Wolf Pack Pitching
no-brainer here, boys - except for the sales resistance


Q.  What is Dipoto trying to sell here and who is he trying to sell it to?

A.  He's trying to sell the technological imperative to baseball guys in uniform who are accustomed to typewriters.

A brief glance at baseball history, from 1917-2017, confirms that --- > more relief pitchers are better.  We're at 4.5 pitchers a game or so now, per team.  All along that era, 1917-2017, unie's have grudgingly tolerated the next 0.5 RP per game extra but then -- > sworn on a stack of Eliases that the next RP would foul up the delicate balance of the pitching changes and, obviously, lose 100 games.


Q.  What is the performance argument against more RP's?

A.  Oh, you know.  The ones Jerry Dipoto made in 2016.  Like if you can just get that prrrrrecious 6.1 IP from your SP, it sets up your RP matchups soooooooooooo much better.  And they pitch better in August, and yada yada.

The technical term for this logic is "incorrect."  See 1917 vs 2017.


Q.  So if Dipoto, having had his epiphany, can "wolf pack" his 2018 staff, what will that look like?

A.  It will look like 13 different pitchers who post ERA+ over 100.  If you think about it, there are lots of "NO NAME" defenses in sports history.  The first one I remember was the 1972 Dolphins; nobody knew who Vern Den Herder or Tim Foley were, but that didn't stop them from being 140 ERA+ defenders.  :- )  That would be a neat game in itself, the Denizens nominating their "no name" choices in sports history.  ... Dr. D still remembers 1988, and Larussa backing up Eck with Gene Nelson and Rick Honeycutt and Greg Cadaret (who?) ... one announcer marvelled, "He just keeps putting those guns to your head and he just keeps pulling the trigger."  Not that Rick Honeycutt was exactly a .454 Casull, but Larussa figured it out.

Dipoto has a fair shot of assembling a "no name" pitching staff in 2018.  He really does, because of factors like

  • Erasmo's new cut fastball, which protects his paintball vs LHP
  • Mike Leake's novelty factor -- for a year or two -- in the AL
  • James Pazos' career arc
  • You can name lots of other stuff, depending on how much you like Moore's makeup, Marc-O's DL recovery arc, Vincent's invisible fastball, the $$ to Scrabble and Nicasio, what you think of David Phelps, etc

But the real point is this.  The 2018 Mariners will be a team cresting the wave of a saber trend, one looking to exploit a basic understanding of the game.  That will be flat-out fun to watch.


Q.  Shaping up like what.

A.  Even from a bed with rails left and right, Dr. D heard there is now an Official Top 4 SP's, with Leake 3 and Erasmo 4.  The next three SP's will cage-match between Miranda, Marc-O and Moore.  This is all official doctrine as we stand.

Last September, the 4 RP's with high leverage > 1.0  were Diaz, Vincent, Zip and Pazos.  You got Phelps and Nicasio in there now.  Next wave Altavilla, Simmons and the "pack."  I guess G is left to stew in his own juices about the trash-canning of Nick Neidert?


Q.  Anything else?

A.  Here is a link from 538 that underlines the velocity in the bullpens.  Notice that Dipoto is not particularly following this trend.  And here is a typical modern article, quoting the Commish to the effect that --- > something has to be done about the pitching changes.

There is a whale of a lot of griping about the bullpen rules.  This fact alone tells any intelligent man that the more of them, the better.  If you got to widen the key against Wilt, he's probably pretty good, right?  If you got to crack down on the manager ambling out to swap an RP, that's probably pretty good too.

The 2018 M's probly won't have great players, compared to Houston.  But they can attempt to deploy superior strategy.


Dr D



I can recall a number of occasions where you, your own self, wrote impassioned pieces demanding limits on pitching changes and complaining about the fact that the starting pitcher is interesting and the bullpen is not. At that time, I was the guy replying "gee, Doc...I think bullpens are interesting...the strategy fascinates me and it is entirely possible for a bullpen to develop a group personality like the nasty boys or, in football, the legion of boom or steel curtain.

Welcome to the "yay for more pitchers" club. :D


I don't feel strongly about it, but do follow James' logic that movies don't change screen stars four times a show.  Reasonable rules would be great by me. 

Until then!, when holes in rules exist, that's where I'm headed, son.  ;- )


I'm just teasing mostly. :) But yeah, I understand where you're coming from. Baseball is a less team-driven sport than football and soccer, and more driven by individual personalities and achievements, other than team fielding skill...we tend to remember the players that stand out in some way. So I understand wanting to see that starting pitcher for longer (or that closer for three innings instead of two set-up guys every inning for three innings).

There's one other argument in your favor.

The harder the game gets, the less we'll be able to relate to the stories of the guys who play it. The more relievers we use, the harder the game gets. Guys like Cal Ripken are relatively rare...most of the "I just outwork everyone but I'm nothing special" players today are having more and more trouble hacking it. Tell me, what is the defining difference betwen Willie Bloomquist and Sean O'Malley? I didn't see any, to be honest. Yet Bloomquist had sustained success and O'Malley is extremely fringy. That is because the game is a lot harder t play at the major league level as specialization and training methods improve.

Nevertheless, I take the other side, if only because I like seeing humans do impossible things, and I like the challenge level to be maximized. I think the solution to the reliever problem isn't to reduce pitching changes but to reduce TV timeouts. Cap it for the whole game at, say, four. (other than innings changes). After which, give relievers 60 seconds to get to the mound and throw their first actual pitch and stay with the broadcast (you won't notice the delay if the announcers are playing up the drama, talking about the strategy, commenting on the pitcher as he sprints at top speed to the mound so he has time for one or two quick warm-up tosses).


What if baseball took a page out of the Pro Wrestling handbook?

If we are watching baseball to be entertained then why does MLB spend more time focusing on each player.........for more than their stats?

Felix is beloved for the brief interviews and what the radio and tv guys convey to us while we watch. Why do we only get a short interview after the game?

I know baseball is very much one of those sports that thrives on tradition. I have a buddy that would probably take a bullet than see MLB automate the strike zone. Maybe this doesn't "respect the game"

Would it help keep us entertained an invested if the players had bigger persona's on and off the field? 

I personally LOVED the Jose Bautista bat flip in the 2015 ALDS! It was awesome to see some guy be that over the top. He conquered his opponent. He changed the tides and he put on an EPIC display of that. 

Would we not love to see that from more of baseball? Maybe the reason it was such an epic moment by Bautista was because it seldom happens?

When it's the 8th inning and you have one of your pair of "electric" relievers coming in to shut down those Damn Yankees to secure a series win and that duo is an over the top pair with some great persona would you not be more entertained and less focused on the idea of another reliever coming it to pitch?


Just food for thought. I know it will never happen but sure seems like it would be a little more fun to me :)


Thanks Doc,

i would pointbout that I think the article draws the wrong conclusion from the difference in OPS+allowed between starting pitchers (104) and RPs (96).  I think it has less to do with the quality of the arms and more to do with the fact that RPs almost never have to work themselves out of a bad I. 8 g of theur doing.  If the first two guys get on vs. a reliever, that arm gets yanked and the next guy, probably with a platoon advantage is up.  Starters routinely have to work themselves out of jams, just trying to limit the runs allowed damage, not eliminate it, in innings 1-4.  Sometimes they give up crooked numbers, big ones.  


That is true and it's common for the starter to go to the showers with men on.  I don't think that's the biggest factor though.

Even comparing only 1st time facing hitters isn't apples to apples because of pacing vs. all-out approaches of roles.  I do believe 1st time through is an entire flip-turn of who looks better.  What we really should be talking about is 3rd+time facing for starters vs 1st for middle/long relievers since those are the options.  I guess you could lump in late inning guys and closers if you are thinking of advocating to bring them in in the 5th or 6th?  Or you have a bullpen like early 2000s Ms, late 90's Yankees or late 80s A's or Reds.  For most teams ever the choices in the 6th or so have largely been your worst relievers vs the guy that started.


Starters have to pace themselves...relievers are usually absolutely max effort with max elbow torque and finger snap. You get better results, but you also get hurt if you throw too much.


A bit tongue in cheek... but not by much.  Dipoto has no funds for outside quality starting pitching and no top-flight starters left on the farm. What he does have is a cobbler's mentality and a bunch of 1-2 inning guys who are somewhat interesting.  The starters he does have are either breaking down (Felix) or unproven (everyone else) with the exception of Paxton - who has always had stuff and never been a horse, getting hangnails and triceps strains and tennis elbow at the drop of a hat.

So based on what Seattle can now reasonably accomplish, absolutely: go with the wolf pack.  They weren't trying for that last week when Ohtani was on the market, but now Dipoto has had an epiphany I guess. Circumstances do that to a guy, especially one who has talked such a good game about how smart he is and how many great things he'll do for the organization that now has one of the lowest-ceilinged farm systems and a hitting core that is aging out.

So he's gonna cobble, and "stay flexible" and find "the best 13 man staff he can."  Our new CF can play SS and our 1B can play 3rd, so we don't need a deep bench of multi-positional non-hitters. Jerry has a bunch of guys who are basically the same behind Paxton and before we get to Diaz.  Nobody can be expected to go deep into games (even Felix now) so every game will start with the premise that we'll be using 4 or 5 arms to get to the finish line.  Nicasio pitched in the most games in MLB last year, and was effective at it, so Dipoto will count on his rubber arm to do the same thing this year. If he breaks down there are any number of random guys that Dipoto could promote or trade for, and he loves his random guys.

Do what you can with what you have. This is what we have, so let slip the dogs of war and hope they don't turn into a bunch of cuddle-bunnies.


And he had that epiphany in the middle of last season, G.

Many articles on that subject with quotes from him.

Besides, Ohtani is a wolfpack starter too...he needs to pitch every sixth day and probably won't get deep into games for now.



The I-love-Earl-Weaver guy talking about a six man rotation. Earl was aghast at the five man rotation and the liberal use of relief pitchers. His reasoning? Why in the world wouldn't he want to maximize the innings of his four best pitchers?

DiPoto seems to be advocating an approach where one, maybe two starters are supplemented by a cast of middle-of-the-road (at best!) characters to fill four more slots. He may have had the epiphany last year, but there is every reason to think his circumstances had more to do with his thinking even then. He had no proven starters. Period. He had no prospect of getting any. Presumably the M's budget limited his options then, and they limit his options again this offseason. Sure looks to me like necessity rather than genius is the proverbial mother of invention.

If you had a Hoss who could regularly throw dynamite for seven innings plus, including the third time through the order, you would certainly use him that way. The problem is DiPoto ain't got such a Hoss, and his parameters don't include the ability to sign one. Ohtani was a no-brainer not only because he was good but because he was ridiculously cheap. He fit into the parameters. When we whiffed on Ohtani, apparently we whiffed our only opportunity for a premium starter.

Look, we all know what this team needs. It is clear we won't be gettin' it. This has been the general modus operandi for the M's ever since they first had an opportunity for greatness but decided against keeping Tino Martinez. How many years in the last ten has it been obvious what the team needs, we say it in the offseason, the hole gets patched but not addressed, and then, voila!, that hole clearly shows up during the season and torpedoes our chances?

All that said, it's good to have ya back, Doc, holding down the glass-half-full side. Every one of the last sixteen years my hope ends up dyin', but you always help keep it from dyin' before it's time.


I think there's something we're overlooking here, gentlemen.

That being the waste of 2017 in pennant terms.  Dipoto did churn ideas during 2017, and several of them worked.  He pulled face cards off the top of the deck with Leake, with Erasmo, and with a couple of relievers.

It COULD be that he panned enough shiny yellow to make things work for 2018.  Sometimes sports work like that.


What was it?  40 pitchers they mowed through?  IFF you assume intelligence with that kind of processing opportunity, you have got something.  It's possible that occurred.


If he'd tried to go with standard tactics in the 2017 season...the pitching would have been much...much worse.

He had an epiphany caused by seeing that this way improves the results if your staff isn't filled with dominant arms.


The two best pitchers I ever saw were Sandy Koufax and Bruce Sutter.  Other great pitchers have had longer careers.  But in their primes, they absolutely ruled.

But consider this: Koufax did not throw 200 innings in a season until he was 25; not coincidentally, that was also the first year he ever got his walks/9 under 5!

And then it was 'ride the horse'--his innings totals from that point forward were 255, 184, 311, 223, 335 and 322.  Do you think they might have ridden him a little hard?  More Sandy Koufax would have been a gift not just to baseball, but to all sports. (ERA+ his last season, when his arm was already shredded, was 190.) He was a guy who could have used a modern bullpen.

A decade later closers had become well established, and no one was more dominant than Bruce Sutter.  It's a mistake to say he 'invented' the splitter. After all, people have been doing funny things with baseballs since the 1800's.  But he certainly reinvented it. In 1977, he seemed unfair--like Wilt in the key.  How does an ERA+ of 328 strike you?  Along with Fingers and Mike Marshall, he convinced all of baseball that a dominant closer was indispensible. Before that, a closer was just the best guy on a staff who couldn't handle starting.  

So I say bullpens are good...especially if they can help extend the lifespans of dominant starters.  And as long as they speed up the transitions, I don't care how many changes there are.  I always say that if you're in a hurry, why in the world would you choose to watch a baseball game?  :)


I go to the park because I'd rather be there than anyplace else.

Dunno why people don't just SAVOR the goings-on.  The beat writers' constant moaning, well, they'd do us all a favor if they'd just do something else for a living.  But I will admit, the true baseball fan has a point if he cares not for the dead air going on within a game.  300 pitches in 2.5 hours can work better than 300 pitches in 3.5 hours.

Also, I'd much rather see a James Paxton opera than a patchwork quilt of relief pitching.  But they don't gimme that many Paxtons.  :- )


...when I'm at a game with my wife, the game will go into extra innings.

And I always say, "Hey, look honey--FREE baseball!"

You know the look I get...


Often, when the Mariners get into a close and late situation and my wife wants my attention, she'll start openly rooting for whatever result ends the game the fastest. If we're the road team and the home team is up in the bottom of the ninth, this causes...um...friction. :)

I call it "bonus baseball" and she gives me the pout (it's a playful pout, but, I get her point)


There are pitchers that absolutely need that net.  There are also the rare Cy Youngs who can take the ball 35+ times a year from age 24 through 42 going 8 or 9 more often than not.  How do you find the ones that can if you treat them all the same?

Do you lose more by never riding the guys who could be horses or by shortening careers of guys who can't?  You're technically shortening career of both in that choice. 


Paxton has averaged 129 innings the last two seasons and Felix has averaged 120. That's not enough from the studs in the TOR spots and we can't really expect them to each grind out 50% more innings that seems to be more wishing and hoping to me, not a real playoff plan. Erasmo starts the season as our #4 and yet ends up in the #2 slot for substantial parts of the year trying to carry the load against other teams top pitchers while Dipoto acts surprised that our top two not only didn't throw 200 innings each they barely reached 300 total. What would you guys take on the over/under bet of 300 innings combined for Paxton/Felix this year?

Mainly I'm just mad that the rest of the lineup looks worthy of rooting for but our rotation is pathetic, expecting Felix to produce as a #2 and adding another pitcher "worse" than Erasmo into our starting 5 on an everyday basis. It looks bad on paper and I don't understand why Jerry is telling us differently. Take a look past our #7 and you can see without Albers we also don't have the depth or the quality needed to be starting games in the MLB in 2018 much less a playoff game. How does a 4 year deal with Cobb/Lynn/Arrieta or others handicap our future or is a "bad" use of free agency. It just locks up our #2 spot in the rotation like needed for the next few years along with Paxton and Leake. I agree a 6 year deal for an old pitcher is bad but a 3 year deal with a 4th year vesting or even a straight 4 year deal for any of the top 4 pitchers works for me I just don't want another depth scrub guy from free agency we can get that with a normal Jerry trade. 

In short, a rotation with Felix and Erasmo as our #4-5 starters could be really fun all season long and I'm betting they meet or exceed the production expected from those last two rotation spots.  Not so much penciled in as our #2/4.

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