Bullpenning No Longer in Vogue, Love for Darvish, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Bullpenning No Longer in Vogue, Love for Darvish, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

The Wife is still off for a couple days, so we decided to take an exercise class together later this morning. The studio happens to be right next door to a coffee shop, so I drove down early to get my work day started, have a cup, and then go to the class. Except I got down here and the coffee shop is closed. Imagine the horror. So now I’m just sitting in my car typing outside the studio for a while because the nearest other work-type-place isn’t quite near enough for it to be worth the transit. The lack of caffeine is already grinding me down … I think I might be addicted, guys …

  • The Bullpenning trend sure didn’t last long. Just two years after the baseball world exploded all over the idea that you didn’t really *NEED* great starting pitchers to be successful, you just instead needed a huge cast of quality, high-octane relief arms to call upon in the 5th+ inning, and then rotate in and out from AAA. Every team was gonna do it, and starting pitchers were going to fade by the wayside … and then it just totally seemed to flip on its head this past year, with starting pitchers more coveted than ever. What happened to maxing out multi-inning relievers in your bullpen?
  • To be sure, many of those original Bullpenning concepts are far from dead, but (1) I think we’ve learned that the league can support only so many teams going that route, (2) the Injured List going back to 15 days for pitchers is going to be a hurdle to new adopters, (3) the juiced ball made the margin for error much smaller for a number of hard-throwing relievers, and (4) something interesting pointed out by Buster Olney: “Meanwhile, bullpens all around baseball broke down, with what seemed to be a record-setting wave of injuries. Some club evaluators have come to believe that the big push for high velocity in recent years has quickly taken its toll on a generation of heavily used relievers, and for the first time in about a half-century, the collective ERA of relief pitchers was worse than for starters.”
  • Relievers, by their very nature, are riskier than established starting pitchers. You become an established starting pitcher by demonstrating health, durability, longevity, and a robust pitch mix. You tend to become a reliever because some part of that group of traits is lacking, but you can still have some success in limited/managed bursts. So it’s not really that starting pitchers are suddenly more valued than they’ve ever been – it’s that the pitchers who can *do the things we associate with starting pitchers* are extremely valuable in an environment where the four things mentioned above are happening.
  • For Cubs fans, we haven’t had to do a lot of thinking about this shifting landscape, because the organization basically stuck with a very traditional rotation of six-inning guys (that was the goal, anyway) throughout this period of time. Thanks to an inability to develop impactful young relief arms, they didn’t really have a choice to go the Bullpenning route anyway. Because that’s the thing: Bullpenning can still be a viable approach for clubs that (1) don’t have a rotation filled out with obvious and consistent six-inning guys, and (2) are bursting at the seams with big-league ready bullpen-quality arms. Could that be the Cubs in the coming years as the wave of pitchers finally works its way up? Maybe. But as I said: you don’t really plan for that, and instead, you just want to have as many pitchers as possible who are able to do the things we associate with starting pitchers. Then, when you’re forced to make a bullpen decision – as the Cubs might be soon with many of their prospect arms – you pull the trigger, and see how it all shakes out at the big league level. In other words, it’s nice to have the great young arms available to cover up the warts that might emerge in your rotation, rather than planning that you’ll need a whole bunch of young relievers because you didn’t invest in your rotation in the first place (i.e., Bullpenning).
  • The Olney piece ranks starting pitchers, by the way, and although no Cubs are in the top 10, Yu Darvish does get a Best-of-the-Rest shout out: “He seemed to learn a lot about himself last year, pitching spectacularly in the second half, when opponents batted just .199 and had a .612 OPS; he had 118 strikeouts in 81⅔ innings. Nobody has ever questioned his stuff — a pertinent question is whether he can carry over his success into 2020.” Like anyone paying attention has said: if Darvish *does* carry over his second half into a full season next year (and if his results more closely match his peripherals), he’s a Cy Young candidate.
  • Nico Hoerner mentioned on an MLB Network Radio appearance that of course he’d love to break camp with the big league team as a starter, but he understands that it is more likely he’ll start the year in the minors, with an opportunity to contribute in the middle and later parts of the year:

https://twitter.com/MLBNetworkRadio/status/1212120542481924096

  • It’s not fair to put any other plays in this one together with Mark Buehrle’s reverse-falling-down-through-the-legs-glove-scoop play, in terms of how incredible it was:


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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.