Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mr. Dave Sheinin must live through a premature coronation

The opening paragraph to his July 28 Washington Post story: OAKLAND, Calif. --" A beautiful gift fell from the sky this spring and landed at the feet of the Boston Red Sox. It was so radiant, they didn't know what to do with it at first. So precious, they have come to treat it with exceptional care. So powerful, the mind races at what the future could hold. For now, however, it is simply a gift that should be shared with and enjoyed by the world. All behold, Jonathan Papelbon."
  • So, after 4 months of regular season experience, this is what you get. He includes a photo of the pitcher grimmacing and punching his fist high in the air in victory. Such a visual is often used in other media like ESPN. Then, Sheinin says there
"could be a huge haul of hardware this season. Papelbon is a leading contender for rookie of the year.

But a case can also be made for Papelbon as a contender for the MVP and/or Cy Young Award. Such consideration is not unprecedented. In 1989, Baltimore's Gregg Olsen won rookie of the year, finished sixth in the voting for the Cy Young and 12th for MVP. And in 1981, Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers won the rookie and Cy Young awards in the NL and finished fifth in the voting for MVP."

  • So Sheinin is giving him 3 post season awards already from the BBWAA. Annoints Papelbon as an ace, totally reliable relief pitcher, hands down, probably in history.
But 9 days later, Sheinin must've changed his mind. On August 6 he wrote a whole column about how there are no consistent relief pitchers, they don't exist, you can't ever count on them, & gives quotes from a few managers in the game. This column came out after Papelbon blew the save at Tampa Bay, the team eventually losing the game. Sheinin makes no reference to his former savior St. Papelbon, the "precious" and "beautiful gift." He says, "Look around the leagues, and it's difficult to find a team that is fully satisfied with its bullpen.

So why is it so hard to build a great bullpen?

The simple answer is because relievers, more than any other specific type of player, are alarmingly inconsistent from year to year."

  • Of course, Dave still hasn't said word one about St. Papelbon the Divine or the Red Sox. But he soon reveals they're on his mind.
To prop up his thesis-- he quotes, "You can have the best scouts in the room and all the money in the world, but with bullpen guys, you don't know what you're getting from year to year," said Atlanta Braves assistant GM Frank Wren."
  • Sheinin continues to avoid addressing his own recent reporting by talking about last year.
"Indeed, a glance at a list of the top 25 relievers in the majors last season, based on opponents' batting average (a better gauge of a reliever's effectiveness than ERA), shows how fleeting bullpen success can be. Only four pitchers from that list are in the top 25 again this season (through Thursday's games)."
  • Now Dave sticks the knife in:
"For proof of how impossible it is to build a great bullpen, look no further than the New York Yankees. At their best, during the late 1990s dynasty, they had the formula nailed -- first with Mariano Rivera setting up for John Wetteland, and later with Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson setting up for Rivera."
  • First Mariano only set-up for Wetteland for 1 year, 1996, not for "the late 1990's dynasty." In fact, in Rivera's first post season appearance in 1995, HE relieved Wetteland for 3 scoreless extra innings and got the Win--but Dave I guess doesn't know that. Dave, if you looked at the big picture, the 11 years of MVP dominance of Mariano Rivera has caused some of the nightmare of scrambling and paying for relief pitching. He's been the main reason the Yankees have won the pennant for 10 consecutive years, & that's been affirmed by a number of managers and top hitters in the game. But that sort of interferes with the point you're trying to make. (Maybe you'd refer to it as "ho-hum dominance," as one informed but honest Red Sox blog described it).
It's been said often the Yankees encouraged Rivera to be a ground ball pitcher, in part to extend his career. So far, he's the only late inning relief pitcher in history to have pitched in 11 regular seasons and 11 post seasons consecutively, with a negligible amount of time out for health problems. If you're really concerned about this subject, Dave, you might want to look into why more teams don't do that with their bullpen pitchers. I guess you don't consider Mariano's 909.3 IP in late inning relief to be approaching longevity or consistency. ( Not including his innings as a starter, of course, in 1995, just 798.1 innings 1996-2006 YTD in regular season and 111.2 IP in post season= 909.3) And not including his IP in All Star games.

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