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Keith Law: Guerrero Jr. Prospect of the Year

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And some words on ‘assigned roles’ in the bullpen.

Keith Law, over at ESPN.com, has picked Vlad Guerrero Jr. as 2017’s MLB Prospect of the year (subscription required).

It isn’t a big surprise, Vlad has had an amazing season, made better when you know that he’s only 18 years old. Vlad hit .323/.452/.485 in 119 games, split between high and low A-ball. He walked more than he struck out (76 walks, 62 strikeouts) and he showed a fair bit of power for an 18-year old (43 extra base hits).

As Law notes:

He's younger than Austin Beck, the sixth player taken in the June draft out of a North Carolina high school, and just three months older than the first overall pick, Royce Lewis, and was among the very best hitters in two full-season leagues.

And, to make us even happier, he include Bo Bichette as one of his runners-up:

Bichette, aged 19, outhit Guerrero in Lansing, posting a ridiculous .384/.448/.623 line in low-A, moving up to the Florida State League with his teammate after the MLB Futures Game and continuing to rake at the higher level with a .323/.379/.463 line, striking out just 81 times in total on the year. Bichette is still playing primarily at shortstop, although I think it's more likely he ends up at second base, but wherever he goes his bat is going to carry him.

It is fun to imagine the future.


Matt, I’m sure, is going to have much to say on the use of closers. I’m just going sneak in a few words.

Before the 1970’s relievers were basically failed starters. Starters were expected to finish games. For the most part, relievers came into games that were already lost or if there was an injury. There were some rare exceptions, but the worst thing you could call a starter was a ‘7 inning pitchers’. Now we are thrilled if a starter goes 7 innings.

Back in the 1970’s, when relievers started to become important, managers would have one reliever they would like and they would use him in any game that was anywhere near close. They could come into the game in the 5th inning or anytime along the way.

Mike Marshall was a great example (and soon to become a cautionary tale). In 1971, with the Expos, he pitched in 66 games, and had a 4.28 ERA. Nothing too out of the ordinary. But, manager Gene Mauch grew to love the guy. Next season 65 games, 116 innings. Then 92 games, 179 innings. 1974, he hit a high of 106 games and 208.1 innings. We are happy if a starter gets us 208 innings these days.

Not surprisingly, in hindsight, Marshall had arm troubles. No one wants to see their star pitcher need surgery.

Over the next couple of decades, baseball came to the idea of limiting star relievers to an inning at a time and putting them in strictly defined roles.

Part of the reason for the ‘strictly defined roles’ was to make the game easier for the manager. When we watch on TV, the game often seems slow. When you are the manager, it is moving much faster, you have many many decisions to make. If you could stop the game and think for a half hour before each decision, it would be an easier job.

So, we started getting roles for relievers. It saved the manager from having to make this particular decision.

And then star pitchers started telling us that they liked defined roles. Closers said ‘I like knowing I’m pitching the 9th’ (course no one asks the mop up guy if he likes defined roles but I digress). And it allowed star relievers to make big money. If you had a season with 35 saves, you were set for life.

Occasionally a team would buck this trend and say ‘we are going to closer by committee’. When they didn’t win the World Series, the ‘experiment’ was called a failure and they would go back to defined roles.

I do believe there is a value to assigned roles.

What I think is the problem is when you can’t see past the assigned roles, ever. In any strategy, the manager should be able to use common sense.

I’m a big fan of leaving a pitcher in, if he is throwing well. Last night, Dominic Leone looked great in the 8th inning, hadn’t thrown many pitches. Common sense says ‘leave him in’. My rule has always been ‘the more relievers you use the more chance you have of finding the guy who just doesn’t have it that day’. And I hate the idea that relievers should only be able to pitch one inning.

John Farrell also fell into the ‘pitcher has to pitch in his role’ trap. In the 17th inning, Blaine Boyer was in and we couldn’t touch him. But, we had a lefty batter (Ezequiel) coming up and Farrell has his lefty pitcher (Fernando Abad) for that role. Abad in and Carrera singles, Richard Urena follows with a single and Raffy Lopez goes 9 pitches before striking out. It was stupid to bring Abad while Boyer was doing so well, but Farrell got lucky.

So, for me, assigned roles are ok, as long as the manager can ignore them when the situation calls for it. There is no excuse for not thinking at all.

And....compared to 30 years ago, there isn’t such a big drop in talent after the closer. The bullpen used to be a great pitcher as closer and a bunch of lesser guys. Then it went to a great closer and a very good setup man. Now teams can have 5 pretty decent arms in the pen. We saw it last night, the teams rolled thru 17 relievers, many of them excellent pitchers. If the gap between closer and the rest of the pen isn’t that big, why not go with the hot hand more?


As for Roberto Osuna. If I ran things, I’d likely use him in some low leverage spots, for a while, and let him get his confidence back. Honestly, last night’s loss wasn’t totally on him. He did have some bad luck with BABIP and Josh likely could have made a better decision on the ground ball that scored the first run. But....19 innings, we score 2 runs, the lose is mostly on the guys holding the bats.


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