Doug Melvin’s wacky pitching experiment deserves MLB consideration


Doug Melvin

Baseball decisions are often made based on percentages, and the sabermetric movement has fostered some unorthodox theories in the eyes of purists and the average fan.

By Jake McCormick

Milwaukee Brewers reliever John AxfordBut while batting a pitcher eighth or using three pitchers to get three outs has been done more than once before (I’m looking at you Tony La Russa), Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin is formulating a concept that has never been executed, ever, in the MLB or it’s minor league system.

Melvin has proposed a theory that reverses the linear pitching path through the course of a game. For example, instead of having staff ace Yovani Gallardo start the game in hopes that he makes it to inning six before yielding to the bullpen, Gallardo would enter the game in the third or fourth inning after a reliever or two eats up the first couple of frames.

In a 2004 New York Times article, Melvin first suggested the concept but indicated he was only going to try it at the lower levels of the minor leagues and only with the fourth or fifth starters. He also said it would be a way to limit pitch counts while giving younger pitchers more experience in pressure situations.

The theory was implemented with the Class A Brevard County Manatees in 2008, and it has worked well enough that nothing has been written about it since. With Milwaukee successfully underachieving, the topic of bringing it to the Majors has been broached a few times on area talk radio.

It’s probably too early to try something so unprecedented at the MLB level, but if the Brewers are dead in the water by August 1, Melvin should bring his wacky idea all the way to the top.

Brewers relief pitcher Marco EstradaIt’s not like Milwaukee’s rotation is a force to be reckoned with, as the team has employed a mildly similar formula with long relievers Manny Parra and Marco Estrada twice in the past week. That combo has worked fairly successfully (13 innings, four earned runs combined in two games), but it would be a little harder to sell Melvin’s full concept in the Bigs.

Contract incentives for hitting a certain number of innings as a starter and the fact that pitchers, like the rest of the human race, are creatures of routine would definitely serve as understandable roadblocks for this unprecedented strategy. But just because it wouldn’t be embraced wholeheartedly doesn’t mean the Brewers aren’t set up for this type of move.

Along with Parra and Estrada, Milwaukee has recently filled its bullpen with a plethora of talented youngsters like Zack Braddock and John Axford. Instead of bringing them in to control the damage or maintain a lead late in the game, pitching the first few innings would relieve some of that pressure while still easing them into the experience of facing MLB-caliber hitters.

Having the starter pitch in innings three through seven or eight would theoretically eliminate the bullpen’s part in blowing leads late in games and entrust crunch time innings to better pitchers. Plus there’s that added bonus of overachievement if the relief pitcher goes more than one inning.

On paper, Melvin’s hypothesis walks the fine line between rationality and insanity. But it’s hard to argue against a strategy that has never been tested in the Major Leagues, and this is definitely one worthy of experimentation when/if the team has nothing to lose after the All Star Break.

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  1. Problem with this is that a specific long-reliever (“starter”) would plan on going every five days… what if you have your ace slated to start, but the “bullpen” gives up 8 runs in the first? Do you bring in your ace into a blow out?

  2. That’s the risk you run with that strategy, but you’d have to bring in the starter if things got out of hand. But the potential upside to dealing with a bad first inning is that if the reliever starting the game pulled a Dave Bush from Friday night, the starter (or second reliever) would probably come in before things got way too out of hand, seeing as the reliever wasn’t going to pitch more than an inning or two anyways. As for the ace coming in, Melvin said he would only consider it with guys like Narveson, Bush, and any fourth or fifth quality starter (so pretty much the Brewers whole rotation minus Gallardo and MAYBE Wolf.)

  3. paulmbanks says

    I would agree that aug 1st would be the time to do this sort of thing. once youre in selling mode, the whole rest of the season in garbage time. Actually on the southside that could start even sooner. I’m actually thinking from July on all Sox games will be meaningless

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