Baseball is one of Your Humble Blogger's passions; I expect that I will write about it as often as the brilliant and necessary Jon Carroll writes about cats. Enough to annoy those who read this Tohu Bohu for its rigorously wrongheaded philosophical enquiry, but not enough to turn it into Aaron's Baseball Blog.
Anyway, given my preference for rigorously questioning things I believe, I naturally fall into the so-called "stathead" camp of baseball fans, although my actual skills and statistical analysis could generously be described as non-existent. What it actually means is that there are a bunch of things traditionally held to be true (for instance, that a lot of RBIs is a sign of a good player, who you can expect to get a lot of RBIs if he's traded to another team) which I no longer believe to be true. I have been, in these cases, convinced by people who do know something about statistical analysis that things which appear to be true, and which are intuitive, do not hold up.
So. Bullpen use. The Boston Red Sox have, more or less, rejected not one but two ideas about bullpen use. The problem with that is not only the risk that they might be wrong (and traditional use might be right), but that if they have no success, they will have no real way of knowing which idea led to the failure.
One of the ideas concerns the efficient use of the resources already existing in the bullpen. Most teams have a Closer, one go-to guy out of the bullpen whose job it is to come in when you really really need him. Except ... most teams use the guy only in the ninth inning, when ahead by one, two or three runs. A save situation. Some analysis shows that the time when you absolutely need a fireman is in the seventh inning of a tie game, when no manager in the major leagues would use a Closer. The arguments in favor of the New Idea � are primarily statistical; the arguments for the current conventional wisdom are primarily about the emotional and physical state of the people involved. I would be very interested to see what happened to a team that tried the New Idea� consistently for a year.
The problem is that the GM, Theo Epstein, has endorsed the other Idea which I have thought for a few years now, that having a Closer in the first place is not worth the money. Rather, I would put it that there are only two or three Closers worth the money at any one time, and there are 30 teams, so there are a bunch of teams overpaying their closer. So the Sox decided that they would spend their money elsewhere, and have no one fantastic relief pitcher in the pen, but a bunch of mediocre guys. The reasoning, by the way, is that no matter how you use him, a closer really only helps in close games, and it's better to have a team that regularly crushes their victims, not one that regularly wins close ones. We'll see about that, but so far...
- Game one: lost 6-4, bullpen blew it.
- Game two: won 9-8, bullpen nearly blew it, but held on.
- Game three: won 7-5, bullpen successfully holds lead.
- Game four: won 14-5, bullpen not really relevant.
- Game five: won 8-7, bullpen dreadful but good enough.
- Game six: lost 2-1, bullpen blew it.
- Game seven: won 12-2, bullpen not really relevant.