MLB Author: Data Backs Up "Bullpenning" Craze

Teams are relying on their bullpen more than ever. Well, the math is in their favor.

After Hours With Amy Lawrence
October 18, 2018 - 8:31 am

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Author Rob Neyer dropped by CBS Sports Radio to discuss his new book, “Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game,” which illustrates the ways in which the sport has changed over the last few decades.

One of the biggest changes: how teams approach their bullpen.

“We’re sort of seeing this new philosophy of bullpenning, as Brian Kenny has called it, pushed to the limit – and I’m not saying it can’t work,” Neyer said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I think the Brewers are a tremendously intelligent organization. Craig Counsell is a creative guy. So I don’t think they would do these things if they didn’t have a well-considered plan, but it is also true that they’re in uncharted territory here to some degree, and you can’t plan for every contingency. So it does throw open the possibility of this being undone by unforeseen circumstances.”

While this approach may seem unorthodox, Neyer understands it.

“I wouldn’t criticize them for it,” he said. “I think they’re a bit under-manned against the Dodgers even though they had the better record in the regular season, and it makes sense to me that they try something unorthodox to see if they can maybe change the equation in some fundamental way that makes them a little better than they would otherwise be on paper.”

If you think the Brewers and other bullpen-reliant teams are crazy, well, the math backs them up.

“The essential explanation is that with the exception of a few outstanding starting pitchers – and basically the Brewers don’t even have one of those guys or maybe they have one – your starting pitcher typically isn’t going to be as good in the fourth or fifth inning as an average relief pitcher would be,” Neyer explained. “It’s taken a long time for teams to admit this and adjust to it even though the data has been available for a decade or so, making a pretty good case for just that. But when you’ve been doing something the same way for as long as baseball teams were doing it – essentially trying to get as many innings out of your starting pitcher as you could – it was just difficult to change that mindset. 

“And of course part of what’s happening now, too, is teams are becoming more and more comfortable and reliant on seven-, even eight-man bullpens. Well, when you have that many guys in your bullpen, it allows you to start being more creative than you were before.”