Thursday, December 23, 2010

The 2010 Giants Are the World Champions: Or Was it Just Luck?

I haven't written in a while.  Big part of it was work, but a strong part of it was that I was sad that there are a contingent of people who believes that Sabean should not get credit for the championship because he was lucky.  El Lefty Malo also picked up on that vein of thought and wrote about it on his great blog; it is a great post that rebuts that argument well.

My Thoughts

But my mind has been racing with various thoughts and so, here goes.

First of all, I would love for any of the Sabean Naysayers to go up to Aubrey Huff or Pat Burrell and tell them that they were lucky to win it all.  I think I would pay to see that.

Luck or Design

A baseball season is full of luck, from each pitch, each ball in play, each inning, each game, each season.   Anyone can easily pick out key elements of every season where if good luck did not happen, that team would have not have been champions.  As I've been writing all over, the naysayers have been exposing their colors by interpreting luck in their way and not giving Sabean much or any credit for winning the championship.

As I've commented around the blogosphere, I think we all can agree that the Giants would probably not have won had they not had their four pitchers, and if we ask all the Sabean Naysayers to raise their hand if they had proposed or agreed with the trade of any of our great young pitchers to get hitting, all of them would be raising their hands.  For all the talk about luck, they forget that it was not luck that the Giants retained all four starters, Sabean made that decision and clearly that was the main reason why the Giants won the championship, their pitching and fielding defense.  Even if we assume he was lucky in getting any particular member of the rotation, he still made the decision to keep them together.

Better Offense NOT Necessary

For all the bemoaning about the Giants lack of offense, while justified in terms of what they produce, none of the Naysayers have yet come to the realization that they were wrong:  a team could win with an offense as bad as that.  And I've been writing about this for years, I've pointed out how the D-gers in the 60's had lousy offenses and two main offensive superstars, Maury Wills and Tommy Davis.  Plus, as I noted in my baseball business plan, if you want to go saber all over that concept, Pythagorean shows the way:  when you have the best defense in terms of pitching and defense, you can win with one of the worse offenses in the league, dominate with only an average one.  And with the pitching taking another notch up with Bumgarner, they might be able to win even with a major league's worse offense.

So, these people say that the Giants cannot win it all unless they trade a pitcher for a good hitter, and yet when faced with the evidence that they were wrong, they chalk it all up to luck.

End of My Rope

I'm tired of all this.  Part of the reason I do what I do is that I don't like to see people suffer.  That's an extended discussion I had with Boof early in the 2010 season, and off and on previously, I try to see the team as it is and set my expectations appropriately.  So I can enjoy a .500 season knowing that they aren't that good anyway, kind of like having a kid you know is average but you love him/her anyway and set your expectations appropriately.  And I try to pass on my knowledge best as I can.

Am I always right?  No, I know I'm not.  Plenty of misses on the detailed nitty gritty.  FYI, I try to toe the balance between safe statements and one that are edgier because I took to heart a saying that you don't gain much by staying safe, you have to go to the edge sometimes.  People who want to get better need to take calculated risks to get better, and so I try.  So I can live with being wrong, that's just part of the "business" if you will, of taking stands on topics.

So if you want to point out stuff I got wrong, I'm sure I can fill a post - my standard length :^) - with my mistakes.  One that I remember vividly on MCC was when I repeated a post on the A's picking up Jerome Williams, not remembering that.  I had a good chuckle the first dozen or so times someone mocked me on that, I can laugh at myself, but the dozens of times after that, it gets really old, like, can you try something new?

But what has been my main thesis and theme all these years?  That Sabean has a plan - pitching, pitching, and more pitching, plus good fielding and some lightening speed.  And he has pretty much delivered on that plan, in spades.  And people call it luck, but the A's had their vaunted 4-Aces rotation (and Mets too) in the early 90's, yet both fizzled - very badly - while the Giants unvaunted rotation - if you look at most experts assessment of the Giants farm system by year, overall one would think that the team wasn't that good with their farm system. 

Cain was often rated below the other top pitching prospects of his time, and Lincecum, one expert would not have been surprised if he fell to the middle of the first round, he expected the Giants to pick up Daniel Bard, who fit his notion of what an ideal Giants pitching prospect looked like.  Sanchez wasn't on anyone's radar, and most did not think much of Bumgarner being selected as high as he was.

Yet they are arguably one of the best rotations in the majors since the Oriole's foursome in the late 60's, early 70's (late Pat Dobson, who was one of Sabean's closest advisors and confidant, was a part of that rotation, which I think is partly the reason why the Giants strategy is what it is).

So I wash my hands over the hand-wringing naysayers.  I realize now that they are what they are, and I can't change them, and as Boof advised, that's OK, we can have a difference in opinion. 

Moving on...

And be their miserable selves, for I really thought that a championship would change most of their opinions, that maybe they can let bygones be bygones, because Sabean succeeded where no one had before.  I mean, isn't this what all of us has been waiting for as Giants fans?  And he did it.  Yet these people can't let go of whatever it is that causes them to hate Sabean (and this depth of feeling is a hatred, as they are holding on hard to it, despite all the evidence against). 

I've been called sad and repugnant (and by the same blogger) for suggesting that these fans acknowledge that Sabean knew what he was doing and thank him for bringing us another World Series team, and now World Champions, after all, they all said that his strategy and plans would not work, and now we have wonderful evidence that they were wrong.  So what do you call people who cannot even acknowledge Sabean for bringing them what they say they have been waiting for all their lives as a Giants fan?

And knowing me, I know I'll probably get soft again and try to get someone to see the light again.  Probably not during this off-season, maybe mid-next season.  But I won't be so naive anymore and think that a World Series championship will change these people. 

2010's: Decade of the Giants

I still stand by my statement for this offseason.  With this core and talent coming up, the Giants should dominate for a good number of years, at minimum to the mid-10's.  And Neukom appears willing to let the payroll jump up to keep that core around for a while more beyond their free agent years and into the end of the 2010's.  At minimum, we control these players to these years:
  • Lincecum:  2013
  • Cain:  2012
  • J. Sanchez: 2012
  • Bumgarner:  2016
  • Wilson:  2013
  • Romo:  2014
  • Runzler:  2016
  • Sandoval:  2014
  • Posey:  2016
  • Belt: at least to 2017
  • Brown: at least to 2018
I'm sure many of them will get extended at least one year into their free agent years, Cain has already had one.

Then you complement them with vets filling in other positions, it is not like you need great players at those other positions, you just need to fill them with good average players and the offense will take care of itself.  Because with pitching and fielding so good, you can win with a lousy to average offense, thus resulting in a new offensive hero every game. 

Happy Holidays!

The Giants are the World Champs!  Woo Hoooooooo!!!  Let's do it again!

19 comments:

  1. OGC,

    I agree with you about the 20Teens being the Giants decade. With their young core, solid ownership, a great stadium situation and great scouting/management, they are as well positioned for the future as any team in baseball.

    One potential pitfall to watch for in the future is this: I think it is very likely that at some point the core will become too expensive/risky to keep intact. They will need to trade 1 or 2 of them, likely pitchers for prospects. The timing of that will be critical and they will need to get solid value in return. Much as I agree that Brian Sabean has been unfairly maligned, he has never been in a position to deal a star for prospects, well, at least since he traded Matt Williams. How he manages this upcoming transition will be a critical challenge.

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  2. One the the things that make Bill Walsh's tenure with the 49'ers so successful is his ability to let veterans go a year too early rather than a year too late. I am concern about the Giants' affinity toward veterans up to this point.

    In the current economic structure, where veterans are paid 10 to 20X of major league minimum, it is imperative to develop young players. A good farm system can alleviate a lot of pressure to make good trades. I think Sabean's background as scouting director will help tremendously here. Even if the Giants do use sabermetrics as they claim, I just don't believe in sabermetrics for hitters at a high school level (small sample size, umpires, pitchers and fielders are too inconsistent).

    The recent improvement in the farm bodes well for the future. We may be disappointed in the performance of Crawford, Krieschick, Noonan, and for some, even Neal. However, these guys are likely to be at least good #9 to 13 players on a roster (think Ishikawa / Schierholtz), and that'll free up money to spend for starters.

    Sorry for the long winded and somewhat rambling post. I am pretty much agreeing with you here.

    Finally, I do want to say that I enjoy your blogs. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

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  3. Thank you for the comments.

    DrB, I totally agree. I think Lincecum will be the one who will leave the next eventually. He will want to be paid fairly and, frankly, I think that would be too much to give up. Hopefully we can keep him to around 30 and then let him go.

    I think Cain will want to be here for his career, particularly with wife here and living here. I think he's more focused on other intangible qualities that will keep him around.

    Sanchez might be the first to go, but I hope not. I think he still has greater potential to do more, and his emergence could help ease the transition when Lincecum goes.

    But yes, the transition is critical because the draft is pretty bad in terms of supply once you start winning, Sabean has to pull off some sort of trade a la Beane's Haren trade, to get us over the hump to the latter 2010's if it is truly to become the Giants decade.

    Oh, I did not mean to imply that this is a fait accompli, but I think the basic ingredients for the Giants to do this is here, it just needs to be managed correctly. Since Sabean is the one to put it together, I'm willing to let him try, but if I think he's screwing it up, I hope Neukom won't hesitate to fire him.

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  4. Thanks Anon, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!

    Ha, I'm the long winded and rambling, you were fine.

    I understand your concern, as I loved that about Walsh too, but it's apples and oranges. The difference is that baseball and football have totally different labor supply dynamics.

    In football, Walsh is able to pick up multiple starters in each draft - heck, he once got starters with every pick (almost?). Finding talent there, while hard, is not as hard as in baseball. Thus you can slough off vets who are nearing their retirement easily because you can find replacements via the draft very quickly.

    In baseball, if you are a losing team, maybe the guy you pick in the draft makes the majors in 1-2 years if you are really lucky. But most take 4-6 years to develop and grow and make the majors. If you slough off guys, you won't be replacing them easily from the draft. A really good draft in baseball maybe nets you two starters eventually, but most don't even get you an average player. It is just that hard.

    That is why I advocate going more into the international markets as a general strategy, but particularly when you are winning and not getting good draft picks. There you can pick up talent by flashing a lot of money, whereas you can't pick up good draft positions without losing.

    That is also why I advocate going after prospect who fall because of signability. That's another good way to infuse talent into the system when you are winning.

    Neither replaces losing as a way to get talent, but are ways to improve your chances of extending your time of domination.

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  5. Oh, and regarding that last comment, I meant that you have to draft signability prospects in the amateur draft in order to pick up better talent via that route. Still not as good as the ones you get by losing, but as Boston showed with their Casey Kelly pick, you can draft good talent later, you just have to pay more.

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  6. Hey OGC! I see you are back on the list of links on mccoveychronicles.com.

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  7. Thanks DrB, amazing, eh?

    You probably missed it but he left you a message on my site:

    "And to Dr. B: I miss you and your contributions to McC. Come back! Just wanted to clarify a couple of things. You wrote:

    Here's a scenario. Grant, the Alpha Male of MCC makes a statement like, "hey, look at Fred Lewis! He has the second best OBP on the team and his UZR says he's a much better fielder than most people who have watched him play think. I think the Giants should try Fred Lewis as the starting left fielder." And, Grant makes that and similar comments repeatedly.

    I was never big on Lewis. The first sentences of my Lewis-was-gone post were "It seemed weird that this site was one of the main hubs for Fred Lewis love. I liked the guy, sure, but I never thought of him as anything more than a fourth outfielder." Also, I'm a total sissy. Hardly an alpha-male.

    Second, you wrote:

    I mean, it got so ridiculous at one point that there was a post seriously theorizing that the only stat Sabean looks at is RBI's.

    If you can make an argument for Jose Guillen without RBI, I'd like to read it. Maybe not RBI, per se, but the general feeling that Player X is a "middle-of-the-order hitter." I know the Giants employ sabremetricians. I also know that Sabean doesn't have to listen to them, and when it comes to players like Guillen, I don't think he does."

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  8. He also left a message for me letting me know that he put back my link, but as far as apologies go, well you can be the judge of that:

    "I just saw this now. My apologies.

    I did remove the link, and I did it out of anger. It was petty to do it, as GRM suggested, and it was a childish and stupid response.

    I was so incensed by your comment, though, that I thought, "Hey, if he hates us all so much, why would I link to his site?" Stupid in retrospect. And then I forgot that I did it until now. I hope there are no hard feelings.

    The post-NLCS comment that precipitated it was pretty repugnant, though. Reading between the lines, you wanted apologies because Andres Torres turned into Carlos Beltran. Think about it. Without that, there isn't a division title or a playoff run. I wanted Sabean to be replaced because he had no idea how to build an offense. I liked Sabean's ability to build a bullpen and a pitching staff, and I loved the young rotation he had built. My fear was that it was all going to be wasted because he didn't know how to build an offense. For five straight years, the Giants were at the bottom of the league in runs scored and OBP. Because of that, I criticized him. I wanted him to go.

    The Giants hit enough to win a championship. I didn’t expect that. It was beautiful. It turns out that – for 2010, at least –Sabean’s willingness to adapt was more important than how he evaluated hitters. But I shouldn’t have to accept Sabean’s methods of evaluation in order to enjoy the Giants. He thought Jose Guillen would help the offense, and if it weren’t for a surprise HGH investigation, we would have had the fruits of that evaluation right in our face for every playoff game. Would Guillen have hit as well as Ross throughout the playoffs? Well, I don’t know for sure, but…

    If a new GM had been the one to win a championship, I sincerely doubt that I would have come here to chide you for supporting a GM who pretended that Dan Ortmeier was a legitimate option to start at first base. That’s why I was so upset. It felt really, really petty, and it felt like it was a personal attack on me.

    Regardless, go Giants, and I still like you and your site, and I’m pretty embarrassed about Linkgate. It was a crime of passion, what can I say?"

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  9. For the sake of clarity, I don't recall saying I "hate" all of them (and so much). From my classes on interpersonal communications and reading child rearing books, I try to avoid language like that and focus on behavior only.

    Because I do love people, there is probably a handful of people I can say I truly hate, and yet I would never wish them any harm, I just hope I never pass their paths again. And only one person at MCC qualifies for that and he knows who he is; Grant definitely isn't one, I still fondly recall his first posts on Usenet and am still a supporter of MCC, I just can't go there without all the negativity driving me crazy.

    So I hated that they wanted Sabean fired, but only put up my mild (but long) objectives previously when all I had was my theories and postulations. I had nothing to back me in terms of evidence, so all I could really do was state my case and move on.

    But once the Giants made the World Series (and had not won yet), I just thought that was validation enough for his strategy that they would be big enough to say that they were wrong. I also said that they did not deserve to enjoy it if they didn't and that definitely ruffled feathers, but again, I didn't think that it would be that big a deal, after all, Sabean led the team again to the World Series. That should be reason enough for anyone to say that they were wrong about wanting him fired, he got us back when they thought he had zero chance of doing that.

    But even today, as I noted in this post, there are still those who don't think that Sabean earned the World Series championship, they think that it was all luck.

    So I give up on them. I don't hate them, frankly, I cared for all the suffering Giants fans, I didn't want to feel tortured or down, I felt my stance held strong sabermetric ground, tying together many theories and finding, and mixing in some of my own stuff. I thought 2010 was going to be a good season where we should make the playoffs and then we get to see how well this strategy plays out.

    Pretty well, as it turns out.

    So, I wish them well, but I can't help what hurts them in their hearts, their insides. I realize now that there are some people I can't save, and I can accept that now, as Boof can attest, this really bothered me previously.

    I thought people would be more magnanimous after the Giants got into the World Series and especially after winning it, but I was clearly wrong. This is like arguing with the old-world newspaper guys who swore by W-L and RBIs. They hold to their beliefs, even though sabermetric studies currently show that this is the way to go and now despite clear evidence - hello, 2010 World Series Champion trophy in the Giants possession - that they were wrong.

    Heck, as I've been documenting over the years, BP hates Sabean enough to public ask for his firing for the 2010 season when he is probably the pre-eminent follower, in terms of hewing to their prescribed strategy for going deep into the playoffs. They should be lauding him and saying, "see, what we said works!"

    So there are sabers who are clearly blind and stubborn as well.

    Oh well, I just have to accept that I can't help them see the light as I see it. I'll just follow the beat of a different drum, as one of my favorite teachers pointed out to me, good advice that I've tried to follow.

    Merry Christmas to all!

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  10. Wow, OGC! I had no idea. Somehow I missed Grant's responses. That was really something!

    I'll just say this:

    To focus on Jose Guillen, who was obviously a desperation signing because the Giants needed power and were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, just shows a lack of understanding of the big picture of how Sabean built a championship team. Guys like Jose Guillen and Cody Ross are basically fungible commodities. You keep trying them on for size 'till you find one that fits. What wasn't fungible was the basic pitching core he put together through the draft and farm system.

    As for Andres Torres, yeah, I do give Sabes and Bochy some credit for giving him a chance to make the team and to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. What if he did get lucky with Torres? Did he get unlucky with some of his other moves that didn't work out so well? Again, the thing that made it all possible was the pitching core which he deserves full credit for.

    Even if the Giants had not gone all the way, I would still be saying they are as well positioned for the future as any team in baseball and Brian Sabean deserves a lot of the credit for that. Bill Neukom does too, but it seems like Sabes and Neuk are on the same page and it looks like a great plan.

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  11. Just want to clarify one more thing. I think mccoveychronicles.com is a good site and I still read it daily even if I don't agree with some of the opinions expressed there. The reason I don't post on the site has nothing to do with any disagreement. I just can't seem to figure out how to log back in as a member! I think the problem is somehow with my own e-mail system, but I'm too computer illiterate to figure it out.

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  12. Luck: signing a power hitting veteran in desperation (Guillen, playing him most of the time (and not producing) only to have league notify you hours before you are to set your post season roster that said vet got busted over HGH, forcing you to play a guy you never intended to play who turns out to be the post season mvp.
    Luck

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  13. Yes... luck. 162 game season, an aberration. 4/5 of a starting rotation built from within - luck (how much do the Phillies top 4 get paid again? What is(are) the Yankees main problem(s) again?). Luck - look at that list of players under team control and for how long and consider their ages. Luck - conforming to sabremetric predictions.

    As a semi-aside, I am fascinated by 19th century baseball, and does anyone else notice that the conventional wisdom circa the late 1880s is closer to modern analysis than conventional wisdom today? RBIs, indeed.

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  14. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Anon's answer is exactly what I've been saying for years, the Sabean Naysayers see what they want to see, not what is there.

    In this case, they fixate on Guillen, thinking that Ross only made the roster because of the HGH, when the truth of the matter is that Ross had been hitting well for the Giants all month and was going to make the roster whether Guillen was exposed or not. Only they were fixated too much on Guillen to notice that or to even bother to easily check the stats.

    The only reason Guillen got to start in late September was because Torres wasn't ready to start yet. It wasn't like the team was losing because of Guillen, he just wasn't contributing, so the Giants gave him more rope to see if he could do anything again. He couldn't.

    One clear thing this season showed is that when Bochy wants to go all out to win, he will sit down anyone to play the guy he thinks will play better. At that time, he decided to give Guillen more chances because he had settled Rowand and Schierholtz on the bench and as I noted, his lack of performance, while not helping us to win, still wasn't preventing the Giants from winning at a good clip.

    But once the playoffs came up, clearly they went for performance, hence why Zito was left off. The decision was not between Guillen and Ross, it was between Guillen and Rowand. But the Naysayers don't see that, they see what they want to see.

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  15. Anon: Yes luck! Luck is the residue of design. Whether the Giants intended to ever play Ross or not, it was a very smart move to keep him away from the Padres with the added bonus that he was on the roster as a nice backup plan in case Guillen didn't work out, which he didn't.

    Again, you can say the Giants winning it all this year was due to luck. Of course it was. Every team that has won the World Series since the Yankee teams of the late 90's has done it with elements of luck.

    Grant came off as sounding like if the Giants hadn't gotten some luck and won it all, my opinion of Sabean would be different and I would have to agree that he should be fired. I thought the Giants would have a good season. I thought they would contend. I didn't expect them to win the World Series, yet I was already on record as saying they were as well positioned for the future as any team in baseball. No way should Sabean have been fired if the Giants fell short any more than he should be fired now.

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  16. This blog is horrible and so is your mother who sucked my cock last night.

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  17. The World Series has come and gone since the last blog I read here, and, tho there is probably another thread all about the Series here somewhere, would like someone to help me with an answer: While I have no doubt in the steel-trap decision mind of Bruce Bochey, I need an explanation why he lifted both Bumgardner and Lincecum when they both were in control.

    Let's take the rookie first: Here he comes, 21-yrs old, facing the hottest batting lineup in baseball, in the World Series, and has allowed only 5 hits through seven innings, with no sign of fatigue or loss of control. If Bochey was worried about the ability of the kid to go all nine, warm up the closers, and let the kid pitch til he gives up a hit. The ability of the Giants to win with a rookie going nine innings in the World Series would be putting Texas noses right in the cow dung, and certainly would have an affect on the Arlington mood.

    Instead, the Skipper brings in the "T" in "Torcher", and we bite our nails as Wilson runs up full counts or puts a man on. While Wilson has great save numbers, I would attest his less-than-sterile men allowed on base column is more telling, and has made me nervous everytime he takes over. I don't get it.

    Then, there is the 2-time Cy Young award winner, giving up 2 hits and fanning, what, 12??? So, he gets pulled. For Wilson. Why?

    I grew up in the Sunset with Giants on my bedroom walls, like Willie Kirkland, Jim Ray Hart, Orlando Cepeda, and Jimmy Davenport. And, pitchers like Juan Marichal, Hank Sauer, and Gaylord Perry. Pitchers then were commonly throwing complete games, some going a few extra, too. I could be wrong, but seem to remember Marichal going 11 against D'em Bums. Point is, pitchers get into a groove, and can go well past the 7th, or 100 count, and just plain win.

    So, some blogger out there, please tell me why Bochey didn't let these two phenoms complete their masterpieces.

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  18. It's great to reminisce about the old days, but the game is different now. When you have a closer of Wilson's caliber, but his penchant for tightroping it, it's much better to let him start the 9'th inning with a clean slate than take a chance on the starter faltering and then having to bring in Wilson with men already on base. Bochy made that mistake with Sanchez in regular season and the result was the 2-1 loss on CarGone's broken bat triple.

    I watched both games you are referring to and I thought both Bum and Timmy were starting to labor and was very happy when I saw Brian Wilson come out the start the 9'th inning.

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  19. Thanks for the good answer DrB to Primo's question.

    I would also add that fans tend to romanticize how well starters do. If you look at Wilson's WHIP, it is better than most of the starters.

    In addition, Brian Wilson was on fire in the second half, his WHIP was 1.027, which is great, and he continued that into the playoffs.

    You have to remember that even the best pitchers have a WHIP of around 1.0. And what that means is that on average, the pitcher will give up a hit or walk for every inning he pitches. Which for a closer means on average he allows one baserunner per appearance.

    So, the way I see it, the key for a closer is to spread those hits and walks so that he only gives up one per appearance for the most part. If he has a lot of 1-2-3 outings, that will get balanced out by outings where he gives up 2 or 3 hits and have a real rally going.

    This is also why you want to allow the reliever to start with a fresh inning whenever possible, so that when they give up that baserunner, it won't cause any damage via inherited runners.

    But that is also why you got the relievers, particularly closers, so that you can put them in when RISP and hopefully get the batter(s) out.

    And in the playoffs, you don't want to fool around, if you got a fresh reliever ready and the starter don't normally pitch a complete game in today's game anyhow, you should go to your closer.

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