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Buck Showalter's bullpen use a mixture of old and new school orthodoxy

Buck Showalter is a master of bullpen management saving his good arms for when it matters most and leaving the rest for the back end of his bullpen.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In recent seasons every Orioles fan and commentator rankles themselves over the amount of innings the starting rotation goes. The poor starting pitching, it is said, puts too big of a strain on the bullpen which inevitably leads to blown leads and mounting losses. It is true that poor starting pitching will lead to more losses. But Buck Showalter's mastery of bullpen management gives the team an edge.

Old school bullpen orthodoxy (the funny thing is that this bullpen specialization is a relatively recent trend in baseball) states that you have a 7th inning pitcher, an 8th inning pitcher, and a closer for the 9th inning. Most likely there is a LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy), a long reliever, and a couple of middle relievers to bridge the gap to the 7th inning guy.

The strict roles give the manager a playbook to work from and gives the player nice roles to fill. The closer is the closer because he's the closer and since he's closer he comes in only in the ninth inning.

The new school bullpen orthodoxy states that your best pitcher should come in when it matters most and not when the blueprint dictates. This bullpen ideology comes from the idea of leverage. Baseball games often come down to a few high wire moments. Most pitches and plate appearances occur in situations where the game is not on the line.

For instance, Saturday night's win against the Angels. Matt Wieters was up when the Orioles were down one run, with two outs, and runners on first and second. A hit in that situation greatly alters the chances of the Orioles winning. An out means a loss. This situation had a leverage index of 5.5.

To calculate leverage index the base-out situation, inning, and score are all taken into account and the outcomes of the plate appearances are given a probability. The probable outcomes all effect the win expectancy of the game. The change in win expectancy is then set as the denominator.

This produces a leverage index score. One is considered average, below 0.85 is considered low leverage, and above two is considered high leverage. So as you could guess, that plate appearance from Matt Wieters was very high leverage as the game essentially swung on the outcome of that plate appearance.

What Buck Showalter does is split the baby between the old school and the new school. While there are certainly roles in the Orioles bullpen, they are flexible. Zach Britton is the closer and he comes in with leads in ninth or tie games at home in the ninth. He gets his saves.

Otherwise, the bullpen floats around. Not only that, Showalter is great at resting guys while also getting the relievers the work they need. He rarely asks pitchers to go three straight days nor does he allow them to go three straight days without getting into a game.

What allows Showalter to do this is that he gives himself two bullpens. There is the high leverage bullpen and the low leverage bullpen. Below is a table illustrating my point. (Stats do not include Sunday's game)

Pitcher Low Leverage Medium Leverage High Leverage
Zach Britton 4.2 IP 6.2 IP 6.2 IP
Darren O'Day 5.0 IP 7.2 IP 3.2 IP
Brad Brach 12.1 IP 6.2 IP 4.1 IP
Mychal Givens 5.2 IP 7.0 IP 4.2 IP
T.J. McFarland 11.1 IP 1.1 IP 0.2 IP
Dylan Bundy 13.0 IP 1.2 IP 1.2 IP
Vance Worley 19.2 IP 3.2 IP 0.1 IP
Brian Matusz 4.2 IP 1.1 IP 0.0 IP

As you can see, Buck Showalter avoids using his best relievers in low leverage situations as much as possible. Britton, O'Day, Brach, and Givens (The High Leverage Bullpen) have 27 low leverage innings between them. Bundy, Worley, Matusz, and McFarland (The Low Leverage Bullpen) have 48.2 low leverage innings between them.

The High Leverage bullpen has thrown 86 percent of the high leverage innings. You'll also notice that the best relievers are the ones in the High Leverage Bullpen. When the game is on the line, the Orioles send their best pitchers out to get the job done. Brad Brach serves as a semi-go between usually pitching more than one inning in his outings and serves more as a fireman (bridging the starter to the back end of the bullpen).

Furthermore, Showalter is not afraid to ask pitchers to go multiple innings or bring in a member of the high leverage team in the sixth inning if the situation dictates.

The typical baseball game is pretty boring. Most innings are low leverage innings and most pitches are low leverage pitches. Games often swing on a few plate appearances in key situations. The high leverage outs matter most and when the game is on the line you want to have the best pitcher in the game no matter what inning it is.

While Buck Showalter has not totally eschewed the "old school" bullpen orthodoxy his ability to lean on certain pitchers when the outs mean less and others when they mean more gives the Orioles an advantage. It means when the outs matter most the right guy is in there. It also means that bullets aren't being wasted on on the high quality arms getting outs when they don't matter.