Red Sox: Batter’s third time up stat alters bullpen depth

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 19: Starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 19: Starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz /

A new stat–“batter’s third time up”– is causing all MLB teams, including the Boston Red Sox to take another look at their bullpen depth.

With the discovery of a single statistic, many MLB teams, including the Red Sox, are taking another look at their bullpens.

Let’s call that stat “batter’s third time up.”

In their initial at-bat in games, hitters posted a .724 OPS against starters, which jumped to .783 the second time through and .801 the third time, according to Statspass.

If managers are increasingly under pressure to give the quick hook to starters, so they can hit the showers, before their critical third time through the batting order.

Then management must provide enough bullpen arms to respond to the early departure of starting pitchers, as early at the 5th inning, and this raises questions about how many pen men are required on the roster.

For example, if you decide to add a pitcher or two to the pen, which other slots on offense do you cut?  This typically would result in a manager coming up short for pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, and late-inning defensive replacements.

For proof that some teams are already responding to this new statistic, check out the number of signings of veteran set-up pitchers during the recent Winter Meetings:

Rockies – $27 million over 3 years on both Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw.

Cubs – two-year contracts to Brandon Morrow ($21 million) and Steve Cishek ($13 million)

Phillies – Tommy Hunter ($18 million) and Pat Neshek ($16.25 million).

Mariners – Juan Nicasio ($17 million, 2-years)

Astros – Joe Smith ($15 million, 2-years)

Mets – Anthony Swarzak ($14 million, 2-years)

Yes, even the lowly Mets are riding the new wave.

Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson explained to Mike Puma of the New York Post that looking at how pitchers fare deeper into games alters how they view constructing a bullpen.

"“If a guy has a bad track record going through the third time in the lineup and he starts an inning a third time through the lineup with a hit, and now he walks somebody, how long are you going to wait?” Alderson asked. “I think the numbers are informing these managerial decisions. I don’t think it’s even close. Again, as long as you have the bullpen capacity.”"

Alderson speculates that, to implement the “3 ABs and Done” method, a team would need a 12-man bullpen.

Currently, the Red Sox have closer, Craig Kimbrel, and eleven other potential pen mates listed on the 40-man roster.

Thus, Dombroski is in synch with the new wave and has provided his new manager, Alex Cora, with the number of bullpen bodies required to implement the quick hook for starters.  But quantity does not automatically translate into quality, as the Red Sox discovered in 2017 when the 6th and 7th innings too often became disasters.

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Take another look at that list of Red Sox relievers and ask yourself:  “Are you feelin’ lucky?”

In the Old Days, starters frequently threw complete games, before there were “closers.”  Cy Young of the Red Sox racked up 749 complete games during his 22-year career.  Of the 815 games he started, he completed 749 and was 511-316 with a career ERA of 2.63 from 1890-1911.

In the Modern era, Roger Clemens had 118 CG out of 707 GS; career 354-184, 3.12, 24 years.

With the advent of stats, the days of that many complete games are long gone, according to Alderson:

"“The game is about probability,” Alderson said. “The new metrics we have substitute data for baseball truisms that no longer are valid. If you know he’s not effective after 75 pitches, why do you wait until 85 to take him out?“You’ve got the data. Let’s say it’s not even the third time through the lineup. Let’s say his spin rate goes down by 20 percent. Or the angle on his two-seamer flattens out. These are all things that are readily available in real time, and you can actually make decisions predicated on that information.“Ten years ago, five years ago, that information didn’t exist.”"

Moneyball demonstrated the correlation between stats and success for the Oakland Athletics and other teams have begun to allow decisions, both on and off the field, to be more data-driven.

Next: Could the Red Sox trade Hanley Ramirez?

If his manager, Alex Cora, follows the trend and begins to give his starters the hook after the 5th inning, Dombroski, must find quality relievers to fill those precarious innings, who can hand a lead over to their nonpareil closer, Kimbrel.