The Match-Up Game
Thinking about the 2023 bullpen
Max Scherzer struck out nine batters in three innings. I can’t wait until that actually means something. Instead, it was a spring outing against Nicaragua that the future Hall-of-Famer characterized as “weird.”
Only one player (Daniel Vogelbach) from the Mets’ projected Opening Day lineup made the box score, as the rest of the expected starters tended to their World Baseball Classic duties. New York mustered just one hit (an infield single) by none other than Ronny Mauricio (who is batting .400) and lost 2–0.
Despite generating 10 swinging strikes across his five pitches, Scherzer was disappointed in his slider. Nicaraguan hitters fouled it off seven times, making good contact on what is normally Scherzer’s toughest pitch to hit. The Mets made two errors behind him and one ball left the park. On a positive note, Scherzer felt good pitching to top prospect Francisco Álvarez.
Today, I will take a look at the bullpen. As we get closer to the season, I want to introduce some different concepts that I will be relying on to highlight match-up decisions throughout the year. I will also get you caught up on the latest news, out of town happenings and point you to some interesting links.
A favorite topic around this time of year is breaking down who will make up the back of the bullpen. While I understand it is one of the few roster areas where some question remains, I’m less interested in who starts the year in the ‘pen than I am at how the pen is composed. We know there will be a never-ending carousel of pitchers eating sunflower seeds together beyond the outfield fence this season. But how do the different pieces complement and supplement each other?
To help us start thinking about this, I created a little table. Most modern-day relievers survive on a fastball/slider combination, but you can see how they differ in their approaches and which pitchers offer unique third offerings.
The numbers make intuitive sense when you start connecting the dots. The relievers who typically live up in the zone (High %) tend to generate less ground balls (GB %) than those who have swing-and-miss sliders (Chase %). We could get a lot more complicated by highlighting each location and pitch type where each reliever has the most success, but for simplicity, let’s start with this high-level view.
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