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Fetishizing the Late Innings

It takes something extra to close a game. We can't explain it, but we see it all the time. The ninth inning hits and you need a great pitcher to conquer both the butterflies and the batters.

Every time Mariano Rivera jogs in from the bullpen to close a game or to bail out a teammate he reinforces the assumption that only Mariano Rivera can handle the stress of the 9th inning. The fans see it, the reporters see, the players see it.

For the last six or seven years we've searched for a pitcher capable of handling the 8th inning in the same way. It hasn't worked.
And I have bad news: it never will.

It will never happen because we've gone about constructing the bullpen and managing the game in the wrong way.

We talk about the 8th inning, and we talk about the individual's performance. Viz vs Farns vs Flash, none of them can pitch the 8th inning.

But we don't really want the 8th inning pitched. We fetishize the inning when we should be focused on the performance. And that performance is not an individual performance, but the completion of a group project. We want a pitcher to follow other pitchers to the mound and record outs.

Click read more to find out the best way to get that result.

A few months ago I broke down Edwar Ramirez's performance based on which pitcher started the game and who pitched immediately before him. I found, within the small sample size, Edwar pitched his best in relief of guys like Joba and Bruney (guys with good fastballs and power sliders). Conversely, Edwar was at his worst in relief of pitchers with fastballs in the 80s and softer breaking pitches who rely on control (Mussina, Hughes while he was hurt).

A baseball game is like a piece of music. Tension builds and recedes as different instruments (different players) are introduced. A performance by one singer on an accoustic guitar will become predictable at some point. To acheive the best result we need vocal harmonies, we need an instrument playing counterpoint, and we need to vary the tempo of the songs.

Edwar is not fit to pitch the 8th inning because the inning is not of primary importance to his performance. Who pitched before him is.

I want Joe Girardi to go through the season without mentioning his "8th inning guy". The Yanks don't have one on the roster, and they don't need one anyways. What they need to do is choreograph which pitchers are best suited to follow each other.

My prediction for the Yankees' pen is Mo, Farns, Hawkins, Ohlendorf, Albaladejo, Edwar, and Henn. I also expect one of the Trinity to be available out of the pen on certain days.

Farns, Hawkins, and Albaladejo are fastball/slider guys, with speeds decreasing in that order but control increasing. Jonny A also has a change and a curve to show. If I could I'd cut or trade Farnsworth. These three are my primary relievers for Pettitte, IPK, and Moose. They can also follow Wang if his sinker's working and he's not used his slider very much.

Ohlendorf has great control of his high 90s sinker, but not much of a secondary pitch. He was in the Arizona Fall League to work on his splitter, but he hasn't been throwing it long enough to master it. I'd use him in relief of anyone except Wang and perhaps Joba since they throw at similiar speeds.

I've already outlined Edwar's use: he needs to follow the hardest throwers to maximize the deception of his changeup. I'd probably keep him out of games involving Pettitte or IPK unless one of the slider guys has seen some work. Under no circumstance should he and Mussina appear in the same box score.

Henn never recovered his high 90s promise after TJ surgery, and now he sits 90-92 with a curve and a change. I'd probably give him the same usage as Edwar, though he has the advantage of being left handed.