Mariners should get creative in replacing the fallen King

Apr 7, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais (9) looks on in the dugout in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais (9) looks on in the dugout in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

On Sunday, the Seattle Mariners will start Chase De Jong in place of Felix Hernandez, who was placed on the 10 day DL with shoulder tightness. The Mariners can weather the storm if they are willing to use this outside of the box strategy.

The strategy the Mariners could employ is called “bullpenning”. A favorite of MLB Network anchor Brian Kenny, bullpenning is quite simple. It is a strategy for the most effective way to manage a pitching staff on days in which your ace is not pitching. Here is the simple breakdown.

The Idea

Bullpenning is based in a very simple idea: forget traditional baseball rules. When you allow yourself to think outside the box, you can still take advantage of the system. For example; Imagine that you have never watched a baseball game. You know the basic rules, but have no idea where a defender typically stands. Then I hand you a chart that showed where one batter usually hit the baseball. Where would you position your defenders?

It is highly unlikely that you would end up with our traditional positions. Bullpenning uses this same system. In this strategy, roles are obsolete. There are no more starters, instead there is an opener. The opener typically only goes through the order once, a max of 3 innings. Then, instead of allowing Major League hitters to see the same guy twice, you change pitchers.

Apr 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Chase De Jong (35) reacts after giving up a three run walk off game winning home run against the Houston Astros in the 13th inning at Minute Maid Park. Houston Astros won 5 to 3.Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

If you can get past the idea that a “starter” should go 5-7 innings, you can leverage your bullpen properly and, in theory, win more games. The basic concept is simple: a pitcher with a fresh arm, facing a hitter for the first time is always better than a tiring pitcher facing a hitter for the 2nd or 3rd time.

Kenny breaks it down simply in an interview he gave with Beyond the Box Score :

"I write about three-point shooting in the NBA. There’s a comparison between what Larry Bird was doing and what Steph Curry is doing. You have Larry Bird! It’s not like he was a guy who didn’t have a shot. You have Downtown Freddy Brown a decade before him! Why wouldn’t you use these guys? If knowing that this is in our nature—not to push it all in, to go incrementally so that the herd is with us and doesn’t dislike us—what if we know that that’s a part of our blind spot?What if the next time you recognize a competitive advantage, why don’t you just jump there, get there? Next time you realize you recognize bullpenning, why not just do it? This guy goes two innings, this guy goes one, this guy goes three. Why are we running this guy out for six innings until he’s exhausted and gives up three runs? That’s something we know right now, and yet we can’t get there."

Implementing the Strategy

The Seattle Mariners are already uniquely suited to attempt this on Sunday against the Cleveland Indians. The team has 8 relievers. James Paxton will go on Monday. Paxton averages 7 IP per start, so the bullpen should not be over worked. The plan is simple:

Chase De Jong gets through the order once, ideally  3 innings, but lets just say it happens in 2. The team takes De Jong out and bring in LHP Dillon Overton, recently recalled from AAA Tacoma. Overton gets to face the order 1 time through.

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Now, the game is in the 5th inning, the Indians have yet to see the same pitcher twice, and manager Scott Servais is free to use the rest of his bullpen as he sees fit, mixing and matching the best matchups with his 6 remaining relievers to get the last 10-15 outs.

Dispatching the worries

One of the easiest things to do in baseball is attack a new way of thinking. Bullpenning is new to most fans, but that does not make it a bad idea. The common arguments against are silly.

” You’re bullpen will be exhausted for the next week!”

That’s right I forgot. You have to stick with the same pitchers all year. There isn’t any kind of depth on some farm team 30 minutes away from Safeco Field. It isn’t complicated. Simply send down De Jong or Overton, and callup new relievers. Then in 5 days when you need bullpenning again, send down the original callup for a starter like Chris Heston or Rob Whalen.

There is no reason to not taxi up a 24th or 25th man on your roster on a consistent basis, especially if you are keeping 8 men in your bullpen.

“Relievers need to know their roles to succeed”

Not really. A relievers role, and for that matter all pitchers roles, is to collect as many outs as the can while giving up the fewest runs possible. That is it. Your role and your job are the same whether you pitch the 2nd inning or the 9th.

Even Edwin Diaz, after recording his first career save last August, said he felt no difference pitching in the 9th than he did in the 8th. Roles are made up. They mean nothing. If a pitcher cannot understand how to pitch without knowing his “role”, he doesn’t need to be on your big league roster.

Next: Mariners v. Tigers: 3 Up, 3 Down

The Seattle Mariners need to start winning games. Chase De Jong cannot possibly be expected to give the team everything it would have gotten from Felix Hernandez. So instead of trying to replace King Felix, why not just recreate him in the aggregate.