Friday, January 12, 2007

Late Innings!

I've long believed that as many as a third of a teams games played, are determined by their late inning performance. Successful teams frequently not only have the ability to manufacture that insurance run or chip away at their opponents lead one run at a time, but they also have a manager that can strategically employ his bullpen.

Nothing creates opportunity to manufacture runs more importantly than having men on base. That's when the dynamic of plate discipline is most crucial getting men on base and also advancing them to score.

Of course the flip side in the outcome of these close games is in the teams ability to hold the lead. The role of the late inning relievers and their use is critical for the team to have success in these close games.

Even with the holes in the Cubs lineup last year, 30 games under 500 was more a result of poor fundamental play and late inning mismanagement of the bullpen, than not having enough talent.

I realize many people have differing opinions on the ability of MLB hitters to change their approach at the plate, but I insist it most certainly can be improved on. Can a different approach turn a 250 hitter into a 300 hitter? Probably not, but you can't tell me that me that laying down a bunt is beyond what all everyday players can't master, or that understanding what the game situation calls for, ie; working the count just to stay alive long enough for the pitcher to throw a couple of extra pitches and possibly make a mistake are skills that can't be taught.

One of the raps on Dusty before he ever arrived in Chicago, was his mishandling of the pitching staff. Especially late in the game.

One of the Cubs reported strengths going into last season was to be their bullpen. It's true the rotation was in a mess and the bullpen had to be strained, but spreading the work load more evenly and keeping your closer fresh, were decisions that Baker didn't seem capable of understanding. Howry, 3.17 ERA, pitched in 84 games but Wuertz, 2.66 ERA, only 41. They both were the Cubs most effective RHRP but Novoa, 4.26 ERA racked up 76 innings while the noted workhorse Eyre, 3.38 ERA, who'd demonstrated he could get righties out as effectively as lefties only pitched 61 innings. How does the LH specialist Ohman, 4.13 ERA, pitch more innings than Eyre? Dempster had long stretches, as many as 10 games, without throwing a pitch. That more than anything else probably contributed to his late season swoon.

Pinella must demonstrate he understands the nuances of effectively using his bullpen and implement a fresh approach at the plate. Pinella has to make it clear that everyone in the dugout will be held accountable for their performance, and that performance will be the standard he uses to decide their playing time.

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