Posts Tagged ‘relief pitching’

Inherited Runners

January 28, 2014
ever need this when watching a game?

ever need this when watching a game?

Baseball has some strange rules. Some of them go so far as to make a mockery of statistics, giving out good stats for a failed performance. Take the following, for instance:

Our heroic pitcher, ole “Speedball” Smith has pitched a masterpiece. He’s gone eight shutout innings. He’s walked two, one of which was thrown out stealing. He’s struck out seven and allowed three hits, all singles. Now it’s the top of the ninth and here comes “Speedy” to open the inning. He’s greeted with a little roller that’s headed right to our second baseman “Butterfingers” Bungler. It’s close, but the runner slips into first just ahead of the throw for the fourth hit of the day for the bad guys.

It’s crisis time for our beloved manager “Sweatshirt” Grimes. It looks like “Speedy” is tiring, so out pops “Sweaty” to the mound. After a brief conversation he motions to the bullpen for his righty. In comes our intrepid reliever “Bicarb” Jones. He enters to the accompaniment of the organ grinding out “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh, what a relief it is.”.  Jones takes a few warm up tosses, then fans the first batter. He strikes out the second, then grooves one to the third batter who proceeds to triple into center. The runner on first scores standing up. Then Jones strikes out the next batter and the half inning ends with us guys losing. And in the bottom of the ninth the team pops three straight pitches to the shortstop and the game ends with us still losing. Bummer, right?

But hang on a minute. There’s more bummer to follow here. Think for a moment about what happens to the stat lines of both pitchers in the situation above. “Speedball” picks up a couple of positive stats: strikeouts, innings pitched. He also gets a few negative stats: walks, hits, a run, and a loss. His ERA probably goes down after giving up one run in eight innings, but it’s possible it might go up depending on how early in the season we’re talking about. So it’s quite a mixed bag for ole “Speedy.”

Now take a look at what happens to “Bicarb’s” stats. He gets almost all positive. He gets  an inning pitched, he adds three strikeouts, and his ERA drops. His only negative is that he gave up a hit. In the situation above there was no save situation so he gets no “blown save” either. But he doesn’t get a “hold” either, you say. True, but there’s no “botched hold” stat to reflect “Bicarb” not doing his job well.

I’ve always disliked the “inherited runners” rule. I understand why it’s there and I understand how the “blown save” rule can assist in punishing the reliever who gives up the hit that scores the inherited base runner.  But sometimes the blown save rule just doesn’t apply and that seems a little unfair. Now I know that if “Sweatshirt” (in the situation above) is a good manager, he doesn’t let good ole “Bicarb” pitch much again if this is a common problem, but not every manager is Casey Stengel and only contemporaries are going to understand why Jones didn’t do a lot of pitching in the latter part of the season because his stat line won’t reflect the problem.

I have no idea how to change the rule. I accept that the guy who put the runner on base needs to have his stats adversely effected, but I kind of wish they’d dun the reliever’s stats also. Just a tirade for you to think about.

The First Great Reliever

February 24, 2010

Firpo Marberry

This is the story of Firpo Marberry. He wasn’t the first reliever. As far back as the National Association (1871-75) pitchers failed to complete games and relievers were employed. But as a rule relievers weren’t specialists, they didn’t make careers coming out of the bullpen. Some, like Carl Mays or Dave Danforth, had a year or so in relief then went on to be a starter, while others were older guys just hanging on. But Marberry came to the Major Leagues as a reliever and was so good at it he set records.

Fred Marberry was from Texas. After a couple of years in the minors, he got to the big leagues in late 1923 with the Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins). In some ways it was a perfect place to create a relief specialist. The Senators’ main pitcher, Walter Johnson, was aging (35). Number two pitcher, George Mogridge, was only a year younger (remember this is 1923 when careers are generally shorter) and most of the rest of the staff was pretty mediocre with high ERA’s, poor walk to strikeout ratios, and all four guys who started more than 30 games gave up more hits than they had innings pitched (including Johnson). So there was going to be a lot of relief work available. Additionally, owner Clark Griffith was a former Major League pitcher and manager who had used himself as a reliever in the latter part of his career. He knew the value of a good bullpen man, and in Marberry he found one.

In his rookie season, Marberry went 4-0 with a 2.80 ERA in 11 games, (seven in relief). The Senators finished fourth. The next season they won the American League pennant. Now let’s not be hasty and award Marberry primacy of place as the reason. The team made a change of manager (Bucky Harris replaced Donie Bush), Johnson turned his career around and had a terrific year (23-7 and led the league in ERA, shutouts, strikeouts–just your basic Walter Johnson year), Mogridge and Tom Zachery had good years on the mound. Six of the eight regulars improved their batting averages while four improved their slugging percentage. And then there was Marberry. He pitched in 60 games, starting only 14 (and completing six of them). He went only 11-12, but put up a 3.09 ERA (good for the period), and saved a record 15 games (he didn’t know that). The Senators won the series in seven games with Marberry taking a loss, picking up two saves, and posting a series low ERA of 1.13. The next year he pitched 55 games, all in relief, again posting 15 saves. Again the Senators headed to the World Series, this time dropping the series in seven games. Marberry had one save and a zip ERA.

The Senators fell back after 1925, no body was going to keep up with the Murder’s Row Yankees, but Marberry kept on. He got 22 saves in 1926, a new record that lasted until 1949, 11 in 1928, and 13 in 1932 (for teams that finished fourth, fourth, and third). Along the way he started a handful of games, topping out at 25 in 1931, the first year he’d started more than he relieved. After 1932 he was traded to Detroit.

So what have you got at this point? Marberry pitched 465 games with Washington, starting 138.  His record was 117-69 (a winning pecentage of .629) with an ERA in the threes and 96 saves.

Detroit tried to make him a starter. It worked. He was 16-11 and 15-5 in his first two years as a Tiger. He started 51 of 75 games and had a total of five saves. His ERA was decent in 1933, but rocketed above four in 1934. Detroit got to the World Series in 1934, losing to Dizzy Dean and the Gas House Gang Cardinals in seven. Marberry pitched twice, both in mop up relief roles registering a terrible ERA and having no decisions. The 1934 season was his last good one. He pitched only five games in 1935 (when he was 36), developing unspecified arm trouble. Released by Detroit, he spent the season umpiring in the American League, refusing to arbitrate games involving his old Senators team (but apparently agreeing to ump Tigers games). His last season was 1936. He pitched a third of an inning for the Giants before being sent back to Washington for a five game close out of his big league career. He returned to the minor leagues and played until 1941. He retired in his home state of  Texas and died in 1976.

For his career, Marberry was 148-88 (.627 winning percentage-a top forty number among pitchers wth 100 wins), with 101 saves, an ERA of 2.63, 822 strikeouts and 686 walks in 2067 innings. The save total was a record when he retired. By 1946, it would fall to third all-time (Jack Russell and Johnny Murphy) remaining there  until the 1970’s explosion of relief pitching. They invented the save statistic in the 1960’s, while Marberry was still alive. I have no idea if he knew he had 101 and was third ever.

As an aside, the nickname “Firpo” comes from a resemblence to the heavyweight boxer of the era Luis Firpo. Marberry didn’t like the nickname. It stuck anyway.