preference would be for the first option although the second option is not unthinkable.

There’s been talk that the Mets are going to go to an eight-man relief staff this year. As someone who thinks seven relievers are too many, this isn’t the greatest news ever. But it’s an admission that the way things are going are not sustainable. While I don’t like the solution of this one particular team, it doesn’t mean that another team won’t (eventually) find a different fix to the problem. And if and when that alternate fix succeeds, there’s no doubt others will follow.

But for Mets fans, the real problem isn’t style or pace but rather results. If given a choice to watch a 95-loss team that plays at the style and pace you prefer or a 95-win team that regularly plays long, boring (however you define the term) games – my guess is that most of us would choose the latter.

So, let’s win a bunch of games in 2018 and make everyone happy. And try to play some 2:20 minute games, too. Also, throw in some games with lots of doubles and steals so everyone will have a chance to be thankful.

Happy Thansgiving!

17 comments for “Does anyone want to see an 8-man bullpen?

  1. TexasGusCC
    November 23, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Happy Thanksgiving Brian, and everyone who hangs out on this website.

    I think what makes for a great game are lead changes. The reason why a five and a half hour marathon was one of the best games ever this last World Series is because the leads weren’t safe and both teams had multiple leads blown.

    For my Christmas wish list, while I think the pitch clock is a stupid idea, I could live with it. But, if you give me a discussed rule change that a reliever must face at least three batters, I’d be happy. Of course a new LED sign for the store may help me more… That’s what the SBA is for.

    • November 23, 2017 at 11:49 am

      Thanks Gus – and I’ll be pulling for you to get that sign!

      I get the appeal of both of these suggestions. I guess they just don’t feel right to me. I like the pitch clock idea a little more but it just feels like the umpires can and should do that, regardless. But maybe there needs to be a clock to ensure there’s no favoritism towards either a specific team or just “veterans” because the rules should apply equally to everyone.

      • TexasGusCC
        November 23, 2017 at 5:45 pm

        Brian, I saw a piece on MLB Now a couple of days ago, as it was played out by Joe Magrane. Here’s how it works:
        Ball goes back to mound from catcher. Pitcher takes ball and thinks a second. Once pitcher steps on rubber to look in at sign, clock starts. Pitcher shakes off sign and steps off. Clock resets, and Magrane did that several times to show that. In fact, Magrane told us that when the Astros at one point couldn’t get their agreement between McCann and a pitcher during the World Series, this wouldn’t change their right to have meetings and get on the same page. Also, he throws to first, new clock.

        What’s the benefit there?

      • TexasGusCC
        November 23, 2017 at 5:59 pm

        Too, they showed that when Verlander was going well, his average time was 11.8 seconds. When he shook off a sign or had men on base and slowed down, it was 16 seconds.

        Their point was that a pitcher shouldn’t be affected if he’s confident and trusts his stuff. It’s the Monteros of baseball that are afraid to throw it that will have a problem.

  2. Dan
    November 23, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    I prefer more bench players than bullpen.. Starters have to learn to pitch longer and get more outs.

  3. Chris F
    November 23, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving to the Mets 360 family!

    …and 500 foot fences, hit-and-run, balls in play, Koosman-like pitching, and Ordonez like defense!

  4. Jimmy P
    November 24, 2017 at 9:38 am

    I believe all the K’s and HRs contribute to a boring game where, pitch by pitch, nothing happens with greater frequency than ever before in the history of baseball.

    In terms of speeding up the game, there’s a lot they can do. I believe in one WS game McCann walked out to the mound 5x in one inning.

    In basketball, they didn’t used to have a shot clock. You never hear people all nostalgic for those good old days.

    • November 24, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Come spend some time in NC, an area that’s very passionate about basketball and where people worship Dean “Four Corners” Smith. You won’t have any trouble finding someone who think that basketball was better before the advent of the shot clock. But perhaps that’s just nostalgia for when there were more white players.

      Regardless, I think we have to consider unintended consequences. Let’s say that MLB instituted a bunch of rule changes to speed up the game after 2017 set a record with an average game time of 3:08. And let’s say those attempts were wildly successful, shaving an average of 24 minutes off the average, back to the 2:44 average of 1985. I think most people would be very happy.

      But what if those changes resulted in a big increase in the average runs per game? Last year there were 9.29 rpg. What if restricting pitching changes and mound visits and installing a pitch clock resulted in an average of 11.29 rpg, which would blow away anything that occurred in the Silly Ball era – would that be ok?

      I’m not saying that it would be awful. It might be great. But before we institute any drastic changes to the game, I want to know that the powers that be have considered the ramifications and that they’re ok with the results.

      • Jimmy P
        November 24, 2017 at 4:44 pm

        I don’t believe the NC comment for a minute. Hoops fans there want 19-18 games? I’m calling BS on that.

        No reason to go to wild extremes here. I’m not even saying how I’d fix it. Just that length of game is a serious problem. There are fewer young fans. I’m not pretending it’s all good.

        As I’ve said before, all the trends supported by SABR observations have tcintributed to slow the game down. A guy looks at the data and brings in the lefty. Looks at the data and tells his hitters to work deep counts. Looks at the data and opts for power over speed. And on and on. The game has shifted and it’s become much, much slower. The facts are irrefutable.

        • November 24, 2017 at 9:04 pm

          It’s erroneous to think that all pre shot clock games were that low scoring. Games regularly were in the 50s and 60s when I first started watching college basketball. And there were certainly games where each team scored 70+ plus points without a shot clock.

  5. Chris F
    November 24, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    The all HR and K perspective is the ultimate embrace of the SABR way. It reduces the number of players from 9 to 2 (ok 3, but that so the ump doesnt get killed). It makes all the numbers have direct meaning because there are no messes to clean up. No errors. No positioning of players. No unpredictable dependent variables determining outcome of an event. Its not a team game but a one-on-one showdown. It becomes a high-stakes batting practice or HR derby. I dont like my baseball that way. I love the decision making of a suicide squeeze or a single with runners on second and third. And sure, I love home runs and Ks, after all they are part of the game. Ks meant a lot more than they do now, so its hard to get worked up over 10 per game when everyone is swinging for the fences, and mostly not getting there.

    • November 24, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      Mets hitters had 6,169 PA last year. They also had 224 HR and 1,291 Ks and 529 BB and 57 HBP. That’s 4,068 PA that had a ball in play. Roughly, that’s 2/3 of the PA that result in “action” and that require all of the fielders. I’d prefer more HR, BB and HBP and fewer Ks for the team’s hitters. But my opinion is that there are still plenty of opportunities for the dependent variables of a team game.

  6. Eraff
    November 24, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    I spent most of my last two weeks thinking that I’d love to see a Football Game with much less Refereeing…and no Bubble Screens or Shovel Passes…now, to Baseball.

    Mostly, i’d like to see a bigger strike zone to encourage more balls in play–frankly, much more defensive hitting would be my guess. It would encourage a different approach earlier in the count—more aggressive, with a more situational/defensive approach late in count.

    • TexasGusCC
      November 24, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      Eraff, players are still going to swing out of their shoes. This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. It was Ralph Kiner from the mid 1950’s that taught us that batting average leaders drive Chevrolet’s and homerun leaders drive Cadillacs.

      • Jimmy P
        November 25, 2017 at 9:33 am

        Oh come on, Gus, get real. Kiner was a power hitter. Not everyone hit that way then or should now.

        BTW, I never saw Kiner hit. But I will always remember his complaint about Jay Payton: “He only has one swing.”

        Last season we saw the most HRs hit in the history of MLB. It’s crazy to think it is normal or that it always was that way and will remain so in the future. It’s a fluid game.

        I still believe that shifting defenses will have a net positive effect on some hitters. That they will learn that pulling everything doesn’t work and will, I hope, develop some situational ability. Not everyone can be Ted Williams. I felt that a couple of Houston hitters effectively laid down bunts against the shift in the WS; and so on.

        I find it strange that you are arguing so hard for today’s historic levels of HRs and Ks. But if that’s what you love, if that’s how you like baseball, I can’t argue with your taste. But at the same time, you’ll turn around and talk about defense and the value of little things, Collins failure to teach this or that, and somehow you fail to see the big picture, how all these elements to the game are connected and intertwined. The big HR hitter is not going to be a great defender; is not going to be fast; is not going to execute the hit-and-run, and so on.

        • Chris F
          November 25, 2017 at 12:45 pm

          Yeah, I pretty much agree with you here. It strikes me that part of this stems from the total frustration in reading the Mets, its like were an optical illusion. Are we in go for it mode? It seems so, because we (rather cheaply by all measures) brought in a new coaching staff as a way to culture growth. But wait, we are planning to compete by shedding considerable MLB talent and payroll and replacing them with middling level players and a new coaching staff…huh?

          Are we in rebuild mode? Clearly that is not a permissive position to have, yet we dropped a ton of talent and shed payroll as much as possible. To accomplish this we took almost nothing in return for real major leaguers…that is what rebuilding teams do. At the same time we hear talk about acquiring Bruce or Cain or Hosmer or Moustakas or __________ . What does that mean?

          Anyway, all this leads to *my* confusion for sure. I think clubs need to go about their business in a sort of all-in kind of way. Anything else says the club isnt really heading towards something. What FA wants to sign on to club that isnt clear where it is going, besides speeding to the taupe/gray/beige center of MLB purgatory? Moustakas? Arietta? Cain? Ohtani? I wouldn’t bet on it.

          So quite frankly, Im not surprised we see a range of contradictory ideas in the hot stove chatter-verse. There is the “what would I like” angle, the “what should we do” angle, the “whats the *best* thing to do” angle, and all the rest of the possible noise that fills Nov-Feb. Almost none of it is guided by a sense of where the team is headed by declaration; instead we must read between the lines of spoken words and decipher the actions of the front office with the hope of trying to gauge our feelings. Another year of sandy-ball is gonna be exhausting.

  7. MattyMets
    November 25, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Great post. Something clearly has to be done to fix September baseball especially. Expanded rosters lead to way too many pitching changes.

    Back in the day we had 24 man rosters with 10 of them pitchers. The 5th spot in the rotation may have only seen 15-20 starts as the top 4 were workhorses. That last spot was often used to try out kids. The 5 or 6 relievers routinely pitched full innings if not multiple innings. Tony LaRussa started it all with the specialists coming in to face one batter. It may be sabermetrically prudent, but it makes for a slow game with a lot of commercial breaks. It certainly doesn’t help make the game appealing to the app generation.

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