How Bullpens Took Over Baseball’s Postseason – The Atlantic – The Atlantic
The most striking trend of the 2017 Major League Baseball postseason was established minutes into the very first game. With three runs in and only one out recorded in the first inning of the American League Wild Card game, the Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulled ace starting pitcher Luis Severino from the mound, commencing a parade of relief pitchers. In the bottom of the third inning, the Twins manager Paul Molitor followed suit, lifting his best starter, Ervin Santana, in favor of a cadre of bullpen arms.
New York wound up prevailing 8-4, largely because its relievers combined for 8 2/3 innings, 13 strikeouts, and only one run allowed, while their Twins counterparts ceded four runs on six hits. The game, like many that have followed this month, was won by the team with the superior bullpen.
The postseason bullpen revolution, in which managers call on relievers earlier and more often than has ever been typical, did not come out of nowhere. The 2011 Cardinals won the World Series by relying on their bullpen, and the 2014-15 Royals and 2016 Indians thrived with similar approaches. But this fall, the trend has crossed a new threshold. No longer is ultra-aggressive reliever usage a niche strategy employed by a few teams with optimal personnel. It is now the norm across the entire league, from Boston (where Red Sox starters pitched just 11 1/3 innings, combined, over four games) to Los Angeles (where the Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled All-Star Yu Darvish after only 74 pitches on Monday). Through Wednesday, starting pitchers across the league have gotten 475 outs this postseason; relief pitchers have gotten 482. Not a single starting pitcher has recorded an out in the eighth inning.
The chief reason for this trend is fairly simple: Relievers are better than they have ever been. Whereas bullpens were once filled with soft-tossers who had failed to stick in the rotation, they’re now populated largely by flame-throwing strikeout machines specifically trained for their roles. When Girardi pulled Severino from the wild card game, he called on four pitchers with fastballs that make hitters quake. For the final three outs, the manager summoned Aroldis Chapman, the hardest thrower in baseball history and a pitcher who would have almost certainly been a starter and not a reliever had he arrived in the Majors in 1950 or even 1990, instead of 2010.