For the Philadelphia Phillies, the 2014 season has the potential to be many things: a last hurrah for some of the older guys, a proving ground for some of the young guys, a middling waste of time in denial of the facts or a chance to rebuild and experiment. While the first option is certainly the preference for all, the latter may be the most realistic, productive and appropriate approach the team can take.
Rebuilding is almost an inevitability, but what do I mean by experiment? Look no further than the bullpen, and the team’s unique opportunity this season to revolutionize the way teams deploy their relievers.
Charlie Manuel was famous for his bullpen maneuvers and the negative consequences they yielded. Frequently foregoing his $50 million closer in close games in order to save him for save opportunities that would infrequently materialize, Manuel cost the Phils countless chances to win games over the past two seasons by relying on young prospects with scant histories rather than Jonathan Papelbon.
Talk has ramped up, and this author subscribes to said talk, that the idea of a closer is going the way of the dodo bird.
When you get down to it, the save is an arbitrary statistic that doesn’t necessarily match the importance it’s meant to have. The idea of a save conjures thoughts of a key moment where a game was possibly out of reach but was ‘saved’ by a particular reliever. It is rare that this moment comes in ninth inning, but much more commonly earlier in the game, such as the sixth or seventh.
Would it not make more sense to use one’s best reliever in those situations, rather than saving them and risking immediate doom as a result, for a future moment when the team already has a solid grasp on a lead to merely ‘shorten the game’?
This is an idea that has not caught on with the managers of America’s pastime, especially not as long as one singular reliever in the bullpen makes 10 times more than the guys sitting next to them. The elements that are needed for such an experiment to work, and one that baseball deserves, are present on the current Phillies roster.
The first requirement is for a team to not have anything significant riding on that season; when pennants are on the line, the status quo persists. When there is nothing to lose, however, why not try something new? This element should be present with the team by June if the injuries that have ravaged the team over the past few seasons re-emerge as expected.
Secondly, they must have a bullpen full of young, inexpensive guys with no egos. The problem many mangers would face if they attempt this method of bullpen use is a whiny closer who isn’t getting his save opportunities. Come the trade deadline, jettisoning Papelbon and possibly Mike Adams will leave the team with a pack of young relievers that should have little egos based on previous performance.
This group, including the likes of Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg, Ethan Martin, Phillip Aumont, Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, Justin de Fratus and Michael Stutes, have all been discussed previously at length.
Finally, a team needs a manager with the kind of job security that is willing to take such a risk. Ryne Sandberg is primed in his first season with minimal expectations to try something new.
Once the team is out of contention enough to justify trading away their ‘closer’ Papelbon, the Phillies are precisely the sort of team that could benefit from attempting a new form of bullpen-by-committee. Now that the team finally employs someone who pays attention to advanced statistics, such an experiment will have the benefit of instant analysis and statistical support.
With the proper team makeup, seasonal predicaments and will power, the Phillies could be the team that helps revolutionize the way pitching staffs are deployed as we know it towards a more logical and less arbitrary fashion. For better or for worse, this strategy deserves to come to fruition.
If the Phillies can be the team that tries it, why not garner some notoriety in what will otherwise be a lost season?
See how this bullpen-by-committee approach can work in person by getting your 2014 Phillies tickets here.