Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Of pitchers and pitching

A conversation between Mets GM, Frank Cashen , and another National League GM once went the following way one late 1980's winter meeting:

NL GM: "What are you looking for?"

Cashen: "Pitching."

NL GM: "Thats too bad. I was hoping to talk about pitching."

Armed with the Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Rick Aguillera starting staff, Cashen still craved pitching. The day's mantra that you couldn't have too much pitching endures. Yet when chemistry problems with a once extremely tight staff developed, a wiser Frank Cashen later concluded that you couldn't have too much pitching, but you could have, well, too many pitchers.
Of course, like all of us, major league GM's don't have crystal balls. But wise ones, like the Mets Omar Manaya take history lessons. Consider this Mets off-season.
Manaya made the obvious observation. Lots of quality starters. But we gotta do something about that bullpen. Why not trade strength for weakness.
Only the extremely fortunate presence of Pedro Martinez made Braden Looper's main stage blown saves a knock down and not a knock out. As it was, the hardened Martinez' leads frequently victimized by Looper's bad outings, often lead to solid starts five days later. But previous malfeasance by a Boston bullpen may have left Martinez accustomed to such events. He wouldn't throw Looper under the bus, but Minaya knew the Mets couldn't and wouldn't go through another season of ninth inning futility.
Exit Looper. Enter Billy Wagner. And enter does Wagner with the reputation for getting the last three outs. Mission accomplished Minaya. Now on to the rest of the bullpen.
Minaya's quote this week indicating that its harder to get relievers than starters now is quite telling. The game's changed and perhaps in transition. And analysis of statistics and rosters might show that a new focus and value is placed on bullpens than was, say, 15 years ago. Rosters in the late 80's and early 90's routinely kept 10 or even 9 pitchers. Managers often carried three catchers or kept a back-up shortstop. It was more about pinch-hitting and double-switches and such. Now it appears that 25-man rosters carry 11 to 12 pitchers. Extra arms are in the bullpen, rather than fannies on the bench.
The fine columnist of the New York Daily News, John Harper speaks to this today specifically to the Mets. href="http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/story/385737p-327332c.html">http://www.newyorkdailynewssports
Unlike Cashen twenty years prior, Minaya seized the opportunity and dealt from strength to acquire what his team desperately needed to keep pace with the ever changing game.
He traded pitching to get pitchers. Or is it the other way around? I'm never sure.

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