It’s very easy to second-guess decisions that other people have to make and the right answer is always crystal clear with the benefit of hindsight. It’s why there are a million armchair managers and GMs, myself definitely included. One of the things that has really annoyed me over the years in my armchair role has been the game-wide trend to use relievers for an inning or less per appearance, something that the previous brain trust of Terry Collins and Dan Warthen believed in completely.
Many times I ranted in this space about the foolishness of this approach, constantly going on about the need to use relievers for longer stretches. It’s nice to have the courage of your convictions. However, it was a lonely endeavor, as not many people inside the game or here on the sidelines felt that there was anything wrong with the LOOGY (or ROOGY) gambit.
But the tide has been turning. We saw teams in the postseason use their relievers for longer stretches and the shift in the comments section here has been noticeable, as more people got fed up with Collins and Co. reliever usage in the dumpster fire of 2017.
Now here in 2018, we’ve seen an endorsement of longer relief appearances.
Six different relievers have logged appearances of more than three outs, led by Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, with the latter having a three-inning relief appearance on his ledger. And the bullpen has been spectacular. Now, it’s very early and things can definitely change for the worse. The relievers can crack under the workload or management can simply go back to the old way of doing things, for whatever reason or even no reason at all.
But whenever you try something different in sports, you need to see results right away or risk the pull to going back to the way things were done previously, regardless of the earlier difficulties. There is safety in numbers and if 29 clubs are doing things one way, the easiest thing in the world is to do things that way, too, even if to do so flies in the face of the actual talent on hand.
With Gsellman and Lugo, the Mets have two guys who were used primarily as starters as recently as last year, meaning they had the stamina to go multiple innings at a time. There was no reason to pigeon-hole them as one-inning guys because on a different staff, they would be in the rotation going five or more innings per outing.
And the Mets have let these 2017 starters go longer, which has been just what the doctor ordered. It’s one thing to advocate for the use of a different strategy. It’s incredibly nice to see your plan (finally) put into place by others and have success.
In the 15.2 IP where relievers have gone more than an inning, they’ve given up 4 ER for a sparkling 2.30 ERA. It’s even better for the dynamic duo of Gsellman and Lugo, who in their long appearances have combined for 9 IP, 3 H, 1 ER and 11 Ks.
Of course, we’re still seeing too many short outings, particularly from Jerry Blevins and AJ Ramos. It’s okay if these short outings are ones where the manager gets the platoon advantage in a high leverage situation. The issue is when the platoon advantage is sought out in situations where the game is not really in doubt or the hitter merely a lefty batter rather than a dangerous hitter.
But we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And the bullpen deployment this year has been good. And light years better than what we’ve seen in the recent past. It may still be a bit away from what we saw regularly in the 1970s but we still have to come back to utilizing the strengths of the talent on hand.
Blevins is very good at retiring LHB and to pretend otherwise is foolish. Hopefully we can see him in a hybrid role, one where he’s used sometimes as a LOOGY and others as a guy to face righties, too. The usage of Blevins may be a season-long work in progress. And that’s okay. The main takeaway from the early bullpen deployment is the successful multi-inning appearances of Gsellman and Lugo.
As Hannibal Smith might say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”