- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Buster Olney had a note in his Sunday blog that the Dodgers may open the season with 13 pitchers.
Not to pick on the Dodgers, because they won't be the only team to carry 13 pitchers, but I just don't understand this trend. Seven relief pitchers seemed like a lot, but eight? There are barely enough innings available to keep seven relievers busy.
What's even more odd about the Dodgers potentially keeping eight relievers is they threw the second-fewest relief innings in the National League last season. There are 26 weeks in the regular season. Dodgers relievers threw 439 innings, or about 17 innings per week. That's about two innings per reliever per week, or 52 innings per season. Of course, your best relievers will pitch more than 52 innings. Matt Guerrier pitched 66 a year ago. Kenley Jansen should approach 70, assuming he has no further complications with his heart palpitations. Closer Javy Guerra will pitch more than the 46.2 he threw last season when he wasn't recalled until May 15. A good manager will figure out how to get all three of those guys around 70 innings -- or 54 total innings above and beyond the 52-inning average if you carry eight relievers.
In other words, there is no room for an eighth guy if you properly manage your pen. And considering the Dodgers only have one lefty reliever in Scott Elbert likely to make the team, this isn't a case of carrying three lefties for the sake of carrying three lefties.
But the bigger problem is it limits your flexibility in managing your bench. If you carry 13 pitchers, that means four bench players -- two hitters you need to keep handy to pinch-hit for pitchers, your backup catcher, and a utility guy like Jerry Hairston who can double-switch into just about any position. It leaves manager Don Mattingly with essentially no ability to hit for a player in the starting lineup. That means no pinch-hitting for James Loney, who hit .213/.254/.307 against left-handers in 2011. It means no hitting for Andre Ethier, who hit .220/.258/.305 against lefties (and is just .242 with little power in his career). It means you can't really hit for Tony Gwynn Jr., Juan Rivera or Adam Kennedy with an opposite-side hitter except in maybe the eighth or ninth innings, and even then only if you haven't already hit for the pitcher.
It basically means opposing managers will always get the matchup they want against the Dodgers. The tactical advantage for carrying 13 pitchers is so small it actually becomes a tactical disadvantage, especially for a team like the Dodgers that should be hitting regularly for its starting eight.
This is a theme you'll likely see me pound home time and again. One small reason scoring has gone down in recent seasons is the trend to bigger bullpens. That may be great for the platoon edge on defense, but it makes most teams ill-equipped to make a countermove.