The Tampa Bay Rays have been at the forefront of baseball innovation since Joe Maddon became the manager in 2006. While Maddon is gone, the theme of bringing in innovative coaches is not. The current Rays manager, Kevin Cash, has started the new baseball modernization with “bull penning”.
The ideology of bull penning is the bullpen is used to start a game. This means a good reliever faces what is normally the toughest part of the lineup. Then they give four or five innings over to a long reliever and finally, the bullpen finishes the game. It sandwiches a normal starter between relievers instead of having all of the bullpen pitch after the starter. What this has allowed the Rays to do is integrate their young starting pitchers and relievers into MLB. The whole purpose is that the pitchers are put in the best situation so that they can succeed.
Below is a graph showing some of the relievers most affected by bull-penning, which started on May 19. You can see how the relievers were used differently within their new roles, especially Ryne Stanek and Ryan Yarbrough who have become multi-inning relievers.
|IP before May 19 (44 games)||ERA before May 19||IP after May 19 (88 games)||ERA after May 19|
Overall, bull penning helps maximize the talent of the relievers and the winning potential of a team. The Rays were 22-22 before they began bull penning, they are now at 70-62, as of August 28. They have a similar record to playoff contenders largely from this one change. It is a smart way to attack a lineup. Rather than force a young pitcher to struggle through three rotations of the lineup, he can attack a section of the lineup that he feels more comfortable facing.
What does all of this mean to the LA Angels? Well, they were the first team to officially face this strategy and lost 5-3. While the Angels and Rays are two teams having vastly different seasons, they are more similar than it seems. They both have young pitching with potential as well as no realistic chance of making the postseason this year.
While the Angels have not been a team known to experiment a lot, they should seriously consider bull penning. They have plenty of young arms in the majors right now because of the injuries to their normal rotation. While their bullpen ERA has been great, tenth in the MLB with a 3.73 ERA, their starter ERA has been awful, 20th in MLB with a 4.39 ERA.
The main problem for Angels starters has been the first and second innings where they have a 5.08 ERA, as opposed to all other innings combined where the Angels have a 3.79 ERA. This means the Angels starters have a hard time settling in against the top of lineups. It would make sense to bring in the normal starter after the first or second inning. Bull penning could also help with the confidence of young pitchers like it has for Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow was seen by many as a failing prospect before he was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Rays. Then he was used as a long reliever showcasing his pitching ability in less stressful parts of the game. As a result, his ERA has dropped from 4.34 to 3.80.
Much like the Rays did for Glasnow, the Angels can develop their younger pitchers like Jaime Barria and Felix Pena with this system. The organization seems to like these pitchers, despite their ERAs in the 1st inning, a 5.40 for Barria and an 11.12 for Pena. These two will benefit from pitching later in the game see their numbers improve like Yarbrough and Stanek.
This process would not apply to all pitchers. Tyler Skaggs, for example, posted a 2.62 ERA before struggling in his last two starts. It wouldn’t make sense for a pitcher like that to be used in a different role. The Rays also understand this as their ace, Blake Snell, would not benefit from changing how he is utilized. This highlights that the process is not for pitchers excelling, rather it is for those who struggle
The Angels have always been an organization that works harder, not smarter. Bull penning would be an easy, simple solution to maximize the potential of their pitching. In a season full of injury and disappointment, trying to make some changes with winning in mind would be a welcome change for the organization.
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