Thursday, February 16, 2017

Shorten Games? Cut Warmup Pitches

By Jeff Kallman

Baseball government seeks ways to reduce the time of games. One of them, reportedly, is going to be tested in the minors, namely that extra innings will begin with each team coming to bat starting with a man on second, on the house. That should be rejected as utter foolishness, of course, but there are ways to shorten games without diluting them.

The intentional walk is one way. Why waste a minute and a half compelling a pitcher to throw four wide ones symbolically, why not just establish a signal for the intentional walk and hand the batter first base right off?

The commercials for calls to the bullpen are another. Is the common good of the game that deeply tied to making money for it that we need a commercial break every time a reliever comes into a game?

Now, to make that even more effective, we might care to marry it to another time-saving idea that may sound even more heretic than does the silly thought of starting each extra half inning with a man on second, not to mention an idea that might help preserve the arms in question, even marginally:

Unless a relief pitcher is coming into a game because the incumbent on the mound was injured and forced out of the game, eliminate the eight warmup pitches at the mound.

Before you draw and sign my commitment papers, hear me out. Eliminating those eight warmups, with the exception I just enunciated, will hurt the incoming pitcher not. one. bit. Not even if he was warmed up in the pen in a hurry before he came into the game. Are you nutzo?!? No — because, other than a few loosen-up tosses to start when he's told to get ready, he's been throwing pitches in that bullpen until he got the call into the game.

Think about this: oftentimes, you have a pitcher warming up in the pen from the beginning of an inning before he might be brought in. He's probably thrown the equal of two to three innings' worth of pitches before you brought him in ... if you brought him in. He was ready to pitch and then some before you went out to the mound to signal him in.

So what if you warmed up a pitcher but didn't bring him in in the same inning, or even within one inning to follow? Simple: you take a leaf from Whitey Herzog's book — if you were one of Herzog's pen men, and he warmed you up without bringing you in that inning or the next inning, you had the rest of the game off.

The White Rat refused to warm up a pitcher, sit him down, warm him up again, and either bring him in or sit him down to warm him up a third time later and bring him in. Herzog knew that pitcher was already spent for the day. He also wouldn't warm a pitcher up twice in one game, not use him, warm him up twice the next game, not use him, and then warm him up and bring him in in a third, because he knew the man would be a) gassed and b) hittable.

In a single game, warming a pitcher up, sitting him, warming him again, sitting him, then warming him and bringing him in might leave him vulnerable, because in the bullpen sessions he's already had he's probably thrown a volume of pitches equal to that of a quality start. Over a two- or three-game such spell, he's probably pitched the equal of two complete games.

And don't think the hitters aren't watching the other guys' bullpen and following who's been warmed up how often in one game or consecutive games without coming in. If the other guys warmed up Reliever A twice already and then brought him into the game, those hitters are probably figuring out the on-base percentage bumps from the walks they're going to work out, or the distance their home runs are going to travel when that gassed pitcher serves them a meatball on a plate.

Sometimes you can learn amazing things from a manager's memoir. I learned the foregoing reading (and re-reading) Herzog's You're Missin' a Great Game. Leo Durocher, whom Herzog didn't discuss in the foregoing context, was a classic bullpen abuser, either over-relying on a single horse (Phil Regan, 1969) or warming and sitting pitchers capriciously and then lost for figuring why they had little to nothing left when he finally brought them into games.

Two managers Herzog did discuss who never got the hint were Tommy Lasorda and Pete Rose, both of whom had some terrific relief pitchers when they managed, most of which pitchers ended up burning out before their time in due course. I'll let the White Rat take it from here:

[T]he man won 1,600-some ballgames and two World Series and that's no accident, but the fly in his ointment — and it baffled me, because Tommy was a pitcher himself — was that he never figured out how to handle a bullpen. He'd take a reliever and warm him up four or five times during a game and not use him; then he'd do the same thing the next day. The day after that, he'd put the guy in a game. He'd have nothing out there, and Tommy'd say, "Hell, you ain't pitched in two days, what's the matter with you?" Some managers think if a guy's not actually in a game, he's not pitching. But if he's tossing on the sidelines, man, he's getting hot. Over the years I dealt some of my pitchers to L.A. — [John] Tudor, [Todd] Worrell, Ricky Horton, Ken Dayley — and they always came back with the same report: Tommy was still messing up the pen...

Pete Rose was like Tommy. Wonderful baseball man but he was impaired when it came to handling pitchers. Here he had three world class relievers, Norm Charlton, Rob Murphy, and Rob Dibble, all in the same pen. Two were lefties. Dibble, the righty, threw 100 miles an hour. With those three guys on your side you shouldn't lose games after the sixth. But Pete found a way.

He'd get Murphy up in the third; he'd warm him up in the fourth. Then he'd sit him down. He'd get Charlton up in the fifth. Sometimes I'd look down there, and he'd have both left-handers going at the same time. Why would you warm 'em both up at once? You're only going to use one lefty or another! Then, after he'd worked 'em out three or four times, Pete would put one in the game and be surprised he had no zip. "He can't be tired," he'd say. "He ain't pitched in three days!" Somebody counted how many timed he warmed Murphy up one year and it was over 200. I like Pete, boy — but I loved managing against him.

If you used, say, three relievers in a game, eliminating the eight mound warmups, knowing your men were plenty warm when they arrived at the mound, would shave about twelve minutes or more off a game's time just by itself.

And how much more in the tank might, say, Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman have had in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series if they didn't have to throw eight warmup tosses on the mound before each inning they pitched that and previous nights?

Oho, but suppose you wanted to keep him in a second inning, and in the interim your guys had a huge inning at the plate! Oho, but you forget the man threw what was equal to three innings' worth of pitches minimum when he was warming up in the pen in the first place.

Okay, let's compromise: if you really want that guy in for a second inning, and you let him bat for himself and take every pitch or drop a sacrifice during the big half-inning in between, let him throw three warmups before working his next inning. If it wasn't a big inning, no need for the warmups, he's already on all working cylinders. But let's face it: most of the time, when your man's assignment is rudely interrupted by a big inning from your side at the plate, you've got someone else in the pen getting ready.

Eliminating the eight mound warmups for relief pitchers, with the exception noted earlier, would probably also put a few extra innings into their careers, too.

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