Bullpen Usage

Greetings everybody! I just joined the blog a week ago and this is my first fanpost. It's good to see so many other dedicated Angel fans out there who actually know baseball as opposed to many "fans" sitting around me at games.

I have this bullpen usage issue kind of on my chest for awhile and wanted to know what you guys thought. First off, I don't think there is a better manager in the game at handling a bullpen than Scioscia and, despite the slow start this year, I think he's been doing a good job. I think he deserves a lot of credit for maximizing the value out of players like Shields, Oliver (Scioscia quickly realized that Oliver is better suited for a long relief role and is NOT a lefty specialist), Donnelly and many more.

I guess my beef is with the whole idea of a set closer, who is the best pitcher in your bullpen, who can only pitch the ninth with a lead or one-two innings in a tied, extra innings game. To me, it's a fairly simple concept- after the 5th or 6th inning in a close game, you play the match-ups as best you can rather than setting an "order" of pitchers to close a game out.

Lets imagine for a moment that Frankie Rodriguez was called up earlier in the 2002 season, Percival was hurt/struggling, and Scioscia handed Rodriguez the closer's job. Could you imagine if Frankie was being saved exclusively for 8th and 9th inning situations during the playoffs?

I think it became clear pretty quickly in the playoffs that Frankie was the best Angel out of that bullpen, but thank heavens they still had Percival and didn't make Frankie the closer!  Frankie was a fresh arm that clearly had more value coming into critical situations in middle innings and extending himself if necessary. Obviously, you wouldn't want him pitching 100 innings per year (especially with his winter-ball escapades), but you do want him pitching when it matters most. In the playoffs, that meant extending him as long as necessary.

Hypotheticals aside, if you are going to situate a bullpen, that 2002 playoff bullpen was how you do it. You could be flexible with guys like Frankie and Weber, Shields, and Donnelly, and essentially, save Percival, who is a one-inning specialist anyways, for the lead. Percival had a fantastic 2002 season, but really couldn't extend himself beyond one inning anyways, so it just worked itself out naturally in the best way possible.

But the 2002 bullpen (even before Frankie came into the picture) was truly one of a kind...I can't think of a bullpen even close to that good on any team this season. That is why playing the match-ups and situations is so important and very few managers do this. One manager who has started doing this is Bobby Cox. Mike Gonzalez is his closer, but if he has a bunch of lefties coming up in the 7th or 8th innings, he uses Gonzalez earlier and goes to Rafael Soriano afterwards.

Why, when the situation dictates, wouldn't we do something similar with Fuentes? Fuentes has proven he can get anybody out, but the man has been absolute MURDER on left-handed hitters throughout his career. Why is it necessary to save him for the ninth if three lefties are coming up in the eighth? For a statistic? To quote Herm Edwards, "You play to win the game!"

I am not saying by any means that this is the reason the pen has been struggling this year. I think that Arredondo, Fuentes, Shields, and Bulger are going to form a real strong core for us for the rest of the season regardless of how they are used (although the idea of Arredondo as an exclusive closer is and has always been dumb; he is much more valuable as a middle-relief guy or someone who comes in to get a double play with guys on base...).

Hopefully, things begin to flow, the Angels will win the division comfortably, and this entire post will just be semantics; but if the division is a hotly contested one, using match-ups to dictate how the bullpen is used can prove to be a big factor. Scioscia has to realize that while this bullpen could turn out to be very good, he doesn't have 4 or 5 stoppers that he has had in the past and needs to be flexible and adjust accordingly. That could very well mean using Fuentes early and in non-save situations every once in a while.





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