Is bullpenning taking hold? (hot stove season heats up)

As the discussion about bullpenning in baseball continues and more teams talk about pulling their starters earlier in games, it will be interesting to see if the Orioles have interest in a similar plan.

Teams like the Mets and Rays have indicated a desire to be more proactive in pulling starting pitchers next season before they face batting orders the third time through.

This story recently appeared in New York’s Newsday and said the Mets plan to use an eight-man bullpen next season. The story went on to say, “With the exception of Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, Mets starters may be shielded from facing lineups more than twice in a game, mirroring an industry-wide trend, according to a source. The adjustment comes after a season in which team officials watched many of the Mets’ starters fade badly as they pitched deeper into games.”

Many pitchers lose effectiveness the deeper they get into the games. Plus, batters start to get a read on pitchers the more times they see them and the more pitches they see. It usually gets tougher that third time through the order. That is when it can be a tough call for a manager as to when to pull the plug on his starter. Some teams now are talking like they want to make this decision easier. Starters that have shown such issues the third time through should get quicker hooks. It is just another pre-emptive type of strategy toward extracting every win from the 162-game season.

The Orioles have had heavy bullpen use in recent years. But that is less about strategy and more about starters that ran up deep pitch counts early in games and just didn’t pitch well enough to get deeper into games.

Interestingly, the two young pitchers the Orioles are counting on for the foreseeable future - Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman - fare well deeper into games.

Bundy, batting average/OPS against in 2017:
First time through lineup: .242/.690
Second time: .252/.766
Third time: .221/.698

Gausman, batting average/OPS against in his career:
First time through lineup: .251/.712
Second time: .291/.815
Third time: .262/.752

Now these are career numbers for Gausman and they didn’t show the same trend last year. In fact, it did get tougher for him each time through last year. Batters hit .270/.750 against him the first time through, .288/.831 the second time and .289/.851 the third time.

bundy white cg side.jpgBut Bundy’s 2017 numbers and Gausman’s career stats both buck the third time through trend and bode well for them to become innings eaters as they continue to develop and get older.

Last season, Bundy gave up a .256 batting average on his first 50 pitches of a start and a .218 average on the next 50. For Gausman, the numbers were .272 and .298. But in his career, Gausman has allowed an average of just .229 on pitches 101 and more. Bundy has allowed a .296 average on pitches 101 and above. But that is with a small sample size of 8-for-27 by opposing batters in his career in such instances.

But while Bundy and Gausman seem to buck the trend, the trend has arrived. MLB Network pointed out that Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitchers faced just 21.5 percent of batters the third time through orders in 2017 - the fewest in baseball. The network’s analysts surmised that was by design moreso than by ineffective pitching.

The fact that Dodgers starting pitchers led all of the major leagues with a 3.39 ERA backs that up. They ranked 17th in total innings. Did the Dodgers do a good job of getting their starters out before they tired, thus helping produce such a good ERA?

What are your thoughts on a possible trend of limiting some starters’ exposure to batting orders. Is it a good strategy or one that could produce a tired and ineffective bullpen? How could it apply to the Orioles?

Hot stove trade talk: According to FanRag Sports, the Dodgers and Cubs have talked trade with the Orioles about closer Zach Britton. The story indicated the Orioles are “said to be willing to at least listen on Britton.”

Now I don’t know why they would ever be unwilling to listen, but perhaps this indicates a change of thinking by the team. It also could just indicate the previous belief that the club was unwilling to trade Britton this winter was just not accurate. The Orioles reportedly came close to dealing Britton at the trade deadline last July. So why would they be against moving him now?

Either way, the Orioles should be willing to listen on the players that have just one year left before free agency, in my opinion. And, yes, that includes Manny Machado. Listening is just doing due diligence and doesn’t mean there will be a trade. But it could also mean there will be as the team balances moving some of players that can leave in one more season with trying to win in that season.

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