The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 21, 2013

Thoma column: In the LCS, bullpens trumped aces


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Not-so-random thoughts about the Cardinals and Red Sox and how they got to the World Series ...

Trumping the aces: The four teams playing in the two League Championship Series boasted among them four men who have won Cy Young Awards (Zach Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Jake Peavy and Justin Verlander); a fifth who is likely to win one this year (Max Scherzer) and a sixth who hasn’t won the award but has three seasons of that quality (Adam Wainwright).

Those six combined to make nine of the 24 starts in the two series. None of them were matched against each other.

Their teams went 1-8 in those nine games. Only Greinke won even once.

Unproven closers: All four LCS teams swapped out closers at least once during the season because of injuries and ineffectiveness, and some of them went through the process repeatedly.

Jason Motte was the St. Louis ninth-inning guy, but he injured his elbow in March and had Tommy John surgery in May. Mitchell Boggs opened the season as the Cards’ closer but soon gave way to Edward Mujica, who compiled 37 saves with a 2.78 ERA — and lost the job to Trevor Rosenthal. Counting spring training, that’s four closers.

Similar stories in Boston (Joel Hanrahan followed by Andrew Bailey followed by Koji Uehara), Los Angeles (Brandon League followed by Kenley Jansen) and Detroit, which at one point was desperate enough to try to revive the career of Jose Valverde.

Moral of the story, again: Bullpens are always a work in progress, even good ones.

Frowning on Smyly: Drew Smyly lost out on the fifth starter job in Detroit, but the young lefty thrived in the bullpen in a set-up role. He led the Tigers in relief innings (76) and compiled a nice 2.37 ERA while working more than an inning per outing.

Benoit was the most effective bullpen arm in Jim Leyland’s arsenal, but Smyly was a close second.

And then in the playoffs, Leyland treated Smyly strictly as a LOOGY, refusing to let him face righties. Smyly was already gone when the two series-altering grand slams were struck by the Red Sox.

John Farrell, the manager on the other side of the field, didn’t make that mistake with Craig Breslow, another lefty reliever who had been more than a specialist. Breslow did a lot of heavy lifting in middle relief for the Red Sox. Smyly, not so much.

A pitching manager: Farrell is a rarity: A manager with a pitching background.

The overwhelming majority of skippers were position players. Relatively few hurlers get to be managers; they tend to hit a glass ceiling as pitching coaches.

I don’t see any structural reason for pitchers to be excluded from managing. To really understand pitching, you have to understand hitting, and vice versa.

The most successful pitcher-turned-manager was Tommy Lasorda, of course. Farrell is obviously a long way from Lasorda’s status, but (a) helming this team to the World Series is going to get him more time in the position and (b) he’s got the job for a team with resources.

Farrell might be on his way to a long and illustrious managerial career.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.