Today’s Boston Globe sports section examines the “problem” of what to do with all of the pitching talent in the bullpen. There are 13 pitchers and 6 starters or starting quality arms. An article by Tony Massarotti examines five solutions four of which involve demoting a pitcher to the pen and the last one suggests a 6 man rotation.
I think it’s time for bolder thinking.
I believe there should be two objectives for figuring out this rotation (in addition to winning most games). They are:
1. Reducing late season fatigue due to pitching too many innings
2. Keeping pitchers’ heads in the game
The five day rotation has a rhythm that the pitchers are accustomed to. They rest, recover, throw on the side and work on technique, and eventually get ready to pitch again. We wouldn’t want to disrupt the five-day rotation because it might be hard to get everyone on the same page. But we could reduce the innings pitched to preserve arms for the post season.
I suggest pairing two starters or a starter and a reliever as a tag team — the 4-4-1 strategy. Each would be responsible for pitching 4 innings. That leaves the closing duties to the three remaining pitchers in the pen. And if a game is close or the pen is tired, asking a starter to pitch an extra inning (the fifth or the ninth) would not be a strain. To ensure that the starters are kept happy a “starting pair” of pitchers could alternate which chunk of 4 innings they pitch effectively giving each pitcher a start every ten days.
The down side of this rotation would be to leave the pen depleted of short relief. But frequently we see pitchers brought in for the later innings because a starter runs out of gas or long relief because the pitcher’s stuff is no good or because the manager wants to have a match up of lefty vs. righty. But all these strategies are attempts to make due with insufficient pitching power to begin with. In a 4-4-1 strategy we would know a new pitcher was coming after four or possibly five innings no matter what.
In the first four innings of a game these starting pitchers can be reasonably depended on to throw well and I wouldn’t worry too much about a Red Sox starter getting shelled and leaving the game before four innings are up. It could happen but we go into a game knowing no team wins all the time. In the worst cast scenario, if a starter got pulled after only two innings the second starter could be reliably counted on to go the next five or six.
Lastly, the matter of matching up relief pitchers and hitters in the late innings would be less important because there would always be a fresh, high quality pitcher on the mound.
When I was a kid pitchers routinely went 9 innings which resulted in some very tired arms in the later part of the season and the last third of an inning could be a hitter’s dream as the pitcher’s effectiveness wore down. (As a reminder we need look no further than that painful memory of Pedro and Grady Little at Yankee Stadium in the ALCS.) Then we went to 7 innings for starters and to monitoring pitch counts, which is better but we still see late season fatigue and still too many head games (and station breaks) late in games as pitchers are brought in to face one batter.
A 4-4-1 strategy may be the next logical evolution of a system that started with greater reliance on relief pitching, and in a way it is a throw back to little league. Few teams have the talent to even attempt this strategy, which is a good thing because it could prove to be the Red Sox secret weapon for the second half of the season.
A great way to test the effectiveness of 4-4-1 might be to briefly implement it in the run up to the All-Star Game. If the experiment blows up it will have limited impact but if it works it could mean lots of fresh arms in September and October.
So Joe Torre is now a Dodger, what does that have to do with CRM? Probably nothing except as a possible parable and the parable probably goes to the software industry as a whole and the nature of disruptive innovation.
Clay Christensen and a long list of others have observed that no innovator has had the good fortune of making succeeding major innovations in the same market. IBM was great at mainframes but didn’t do well in mini-computers and the mini-makers are all gone now. In software the mainframe software companies never became the engines of client-server and so on.
My favorite example from “The Innovator’s Dilemma” were the heavy equipment makers the companies that made backhoes and the like. In mid-century America that equipment was built using cables to operate the buckets and arms of the equipment. Cables worked but they often broke and when a cable under tension breaks it’s like a giant weed whacker capable of killing anyone standing nearby.
The next generation of equipment used hydraulics to operate the buckets and arms but it had drawbacks such as raw capacity. Eventually, the hydraulic makers got their houses — and hoses — in order and all was bliss. The amazing part was that all this happened right under the noses of the cable based equipment makers who never lifted a finger to compete. Instead they worked out minor improvements to their products and created line extension products.
What’s all this got to do with baseball? Maybe a lot. I think the Yankees overplayed their hand and they did not innovate when they needed to. They had a good run which was unnaturally extended by George Steinbrenner’s money. Their talent development organization somehow quit, they relied on price tags to value veteran talent until they became delusional by pricing their own acquisitions above the market. Unfortunately, they made the mistake of assuming that if the price was high enough the talent must be good. Usually, but not always, that was the case.
Can anyone truly say that Johnny Damon was worth the money and the years that the Yankees put into his contract? Can anyone doubt that the Yankees went to the Roger well one time too many? And A-Rod? $350 million? Please. A Nobel prize is usually given for a life time of solid creative work to individuals at the tops in their fields and this year it fetched its lucky recipients about $1.5 million. Go figure.
The Yankees unfairly blamed Joe Torre when all Steinbrenner’s horses and men could no longer put a pennant together again. The Yankees have a lot of rebuilding to do. It appears the Dodgers do too but they have the advantage of starting over with a guy who knows how to do it. The job will be easier for Joe Torre who is relatively unburdened by history in LA and who can build his disruptive innovation there using some of the good pieces from his last dynasty.
That seems to be the way with disruptive innovation. Almost like Virgil’s Aeneas a few survivors go elsewhere to rekindle some embers, taking lessons learned and new ideas while also vowing not to recapitulate the mistakes of the past.
Good luck Joe.
I miss Babe Ruth, though I never saw him play.
He made his records the old fashioned way,
The Boston Red Sox team bus made a detour on its trip to Palookaville yesterday. The team stopped in New York just long enough to let Johnny Damon go to the Yankees. That leaves the former World Series winner significantly depleted. Just something like 4 or 5 players from the team that won it all 14 months ago remain. The Red Sox now have two (count em) general managers, no center fielder, a left fielder who wants out, no short stop or first baseman, and I could go on but why? In case you ever wondered, Yankee fans are not born, they are made by the countless idiotic decisions that emanate from Yawkee Way in Boston.