By: Kurt Snyder
This is the time of the year when you show your true colors as a baseball fan. You find out who’s a fan of the sport and who’s just a fan of their team.
Not even a blog like Totally Tigers can draw interest if we don’t keep tabs on the game’s evolving trends; at a time when they present themselves more than any other time. In the playoffs. This year. Right now.
Let’s take a quick peak at one team looking to advance to the World Series. Really the story of the playoffs so far has not been about starting pitching, it’s been about the guys in the pen. Oh, and defense and fearless base running. Aggressiveness. Ingenuity. Creativity. You want more? How many more do you want me to dig out of my thesaurus?
Last year’s champs, the Royals, began this turnaround. But the game and how it is won, has evolved even more since. And isn’t Andrew Miller really the story?
Terry Francona and the Indians found they had a relief pitcher that could help them at any time. He would not have an established role. He would pitch when the team needed him the most, for as long as they needed him.
And with the Indians success as a potential model, other teams may now decide they need to find that talented, dominant, jack-of-all-trades type workhorse. There is no discussion in Cleveland about their 7th-inning guy or their 8th-inning guy. Sometimes even the closer role is up for grabs. Andrew Miller can fill that role, too, if Francona decides it gives them the best chance to win. He plays no favorites. It’s completely about winning.
The closest the Tigers have to someone like this is Alex Wilson, but there is such a huge discrepancy in talent, you can’t even spend another sentence trying to compare situations. And besides, the Tigers are still structuring a pen with defined roles based on inning. But baseball is changing once again. And after so many years of teams using that relief strategy, it looks like it could be on the way out.
Starting pitching? Everybody wants it. But stockpiling as the Tigers are painfully familiar with, may no longer be necessary if you find that reliever or relievers who can dominate and shorten the game, at any point of the game. Sure teams play a different game in the playoffs where we are seeing more urgency, but this season, starters are getting yanked far earlier, long before real trouble presents itself.
If you look back at the bevy of Cy Young Award winners the Tigers employ or used to employ, you always wonder why they just never got the job done and won at least one championship. Well, there are so many factors, but bullpen performance, structure and usage are becoming the secret antidote to competing for championships.
With a rotation of Justin Verlander (Cy Young, MVP, 2 no hitters), Max Scherzer (Cy Young, 2 no hitters), Anibal Sanchez (ERA title, 1 no hitter) and Rick Porcello (22 game winner and Cy Young candidate this season), the Tigers still could not come out of the fray victorious.
Building sexy starting rotations can be a formula and maybe even a trap for teams across the league; a dangerous strategy considering all the risk associated with spending big dollars on starting pitching; the most fragile position in the game.
When the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer, All-Star Bryce Harper couldn’t contain himself. His first reaction was, “Where’s my ring?”
As he envisioned a rotation that included Scherzer and Strasburg, Bryce found it hard to believe they could be beaten. But since Scherzer has arrived in Washington, Harper has yet to be asked for his ring size. Well, isn’t that a shame?
Remember, Harper made noise early in the season about his unhappiness with how painfully dull it is to play in the Major Leagues, so forgive me if I quietly chuckle over his “misfortune.” https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/harper-stock-rises-while-character-falls/
Teams like Washington and Detroit are learning the hard way. There are just more ways to skin a cat. In the playoffs, starters are leaving earlier, closers are finding themselves in games sooner than they would expect and managers are creatively piecing their way to victory.
No roles, just a feel for what makes sense. And for all of us who have loved the game for most of our lives, the game is once again turning a corner. Baseball. Still a strategist’s dream. A sport like no other.