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Okay, so I have this idea and I can’t decide if it’s stupid or not but I think if someone who knows more than me could work out the details, it could really work.
And we shall call it “BuckyBall.” Because it’s designed to be implemented for the 2014 Baltimore Orioles by their skipper, Buck Showalter. And if it works, I envision other managers using it.
The idea is simple: change the way you approach starting pitching. Instead of throwing a starter out there and hoping he can give you 7 innings, then waiting until he gets into trouble to replace him, plan your rotation (starting and relief) around the starter going 5 innings.
That’s it. Five innings. Let your starter know that’s all you expect, and that if they can do that, their start is a success.
And then, along with tagging whoever the starter is for the game, you also tag the “long reliever” – the guy who will come in to pitch the 6th and 7th. He knows who he is already, he’s mentally prepared, he’s warmed up, he’s ready to go. Then you got your setup guy for the 8th and the closer (or “finisher” depending on the score) for the 9th. You still have leeway for matchups, and you’re still gonna find yourself having to do some juggling in extra inning games. But you’d have to do that anyway.
Why do I think this is a good idea? Let’s look at our starting rotation.
Chris Tillman – Ace. Love him and he’s a worker. He can probably consistently give you 7 innings, so this almost doesn’t apply to him. But how much better might he be late in the season if he’s only pitching 5 maybe 6 innings per start? I mean, if he’s on, he’s on and you can let him go deeper if you want. But don’t plan for it. PLUS, if he’s off or having a bad day or just can’t get his stuff over the plate (without it getting jacked into the next area code), then maybe he can reach down and find whatever he needs to just get himself through 5 innings.
Miguel Gonzalez. I love Miggy too. When he’s on. If he’s having a good day, he can also give you 7 innings, but when he’s struggling with his command or when he’s frustrated, he wears it like an ugly christmas sweater. It’s all over his face and his body language. Once again, I think that if there is a finite number of outs he already knows he’s expected to get – just go 5 – that it would be mentally easier to dig down and figure it out, or at least fake it and get through it.
Bud Norris. He’s fairly young. I think he’s got Tillman-like potential. But I don’t see him go deep into games very often. Sometimes sure, but again, if he plans to go 5 and knows that’s a successful outing and no one expects more than that, he’ll pitch happier.
Ubaldo Jimenez. Good kid – not sure about consistency but he can reach down and throw a ball by you and you wonder what the hell just happened. And by the 4th inning, he’s either had some struggles or he’s about to. He grips the ball too hard when he gets behind and it sorta goes all over the place. Once again – give them a finish line to work towards, one that isn’t judged as “insufficient” and I think it’s mentally easier to dig down and find whatever you gotta find to get through it.
Wei-Yin Chen. I do like this kid a lot – he’s also got great stuff and seems to be a bit more consistent than Gonzalez. At least I trust him a little more (but only a little). Like Gonzalez, when he’s on, he’s on. And like Gonzalez, when he’s not, he wears it. Once again, I think if you give this guy a clear finish line on the start, let him know exactly what’s expected and that he doesn’t have to go further, he can be more mentally able to complete the task as needed.
Then, if you take this same approach with the young guys we bring up (Gausman comes to mind…there are others), and tell them “just get through 5” it’ll make their starts easier and more relaxing (if that’s possible). Consider also that if a starter knows he’s only going 5 innings, and mentally that makes him better able to find whatever it is to throw good pitches, then he’s not seeing the lineup a third time. Hitters won’t get more than one chance to adjust. It might then leave the starter with more options for pitching to good hitters.
The Orioles have some good guys in the bullpen too. Guys like O’Day or Brach or Webb or Hunter who can go a couple innings, mid-game, and do a good job. Maybe there are guys who want to be starters or who have been starters but can’t go deep enough, can find their place here in regular long-relief. But they know they’re gonna get the call that day, and can mentally prepare for getting in and doing what they gotta do.
I know. This is non-standard. And I’m a baseball history fanatic. I like keeping the game the way it’s supposed to be played. But the era of CG starters is over. If a guy goes all 9, then it’s a feat. But to put them out there every night hoping they’ll go nine, expecting they’ll go 7, then having to “fix it” once they’re only going 5 or 6 good innings seems ridiculous.
Bottom line: It looks to me like Buck is trying to get his guys he has to play the game he’s always learned they should play. Instead, maybe Buck should change his game to fit the guys he has.