Getty Images

Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #8: The Year of the Reliever

Leave a comment

We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Everyone was shocked when Buck Showalter neglected to use Zach Britton in the AL Wild Card game, choosing to allow Ubaldo Jimenez of all people to face Edwin Encarnacion and watch the latter walk the Blue Jays off and into the ALDS. That shock would’ve been present in any year — who doesn’t use their best available pitcher when the season is on the line? — but it was particularly shocking in 2016. Which may well come to be known as the year of the reliever.

Managers went to their bullpen early and often in 2016. As Jordan Bastian of MLB.com noted in a recent article, relievers set an MLB record with 15,893.2 innings pitched this season. The number of relief outings and specialized relief outings — appearances of one inning or less — have been on the uptick. The number of teams who, at times, have carried eight relievers is on the rise. Innings per start have gone down and strikeouts per nine innings have spiked. Fresher and harder-throwing arms are facing more batters and the batters are fanning at near-record rates.

Heavy reliance on relief pitchers was particularly noticeable in the playoffs, as both World Series managers — Terry Francona and Joe Maddon — relied on their relief aces far more than any managers had in living memory. Francona called on Andrew Miller in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the ALDS and averaged nearly two innings per outing in his ten playoff appearances. Aroldis Chapman, who has averaged less than an inning pitched per outing in his seven year career, pitched 15.2 innings in thirteen outings during the playoffs, and found himself gassed by the time Game 7 rolled around.

This offseason the value teams place on relief pitchers has been abundantly clear. Three closers — Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon – each surpassed the old mark for highest-paid reliever in the game, with Chapman signing a five-year $86 million contract. The previous high: Jonathan Papelbon‘s four-year, $50 million deal.

All of this has been fantastic for the relievers and the teams which employ the good ones. It’s not all been great news, however.

Despite Major League Baseball’s efforts to reduce the length of games, game times went up in 2016, no doubt due to there being more pitching changes than ever. Pace-of-play is slow as well, as max-effort relievers take their sweet time gearing up for every pitch. Strikeouts, of which there are more than ever, take more time than at bats which end with contact and, of course, with more strikeouts likewise come more walks. During the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, there was a proposal to add a roster spot to each team. It was ultimately shelved amidst criticism that most teams would simply give the job to yet another relief pitcher.

In the meantime, though, look for the pattern to continue and teams’ reliance on relievers to be even more pronounced. Success breeds imitators, and between the 2015 World Series champ Kansas City Royals and both pennant winning teams this past year sporting dominant bullpens, others will try to copy what they do.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

Getty Images
5 Comments

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Twins 14, Orioles 7: Baltimore jumped out to a 5-0 lead and led 6-2 after four but then the Twins started bashing. Actually, it wasn’t so much bashing as the ten runs they scored between the fifth and sixth innings all came without the benefit of a homer. Max Kepler and Miguel Sano did homer at other times in the game, however. Kepler drove in four. Sano and Eduardo Escobar each knocked in three. Minnesota even scored on a balk. This game had a bit of everything. Adam Jones hit a homer. It was his 125th dinger at Camden Yards, giving him the all-time lead in that park. The old record holder: Rafael Palmeiro.

Yankees 4, Royals 2: Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius and Chris Carter all went deep as the Yankees beat Jason Vargas. Vargas had a 1.01 ERA through his first seven starts. In his last two he’s allowed nine runs on 11 hits in ten innings. Both of those games have come against the Yankees, though, so maybe it’s more them having his number than him turning into a pumpkin.

Rockies 8, Phillies 1: Top prospect Jeff Hoffman got called up for a spot start and struck out seven over seven three-hit, one-run innings. Nolan Arenado hit a two-run homer. Philly has lost 18 of 22.

Reds 5, Indians 1: The Battle for Ohio Begins. With the loss, Cleveland is in the early lead to be stuck with Ohio. OK, I kid — I’m an Ohioan, I can do that — but I don’t know for sure what the winner gets. It’s either some cup or a trophy or maybe they get to cut in line at Cedar Point or something. Anyway, Scott Feldman was sharp, allowing one run and striking out nine in six innings, and Scott Schebler homered for the third straight game. Great Scott.

Angels 3, Rays 2: J.C. Ramirez outdueled Jake Odorizzi and the Angels broke a 2-2 tie on a Jumbo Diaz wild pitch in the seventh. Five total runs scored and 12 hits between the teams over nine innings yet this game went three hours and thirty seven minutes. Eleven walks and 20 strikeouts is the likely culprit. Sounds like a slog.

Braves 5, Pirates 2: Welcome to Atlanta Matt Adams. The newest Brave hit a two-run homer in his second start since being acquired from the Cardinals and Brandon Phillips hit his 200th career homer. Center fielder Ender Inciarte had a career-high five hits for the Braves who were not fooled at all by Gerrit Cole. Meanwhile, Mike Foltynewicz and four relievers held the Buccos in check.

Giants 6, Cubs 4: Joe Panik homered to lead off the game and doubled twice. Not to lead off the game, though. It’d be impossible to do all of that in one plate appearance. Brandon Belt and Justin Ruggiano homered as well, also in their own distinct at bats. There are rules here.

Astros 1, Tigers 0: A combined one-hitter in a bullpen game. The bullpen game was necessitated by a pinched nerve in Dallas Keuchel‘s neck. Brad Peacock got the start and allowed only one hit and two walks with eight strikeouts over four and a third. Chris Devenski, Will Harris and Ken Giles went the rest of the way for a combined four and two-thirds perfect innings. Michael Fulmer only made one mistake in walking George Springer to lead off the game and then giving up an RBI double to Jose Altuve. Otherwise he scattered eight hits and allowed only that one run in seven innings. That, however, was enough to lose the game.

Diamondbacks 5, White Sox 1: Zack Greinke struck out a season-high 12, allowing only one run in eight and two-thirds. Daniel Descalso hit a three-run homer in the fourth that provided all of the cushion Greinke needed.

Astros’ bullpen throws combined one-hitter for MLB-best 30th win

Bob Levey/Getty Images
3 Comments

The Astros’ bullpen did yeoman’s work in place of the injured Dallas Keuchel on Monday against the Tigers. Keuchel is temporarily sidelined with a pinched nerve in his neck.

Brad Peacock made the spot start, limiting the Tigers to one hit and two walks with eight strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings. Chris Devenski took over with one out in the fifth, finishing out that inning as well as the sixth and seventh, facing the minimum. Will Harris pitched a perfect eighth and Ken Giles closed out the 1-0 victory in the ninth. Devenski, Harris, and Giles each had two strikeouts.

The Astros scored their only run in the bottom of the first inning as George Springer drew a leadoff walk, then scored on Jose Altuve‘s one-out double. Tigers starter Brad Fulmer pitched well enough to win on most days, giving up the lone run in seven frames.

After Monday’s win, the Astros became the first team to reach 30 wins, sitting on a 30-15 record. With a +55 run differential, even their expected record matches up with their actual record.