2016 Bullpen Plans
Kevin Cash has made it clear that he plans on using the bullpen differently in 2016. His exact words early in camp was he wanted to “challenge some of our pitchers to extend themselves a bit from the pen….some guys that can give us 4+ outs.” Last season, Cash utilized 17 different relief pitchers (not including 2 position players) and utilized four pitchers – Steve Geltz, Brad Boxberger, Brandon Gomes, and Xavier Cedeno – at least 60 times. Cash wasn’t alone in doing so as 10 other clubs used 4 or more relievers 60+ times in 2015
The question is: if Cash wants to go about his bullpen utilization differently in 2016, how will that process look?
In a perfect world, Cash would find the second coming of Scott Sullivan. Sullivan was a long-time Cincinnati reliever with the proverbial rubber arm. Sullivan never started a game in his entire career, but for five consecutive seasons, he worked more than 95 innings in a season and for a three-year stretch from 1999-2001, was a manager’s dream out of the pen.In that three-year stretch, he appeared in 79 games each season, worked over 100 innings and 13 times, recorded at least 9 outs in a single outing. That kind of performance has not been seen since and even in the past six seasons, only six relievers have thrown as many as 90 innings in a single season and none of them have repeated that effort.
Last season, the Rays were in the middle of the pack in terms of relievers recording at least 4 outs as that was accomplished 98 times, but the team trailed their four divisional foes in that area:
- Baltimore – 142 times
- New York – 135 times
- Boston – 114 times
- Toronto – 102 times
- Tampa Bay – 98 times
- New York – 53 times
- Baltimore – 43 times
- Tampa Bay – 38 times
- Boston – 27 times
- Toronto – 24 times
In 2015, seven different Rays relievers appeared in games where they recorded at least four outs: Steve Geltz, Brandon Gomes, Alex Colome, Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, Andrew Bellati, and Ernesto Frieri. The good news is that five of those seven pitchers are still in the organization, although only a few may be on the opening day roster. The downside of such an approach is that using someone in multiple innings on a day makes that pitcher unavailable for the next game or possibly the next two games.
Andriese, Romero, and Colome were starting pitchers over the past two seasons at some level, so they would be the logical candidates to pursue more outs within an outing early in the season. Given how the schedule plays out early with extra off-days, the team could forego using a 5th starter and use Erasmo Ramirez out of the pen for long outings as well early on . Later in the season, Alex Cobb‘s return could force that move and Chase Whitley even becomes available as well as the looming presence of Blake Snell.
We’ve seen the team burn an outing with someone in the past in a blowout loss or injury and farm that player out to Durham (where he is also unavailable to pitch while resting) to bring up a fresh arm. We will see more of that in 2016 as Danny Farquhar, Steve Geltz, and Ryan Webb each have option(s) remained according to RosterResource.
This idea of using relievers to get more outs is not a new concept. It is the way baseball once was and how baseball performs in the post-season as we most recently saw in 2014 with Madison Bumgarner closing down the hearts and minds of the Kansas City Royals. As recently as 16 months ago, Mike Petriello was arguing for teams to do exactly that – use relievers longer rather than more frequently.
Back then, Petriello felt the idea of quality relievers going multiple innings was an old fix to this new problem of relievers working in shorter bursts more frequently. Perhaps now Matt Silverman and Kevin Cash feel the same way because they’re certainly communicating as much throughout the spring. Given the fact the starters behind Chris Archer do not historically go seven strong each time out, the words will have to become actions rather quickly in 2016 to avoid a repeat of games lost by the middle to late innings last year.