If you have been around long enough or, at least, hung around some old guys and not spent that entire time making sure you displayed to the old guys how much more intelligent you are, then you might well have heard tales of a long extinct creature called the nine man pitching staff. NINE (9). Hell, I bet they even brought up a four man rotation! Those were the days, my friend.
Even within the last twenty-five years, starting pitchers were racking up 250 innings per year with at least some degree of regularity. Go back a decade or two more and check the innings pitched. Worried about James Shields pitching too many innings? Steve Busby and Dennis Leonard sneer at you. Let’s not kid ourselves, Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza even sneer.
The five man (or even four at times) bullpens are gone forever. Now, it seems, carrying just six relievers makes many managers edgy. Seven is/has become the norm and now, here were are on the first official day of Spring and no one in Surprise has come out and said ‘No, carry eight relievers is crazy.’ Maybe it is not, but it does beg the question as to how much you really – really – use those last couple of relievers.
In 2014, 102 relievers appeared in at least 30 games for American League clubs. Thirty appearances is a arbitrary number – more than Eric Kratz will appear this year – but at least seems like a reasonable number to use for something equating to a ‘full time reliever’. By that clumsy approach, 102 pitchers for fifteen teams is almost exactly a seven man bullpen for each squad. Of course, thirty appearances is basically pitching once per week plus one extra appearance.
If a reliever threw 10 times in a month, would you consider him overworked? Short of going three innings a stint, I would not. That level of game involvement would equate to 60 appearances per season. Fifty-one pitchers made that many relief appearances. However, innings matter, so let’s ratchet down to 45 appearances and we have 75 ‘full-time’ relievers or five per team. From a purely ‘feels right’ perspective, it seems as though most teams lean on five main relievers with an often carousel of junk, situational, warm-body types filling out the last two spots. That does not mean you don’t need those sixth and seventh guys, it simply shows you don’t need them as often.
Overall, there were 7,225 relief appearances in the American League last season, totaling 7,338 innings. That averages out to 482 appearances and 489 relief innings per team. The Royals used 451 total relief appearances to log 462 innings.
Holland, Davis and Herrera appeared in 65, 71 and 70 games respectively, with Aaron Crow pitching in another 67 (no comment). After those four, the next most used reliever was Louis Coleman, who pitched 34 innings over 31 games. He was closely followed by Francisley Bueno’s 30 games and 32 innings. Let’s take a liberty or two here and combine the mid-season acquisitions of Jason Frasor (23 appearances) and Scott Downs (17 appearances) with Coleman and Bueno. That would give Kansas City’s ‘fifth’ reliever (Coleman/Frasor) a season total of 54 games and 52 innings. The Bueno-Downs sixth reliever would have totaled 47 appearances and 47 innings.
Now, the Royals are down to Tim Collins (22 appearances), Michael Mariot (17) and Casey Coleman (10). Combined, that is 49 appearances and 58 innings for the seventh reliever. So, exactly when does the eighth guy pitch? Frankly, with Holland, Davis, Herrera, Frasor, Young and, come mid-April, Hochevar, when does the SEVENTH guy pitch?
If the meat of the Royals’ bullpen even approaches the level of effectiveness as last year, the team could carry (a.k.a HIDE) Rule 5 Jandel Gustave as the seventh reliever, not the eighth, and give themselves some flexibility on the bench with an extra position player. As I wrote earlier in the week (or was it Craig? we can’t tell each other apart), Ned Yost is not exactly prone to making a lot of in-game maneuvers with his position players, but it would be at least nice to have some options to debate on Twitter.
Eight relievers? Seemed silly in February, seems even sillier now.