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Two managers are making some unconventional bullpen decisions

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For years statheads and a large part of the baseball commentariat have pined for managers to break the Tony La Russa habit of  designating relief pitchers for strict and distinct roles. The closer gets the ninth inning, the setup man gets the eighth, the lefty specialist gets one or two lefties, tops, and the chips fall where they may.

In the past couple of years we’ve seen managers willing to stretch those boundaries, particularly in the playoffs. This has mostly been driven by the talent of the pitcher in question. I mean, if you have Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman — or Madison Bumgarner for that matter — use Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman or Madison Bumgarner when needed and to hell with whatever Tony La Russa would do.

In the early going of 2017, however, we’re seeing some unconventional bullpen practices from a couple of managers who aren’t likely to sniff the playoffs this year: Bryan Price of the Reds and Bob Melvin of the Athletics.

As C. Trent Rosecrans notes, Price used arguably his best reliever in the the third inning in last night’s win over the Pirates. That’s Mike Lorenzen, who got out of a jam and proceeded to toss three perfect innings in relief. Price is still using Raul Iglesias as his closer, but his use of Lorenzen is practically Goose Gossagian.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, Melvin is doing something different himself. It’s not too crazy — it’s really just a two-man closing team — but it passes for innovative these days.

Last night Melvin went to Sean Doolittle for the save. And Doolittle got the save. The A’s signed Santiago Casilla this offseason, however, and Melvin said today on MLB Network Radio that he plans on using Casilla for save situations as well. He’s going to play the matchups mostly, with the lefty Doolittle seeing action if the ninth inning stands to feature more lefties and Casilla if more righties are coming to the plate. Ryan Madson is also still on the roster and it’s not crazy to think he’ll get some chances as well.

Again, nothing radical, but it’s worth a tip of the cap to any manager willing to break La Russian orthodoxy.

Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel lead 19 newcomers on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot

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Hall of Fame ballots for the 2018 induction class have been mailed out to the Baseball Writers Association of America voters and the names on the ballot were released to the public this morning. Among the top newcomers: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones, Kerry Wood and Jamie Moyer . There are 19 new candidates in all. There are, of course, several holdovers too.

The newcomers, in alphabetical order:

Chris Carpenter
Johnny Damon
Livan Hernandez
Orlando Hudson
Aubrey Huff
Andruw Jones
Chipper Jones
Jason Isringhausen
Carlos Lee
Brad Lidge
Hideki Matsui
Kevin Millwood
Jamie Moyer
Scott Rolen
Johan Santana
Jim Thome
Omar Vizquel
Kerry Wood
Carlos Zambrano

Chipper Jones, the 1999 MVP, one of the best switch-hitters of all time and the unparalleled offensive star of the great Braves teams of the 1990s and early 2000s seems like a shoe-in. His case is boosted above his fantastic offensive numbers in the eyes of many voters by virtue of playing for the same team for his entire career.

Jim Thome is probably going to get a very large vote total and possibly will be inducted, having hit over 600 homers in his career. A challenge to his first-year induction is presented by the very large backlog of deserving candidates, which we’ll discuss in a moment, and by the fact that Thome’s career corresponded with baseball’s home run boom of the 1990s. Unlike other passed-over candidates of his era, Thome was never implicated in performance enhancing drug use, but it is the case that homers became cheaper for everyone during his career, and some may consider him a one-dimensional candidate. I suspect he’ll be in Cooperstown soon, be it this year or next year.

Omar Vizquel will receive a lot of support but his candidacy will also draw a lot of controversy. His backers will cite his defense and his longevity. His detractors will note that his defense was nowhere near as good as other defense-first inductees in the past such as Ozzie Smith, and that it was in no way good enough to make up for his below average bat. Complicating all of this will be fact that two superior defensive candidates who happened to have outstanding offensive numbers to go with them — Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen — are unlikely to receive anything approaching the level of support Vizquel will get, leading to . . . a lot of arguing.

And now the holdovers from last year’s ballot and ballots past, with last year’s percentage of the vote in parenthesis. Candidates need 75% of the vote in order to be inducted:

Barry Bonds (53.8)
Roger Clemens (54.1)
Vladimir Guerrero (71.1)
Trevor Hoffman (74.0)
Jeff Kent (16.7)
Edgar Martinez (58.6)
Fred McGriff (21.7)
Mike Mussina (51.8)
Manny Ramirez (23.8)
Curt Schilling (45.0)
Gary Sheffield (13.3)
Sammy Sosa (8.6)
Billy Wagner (10.2)
Larry Walker (21.9)

We’ve talked about all of these guys before, of course. Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero seem likely to be elected given how close they came to induction last year. Many quite worthy candidates such as Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling will likely continue to receive less support than they deserve. PED-associated candidates Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a boost in their previously-flagging candidacies last year, getting over 50% of the vote for the first time, but it’s unlikely that they’ll jump 22 and 21 points, respectively. Lesser PED-associated candidates such as Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez will likely forever remain on the outside looking in.

The results of the election will be announced by Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson at 6 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, live on MLB Network.