September 26, 2017 – #Bullpenning and the Wild Card Game

Here’s an excerpt of the latest edition of Penning Bull, which is actually about bullpenning–specifically, the case for the Yankees doing just that during the Wild Card Game against the Twins.

There’s never been a team better positioned to turn the Wild Card Game into a bullpen game, and that’s exactly what the Yankees should do. With those six guys, they should be able to easily rack up 27 outs, and they’d probably strike out 15 or 16 batters along the way. That would save Severino (who, instead, will start the game) for Game 1 in Cleveland or Houston, and leave him one start fresher if the team ends up going to the World Series and needs to push him far past his previous workload thresholds. He’s only 23, after all, and while he’s been stretched out to about 162 innings in previous seasons, he’s going to top 190 before the calendar even turns to October.

It’s not even certain that Severino would give the team a better chance to win the Wild Card Game itself than the six-headed relief monster would, and that’s really where the rubber meets the road. The playoff schedule is so pockmarked with days off that using Severino in the Wild Card Game won’t really hurt New York. If the Yankees win that game, they’ll have the following day off for travel. Then, after two games in either Houston or Cleveland, they’ll get another travel day to come back to New York for Game 3 of the ALDS. Severino could pitch that game on regular rest even after appearing in the Wild Card Game, which we tend to forget. It’s what the Giants did with Madison Bumgarner last October, and the Cubs with Jake Arrieta the year before. In fact, the winning starter in the Wild Card Game has gone on to start Game 3 of the Division Series seven out of 10 times. This is why most teams don’t even entertain extreme strategies in the Wild Card Game: there’s too little gained by manipulating things that way. Severino’s youth and the Yankees’ exceptional relief corps tip the balance, but in most cases, even ardent statheads have moved on from the idea that teams should bullpen their way through that contest. That’s not the way we expected it to be when this system was first put in place, though.

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