The strategy of “bullpenning” is close to becoming groupthink and the Cleveland Indians were hurt by the strategy they made famous this postseason.
Terry Francona started a revolution back in 2016.
Get four or five innings of work from your starting pitcher and then let your bullpen go to work.
If he needed Cody Allen or Andrew Miller, he wasn’t going to wait for the ninth inning to deploy their arms. It might’ve been too late at that point. He didn’t hesitate to put in his top arm with an out in the fourth inning if the situation called for it.
But don’t forget. Francona did it out necessity.
It was brilliant. Francona was already a living legend at the time, having been the manager of the Red Sox when Boston broke the Curse of the Bambino. His genius stock only rose with his management of the pen.
And as is the case in professional sports, the copy cats came out of the wood work as teams tried to duplicate Tito’s formula.
But somewhere along the way, the bullpen strategy is dangerously close to becoming groupthink itself, as so eloquently put by Friend of the Factory, Chris Adams.
Game 3 is the perfect example.
Why the heck did Mike Clevinger have to leave that game? His line, in case you forgot: 5 innings, three hits, three walks and nine, I repeat, NINE strikeouts! My 65-year-old mother has yet to manage a World Series winner, yet she also wondered why the “guy with the long hair” had to be taken out.
It’s like Tito made the move because he’s high on his own supply. He invented this “bullpenning” craze, and he was going to darned sure to use it.
In defeat, one anonymous Tribe player grumbled that the 2016 team was the worst of the past three, and that squad made it the Fall Classic. The Indians’ “Moneyballed” that year doing something no other team had tried, and it paid off.
After all, is that what “Moneyball” comes down to? Do what others aren’t and exploit the advantages?
Perhaps the next wave in MLB will be teams circling back to old strategies in order to gain advantages.
There was a time, not too long ago, when starting pitchers could pitch late into games during the postseason.
Ask new Hall of Famer Jack Morris how he would’ve felt being pulled out of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. How many innings did he hurl in that memorable win? 10! Mic drop.
The biggest strength of this Indians’ team was its staring pitching. Through ineffectiveness (Corey Kluber in Game 1), or with Tito pulling the trigger too early in Games 2 and 3, the Tribe certainly didn’t act like it.