We've had a few


Bill James told a story that turned on a major light bulb for me:


Hey Bill! What is the record for consecutive shutout innings *in relief*? I'm somewhat surprised that there are apparently no relievers on the list of the top scoreless inning streaks of all time. It is not all that uncommon to see a reliever put up an ERA near 1.00 for a season. It happens from time to time, at least. And it seems to me - maybe I'm wrong - that it shouldn't be that much more difficult to string together 45 straight 1-inning "shutouts" than it is to pitch five straight 9-inning shutouts. Am I wrong on that count?
Asked by: mikeclaw
Answered: 7/22/2015
I don't know. . ..I don't know the answers to any of that. But I will tell you a story. .
I really should not be telling you this story, but it's been ten years and hopefully people aren't as sensitive about it as they would have been eight years ago. A long time ago the Red Sox used to have a pitching prospect named Cla Meredith, who was pitching great in the minor leagues. Terry for some reason desperately wanted to have Cla Meredith on the major league team, but Theo didn't think he was ready to pitch in the major leagues, and the two of them argued about this; Theo was afraid he would come up, get blown up, have a bad experience, and it would be a huge setback.
Terry finally prevailed upon Theo to brink Meredith to the major league roster on the condition that he would not put Meredith in the fire too quickly; he would nurse him along, pick his spots for him, and let him build up his confidence. Well, of course, your ability to do those things in practice is not always equal to your good intentions, so Meredith like the day after he gets called to the major leagues winds up being called in to pitch in a game situation, and he winds up giving up a GRAND SLAM HOME RUN in a game situation in his first major league appearance; it may have been to the first batter he faced in the major leagues. It wasn't even a legitimate home run; it was a cheap little shot that just curled around the Pesky Pole; I can still see the [blamed] thing climbing over the fence in my mind's eye.
It was a huge setback for Meredith, who never did anything for us after that, and we wound up trading him to San Diego where, I believe, he very quickly broke the exact record that you are talking about . .. .consecutive scoreless innings by a relief pitcher. Something like 35 consecutive scoreless innings. I don't know if that is still the record, but if it is, I would imagine Wade Davis must be going to break it sometime soon. . . .this year or next. That guy's unbelievable.


Sometimes a person uses a WORD on you, just one word, and things become clear that weren't before.  

If you imagine a minor leaguer's career as an NFL drive to the goal line, where the goal line is "Good Major League Player" ... he might be on the 40-yard line, driving down the field nicely, and then he gets sacked for -15 yards to the 25.  A "setback."

The thing is, now that he's back to the 25 yard line DIFFERENT PEOPLE RESPOND DIFFERENTLY to this ugly new situation.  That's the part that hadn't jelled in my mind.

Dustin Ackley?  He'd never HAD any "setbacks," and once things started going under for him in the bigs, once he got sacked to the 25 ... well, he got sacked again to the 15.  And then again to the 5.  And then is it hard to imagine him getting panicky?

I'd never thought of this in the terms of a Setback And Your Response To It.  Now all of a sudden, I know what baseball men are talking about when they say "don't rush him to the big leagues."


This doesn't mean that you should never call Doc Gooden to the bigs at 19.  As James also said, "The best, and the only, place to learn to play major league baseball is in the major leagues."  Lou Piniella, provided he liked a kid's makeup (coughMontgomerycough), always wanted to "Let a player learn in the big leagues."

And, obviously, there's no Fangraphs column to tell you whether a given AAA player will handle the new challenge like Kyle Seager did.  You can rush kids too much, or you can block them like the M's did Edgar.  Pat Gillick used to say, "I won't put a man on my roster until I've shaken his hand and looked him in the eye."  So take that, baseball materialists :- )

But still.  I'm glad to have more respect for this old-school baseball axiom.  What other Mariners were, in retrospect, unwisely rushed?


Wade Davis ... that's a funny prediction :- ) like saying "I predict Felix Hernandez will break the AL ERA record."  In the 1980's Bill used to do this a lot, make shocking predictions for the sake of underlining his point.  We readers always got what he was doing, though the sportswriters didn't.

Did you know Davis did not give up a single homer last year?  0 HR.  And the same this year.  The Kansas City Royals are no fun to play any more, and it started with the "anti-sabermetric" trade of Myers Plus for Shields and Davis.  You know who else was in that trade?  Mike Montgomery.  The Royals gave up a whale of a lot of young talent, when they were not "eligible" to be playing for Now.  It lit the fuse on a tremendous explosion there.





to letting players 'learn in the majors.'  I'll readily admit that I wasn't 'aware' of the M's until the end of his tenure in Seattle, but this thought frequently pops into my head as I see different people approach developmental procedures (like education, parenting, or skill training) in vastly different ways:

Is it possible that Lou was, when dealing with a certain psychological bandwidth of the baseball talent pool, supremely talented at getting these certain types of players to produce and didn't want the high-minors managers wrecking them before he got his hands on them?

Some players appreciate a fiery, in-your-face approach (I would argue that most mega athletes respond well, or at least not negatively, to this approach) while others are less aggressive and respond to more of a kid glove approach.  Could it be that Lou wasn't just picking skills but was more focused on psychological makeup when he looked down on the farm and declared, in no uncertain terms, which kid could help the team right now -- based almost entirely on Lou's confidence in his own ability to help this kid make the transition from the minors to the Big Show?

I mean...Lou would know what kind of athletic assets a player would need just to have a shot at succeeding, so maybe his focus was less on a given player's toolset and more on his mental makeup.

Pete Carroll certainly seems to believe that the Always Compete mantra isn't for everyone, and he rabidly seeks out players who he thinks will respond well to an Always Compete atmosphere.  He seems far less concerned with specific skills a player possesses and far more concerned with whether or not a player will give it everything he has for each and every snap that he's out on the field.

The marriage of men and women in child-rearing wasn't an accident; it was a market response to a proven, successful formula which produced humans who were able to out-compete their counterparts who were not raised in such an environment.  Men and women bring different things, emotionally and physically, to the process of raising children and it's the complementary nature of these qualities which made marriage the fundamental institution on which modern humanity is based.

It seems to me that Lou's approach was much like a given parent's might be in a marriage; he had a package of 'moves,' he could execute them to perfection, and he was practiced and observant enough to predict with alarming accuracy which 'children' would respond well to his peculiar style of teaching/discipline/training.  Lou probably needed Pat Gillick in order to present a 'united front' to everyone not involved in their private plans, and to help erect a setting which would maximize their relative skillsets.


There were some pretty big failures on his watch, too. Ibanez had to get a thousand miles away from Pinella to properly harness his talent. Pinella was also absolutely brutal on pitchers - so bad that Pat forced him to give up all control of the pitchers to Price. I liked Lou but lets not deify the guy - he had plenty of warts and his treatmeant of young players that weren't immediate stars was certainly one of them. 


was *better* than his contemporaries.  I was simply suggesting that there might be a band of players, psychologically-defined, which Lou might have *actually* been superior with when cultivating their careers.

Lou had *tons* of issues -- and I'll never forgive him for pitching Sele in the playoffs when he had Pineiro available -- but it's interesting to wonder whether or not he genuinely had this ability.  I'm just trying to build on what Doc's saying regarding the idea that people are dynamic and therefore unlikely to respond uniformally to uniform treatment.  Sweet Lou might have had some of this figured out (he almost certainly did!) while saberdudes are completely ignorant of the possibility, let alone attempting to analyze or measure it.

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