Is Bullpen Usage Changing In The MLB?

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Updated: November 10, 2016

This postseason had it all; excitement, come from behind wins, pitching, offense, unlikely heroes, home runs, and the Chicago Cubs winning it all for the first time in 108 years, in case you forgot or hadn’t heard in a while. This postseason was notable for one more thing; Andrew Miller.

Specifically, Andrew Miller’s usage. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona was aggressive in his use of Miller, bringing him in as early as the fifth inning, for multiple innings, employing him in what he believed were the highest leverage innings as opposed to predetermined innings or situations.

The usage was consistent with how Francona used Miller during the season after acquiring him at the trade deadline, and in the postseason we saw the Dodgers, Cubs, and Blue Jays use Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Roberto Osuna early and often, as well.

It’s not uncommon for teams to ask their closers to get more than three outs in the postseason, but bringing them in in non-save situations early in games is almost unheard of. Francona has the luxury of another shutdown reliever he can pair with Miller to close out games with Cody Allen, but the question is there; will other teams follow Francona’s lead and attempt to find a shutdown reliever to use similar to how Miller was used? After watching the Kansas City Royals reach back to back World Series, winning the second time around, on the strength of a shutdown bullpen, other teams began to attempt to build a strong bullpen to match it.

Now, Francona and the Indians reached their own World Series similarly, and with a strong bullpen market it will be interesting to see if teams will try to stock their bullpen full of stars and converted starters capable of pitching multiple innings in multiple situations.

With Chapman and Jansen both free agents, teams will be willing to pay top price to add them to their bullpen. Will they be willing to use them outside of save situations, early in a game, or both? In the playoffs, with more days off and less potential games, it’s easier to call on your best pitchers to pitch more innings.

The regular season is long and grueling, and asking a reliever to pitch multiple innings a night is asking a lot. Bullpen importance is certainly changing; having a deep, versatile, talented bullpen is a must in today’s baseball, where there’s a specialist for every situation and batter and having the matchup leverage is important.

Teams will begin to search for that so called ‘Bullpen Ace,’ the player you can call on in any situation to take the ball and put down the rally, take on the opposing team’s best hitters, instead of having a ‘Proven Closer’ who only pitches the ninth inning and only when up by three or less runs, a call back to old days of baseball where closers would pitch three to four innings. Those days may not be returning, but the days of the Bullpen Ace are upon us!

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