For years, the “right way” to utilize a bullpen has never really come into question. The idea is that a team should have their best relief pitcher be the “closer” and throw the ninth inning. The second best reliever on the team should be the “eighth inning guy,” and the third best reliever on the team should be the “seventh inning guy.” The thinking behind this is that the later it gets into a game, the more important the situations become. Obviously, a manager wants to use his best reliever in the most important situations, so it just makes sense to put the best relief arm in the ninth inning. Is the ninth inning always the most important though? That’s what we’re here to find out.
The best way to determine the importance of a situation is the Leverage Index (LI). To see which inning has been the most important so far in 2015 I took a look at the win probability charts over at fangraphs.com which told me the inning that had the highest LI for Rockies relief pitchers when they entered the game. Here’s what I found:
Seventh inning – Four games with the highest LI, one game tied for the highest LI, one game with the second highest LI, two games with the lowest LI
Eighth inning – Six games with the second highest LI, two games with the lowest LI
Ninth inning – Five games with the highest LI, one game tied for the highest LI, two games with the lowest LI
This is a very small sample size, but it still gives us some interesting data. Both the seventh and the ninth inning have been the highest LI inning more than anything else, while the eighth inning has almost always been the second highest. Maybe we’ve found a sweet spot and have been correct all along in thinking that the second best reliever belongs in the eighth inning. What to do with the best reliever, Adam Ottavino in the Rockies case, is still very much up in the air.
Personally, I don’t think it’s wise to tie your best relief pitcher down to just the ninth inning every game. If my team is ahead by one run in the seventh inning and the other guys have their 3-4-5 hitters coming up, I don’t want to blow that lead because I’m “saving” my best bullpen arm for the ninth. It makes sense to me to use the best guy you have right there, because that is where he will be able to benefit the team the most.
Naturally, not everybody will think this way. Others might believe that it’s more important to give each reliever a specific inning every night so that he can be comfortable in a routine, but I don’t believe that is very important for most guys. I would much rather put both the players and the team in a position to succeed by giving each pitcher as many right on right or left on left match-ups as possible and by using the best relief pitchers when the other team’s best hitters are coming to the plate.
The Rockies have lots of strong bullpen options in 2015. On the right side, they have Adam Ottavino, Rafael Betancourt, John Axford, Brooks Brown, and LaTroy Hawkins (yes, he’s still a strong option despite his rough start). They also have two strong left handed options in Boone Logan and Christian Friedrich that should allow manager Walt Weiss plenty of opportunities to mix and match and use people when it will be best for both them and the team. How well he’s able to do it will play a big role in determining how effective the Rockies bullpen will be.
How do you think Walt Weiss should handle the Rockies bullpen? Should he be traditional, should he mix and match, or do you have an even better idea? Let me know in the comments and be sure to like View from the Rooftop on Facebook, follow on Twitter (I will be live tweeting just about every game), and check back on Monday, April 20, as I look back at week two of the season and look ahead to week three!