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The Yankees provided evidence the “bullpenning” idea could work

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Last week on MLB Network, Brian Kenny suggested the Yankees try “bullpenning.” Instead of starting a pitcher traditionally who would ideally throw at least five innings, the Yankees would start one of their many talented relievers. If it were up to Kenny, he would start Chad Green.

As luck would have it, starter Luis Severino lasted only one-third of an inning in last night’s American League Wild Card game against the Twins. Manager Joe Girardi brought in Green, who struck out both batters he faced in the first inning to escape a sticky situation with runners on first and second. Green wound up recording six outs, four via strikeout. David Robertson then came in and pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out five. Tommy Kahnle pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings and Aroldis Chapman closed out the game by getting all three outs via strikeout in the ninth, sending the Yankees to the ALDS.

Inadvertently, the Yankees proved the “bullpenning” idea has merit. As Kenny explained above, it’s not for every team; it’s for teams without an ace and with excellent, deep bullpens. That fits the Yankees perfectly. It doesn’t fit the Astros, for example. But it might work for the Rockies, who do battle with the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card game tonight. They’re sending Jon Gray out opposite Zack Greinke.

The big question is whether this new strategy might make pitchers feel uncomfortable as they’re taken out of their normal roles and rhythms. But Eno Sarris of FanGraphs talked to a handful of pitchers and most seemed on board with the idea or at least open-minded. However, Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy did say, “My routine as a starter is fixed to the minute and a lot of guys are like that. It’s certainly not something impossible to deal with but could make a team nervous.”

Marlins veteran Brad Ziegler said, “I don’t think it would be very different for me, as much as it would be for the starter coming into the game [in the later innings]. His whole routine would have to change.”

Bucking orthodoxy is risky. You risk upsetting the players, who — as illustrated above — are creatures of habit. You risk upsetting your fan base by leaving a winner-takes-all game up to an unfamiliar strategy. And because we need a direct cause and effect for our narrative, a game that might’ve been lost anyway would be pinned entirely on this strategy, perhaps making it years before anyone else would dare to try the same thing.

Indians skipper Terry Francona bucked orthodoxy last year when he used Andrew Miller — normally used for one inning in the seventh or eighth inning — in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox and in similar positions throughout the postseason. It worked. An increasing number of managers adopted this method of reliever usage during the 2017 regular season and you can bet that Francona won’t be the only one doing it in the playoffs this year. So, who’s going to be the first manager to dare to try the “bullpenning” idea?

Rob Manfred blames Bryce Harper for going unsigned

Bryce Harper
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with the media today. Naturally, he was asked various questions about the landscape of the sport, given that superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper remain unsigned as spring training begins. Per The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli, Manfred said that he thinks the free agent market will begin to move once spring training exhibition games begin. Manfred also said that Harper’s camp suggesting that he wants $400 million back in 2016 was “an impediment” to discussions throughout the offseason.

No word on why Machado is also as yet unsigned, as he did not have a reported $400 million ask.

Manfred’s job is to look out for ownership, so it’s not surprising to see him point the finger at Harper. Consider:

Manfred’s comment comes just months after the Red Sox won 108 regular season games and the World Series with baseball’s largest payroll. And ongoing evidence that there is indeed a positive correlation between dollars spent and team success. We often hear justification for tanking/rebuilding because the Cubs and Astros did it and won championships because of it. When the Red Sox use financial muscle to win a championship, it’s crickets.

Manfred didn’t stop there, however.

An easy way to get baseball’s “glow” back would be for two of the game’s best and most popular players to be in uniform playing games. The first spring training exhibition game will be played on February 22, so it’s not looking like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Baseball’s “glow” would also come back if more teams were actively trying to win. Instead, one-third of the league is “rebuilding” or otherwise coasting on revenue-sharing. For fans of the Rangers, Orioles, Royals, and Marlins — to name a few — the outcomes of their favorite teams’ seasons have already been decided, so what is there to get excited about?