Are teams benefiting from relievers pitching less?

From Dave Cameron at on January 27, 2012:

Yesterday, Brian Kenny and I spent a few minutes talking about relief pitchers on Clubhouse Confidential, and specifically, about the differences in the role of a middle reliever versus a closer. Both Kenny and I believe that the idea of a “closer mentality” is mostly a myth, but we do spend some time talking about why some guys aren’t cut out for the traditional closer role. If you want to watch the segment, I’ve embedded it after the jump, and will expand on one of the things I said on the show below that.

When Kenny asked me what the best way to gain value from a relief ace was, I pointed out that I preferred the method of bullpen usage that was in place before the rise of the save as a statistic of importance. Obviously, the structure of the bullpen has changed a lot over the last 30 years, and the adoption of specialist relievers and one-inning stints have led to larger pitching staffs and far more frequent pitching changes. Managers are being more aggressive than ever in exploiting platoon advantages and trying to limit the amount of innings their relievers work in order to increase effectiveness when they do pitch.

Back before the creation of the modern bullpen, it wasn’t at all unusual to see a reliever throw 100+ innings in a season. In fact, the 1982 season from Bob Stanley is perhaps one of the most interesting years a pitcher has had in quite a while – he appeared in 48 games, went 12-7, racked up 14 saves, and threw 168 1/3 innings in the process. He didn’t start a single game the whole year, but he finished fourth on the team in totals innings pitched and threw just seven fewer innings than Mike Torrez, who started 31 games for the Red Sox that season. For comparison, Stanley faced 694 batters in ’82, while Jeff Samardzija led all Major League relievers in 2011 with 380 batters faced.

The change in bullpen usage is the biggest difference in the sport now compared to 30 years ago.

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Originally published: February 3, 2012. Last Updated: February 3, 2012.