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Posts Tagged ‘Mariano Rivera’

Let me give you the stats of two relief pitchers thus far in 2009.

Gregg Marmol

Player 2 appears to be a power pitcher who strikes out his fair share of batters but also has trouble finding the strike zone, while Player 1 looks like a middling reliever who is lucky enough to be a closer.  Now suppose these two players are the same age and are both free agents following the 2009 season.  Who do you think gets the bigger contract?  My money is on Player 1 getting a bigger contract from some GM still living in the Stone Age because he accumulated saves and is a “closer”.

In reality, these two pitchers play for the Chicago Cubs, and are Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol.  Casual fans would argue that Gregg is more valuable to his team because he has 21 saves and is the closer while Marmol is just a middle relief pitcher.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Marmol’s average leverage when he enters the game is 1.63, compared to 1.52 for Gregg.  This means that Marmol pitches in more crucial situations than Gregg, even though Gregg is that oh so important ninth inning pitcher.  Marmol has also added more value to the Cubs.  Marmol has a Win Probability Added of 2.01 compared to Gregg’s 0.13, and also holds a distinct advantage in RE/24, 7.63 to 1.97.  Over the course of the year, that will probably add up to an extra win for the Cubs. 

This situation is interesting because the Cubs are one of the few teams who actually use their bullpen properly.  Marmol is having a bad year because he is walking way too many batters, but the general consensus is that he is their best relief pitcher.  However, they are not using him as their closer, as most teams would do, but in crucial situations at other times in the ball game.  The other team that immediately comes to mind is the Detroit Tigers, who used Todd Jones as their closer even though he was far from their best reliever.  The Cubs are lucky that Marmol has not made a fuss about playing second fiddle to two inferior pitchers the last two years, Gregg and former closer Kerry Wood.  The fact that he is not a closer is going to hurt Marmol’s bank account big time. 

I am fairly confident that every team in baseball understands the concept of leverage, but they continue to use their best pitcher to hold a three run lead in the ninth inning.  This is because you cannot just all of a sudden start using Joe Nathan or Mariano Rivera in the seventh inning of a tie ball game.  Even though this is what would be best for the team, it is not what is best for the ballplayer because he is paid to accumulate saves.  Until teams start compensating relief pitchers on a more useful stat then saves, I do not think we will see wide spread change.  However, as more and more GM’s become statistically savvy, I think this change will come. 

I say this because right now, a bona fide closer will not accept another role.  He knows that his compensation is tied to his saves.  It is like the article by Micheal Lewis (of Moneyball fame) about Shane Battier, where Battier refuses to shoot heaves at the end of a quarter because it hurts his shooting percentage, and he will not get paid as much.  Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey says “I tell him we don’t count heaves in our stats, but Shane’s smart enough to know that his next team might not be smart enough to take the heaves out.”  This is the same in baseball.  Sure, Battier making a full court shot at the buzzer might help his team win a game, just like Rivera pitching in the seventh might help the Yankees win a game.  However, it just is not going to happen because it will not help them get paid.  Until relief pitchers get paid based on their overall performance rather than saves, I am afraid the Chicago Cubs bullpen is going to be the exception, not the rule.

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I think the general consensus was that the All-Star game last night was fairly entertaining with a close 4-3 victory by the American League.  However, I thought it was terrible because it was not real baseball.  Here are my biggest issues.

Closer Domination

Fans of teams like the Yankees with dominant closers like Mariano Rivera love it when they hear their closers theme song come on and watch them trot out to slam the door on an opponent in the ninth inning.  Let’s just say Jonothan Papelbon loses some of his aura when he enters the game in the seventh inning.  It was also pretty boring to watch a game you know was over after six innings.  Sure it was still a tie game but the AL essentially had 9 automatic outs to play with thanks to Papelbon, Joe Nathan, and Rivera, the three best closers in the game.  It is not very fun to watch a game where each team has multiple pitchers in the bullpen who are essentially guaranteed to throw a scoreless frame.  Part of the beauty of baseball is that anyone can beat anyone on any giving day, and the lead can change each and every inning.    

Hack Away

This was easily the thing I enjoyed least about the game.  Players were not working the count like they would in a real game, but instead swinging at the first pitch they saw.  This happened for two reasons.  First of all, the pitchers are so dominant that if you fell behind in the count, you were pretty much toast.  The second is that especially for the reserves, you may only get one at-bat.  If you are going up there knowing you might only have one shot at glory, are you going to try and draw a walk?  I do not think so.   

This led to some ridiculous pitch counts.  All of the following pitchers threw one inning:

Mark Buehrle – Nine pitches

Zack Greinke – Ten Pitches

Edwin Jackson – FOUR pitches

Felix Hernandez – Eight pitches

Jonothan Papelbon – Ten pitches

Trevor Hoffman – Five pitches

Francisco Cordero – Nine pitches

Ryan Franklin – Nine pitches

Francisco Rodriguez – Six pitches

That is half of the game in seventy pitches.  Absolutely ridiculous.

The Bengie Molina Effect

This may be an obscure reference, but some of you may know that Molina is dead last in the majors with a BB% of 1%.  He would have fit right in; there was only one unintentional base on balls in the entire game!  I could not find any proof, but I doubt there was a single game in the majors this year that featured one walk.  Once again, this is not real baseball.

The Baserunning

When I watch a baseball game I want to see Ty Cobb going into second with his spikes up and Pete Rose trucking Ray Fosse at the plate.  In the All-Star game you’re lucky to see a guy hustle out a ground ball, let alone try to take an extra base.  Carl Crawford had an opportunity to stretch for a double but settled for a single.  Ichiro tried to “break-up” a double play with about the same gusto as my grandma would have.  In the regular season you see Adam Wainwright taking a throw off his pitching hand to break up a double play.  In the All-Star game, not so much.

Roster Size

I do not think I have to go into much detail here.  Thirty-three players and a billion dominant pitchers; not real baseball.

Fan Voting And The Every Team Must Be Represented Rule

Fan voting has been discussed at length before, but guys like Josh Hamilton and Dustin Pedroia did not deserve to be voted in as starters, and how did 33rd man Shane Victorino get to start?

The representation rule also led to “All-Stars” like Andrew Bailey and Zach Duke.  Barry Petchesky from Deadspin ran a simulation, and the NL All-Stars lost to the New York Yankees.  The All-Stars also had a lower average salary than this collection All-Stars. 

All-Star!

All-Star!

The Player’s Do Not Take It Seriously, At First.

The players could care less about the outcome for the first half of the game.  If you look at the dugout there are hardly any guys up on the railing watching the game intently.  The game only gets serious if it is close in the finals innings.  In a real baseball game you have to be committed from the beginning or it will be chalked up as a loss every time. 

I am sure if I thought for longer I could come up with some more reasons but there are seven for your consideration.

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