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Shortened Season Impact: Bullpen Usage

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Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

As we continue to explore the impact of a shortened season, one of the areas that may be most affected, is the bullpen usage.

Last year, bullpen usage ranged from 500.2 IP by the Nationals up to 772 by the Rays. Without clear guidelines as to what the 2020 season will look like, we’ll consider it roughly half the length and a corresponding cut to roughly half the number of innings.

Here were the Astros relievers and usage, as well as changes to the staff:

Fangraphs

There’s a few items of note here, first is the losses of Will Harris, Collin McHugh, and Hector Rondon is a loss of more than 150 IP. Normally this would be a concern with 3 impact arms no longer reinforcing the bullpen.

The Astros did add and Joe Biagini, who was rumored to have an edge in making the bullpen, but he does not quite have the same success as the three relievers we lost.

So what impact does the shortened season have? Well, there’s an increased value in Rule 4 picks, there’s a lesser overall usage on the relievers but it’s not as simple as cutting the innings in half as it’s not just total usage but frequency of usage as well.

There could be an argument that long-relievers / fireman could have a lesser value as the number of relievers could lead to more specialized usage although that is somewhat off-set by the new rules put in place by the mlb. Not familiar, here are the new rules as per mlb:

In an effort to reduce the number of pitching changes and, in turn, cut down the average time per game, MLB will institute a rule change beginning in 2020 that requires pitchers to either face a minimum of three batters in an appearance or pitch to the end of a half-inning, with exceptions for injuries and illnesses.

Currently, Rule 5.10(f) states that the starting pitcher must pitch to one batter until that batter is put out or reaches base, and Rule 5.10(g) states that any reliever must pitch to one batter until that batter is put out or reaches base, or the offensive team is put out, with exceptions for injuries and illnesses. These rules will be in effect through the end of the 2019 season.

The 2020 change will likely cause a decline in the number of specialists — such as the “LOOGY” (lefty one-out guy) — who are primarily brought in for certain matchups.

It will be interesting to see how coaches change the usage of their bullpens with a reduced workload. I could see an increased number of pinch hitters, possibly adding value to batters with lesser defensive skills.

In recent years, the classic defensive liability slugger’s value has waned, but could have a bit of a resurgence ... all of this means only one thing... the return of El Oso Blanco! (kidding)

What impact do you think it will have? Are you concerned with the changes to the Astros bullpen? Any prospects you are excited to see get their chance? Do you see a difference in the value of long-relievers as well as bat-first players?