Mike Stanton is the latest example of the adage that it pays to raise your son to be a left-handed relief pitcher.
Stanton is 39 and has a well-used arm — he has pitched in the third-most games in major league history — but he recently signed a two-year contract with Cincinnati. The Reds will add a third year if he pitches in 140 games the next two seasons.
Last season, Stanton relieved in 82 games, one short of his career high, and when he relieves for the 11th time next season, he will pass John Franco for second on the games list behind Jesse Orosco. If he hits 140, he will be three behind Orosco with 1,149, amassed in an 18-year career with the Braves, the Red Sox, the Rangers, the Yankees, the Mets, the Red Sox and the Yankees again, the Nationals and the Giants.
1 Jesse Orosco 1252
2 John Franco 1119
3 Mike Stanton 1109
4 Dennis Eckersley 1071
5 Hoyt Wilhelm 1070
6 Dan Plesac 1064
7 Kent Tekulve 1050
8 Lee Smith 1022
9 Mike Jackson 1005
10 Goose Gossage 1002
The recent Mike Stanton signing me of a wish I was lamenting about last summer. A simple wish, just a really simple wish, or so I thought.
The wish was for a slew of young middle relievers with movement on their pitches and the ability to pitch 100 innings in relief magically showing up in the Reds bullpen.
Unfortunately (not for the Reds is my best guess) Mike Stanton has only topped 70 IP 5 times in 18 seasons, so lets' all note that his contract accelerator is wrapped up in games pitched, not innings pitched.
Get some guys who eat innings and you don't need an 8 player bullpen.
For an example of what kind of bullpen the Reds could use they need only look back to 1999.
ERA DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE IP AGE
Scott Williamson 2.16 2.41 4.57 93.1 23
Scott Sullivan 1.56 3.01 4.57 113.2 28
Danny Graves 1.49 3.08 4.57 111 25
This triad of stud relievers who ate up huge amounts of innings was the backbone of a Reds staff that boasted 17 pitchers and 9 separate starters over the season, and yet they still won 96 games. 3 relievers who ate up almost 22% of the team's innings, all three had ERA's a run and a half better than the league average, it was really something in retrospect, two 100 inning relievers and one knocking on the door. But is it possible that a bullpen like that can, or will exist again in today's game? Or has the 100-inning reliever started to be squeezed out by pitch counts and the extra man in the bullpen? Finally, was there always a 100-inning type of reliever around for teams to ride?
Reds TV Announcer Chris Welsh said this in an interview last year.
"I really think the evolution of the middle relievers is one of the biggest changes we've seen in the last 20 years. What I think is they've developed a type of player that comes in and throws 1 or 2 innings and throws very hard and they get them out of there after they've faced 6 or 7 batters. The Kyle Farnsworth type of player."
Sorry Chris, that's not so recent, that type of player has been in the game for the past 30 plus years, but the workload wasn't as spread out as it is in today's game and currently the new prototype of super middle reliever is likely being reshaped by the games flow, right under our very eyes. So when (and if) a transformation is completed don't be surprised by the player it produces, maybe it will a 50 inning, 100K pitcher?
Who knows? Just polish up some stories for the kids about how back in the day the relievers would eat up batters and innings like something you've never seen.
I have one that involves Southwest Airlines and Rollie Fingers, but that's not pertinent.
Of course pondering relievers and their workload wasn't always something the fans of the game spent their time doing. When the ball was deader, the game a bit slower and the sun shone on most of the games being played a complete game by the pitcher was the norm. Below are the Reds pitchers who have completed 20 or more games in consecutive seasons. Not one Reds pitcher has completed 20 or more games since the 1940's.
Bob Ewing 1903-08 6
Bucky Walters 1939-44 6
Noodles Hahn 1900-04 5
Eppa Rixey 1921-23 3
Red Lucas 1931-33 3
Paul Derringer 1938-40 3
Bill Phillips 1901-02 2
Andy Coakley 1907-08 2
Fred Toney 1916-17 2
Dutch Ruether 1919-20 2
Johnny Vander Meer 1942-43 2
The above was the norm, the blueprint for pitching success in the days of wool suits, 12-cent dinners and women named Florence.
However this all started to change in the thirties, in 1937 White Sox hurler Clint Brown appeared in 53 games and pitched 100 innings all without starting a game, making him the first pitcher in MLB history to accomplish that feat. Brown was a depression era Scott Sullivan, throwing slightly underhanded and with a side armed approach. This season began a slow process in the evolution of the workhorse reliever, creating a niche for a pitcher that could toss 100 innings and do the majority of it from the bullpen (usually starting only in an emergency.)
Once this feat was accomplished it took a few years for the rest of baseball to catch on and the offensive surge in the postwar era created a greater need to temper the bats with fresh arms and then the concept took off. Since 1937 the feat has been accomplished 418 times, with the Reds and the Giants being the teams having the most players on the list (30). It's easy to see how the Reds have so many on that list, as a team they have a less than league average ERA since 1946 and still have a winning record, they have to be getting a quality pitching performance from somewhere other than their starting staff for over 50 years.
Between 1946 and 1968 a total of 103 pitchers tallied 100 innings in a season with a start or less. In 1969 the division format and expansion changed the games makeup, this along with the reduction of the mounds height and the eventual introduction of the designated hitter helped decrease what had become a stagnate offensive game in the 60's. This of course posed a new problem to managers throughout the game, and that was how to beat the increased offense that was now creeping slowly. Many managers in the game took different paths, and all hoped to segue into a balance that could combat the offensive onslaught.
One method was the Billy Martin method of riding as many starters as you can (example Joe Coleman and Mickey Lolich combine for 662 IP and 45 CG) and riding a reliever in over a 100 innings (Fred Sherman.) Approaches like that led to unique situations where 3 pitchers could eat up 57% of your total innings pitched and 2 of them were starters. Another method include the Sparky Anderson method of spreading the wealth amongst many starters and having a horse like Pedro Borbon eat up those tweener innings between the starters and the closer.
No discussion of the 100 inning reliever can be complete without pulling out one of its greatest boosters, in 1973 the Kansas City Royals hired Jack McKeon to be their manager, McKeon would be in and out of baseball in the front office and on the bench for the next 30 years, retiring in 2004. During his time frame as a mover and shaker the 100-inning reliever bloomed, flowered and apparently is on the way out the door as a normal event. Jack McKeon liked his hard working relievers and apparently the rest of baseball in the 1970's and 1980's did as well. Jack christened his first season as a major league manager by getting Doug Bird into enough games to top 100 innings. Bird turned into a fine reliever and was converted to a starter by Whitey Herzog during the mid 70's before he ended up back in the pen.
From 1970-1979 122 relievers threw over 100 innings with 1 or less start, in 1978 six men did it in the American League, three of them pitched for Jack McKeon.
ERA YEAR DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE IP
Elias Sosa 1978 1.14 2.64 3.78 109
Bob Lacey 1978 0.77 3.01 3.78 119.2
Dave Heaverlo 1978 0.52 3.25 3.78 130
That's getting the best out of you a bullpen arm, that's for sure. It's tiny pitching events like this that fueled the reliever as savior movement that grew in the late 70's and the pattern continued to grow, from 1980-1989 the total of 100 inning relievers was 137 and suddenly the Sutter's and the Fingers were bigger than the Hillers and the Stu Millers of the prior generation, they became major players in the new free agent market as teams jostled to obtain these workhorses and stoppers to fill the gaps that the game had created in the middle to late innings.
Below are the pitchers who had the most consecutive seasons with 100 IP less than 1 start and a plus era
Rollie Fingers 1974-78 5
Duane Ward 1988-92 5
Hoyt Wilhelm 1952-55 4
Jack Baldschun 1961-64 4
Ron Perranoski 1962-65 4
Mike Marshall 1972-75 4
Kent Tekulve 1976-79 4
Dan Quisenberry 1982-85 4
Dick Radatz 1962-64 3
Pedro Borbon 1973-75 3
Sparky Lyle 1976-78 3
Enrique Romo 1978-80 3
Bob Stanley 1982-84 3
Scott Sullivan 1999-01 3
These are you stars of the genre, many relief legends in there and couple of Reds as well.
The cherry on the sundae of the workhorse relievers lifespan was the Cy Young award that Mark Davis obtained in 1989, a feat that still to this day is debated as being the worst Cy Young award in the history of the game, an award that is equal to Rafael Palmeiro's last gold glove.
Not up for debate is the ridiculousness of the contract that he received for that performance.
By the way his manager that year was Jack McKeon.
In the 1990's it was a different game, the offense increased even more an extra body often was in the bullpen and not on the bench, this added pitcher ate up more innings and pitch counts for all pitchers started to be taken more seriously thus the number of 100-inning relievers began to drop and by the end of the 1990's only 33 relievers topped 100 innings pitched and only 78 topped 90 innings pitched, 4 of the 100 IP guys were Reds and 10 of the 90 IP guys were Reds.
Seven of those Reds pitched for Jack McKeon.
In 1997 Ray Knight was jettisoned from the Reds managerial seat, in hopes of providing some calmness to a clubhouse that was in disarray the Reds hired Jack McKeon, a man known more for his GM tenure and cigars then his managerial career.
With him came a both of the old school 70's approach to the use of the bullpen, as a canvas McKeon had more than a few pitchers to work with, on the field the Reds starting staff almost begged that that be the approach that be taken.
Between 1997 and 2000 the Reds had quite the workhorse bullpen, and beating the league average in ERA was pretty much par for the course, and most of this can be attributed to the usage patterns created by Jack McKeon.
ERA vs. the league average displayed only--not a sorting criteria
ERA YEAR ERA G IP ERA
Jeff Shaw 1997 2.38 78 94.2 1.83
Scott Williamson 1999 2.41 62 93.1 2.16
Danny Graves 2000 2.56 66 91.1 2.08
Scott Sullivan 1999 3.01 79 113.2 1.56
Danny Graves 1999 3.08 75 111 1.49
Scott Sullivan 1997 3.24 59 97.1 0.97
Danny Graves 1998 3.32 62 81.1 0.92
Scott Sullivan 2000 3.47 79 106.1 1.17
Stan Belinda 1997 3.71 84 99.1 0.49
Scott Sullivan 1998 5.21 67 102 -.97
McKeon was a throwback in his time as manager of the Reds and the Marlins he has averaged only 382 relievers used in a season, this is in an era that many mangers use over 450, some 500 and only a select few under 400 (Pinella, Torre and pre Texas Showalter)
While this approach was being considered a norm in Cincinnati it was dieing on the vine throughout the rest of baseball, with the peak of the post strike era occurring in the incredible offensive year of 1999 when a total of 6 relievers topped 100 innings with less than 2 starts.
At the end of the 2000 season McKeon was let go by the Reds, however that didn't stop Bob Boone from working Sullivan for more than 100 innings, in 2001 Sully logged 103 innings, since then no Reds reliever has topped 80 innings pitched.
INNINGS PITCHED YEAR IP GS
1 Steve Sparks 2003 107 0
2 Scott Sullivan 2000 106.1 0
3 Scot Shields 2004 105.1 0
4 Guillermo Mota 2003 105 0
5 Scott Sullivan 2001 103.1 0
6 Scott Proctor 2006 102.1 0
7 Ramiro Mendoza 2001 100.2 2
8 Rick White 2000 99.2 0
9 Matt Herges 2001 99.1 0
T10 Byung-Hyun Kim 2001 98 0
T10 Oscar Villarreal 2003 98 1
12 Vladimir Nunez 2002 97.2 0
13 Octavio Dotel 2002 97.1 0
T14 Mike Timlin 2002 96.2 1
T14 Guillermo Mota 2004 96.2 0
In the AL prior to this seasons breakout by Scott Proctor Scott Shields is the most recent man to top 100 IP with less than 2 starts, and that was in 2004. The last NL pitcher was Guillermo Mota for the Dodgers in 2003.
Wonder how he did that?
In 2004 during a run at the title the Marlins obtained Mota in a trade, manager McKeon probably saw a 100 inning reliever coming his way and prepared to use him to help temper the trips he was making to the mound, in the only season in which had to use over 400 relievers. Alas it was not to be and The Fish fell to third and McKeon was given his walking papers.
This past season Mota received a suspension for what looks like steroid use, perhaps that helped as much as pitching for McKeon?
Since 2000 only 7 "true" relievers have topped 100 innings pitched, since 1937 only 21% of the 418 relievers to achieve the feat were over 32 years old.
If the Reds sign Weathers then they will have 3 pitchers that will very likely not top 75 innings, but that looks like that's the trend in the game as it once again shifts in front of our eyes, forcing us to reexamine what we might have thought was the norm in the game, forcing us to admit the game is a malleable force that changes with times.
Forcing us to realize that the Reds bullpen is too old to accomplish magnificent feats, too old to eat up innings like the fans think they should, and possibly too old to carry the Reds to extraordinary late inning stability.