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Dave Roberts pulled the right strings using Kenley Jansen in 7th, Clayton Kershaw in 9th

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This postseason, perhaps more than ever, is shining a light on the importance of optimal bullpen management. Orioles manager Buck Showalter refused to use closer Zach Britton in the American League Wild Card game against the Blue Jays and it cost his team as Edwin Encarnacion blasted a walk-off three-run home run off of Ubaldo Jimenez. Giants manager Bruce Bochy had no confidence in his bullpen, shuffling through basically everyone in the bullpen… except Santiago Casilla.

For years, those of a Sabermetric bent have been illustrating how anachronistic the save statistic is and how outmoded current bullpen strategy is. Still, in 2016, managers adhere to rigidly-defined roles for their relievers, rarely ever venturing to use their closers outside of a situation or a tie game at home. Indians manager Terry Francona broke that mold in the ALDS against the Red Sox, using Andrew Miller — one of the three best relievers in baseball — in the fifth inning of Game 1 and in the sixth inning of Game 3.

That leads us to Game 5 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and Nationals on Thursday night. Lefty reliever Grant Dayton started the seventh inning but struggled, walking Danny Espinosa before serving up a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey to pull the game to 4-3. Dayton gave up a single to Clint Robinson before manager Dave Roberts decided to bring in his closer, Kenley Jansen. Jansen is, somehow, an underappreciated reliever still despite posting a 1.83 ERA with a 104/11 K/BB ratio over 68 2/3 innings during the regular season.

Leverage index is a statistic used to note how important a particular situation is. According to FanGraphs, a “high” leverage situation is anything with a Leverage Index above 2.00. The six at-bats Jansen had against the Nationals had LI’s of 3.14, 2.59, 4.14, 3.97, 4.52, and 6.24. In the eighth, they would be 2.46, 3.98, 3.33, and 2.40. His final three batters in the ninth had LI’s of 3.40, 2.55, and 4.61. If you’re going to use your best relief arm, those were the spots to do it.

Also worth noting: yes, Jansen pitched into his third inning of work. He threw 51 pitches in total, by far surpassing his previous single-game high of 42, set back on April 2, 2011.

If you thought Roberts’ bullpen management couldn’t get more unorthodox, ace Clayton Kershaw walked out to the bullpen after the end of the eighth inning and began warming up. Jansen got into some trouble in the ninth inning, issuing back-to-back walks to Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. So Roberts brought in Kershaw on two days’ rest. I need not recall Kershaw’s stats to explain why this was the right move. Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop up (7.13 LI) before striking out Wilmer Difo (6.56 LI) to send the Dodgers to the NLCS to face the Cubs.

The storyline in 2014 and ’15 with the Royals was that a lights-out bullpen was crucial to postseason success. This postseason is going a step further. A team needs not only a great bullpen, but the ability to strategize optimally to get the most out of the roster. That’s part of the reason why the Indians and Dodgers have advanced to the League Championship Series.

Max Scherzer: ‘There’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions’

Max Scherzer
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MLBPA player representative Max Scherzer sent out a short statement late Wednesday night regarding the ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. On Tuesday, ownership proposed a “sliding scale” salary structure on top of the prorated pay cuts the players already agreed to back in March. The union rejected the proposal, with many worrying that it would drive a wedge in the union’s constituency.

Scherzer is one of eight players on the MLBPA executive subcommittee along with Andrew Miller, Daniel Murphy, Elvis Andrus, Cory Gearrin, Chris Iannetta, James Paxton, and Collin McHugh.

Scherzer’s statement:

After discussing the latest developments with the rest of the players there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions. We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received. I’m glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB’s economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.

Indeed, aside from the Braves, every other teams’ books are closed, so there has been no way to fact-check any of the owners’ claims. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, for example, recently said that 70 percent of the Cubs’ revenues come from “gameday operations” (ticket sales, concessions, etc.). But it went unsubstantiated because the Cubs’ books are closed. The league has only acknowledged some of the union’s many requests for documentation. Without supporting evidence, Ricketts’ claim, like countless others from team executives, can only be taken as an attempt to manipulate public sentiment.

Early Thursday morning, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the MLBPA plans to offer a counter-proposal to MLB in which the union would suggest a season of more than 100 games and fully guaranteed prorated salaries. It seems like the two sides are quite far apart, so it may take longer than expected for them to reach an agreement.