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.”

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.


  1. MadBaum and Kershaw go late or complete games and Lets not forget you need offense to support. A dominant starters is still a potent winning strategy. Without solid starters you’re never into that awesome pen except from behind. Besides isn’t Miller a starter reformed. Sorry I still like dominant starters.


  2. My wife figured this out long ago. She would always ask me why a relief pitcher was automatically removed “when he has done such a good job?” I often had no answer for her, except, (especially with Brad), “Cuz that’s just the way they do it.” Then along came Maddon, Francona, etc. BINGO. Now she’s happy.

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  3. Great points Kurt. Hopefully, Tiger brass (& Ausmus) will take note while also recognizing how the Dodger’s used Kershaw in relief during a critical game last week.

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  4. This is the perfect post for those of us who suffer serious “baseball withdrawal”. You’ve touched on so many potential subjects for discussion…TT is the perfect antidote for baseball addicts 🙂 I’m curious if what we’ve seen during the playoffs will affect Manfred’s decision about limiting the use of relief pitchers in the game.

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  5. All this annayzing relief specialists came as starters were pigeon holed as needing a bromo at the magical 100 chucks. Give me a Gibson, Koufax, or Lolich and I will bet their BP shines.


  6. The Braves in the 1990s had an amazing rotation–but lost in the postseason more or less annually. The Orioles of 1969-71 had one of the best rotations ever, and lost two of three World Series. The 1954 Indians had an historically great rotation, only to be swept. Teams built on starting rotations underachieve pretty consistently in the postseason.


    • In 1984 Willie Hernandez pitched 140 innings, Aurelio Lopez 137. In the clinching fifth game of the World Series, Aurelio entered in the 5th inning. He and Hernandex then finished the game. This year, the most heavily used Tiger bullpen pitcher, Alex Wilson, pitched 73 innings.

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      • In 1974, Mike Marshall (whom the Tigers had cleverly jettisoned after his rookie year) pitched 208 innings in relief, appearing in 106 games. He saved 21 games, finished 86, and won fifteen for the NL Champion Dodgers.

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  7. Now all they have to do is get rid of the DH and baseball will become even more of a strategist’s dream. I believe the NL game is much more fun to watch. Especially at the playoff level.

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