Arthur/Watt: Baseball managers are getting smarter about handling their bullpens

From SABR member Rob Arthur and Rian Watt at FiveThirtyEight on September 14, 2016:

Even in Major League Baseball’s enlightened sabermetric age, you’re liable to see at least one instance of obvious bullpen mismanagement on any given night. Such blunders usually come in the form of a manager hewing too closely to traditional inning-based roles — “saving” bullpen aces for a meaningless ninth frame when the game is on the line earlier, or bringing in a closer to hold a three-run lead in the ninth when a rookie would do just fine. These tactical errors can be frustrating to watch, as tenuous leads become deficits while the team’s best relievers are sitting in the bullpen waiting for “their” inning.

Logic and hard-won experience have shown that a team’s best relievers should pitch during the most important junctures of a game, regardless of when those moments occur. It’s a philosophy that saber-savvy analysts inside and outside the game have been pushing for some time now. And despite their occasional lapses in judgment, it appears that managers across the league, in addition to deploying some of the best bullpens ever in an absolute sense, are getting much better at optimally deploying their relievers according to skill, regardless of their age or experience.

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Originally published: September 14, 2016. Last Updated: September 14, 2016.