Relief Heavy

Chris's decision to not even attempt to draft a good starting rotation in favor of grabbing a deep bullpen has been one of the largest points of discussion in SL 2001. Was it successful? Is it a strategy worth repeating in future SL seasons? What conditions made it possible? Was it a practical decision? I can't answer all of these, but hopefully I can give some insights as you all try to answer these questions on your own.

Was it successful? Yes, Chris did make the playoffs, but he only lasted 5 games in the playoffs. If he was in either of the other 2 divisions, his 82-80 record wouldn't have earned him a playoff spot. And this was the worst record in Chris's history. Of course, these points are all somewhat red herrings, as not all of the above points can be directly attributed to the decision/strategy, so we need to dig deeper. Let's do that by looking at the individual stats of the pen, then the team total.

          W   L    PCT   S    ERA    G   IP       H    R   ER  HR
Myers     6   5   .545  14   2.10   64   64.1    39   16   15   7
Hernandez 9   4   .692   5   3.43   68  107.2    84   47   41  20
Simas    10   5   .667   1   3.88   53   95.0    75   48   41  19
Nelson   10   7   .588   2   4.29   66  100.2    71   58   48  10
Sullivan 14   7   .667   1   4.44   79  150.0   161   88   74  23
Izzy      2   2   .500   1   4.55   61   95.0    97   53   48  15
Jones     6   2   .750   0   4.85   50   91.0    95   52   49  15
Franco    2   4   .333   2   5.57   56   72.2    64   47   45  18

         59  36   .621  26   4.30  497  776.1   686  409  371 127

On paper, Chris's bullpen wasn't all that impressive: Myers was his best, a lefty 18, but he was severely limited in his innings. Nelson, as a 19 with an H, was a positive, but he had a big negative in his W. Roberto was solid as a 14 Z, but the rest of the group was as Greg described in his season preview, "mostly just a bunch of guys who aren't 7Zs." So with a mostly unimpressive pen, how successful was Chris in getting a .621 winning percentage in 95 decisions from this group, to go along with the 26 saves and 4.30 ERA? My best guess is he was very successful in getting this performance, in the context that offenses were so very dominant in 2001 and most everyone else's bullpen had some measure of difficulty. What I mean is that if the average pen had a slightly lower ERA, say, 4.00, and but pitched only an average of 3 innings per game (vs. Chris's 4.79 innings per game), there were a lot more starting pitching innings afoot ... and on average, that meant the average starting staff ERA of say, 5.50, rose the team ERA above Chris's team ERA of 4.93.

Is it a strategy worth repeating? This is hard to say, given all the changes that will happen in our league and within MLB, but I would think the answer is yes. What also leads me to that conclusion would be the fact Chris was not the first GM to draft without even attempting to field an "effective" starting rotation.

In 1996, Ken's Hanrahans waited until everyone else in the league had a full starting 5 before taking his first rotation starter. This was a much different decision, in a much different SL. There were only 7 teams in the SL that year, SL relief rules were more open, and MLB had yet to reach it's offensive megolomaniacal apex, so the talent pool among the starters and relievers was deeper. Ken's staff, made up of the worst starters in the SL, was a collection of 11Z's and 10Z's (not quite 6Z's, 7Z's and 9W's). Additionally, he was able to balance this better than Chris ever would have dreamed, by picking a very impressive pen -- Mesa (round 1, 26Z), Casian (round 9, lefty 20), Wohlers (round 11, 19Z), Ruffin (round 13, lefty 20W), Patterson (round 15, lefty 15Z), and Wickander (round 13, 17Z). Ken traded Ruffin mid-year, but here are the stats of the rest of his relievers:

           ERA  W  L  PCT  S   G  IP     H   R  ER HR   K  BB
Mesa      2.27 11 11 .500 21  59 119.0  79  38  30 11 120  46 
Casian    3.24  5  2 .714  5  40  61.1  38  22  22  6  29  24 
Wohlers   1.76  6  2 .750  2  58 107.2  64  24  21  8 108  41 
Patterson 3.70  3  2 .600  0  55 102.2  84  54  42 17  79  30 
Wickander 3.11  2  2 .500  2  28  49.2  32  18  17  3  31  14

          2.76 27 19 .587 30 240 430.1 297 156 132 45 377 155

While Chris drafted a successful offense, Ken bettered him and was able to draft an offense that led the league in runs scored. But just like Chris, Ken's team provided him his worst record up to that point. And he barely made the playoffs. And if he was in a different division, he may have missed the playoffs. And, as well as these relievers pitched, the Hanrahan's ERA was last in the SL.

So again, is it a strategy worth repeating? The above stats make me think a deep pen and no starting can only get you so far, but with limited options, only getting "so far" may be better than getting nowhere. And as it was with in Chris's situation, the opportunity to pick players as good as Sosa and Abreu may tilt the decision toward grabbing offense and force the strategy toward a deep pen.

What conditions made this decision possible? I have a quick answer to this one ... Chris's maverick Draft Day decisions. Not only the infamous trade, which meant Gil Heredia was the best available starter when Chris got around to picking again, but his decision to go for Nomar and Hidalgo in rounds 2 and 3 because of their impressive numbers, especially their huge extra-base hit numbers, and his subsequent decision to take the highly rated Nelson and Myers in rounds 4 and 5, as I said before, pitchers with high numbers, but some severe limitations. Not that these were wrong decisions, but there were probably more obvious picks out there and definitely more safe picks that Chris could have made.

That's the quick answer. The quicker answer is a very thin talent pool of starting pitching.

Was it a practical decision? Again, a quick answer, is the earlier maverick decisions made it the only practical decision. Chris said himself in his season review that he didn't really plan on scrapping attempts at getting starting pitching until after his moves in the first 6 rounds. At that point, yes, it was practical. In retrospect, not investing much early on in pitching and his shrewd offensive picks in these rounds were able to give him one of the better run differentials in the league, something that, mixed with better luck (if you believe in that abstract concept), could have provided him with the top record in the league.

In conclusion, I think Chris did well to get the relief production he did and was able to make his situation successful, I think such a strategy will probably present itself again, and I think Chris forced himself into the decision with some bold early Draft Day moves, a decision that was his best practicality given those moves.

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