Monday, March 27, 2017

Tyler Jay and Baseball's Evolving Bullpen

Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (Photo of Tyler Jay)
Twins fans were recently hit with the news that former first round pick Tyler Jay will be moved to the bullpen. This is disappointing news for many as the team used a high draft pick on a player they hoped could be become a strong starting pitcher.

Even with Jay shifting away from starting pitching, there might be a small ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Baseball's use of relief pitchers has begun to shift in recent years. During last year's postseason fans saw the importance of dominant relief pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.

At the end of January, I wrote about the disappearance of the 200 inning starting pitcher. Managers have pulled starters earlier in games to use team's reliable bullpen arms. Batters are forced to adjust to a new pitcher with a different pitching repertoire. This can be one of the reasons for scoring decreasing across baseball.

Trevor May was a player I hoped could become the Twins version of Andrew Miller. May and Miller both began their careers as starters before being shifted to the bullpen. Unfortunately, May underwent Tommy John surgery last week and he will miss all of the 2017 campaign. This was devastating news for a young player still looking to establish himself.

With May out for the season, Jay has the potential to fill an even more important role in the organiztion. Miller and Jay have many things in common. Both pitchers attended college, throw left-handed, and were selected with the sixth pick in the draft. Miller, like Jay, is more comfortable in a relief pitcher role. The move also means Jay could make his way to Minnesota as soon as this summer.

Jay's "more comfortable in the pen, his stuff plays up and it could put him on the fast track," said Brice Zimmerman, the former radio voice of the Fort Myers Miracle.

Perhaps Minnesota's new baseball operations will utilize a more progressive approach to bullpen usage in the years to come. FanGraphs explains one part of the shift like this:

"During the course of a game, some situations are more tense and suspenseful than others. For instance, we know that a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning is more suspenseful than a one-run lead in the top of the third inning. Batting with two runners on and two outs in the eighth inning is filled with more pressure than batting in the same situation in the second inning. Leverage Index (LI) is merely an attempt to quantify this pressure so we can determine if a player has been used primarily in high-leverage or low-leverage situations."

A team's best pitcher is usually their closer but some teams and managers only use their closer in the ninth inning. What good does it do to leave your best relief arm in the bullpen? (Ask Orioles fans about Zach Britton use in last year's AL Wild Card game) If the opposition has the heart of their line-up coming up in the eighth inning of a one-run game, it makes sense to have your best pitching option on the mound to face their best hitters.

Tyler Jay has the ability and skills to be a high-leverage pitcher. Fans can expect to see his fastball move back up into the mid-90s and his slider could end up being a devastating pitch. He ceiling could be very similar to what fans saw with Glen Perkins during his All-Star seasons.

No one knows if he will be the next Andrew Miller but baseball is changing. Bullpens are evolving and Tyler Jay can still end up being one of the most important pieces of Minnesota's march back to respectability.

1 comment:

TT said...

I think the discussion of bullpens often looks at a single game. But the traditional role of closer has three advantages:

1) The game is on the line and a successful effort will win the game.
2) There is regular and limited use of your best pitcher, maintaining his effectiveness
3) The limited role leaves your best pitcher usually available with the game on the line.

So when you talk about expanding that role you open up all three of those. First, its possible your offense will turn that one run game into a blow-out in the top of the ninth. Its also possible your bullpen will blow the game in the ninth. In both cases, you wasted one of your best pitcher's games. He may not be as effective or even available in the future as result.

Whenever you point to an alternative situation where you could use the closer you need to ask how many times and how often that situation will come up. If you are adding a significant workload then you are likely going to see reduced effectiveness and availability.

Many closers get used to finish the 8th inning when they are rested and the a lesser pitcher runs into trouble. But that is different than handing them the 8th inning every time the heart of the order comes up in a close game. It doesn't make sense to have your closer unavailable because you used him in the 8th. You can end up having a lesser pitcher blow two saves, one trying to finish the closer's 8th inning effort and then again the next day when the closer isn't available.

In short, the closer role is not based on what works best for a single game but what works best over the course of a season.