Saturday, May 2, 2015

0 comments Jerry Green Thinks Building a World Series Winner Begins with a Great Bullpen

I don't want to downplay the importance of a great bullpen in winning a World Series. Obviously a very reliable bullpen is very important when it comes to trying to win a World Series. Jerry Green has overstated the case just a little bit by stating that winning a World Series starts with relievers, while downplaying the importance of starting pitching and failing to even mention good hitting as being important. The World Series just ended with a starting pitcher receiving the MVP award and a great bullpen doesn't serve as much use if the starting pitcher can't hand that bullpen a lead to protect or that team's hitters can't score runs to make up a deficit while the bullpen shuts out the opposing team. Jerry is trying to eradicate some myths, but in the process he creates a few more myths of his own.

Once, way back, conventional wisdom declared that baseball was three-quarters pitching and all the rest consisted of the small segments hitting, fielding, running – and stealing the other team's signs.

Let me define all of the terms that Jerry Green is using here into real language.

"Conventional Wisdom"- One person's opinion on how baseball games are won.

"Stealing the other team's signs"- Cheating, which is now frowned upon from a high pedestal by the baseball media as it pertains to using illegal substances to enhance performance, but stealing the signs of other teams is seen as sly gamesmanship that's just part of the game.

That was the gospel according to Connie Mack, who was the game's leading philosopher a century ago.

"Pitching is 75 percent of the game," Mr. Mack stated, from above the starched collar he wore with his civilian suit as he managed the Philadelphia Athletics to several World Series victories.

See? Conventional wisdom is one person's opinion that Jerry Green agreed with at the time. The gospel of one person magically becomes convention. Weird how that works.

Then along came an upstart named Chris Columbus

And he directed "Home Alone," "Mrs. Doubtfire," two "Harry Potter movies," while writing "Gremlins" and "The Goonies." He had a lot of success during the 80's and early 90's, I get it. I don't see what he had to do with how important relief pitching is in winning a World Series.

and proved that the world was round. As round, well, as a baseball.

Oh, THAT Christopher Columbus. 

Myths were extremely difficult to eradicate.

Most likely because baseball sportswriters are notoriously hard-headed people who refuse to change, adapt to new information and their immediate reaction to learning new information is to mock it's relevance and mock those who are using this new information to arrive at a conclusion the sportswriter doesn't necessarily want to accept. Jerry Green would never do that though, would he?



Not him.

It is the objective of every Major League Baseball general manager to assemble the highest-quality starting pitching staff possible. The idea is to hoard starters. Pamper them. Baby them. Publicize them. Offer them multi-millions so as to lock them up for years into eternity.

I think Jerry is projecting a bit of the Tigers' strategy here. This isn't necessarily the strategy of every MLB GM to baby starters and then give them huge contracts. But yes, if Jerry Green is suggesting that MLB GM's think having a great starting pitching staff is important then that is true. If Jerry is suggesting that GM's would prefer they have a healthy pitching staff, then that is also true.

It is – as the myth remains even in this era of Sabremetric gobbledy-gook – the major method of organizing pitching staffs for supposed World Series contenders.

The Giants just won a World Series on the back of a dominating starting pitcher. The Royals made the World Series on the back of dominating relief pitching. But either way, no team wins a World Series without good starting pitching and good relief pitching. A team can throw together an epically great bullpen, but if the starting pitching can get the ball to the bullpen with a lead or the game close then that team isn't going to win the World Series.

Obviously hitting is important too. Jerry is specifically comparing a team having great starting pitching to a team having great relief pitching. And again, I think he's projecting his experience with the Detroit Tigers in this situation, because they are a team with great starting pitching but a questionable bullpen. I'm not sure the lesson of the 2014 Detroit Tigers is a lesson that stays true from here on out through the history of baseball. Relief pitching is very important, just like starting pitching is very important. To win a World Series, I don't think you start with relief pitching, and you don't use the examples Jerry provides as a reason for why you start with relief pitching.

Add a David Price to a stellar staff of Marvelous Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, and the Tigers are a shoo-in to win … and oops!

Jerry is confusing having a good bullpen with having a terrible bullpen. It's not that building a World Series team around the bullpen is the key to winning the World Series, it's that a team with a bullpen ranked 27th in the majors in ERA will struggle to win the World Series. So the Tigers failure to make the World Series can be chalked up to not having a very good bullpen, but this doesn't mean the key to winning the World Series is having a great bullpen. There is a difference. A team doesn't have to build around the bullpen to win a World Series, but that team shouldn't have a terrible bullpen like the Tigers had in 2014 and expect to win the World Series.

I would absolutely not expect Jerry Green to understand any of this.

And now the Washington Nationals are being considered shoo-ins to dominate baseball in this soon-to-open season.

They are perhaps the favorite, but I don't know if they are considered shoo-ins to dominate baseball. Though it is important to know they had a bullpen with the 4th best ERA in the majors and the 18th best batting average against during the 2014 season. So perhaps they are better equipped than the 2014 Tigers (though there is obviously a variance in bullpen performance from one year to another) to win the World Series with their current bullpen. Again, it's not that the Nationals should build around the bullpen to win the World Series, it's just they can't have a terrible bullpen and expect to win the World Series.

How they have a clear shot through the National League with Scherzer added to this stupendous collection of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzales – plus an available sixth starter, Tanner Roark.

"They could climb the ranks as one of the best starting rotations in the era (1969-on) of the lowered mound," glowed NBC's Hardball Talk website.

Which is entirely possible. Notice NBC's Hardball Talk didn't write, "This team is guaranteed to win the World Series this year due to the greatness of the starting pitching staff." But hey, I shouldn't expect Jerry Green to be able to differentiate between a media outlet remarking the Nationals have a great pitching staff and this outlet handing the World Series title to the Nationals before spring training is over.

By decree, the Nats' starting staff now is destined to replace the previous best starting staff ever, the Atlanta Braves' group of two decades ago. How we wowed then about the pitching dominance of the Braves with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Three imposing pitchers destined for the immortality of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Yeah, they were pretty good. I wouldn't make the argument that the Braves would have won more World Series titles if they had worse starting pitching and a better bullpen. I'm not sure that would be an entirely accurate conclusion that can be drawn.

That immense starting staff of the Braves – that myth was exploded also.

Nope, not really. The greatness of that staff wasn't a myth. The Braves still had a great starting pitching staff that helped them get to four World Series from 1991-1999.

Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz pitched the Braves of the 1990s to precisely one World Series championship. They contributed to the winning of five NL pennants. And they were involved in four World Series flops.

To be precise, and I know Jerry Green is more interested in proving his point through whatever means necessary as opposed to being precise, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz only were involved with two World Series flops. Maddux wasn't on the pitching staff in 1991 (when the Braves "flopped" by losing in seven games and the last game was an extra inning affair) and 1992 (when they ran into a Blue Jays team with a really good starting pitching staff) when the Braves lost the World Series. He was signed by the Braves as a free agent prior to the 1993 season. Maddux was on the 1996 and 1999 Braves team that flopped in the World Series. So that staff of three pitchers contributed to three NL pennants and two World Series losses. Not four. Two. Let's get it right for the sake of accuracy, though I know Jerry doesn't give a shit about accuracy.

The finest starting staff in history managed to win this single World Series in 1995.

I'm not sure anyone but Jerry Green is arguing this was the best starting staff in history. 

It's not that this glorified starting triumvirate was lousy. It was that the Yankees had Mariano Rivera.

It was that simple in the World Series of 1996 and 1999.

Out came Rivera climbing against the Braves – and slam, it was finished.

And again, Jerry Green is taking part in some revisionist history. Rivera was only the closer for the Yankees during the 1999 World Series. John Wetteland was the Yankees closer in the 1996 World Series with Rivera as the set up guy. Wetteland saved four games in that series and pitched slightly better than Rivera did. Yes, the Yankees had a great bullpen during the 1996 World Series, but it helps the Yankees starters got the ball to the bullpen with a lead in two of those games.

Bullpens are the most important ingredient to any championship baseball.

I mean, maybe. Having a good bullpen is helpful, but I think having great starters is more important than having a great bullpen. Few teams can win a World Series if their bullpen absolutely sucks though. So that's true.

I have no idea how WAR and WHIP and the other contrived statistics factor into winning championships. It really doesn't much matter.

And of course Jerry is going to bring a screed against WHIP and WAR into the discussion. That's all he knows how to do. It's irrelevant to the discussion he wants to have, but it's important that Jerry mention as often as possible that he is terrified of advanced statistics.

Ever since that statistic about Quality Starts came into existence I have mused about quality finishes.

It's called a "hold" or a "save" instead of a "quality finish." I do understand that holds have been around for only 20 years and saves have been around for about 40 years, so they are relatively new, scary statistics to Jerry.

But ordinarily – unless Madison Bumgarner is involved – quality finishes are group efforts. The seventh-inning stopper. The eighth-inning holder. Then the ninth-inning closer.

Sure, except how is the 7th inning stopper, the 8th inning holder, and the 9th inning closer going to stop, hold or close a game out that the starting pitcher (or the hitters) hasn't handed them a lead or kept it a close game so they can stop, hold or close the game? It's almost like baseball is a team game or something. So it does take a bullpen to close out a game, but winning a World Series doesn't begin with a great bullpen necessarily because the bullpen can't hit the baseball and make up for a deficit their team faces. So if the starter has gotten shelled and the hitters haven't hit, then the bullpen isn't much help to win the game until the hitters start hitting. If a team has a great starting pitching staff who hands the bullpen a lead, well then that great bullpen certainly comes in handy more.

The closer catches all the glory. Rivera with the Yankees. Koji Uehara with the Red Sox two years ago.

I bet Jerry can't name the Giants closer during the 2014 season.

Guillermo Hernandez with the Tigers just 31 year ago. Cy Young Award! MVP!

Oh, now come many times have readers been told that Jack Morris won the 1984 World Series all by himself with his super-clutchy pitching and refusal to exit the ball game until he has done every last damn bit of the job he was hired to do? Last time I checked Jack Morris was a starting pitcher. Now all of a sudden when Green doesn't need to make a case for Morris to enter the Hall of Fame, Guillermo Hernandez is the MVP of that World Series and Jack Morris was just lucky to have such a great reliever on his team. It's funny how opinions change when a different point needs to be proven.

But the Nats have the specter of the unknown. In their short history, they have been unable to close out victories in postseason games. Faulty bullpens.

The Nationals have made the postseason twice since moving to Washington. During the 2012 NLDS, when the Nationals lost 3-2 to the Cardinals, the bullpen was directly responsible for one loss in that series. It just happened to be during Game 5 of the series, but otherwise the starting pitching is what won or lost the Nationals the other four games.  

During the 2014 NLDS against the Giants that the Nationals lost 3-1, the Nationals bullpen, which had been pretty good all season, did blow up pretty badly. That wasn't necessarily the case for the Nationals bullpen on the season though. The postseason can be a mean bitch sometimes. So Jerry has a point that the Nationals lost this series because of their bullpen, but I still don't believe this means a strong bullpen is the best way to win the World Series. The bullpen had leads to blow because the starting pitching staff didn't give up runs and the Nationals' hitters scored runs. Starting pitching and hitting are both equally as important as a strong bullpen.

The Dodgers, supposedly, will provide the Nats with ample pursuit. They have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu as starters. A fine starting trio. Kershaw is unmatched. The best pitcher in baseball.

True, of course. With terrible postseason vulnerability.

And because Kershaw isn't reliable in the postseason then this means he never will be reliable and is worthless to the Dodgers as it pertains to winning a World Series. 

They are damaged much further because their reliable closer, Kenley Jansen, will be on the disabled list well into the season.

Again, there is a difference in a team wanting a good bullpen and having a really shitty bullpen. Obviously a team with a strong pitching staff and a really bad bullpen most likely isn't going to win the World Series. Just like a team with crappy starting pitching and a really good bullpen probably won't win the World Series. This means a team that wants to win the World Series shouldn't have a shitty bullpen, but doesn't mean that having a strong bullpen is the best way to win the World Series. Jerry is confusing the issue. A team that wants to win the World Series needs a reliable bullpen, not necessarily the greatest bullpen ever assembled. 

Then there are the Tigers, who were stopped last October by Baltimore. They entered the 2014 playoffs with the most revered starting five in all of baseball. Same as the year before.

The fact the Tigers bullpen was terrible in 2014 does not mean the starting five pitchers the Tigers had could not have led the team to a World Series title. Baseball is a team game. If the Tigers had a bullpen of Craig Kimbrel, Dave Robertson, Sergio Romo, and Greg Holland with Scherzer, Sanchez, Verlander, Price, and Porcello as their starting rotation, but their offense resembled the 2014 San Diego Padres offense, then they probably would struggle to win the World Series. This wouldn't suddenly mean a great offense is the key to winning the World Series, instead it means a team can't win the World Series with a shitty offense.

During this past offseason, they allowed Scherzer to depart for Washington without a peep of protest. They dealt away Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes, a sometimes powerful hitter who created disenchantment playing in Oakland and then Boston.

The Tigers are getting rid of their vaunted rotation, so that surely means they will win the World Series now! And I'm not sure about the "creating disenchantment" comment from Green. The Red Sox (or at least Ben Cherington) claim this isn't true. Anonymous sources couldn't lie to Bill Madden could they?

The Tigers have yearning for a reliable bullpen for nigh onto a decade.

So perhaps it's not that a World Series victory begins with a great bullpen, but a World Series victory stops without a reliable bullpen? Maybe? Perhaps Jerry is only saying a World Series win starts with a great bullpen because the Tigers haven't even had a reliable bullpen. It's hard to win a World Series without a good bullpen, just like it's hard to win the World Series without good hitting or starting pitching.

Connie Mack's words are still valued in much of baseball.

Brings to mind another slice of conventional wisdom from another Philadelphia manager. The aptly named Danny Ozark, who managed the Phillies back awhile ago.

"Ninety percent of baseball is half-mental."

This has nothing to do with a great bullpen or how to best construct a team that wins the World Series.

So? Where have you gone Jose Valverde?

Where has Valverde gone? Apparently into the shitter because he's had an ERA over 5.00 during the last two seasons, including one year as a member of the unreliable Tigers bullpen that Jerry Green is gnashing his teeth over. A baseball team with aspirations for the World Series has to have a great bullpen, but I don't think a World Series winning team begins with the bullpen to the point Jerry Green is undervaluing the importance of starting pitching (without even mentioning how important good hitting is).