I think now is as good as time as any to drop this theory I've been giving a lot of thought over the last week or so, given the plentiful discussions there have been when it comes to our current relief pitching corps.
Basically, a lot of people are unhappy with the Braves' middle-relief, but the back-end seems acceptable. There are those who are on the side of the fence that guys like Buddy Carlyle, Jeff Bennett, James Parr, and Bad Peter Moylan need to hit the road, and make way for the talent seasoning away in the minors. And then there are others who analyze the situations in which these relievers are used, and realize that perhaps they're really not doing as bad as the scenarios they're dropped into are making them out to look.
Modern statistics available for pitchers don't always help, in my opinion, which is why I'm writing this now - to try and make some hypothetical changes, that might help others see the value in relief pitching as a whole. Naturally, I know that these don't have a snowball's chance in hell of ever taking effect, but in pure theory, it might help shed some light.
Let me reiterate one thing - modern statistics have a bevvy of great information at being able to evaluate a pitcher, but let's be honest here. A lot of people don't look beyond wins/losses, saves, ERA, strikeouts and walks. If more people looked at stuff like splits, WHIP, BB/K ratios, situational pitching, and so forth, there would be a greater understanding of every pitcher's capability from the starter, the closer, to the mop-up man.
The objective of this piece is to try and make some statistics that are very simple to follow, and doesn't intimidate your joe-schmoe baseball fan who doesn't look beyond the box score, while giving some value back to middle-relievers while not also not taking too much away from the important set-up/closing pitchers.
The save statistic was created to give value to the pitcher who finished the last inning (or three) of high-pressure, close-scored games. The role of the closer was born from this. Subsequently, as the times changed, and pitch-counts and situational pitching came into the scene, the hold statistic was created, to give value to those pitchers who bridged the gap between the starting pitcher and to the closer.
Obviously, these statistics became important to those relief pitchers who used such stats as justification for their performance, with aspirations to justify a generous salary from the teams that would employ them.
However, the times have kind of changed again for better or worse, many teams are ditching the role-oriented pitching order for strategic situational pitching, and in some cases, some dire need for a fire to be put out. The Atlanta Braves have been way in the back of the class when it comes to getting this, but throughout the last week, manager Bobby Cox has shown a glimpse of adaptation, by putting in his best reliever for the scenario, even if it meant using closer Mike Gonzalez outside of the 9th inning. The luxury of having a closer-capable reliever in Rafael Soriano makes it very easy to play the righty/lefty splits.
Prior to showing some forward thinking, Bobby Cox was one of the larger victims of old-school thinking of role-oriented pitching, all the way up to the start of even this season. If it drags bad memories, I apologize, I'm sure we all remember the two games against the Phillies in which the Braves coughed up leads of six and seven runs before suffering humiliating defeats. Both of those games were probably winnable if the most-capable pitcher was brought in to put out those fires, even if it meant "burning" Rafael Soriano in the 5th and the 7th innings of both those games.
But he wasn't. Why? Because he's a late-inning pitcher. And he's "not supposed" to come in unless it's late in the game. This is the kind of thinking that has people question their team's manager. But the manager can't be held completely at fault, because many relief pitchers nowadays tend to balk at being used in situations where they can't elevate their personal value by earning holds or saves (Bob Wickman, anyone?).
So, this is my proposal (finally):
• First, we're going to eliminate the save stat and the hold stat.
This means that gone are the singular statistics for a save and a hold are gone, and in its place are the individual outs accounting for saves and holds. (0.1*3 = 1.0) So no more Bob Wickman saves of getting the final out after Chad Paronto and Macay McBride load the bases with two outs, and this effectively kills off the old school save of relieving the final three innings.
So if you haven't noticed, saves (SIPs) are now much more difficult to earn, but are no longer limited to just the final inning. An effective fireman performance can now be rewarded with SIPs anywhere in the game, and depending on how the game goes, multiple SIPs can be earned by various pitchers.
Holds (HIPs), by allowing tie-scores, and small (1-2 run) deficits, reflect on a relief pitcher's capability of keeping the game within reach; unless you want to see relief pitchers taking at-bats, it's not in their capability to contribute offensively, but it is completely within their power to sustain a score, or make it worse. I see no sense in not rewarding an effective reliever who keeps the game surmountable, even if the offense can't.
This still allows for role-oriented pitching, because of how awesome they are, Gonzalez and Soriano are going to get the majority of the late innings. But it also allows them to come in emergencies and be rewarded similarly, as well as give other relievers the chance to be rewarded for their contributions. The only ones who do not benefit from this are starting pitchers, and mop-up men.
Likely gone would be the days of 50+ saves, but at the same time, would usher in some value and importance to effective middle-relief.
Just to show you all this theory in effect, I'll re-write the stat book of all of our relief pitchers, through May 14th, 2009.
Actual: 0 holds (Total IP - 8.0)
RH theory: 1.0 HIP
Actual: 0 holds, 1 BS (Total IP - 3.1)
RH theory: 1.0 HIP, 1 BS
So I'm sure you noticed the sharp decrease in saves in general, but it puts a lot of importance on holding the game close, which a lot of our relief pitchers have been able to contribute towards somewhat. O'Flaherty is the only reliever not named Soriano or Gonzalez with any semblance of a SIP, with his stop of a Mets scoring threat on Monday night.
As evidenced, the guys most likely to benefit from this kind of system are three of the guys people seemed to want to have their heads on stakes - Bennett, Carlyle, and Bad Moylan. It does not evidence the bad things they've done (or allowed to occur), but it goes to show that a good part of the cumulative innings that each has pitched thus far this season, have been some key ones.
Now, let me disclaim that I know that this theory is FAR, FAR, FAAAARRR from adequate, and I'm sure that there are many of you who hate this idea already, and want to verbally rip it to shreds. I'm sure that there are mistakes, discrepancies and contradictions in the scenarios, too. But I encourage all forms of discussion here, and would love to hear from as many people as possible.
Thanks for reading, if you made it this far!