28 May 2011

Bench Players Should be Trained to Pitch

A couple nights ago Wilson Valdez pitched the Philadelphia Phillies to a victory.  It made me think of the Orioles who have had the opportunity to pitch under these circumstances.  I remember Earl Weaver championing his strategy of using position players during blowouts.  I found it to be a rather smart approach as it makes no sense to burn out your bullpen when the game is out of hand.  Instead, let backup position players pump fastball across the plate and let the game drag to an end. 

Elrod Hendricks
Upon researching past occaisions where an Orioles position player pitched in a game, it was not as bountiful in frequency that Weaver seemed to suggest in his book, "Weaver on Strategy." (Sidenote: Christina Kahrl, another Sweetspot-er, wrote an update epilogue in the reprint)  Anyway, here are all of the Oriole position players who have pitched in a game:
Elrod Hendricks, catcher (1978)
Larry Harlow, outfielder (1978)
Todd Cruz, shortstop/third baseman (1984)
Jeff Tackett, catcher (1993)
Manny Alexander, shortstop (1996)

Needless to say, Earl Weaver actually does not seem to utilize this strategy as he was responsible for only Hendricks and Harlow throwing innings.  I still think this is an underutilized strategy.

Burned out bullpens are something that managers hate.  Earlier this season Buck Showalter mentioned how he had to leave his pitchers in longer than he preferred because of a few blow outs that forced him to run through relief pitchers.  When the team was down by 10 runs or more at the end of a game, why fatigue a pitcher and prevent him from helping you tomorrow in a game that means soemthing?  I imagine the answer to be two-fold:
  1. position players are not trained to pitch and might be unable to throw a ball across the plate, and 
  2. a ten run loss is embarrassing, but a 20 run loss is more embarrassing.  20 run losses cause managers to lose their jobs.
It is easy to solve the first issue.  You simply have your fringe players at the MLB level and AAA throw bullpen sessions on the side.  You do not want your good players doing this because it is too risky one of them could suffer a strained ligament or blow out their shoulder.  For me, I would have some basic instruction give to these Orioles: Craig Tatum, Jake Fox, Matt Angle, Nolan Reimold, and maybe Ryan Adams or Robert Andino.  If one or two of these guys could learn to get the ball across the plate and maybe even mix in a poor secondary, you might be able to finish a game with a modicum of respect while preserving what is left of your bullpen.  These players, although useful, likely do not have a significant role in the Orioles' future.  The worst case scenario, a career-ending injury, is not something that would significantly hurt the Orioles.  A player may be willing to be able to be a mop-up player if it means a greater chance to be in the Majors.

Dealing with a 20 run loss?  I think the long view needs to be taken into consideration.  Teams should be more honest about their chances and do things more intelligently without regard to the final score.

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