I have long maintained that victories come easier in September for winning teams.  For a quality team, a favorable schedule can be as important as how well the team is playing in September.  This season the Brewers have been fortunate to have already played several poor teams that have started to look ahead to 2012.  While every team expands their rosters at the beginning of September, winning clubs are able to take advantage of this system and use it to their advantage.  The starting pitchers and bullpen give great examples of this principle in action.

A team that is out of the hunt in at the beginning of September is one that fans of the Brewers can remember well, I’m sure.  A losing team has many of the same characteristics.  They are often littered with players who are overpaid, under performing, have an expiring contract, or are thinking about retiring.  Usually, this is when the manager and GM want to take a look at what some of the other younger players can accomplish.  They want to know if the kid can handle the pressure.  Are they merely an AAAA player, or can their skills carry over into the next level?  Certainly, there is only one way to find out.  Hence, guys that started in the Midwest League are pitching meaningful innings in the big leagues to gain experience in September.

Gaining experience usually involves getting your teeth kicked in, picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and trying not to make the same mistake again.  The only way to learn in the big leagues is to make mistakes.  As a result, these players are often in high leverage situations that they wouldn’t normally find themselves a part of, if it were any other month on the calendar.  These young players have to taste disappointment in order to learn and ultimately grow as a player.  This favors veterans and teams that are accustomed to winning.  You saw this principle play itself over and over again with the Astros this past weekend. Whether it is a starter, reliever, or pinch hitter, the advantage seems to go to the veteran in almost all of these matchups.  Life- long Brewers fans can confirm this hard lesson with deadly 100% accuracy.

The bullpen is usually a good indication of where the team sits in the standings.  A team with a fresh bullpen in August indicates a solid starting rotation that often goes deep into games.  This is almost always associated with winning baseball.  Winning teams are afforded the luxury of using the bullpen when they choose, and not when they don’t have any other choice.  It is often misunderstood that a starting staff and a bullpen are symbiotic.  To truly succeed over the long term, they must depend on each other to survive.

A great example of this theory would the Milwaukee Brewers back in the late 90’s and early 2000s. The Brewers often had good bullpens during this forgettable era.  Unfortunately, what Milwaukee did not have was good starting pitching.  The starters would often fall apart and the bullpen would be called upon early and often. By the end of August, the bullpen was in flames and opposing teams would routinely find themselves in high leverage situations with a favorable matchup.  We have all been witness to the soft underbelly of a bullpen being exposed, and the results are not pretty.

This definitely has a carry over into September, when winning teams suddenly have an ever greater advantage.  As a result of a bullpen in flames, these horrid Milwaukee teams had no choice but to use the fresh arms that routinely would appear in September.  These fresh faces were “thrown into the fire” against winning teams making playoff pushes.  Bad teams often compound the problem by inserting players with little or no experience into high leverage situations.  The results are predictable, but how does the same system benefit good teams?

Bullpen arms are truly limitless in September.  Good teams can integrate these arms into regular use without disrupting the flow of the team.  They can have the luxury of carrying an extra LOOGY to use in low leverage situations.  They also have the opportunity to pick and choose their spots and help nurse a player’s confidence and numbers.  When used judiciously, extra bullpen arms can help lessen the workload and also assist good teams to win more games than bad teams.

Quality starting pitching is rare, especially in September.  The toil of the season will reduce the amount of pitching options available at a manager’s disposal.   A good team with a quality group of starters will not rely on minor leaguers in September.  Often, late season call ups are strictly for lessening the load of the bullpen in low leverage situations.  The starters will look to continue to pitch deep into games and this will reduce the amount of opportunities available to young, inexperienced call ups.  As a result, good teams continue to trot out quality pitching night in and night out.

Poor teams however, have a steep uphill climb in terms of starting pitching.  These teams will often have several pitchers down in AAA that they are curious about witnessing.  Giving each pitcher an opportunity in meaningful baseball games is expected and unavoidable.  This often turns into an exercise of gaining experience.  While there are some success stories, often a young starter will learn a harsh lesson the hard way that he has to develop a quality third pitch. Impact September starters do not suddenly appear for bad teams because if they were ready to pitch in the big leagues, they would already have been called up and producing for a team desperate for wins.

When the calendar changes to September, every team in baseball calls up several desired prospects.  If the team is winning, these prospects can help a successful group carry the load with positive contributions in low leverage situations.  If the team is losing, these same call ups often are thrown into the fire and find themselves in high leverage situations that seemingly always favor winning, veteran laden teams.  September is an easier month for good teams to win games because it is the only month out of the year when young, inexperienced players are participating in meaningful innings in the big leagues.   Good baseball teams expose this inexperience and pile on much needed wins in September.

 

A Season You Have Probably Forgotten About by Now

The 1977 season was one of validation for the hated New York Yankees.  After being defeated by the Big Red Machine in the ’76 series, they were able to top the Dodgers to become World Champions for the first time since 1962.  In large part because of the ability of his teammates, the 1977 Cy Young Award went to the Yankees closer, Sparky Lyle .  Lyle was a critical part of the success of the Yankees and helped solidify the bullpen.  He also enabled the team to establish an unrivaled dominance in the American League.  While Lyle may have been incredibly valuable to the Yankees because of their own flaws as a team, it doesn’t necessarily mean he was the best pitcher in the American League in 1977 .

The ‘77 Yankees had an unremarkable collection of starting pitchers, led by recognizable names such as Ron Guidry and Catfish Hunter.  They averaged 6.9 innings per start (second in AL) and had 86 quality starts (third in AL) for the season.  The team was able to get through seven innings most evenings and hand over the lead to Sparky Lyle, who was an expert of multiple inning outings.  In fact, this is probably the chief component to his Cy Young Award argument.  Pundits claimed that his ability to shut teams down in the late innings gave the Yankees a tremendous advantage if a lead was able to be secured.  While that is true, was Lyle’s season truly overwhelming in regards to his competition?  Did he dominate everyone else in the American League to deserve the award as a reliever?  The answer is no, and I can prove it.

There could be an argument made that Lyle wasn’t even the best reliever in his own division.  Red Sox reliever Bill Campbell also had a dynamic 1977 season and had many numbers that are comparable.

Lyle Campbell
Record 13-5 13-9
ERA 2.17 2.96
FIP 3.18 3.71
Games 72* 69
Games Finished 60* 60*
Saves 26 31*
Innings Pitched 137 140
Strikeouts 68 114
Walks 33 60
K/BB 2.06 1.9
WAR 3.6 4.6
ERA+ 183 155
Team Record 100-62 97-64
*led AL

When comparing the two players the initial knee jerk reaction is to look at ERA and FIP and conclude that Lyle was the better pitcher.  Yet, Campbell has a few obvious advantages such as saves, strikeouts, and WAR.  However, there is one aspect of this matchup that we need to examine further.  While Lyle was a dominant multiple inning closer, Campbell wasn’t too bad himself as both players were tied for the league lead in the AL with 60 games finished.  If we look at the length of the outings for each player, a similarly equal picture begins to emerge.

Length of Outing

Lyle

Campbell

2IP+

20

17

3IP+

7

15

4IP+

4

4

5IP+

2

1

6IP

1

0

 

Indeed Lyle was a great multiple inning closer, but Campbell actually had more outings where he pitched three of more innings.  In fact, it looks like Campbell was the greater workhorse.  The number reveal that the 1977 Boston pitching staff averaged only 6.4 innings/start vs. 6.9 innings/start for New York starters.  Hence, Campbell was required to pitch more innings to finish a game than Lyle.  Essentially, Lyle was rewarded for having a better starting pitching staff as teammates than Campbell.  My point is that both of these players were quite similar in nature and could have been exchanged for one another and gotten roughly the same results.  If that is the case, then why was Lyle awarded the Cy Young as a reliever when his season wasn’t all that dominant over his competition?  Could the starting pitching have been that bad for the American League in 1977?

That is simply not the case.  Here are Lyle’s numbers compared next to Jim Palmer and Nolan Ryan:

Lyle Palmer Ryan
Record 13-5 20*-11 19-16
ERA 2.17 2.91 2.77
FIP 3.18 3.47 3.12
Games 72* 39 GS* 37 GS
Games Finished 60* 22 CG* 22 CG*
Saves 26 3 SHO 4 SHO
Innings Pitched 137 319* 299
Strikeouts 68 193 341*
Walks 33 99 204*
K/BB 2.06 1.95 1.67
WAR 3.6 7.9 8.3*
ERA+ 183 132 141
Team Record 100-62 97-64 74-88
*led AL

After you notice the difference in WAR total from Baseball Reference , you will probably notice that both Palmer and Ryan had almost as many complete games (22) as Lyle did saves (26). In fact, when comparing both starting pitchers to Lyle, the numbers are really not even close.  Both starters logged 300 innings and started nearly ¼ of their games for their team.  Clearly Palmer and Ryan had a greater overall impact on their team’s success than Lyle was able to accomplish as a reliever.

Sparky Lyle had a tremendous 1977 season.  He was an essential piece to the Championship Yankees and helped drive them a dynasty in the 70s.  However, being a key piece to a championship team does not necessarily mean that Lyle was the best pitcher in the American League .  The evidence suggests that he wasn’t even dominant over his peers, let alone over a deserved pair of starters in Jim Palmer and Nolan Ryan.  So what did Lyle actually have that allowed him to win the award?  Well, Lyle did have the most successful set of teammates among all parties involved.  In my opinion, this fact alone helped him win a Cy Young award in a season you may have forgotten about by now.

 

Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon

September 8, 2011.   The start of a 4 game home series against the Phillies should provide plenty of opportunity for folks to make this series the obligatory postseason preview.   Many things can change in a month, so I’ll just say that it’s a good opportunity to let everyone in the National League know that it is going to be tough to squeak out a victory when visiting Miller Park in another month.

October 1, 2011 .  Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

 

Shameless Self Promotion

Please don’t forget to follow my Twitter account, @simplekindoffan. If you aren’t following me, then you are missing out on useless tweets such as this .  

Are you traveling or will you miss an upcoming Brewers game because of a MLB black- out?  No worries, the PocketDoppler is here for you.  Brian has you covered with a nightly ‘250 words or less’ summary of what happened for the Brewers.  It is a quick and convenient way to stay on top of the team when the social calendar fills up in the summer.

 

 

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  • http://www.wherethehellisrickieweeks.com Shane

    Go Crew.