“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw
So here we are, on the last day of October, celebrating Halloween, and enjoying a magnificent World Series. I’ve always felt that the perfect Series for Halloween, with its orange and black colors, should be between the Orioles and Giants and their orange and black colors.
Today we recover from what the website fivethirtyeight.com pointed out was a “sports equinox” as the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB all played games on the same day yesterday for just the 16th time in history. However, I can’t imagine though that there was any event that equaled the excitement of last night’s 3-2 Game 5 win by the Cubs that gave the fans at Wrigley a reason for joy and all of us a reason to celebrate that we have at least one more game of baseball to bask in this postseason.
The story of the game last night was Aroldis Chapman, the “other” former Yankee reliever to dominate this postseason. His eight-out performance was just the latest rationale for three changes in baseball rules that must be made this offseason.
It is with Chapman, Miller and the other relievers in mind that I really encourage baseball to make the following rule changes:
1) Relievers must face a minimum of two batters or pitch to the end of an inning
Both Chapman and Andrew Miller have shown us what great relievers are capable of doing. As outstanding pitchers, they have faced both lefties and righties at the plate and have found success. Overall, batters are hitting .140 (8-for-57) against Miller and .167 (7-for-42) against Chapman. No one is getting really good at bats against these guys whether they come to the plate from the right or the left. However, there is no reason to not use these two as exemplars to argue the case that we need relievers to stay in a game beyond one batter.
Here’s the good news: In 2016, there were “only” 1182 games in which a reliever faced just one batter and was either pulled or the game ended. I say this is good because that number is down from the record 1398 times it happened in 2015 and the 1265 times in 2014.
Take a look at the trend:
- This season, relievers made 15,307 appearances and faced 67,736 batters; that’s an average of 4.42 PA per appearance.
- In 2006, relievers made 13,836 appearances and faced 65,115 batters, an average of 4.70 PA per appearance.
- In 1996, relievers made 11,060 appearances and faced 59,617 batters, an average of 5.39 PA per appearance.
- In 1986, relievers made 7554 appearances and faced 50,068 batters, an average of 6.62 PA per appearance.
There were 598 LOOGY appearances and 586 ROOGY appearances in 2016. Would it kill of the careers of these guys to pitch to a batter that hits from the opposite side? I don’t think so. I don’t think Randy Choate, for example, would be out of work. In 2016, the southpaw Choate appeared in 51 games in which he faced only one batter. Those 51 games totaled 11.1 innings pitched. All told, Choate made 71 appearances and faced 117 batters.
If we are generous, let’s presume that a pitching change takes just five minutes from the time the manager walks to the mound, has a little conversation, signals for the reliever (who rushes one more warm-up throw before entering), who then trots to the mound, is handed the ball as the situation is discussed (or given two “Go get ‘ems”), then takes his warmup pitches, and then the batter finally steps to the plate. After all this is finished, we probably spent about six hours this season watching left-handers go 22-for-83 (.265) versus Choate, while righties went 7-for-21 (.333).
We need relievers to either pitch to the end of an inning, or a minimum of two batters.
This is an idea that will both speed up games and increase offense. By the way, I’m not suggesting anything new or radical, I’m just encouraging the change to take place. In fact, uber-genius Theo Epstein threw out the idea at the general managers meeting last November and Ken Rosenthal, another person in my book of baseball Mensa members, endorsed the concept as well.
Kenny wrote in regard to changes that would improve the pace of play, “Fewer delays caused by pitching changes. New strategies as managers decide how to best deploy their relievers. A reduction in the importance of same-side specialists. An increased number of opportunities for the best hitters to decide games.”
Another Mensa member, Tom Verducci, wrote, “Pitching changes stop the game and depress offense, neither of which is good for the future of baseball as an entertainment option.”
So the benefits would be improved pace of play, improved offense as pitchers might likely have to face batters from both side of the play, more strategic thinking by managers, and more second guessing by fans.
2) Change the “save”and “hold” rules
More than once, managers, teammates, and fans have heard Andrew Miller state that he’d pitch anywhere for the betterment of his ball club. He made the adjustment when Chapman joined the Yankees to the delight of manager Joe Girardi and he has done the same for manager Terry Francona while pitching in front of Cody Allen. Now, Miller is a selfless guy, but don’t be fooled; he’s also not an idiot. He has expressed his willingness in part because, as he has said, he’d already signed a four-year, $36 million contract for closer money.
Closers get paid big bucks; holders don’t.
Brian Kenny of the MLB Network is one of the alums of the Bill James School of Baseball Brilliance (which is of much greater value than a degree from Trump University, believe me). Kenny was an early proponent of the “Kill The Win” movement, which diminishes the importance of won-lost records for pitchers (an assertion that I believe is correct). Kenny has also been outspoken on not saving your best reliever until a ninth inning save situation and using that pitcher at a critical point in a game when the situation dictates. Kenny also writes about “Bullpenning,” which replaces the concept of a starter with an “opener” who pitches two-to-three innings and then have the bullpen take over for the rest of the game.
“Sprinters are faster than milers. Pitchers are more effective in shorter spurts. Use them that way.”
My proposed rule change starts us in that direction.
Last night, Aroldis Chapman recorded the last eight outs of the game and earned a celebrated save. After he had repeatedly faced the best that Cleveland had to offer, and had gotten out of jams, suppose, for one reason or another, Joe Maddon removed Chapman with two outs in the ninth and brought in Hector Rondon to pick up the last out. The result would have been that Rondon earns the save and Chapman gets a meaningful, but meaningless, hold.
Official scorers need to award a “save” to the pitcher who is on the mound when the game is actually saved.
For some reason, baseball stats sites still track “games finished.” Well, now give that some value. Four stat variables should be kept for each game: W/L, saves, holds, and games finished. Awarding a save to when the game is actually saved will enable relievers to earn the stats that earn the big bucks at any time during the game. It will start to break managers out of the limited thinking process of holding out your best reliever until the ninth because he is the closer and he is paid for that reason.
I have so much respect for him and I hate to throw him again under the bus, but are there any Orioles fans who disagree with me on this and agree with Buck Showalter as we still await Zach Britton coming into the Wild Card Game this year?
In a brilliant column by Sam Miller for ESPN.com, he examined all the various times that Buck could have, should have, brought in Britton. Miller concludes, “Showalter has managed many great games, has made many great moves, is one of the titans of his generation. But refusing to use his best pitcher for even a single out in an all-or-nothing game wasn’t a moment of weakness; it was a mistake that he made from first pitch to last. The power of a bad heuristic to completely undo a manager’s reasoning and imagination is an amazing thing to watch.”
The “save” mentality of managers, agents, and GMs must stop so that the game can improve. Allow official scorers to award saves both by existing rules and at their discretion.
3) Award a win to a starter even if he doesn’t go 5.0 innings
In many ways, the managers in this postseason have been working backwards, figuring out when he can pull the starter and start going to the bullpen. The changes I have proposed thus far have both increased and changed the roles played by relievers. The impact of these changes could affect starters as well.
Rule 9.17 states that the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher that pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, unless (1) such pitcher is a starting pitcher and Rule 9.17(b) applies;
Rule 9.17 (b)states that if the pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, is a starting pitcher who has not completed (1) five innings of a game that lasts six or more innings on defense, or (2) four innings of a game that lasts five innings on defense, then the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the relief pitcher, if there is only one relief pitcher, or the relief pitcher who, in the official scorer’s judgment was the most effective, if there is more than one relief pitcher.
Okay, this is more than you need to know. A starter can earn a loss no matter how long or short of time he is in the game, but can earn earn only if he pitches five full innings. Why? I don’t know. Third base, to quote Abbott & Costello, who may have made this rule.
The only rationale I can come up with for this arcane rule is that a game becomes official after five innings and thereby the starter becomes the pitcher of record. But even that seems like a stretch.
One of the Indians heroes this postseason is Ryan Merritt. But the only reference you can see of him is that he has thrown 4.1 innings. In Game 5 of the ALCS, Merritt made his second major league start. He indeed threw 4.1 innings allowing two hits, striking out three and allowing no runs before he was pulled by Francona, who brought the bullpen brigade in to stifle Toronto.
To recap: In that game, Merritt went 4.1 innings and allowed two hits and left the game leading 3-0. He was followed by Bryan Shaw, who entered the game with one runner on base and pitched 1.0 inning and allowed two hits. Shaw was followed by Miller, who entered the game with one runner on base went 2.2 IP and allowed one hit. Miller was followed by Cody Allen, who pitched the ninth inning and allowed one hit. The Indians won, 3-0.
The winning pitcher, as determined by the official scorer, was Shaw; Allen earned a save, and Miller got a hold.
Under my proposed rule changes, Merritt gets the win, Shaw gets a hold, Miller gets the save, and Allen gets a game finished.
Merritt was the best pitcher who pitched the longest and quite effectively in the game, he left with a winning score, his only “fault” was that his manager was thinking protectively and progressively and pulled him two outs shy of five complete inning. Francona put the team win ahead of the personal achievement. Good for the Indians, good for baseball, bad for Merritt.
Who cares how long a starter goes? If he is an effective pitcher, he deserves a chance to earn the win, even if it’s by the official scorer’s ruling. This backward thinking of five innings minimum is bad for the game that too often is bound by tradition at logic’s expense.
Baseball needs to be bold and make the changes now.
- Make relievers face a minimum of two batters
- Change the save and hold rules
- Award a win to a starter even if he doesn’t go 5.0 innings
I began with a quote and I’ll end with one:
“It’s been a long time, a long time coming but I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will” – Sam Cooke
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