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Eric Gagne, Beyond the Saves
2005-05-23 21:11
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Gather 'round and watch as the myths explode - once and for all - and the truth is revealed.

1) Right through his final start, Eric Gagne remained a starting pitcher with great promise.

2) Throughout his career as a reliever, Gagne has been one of the best pitchers in baseball in non-save situations.

Join me, Retrosheet and ESPN.com as we look back at Gagne's career, year-by-year. And then, if you're convinced about how underrated he is when he's not closing, help spread the word.

1999

Gagne came up as a starting pitcher in September 1999 at age 23 and was outstanding. That's right - outstanding.

In four of the five starts, he allowed no more than one earned run - and never threw fewer than five innings. In his debut, at Florida, Gagne gave a performance not unlike Edwin Jackson's fondly recalled first game: six innings, two hits, one walk, eight strikeouts, no runs allowed. In his worst game, he had a 3-2 lead over the 97-win New York Mets entering the sixth inning before faltering. He ended the year with six shutout innings in Houston. For the season, he struck out 30 in 30 innings, walking 15 and posting a 2.10 ERA.

2000

As a 24-year-old, Gagne's strikeout rate dropped while his rate of home runs allowed increased. But he had periods of effectiveness mixed within. Entering the rotation on April 15, Gagne had an ERA of 3.22 after four starts totaling 22 1/3 innings. His worst game in that stretch came when he allowed three solo homers to Atlanta, but only four other baserunners in six innings.

The month of June typified Gagne's season. On June 6, he shut out Texas for six innings. In his next start, he gave up five runs in the first inning to Oakland, but still lasted five innings, allowing one more run in the fifth.

Gagne mixed the good with the bad for several more weeks, before leaving the active roster on July 27 after allowing eight runs (five earned) in 4 1/3 innnings - excuseable, considering it came in Colorado in a game you might well remember: the Dodgers won, 16-11, with Adrian Beltre driving in six runs and Alex Cora five.

Gagne returned for four starts in September and was solid: He went six innings in three of the four, allowing six runs in 22 1/3 innings (2.42 ERA). Surprisingly, he did have one six-inning stirkeout free start, which meant he only whiffed 15 in that month. But for a season with ups and downs, and an ultimately below-average 5.15 ERA, Gagne ended on a strong note.

2001

Now a member of the Dodger starting rotation from the opening week, Gagne came out sharp, with a five-inning, six-strikeout, one-run performance against Arizona (facing Randy Johnson) and an eight-inning, seven-strikeout, one-run game in his fourth start, in the city where his transformation to closer would take shape a year later, San Francisco. But again, inconsistency plagued him, and he fell out of the rotation in early June with his ERA at 6.05.

Returning in July, Gagne pitched four superb games out of five, if not five out of five - the questionable game was a six-inning, seven-run game at Coors Field in which he earned the 22-7 victory. For the month, including that difficult Colorado start, Gagne was 3-0 with a 3.15 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings. Add in the stats for Gagne's first four August starts, and the Canadian was on a streak of 58 innings, 44 strikeouts and a 3.26 ERA.

Gagne finished August with two non-quality starts in which he allowed nine runs in 9 1/3 innings, and spent most of September in the bullpen. Once more, however, he ended the season with a fine start: six innings, two runs, three hits, four walks, six strikeouts. His ERA for the year was 4.75 - still not good enough to rely on, but hardly a lost cause. He had 13 quality starts out of 24 for the year - pretty promising for someone who was still young.

2002

After adding four new starting pitchers during the offseason - Odalis Perez, Hideo Nomo, Kazuhisa Ishii and Omar Daal - the Dodgers decided to put Gagne in the bullpen. His first three games as a full-time reliever came in non-save situations, and it was the 3 2/3 shutout innings with one hit, zero walks and six strikeouts that encouraged Jim Tracy to give him a chance to record his first save, which happened April 7 at home against Colorado. The transcendent moment that cemented his status as closer came four days later, when Tracy allowed Gagne to get out of his own two-on, one-out jam in San Francisco, striking out Jeff Kent and retiring Reggie Sanders on a deep fly to center to preserve a 4-3 victory.

From that moment on through today, most of Gagne's appearances were in save situations. When they weren't, they were usually in tie games at home in the ninth inning or after, when a save was no longer possible.

One-third of an inning in Cincinnati on August 1, accounted for nearly half the runs Gagne allowed in non-save situations that year. Entering the game in the ninth inning with a 4-0 lead, Gagne allowed a two-run home run, then was ejected after hitting Adam Dunn with a pitch that everyone but the soon-to-be-reprimanded home-plate umpire agreed was unintentional. Dunn also scored in what was to become one of the Dodgers' most bitter defeats of the decade so far.

It would defeat the purpose of this exercise, of course, to evaluate Gagne without that game on the record, but just to show the impact that it had - without it, Gagne's ERA in non-save opportunities in 2002 would have been lower than his ERA in save opportunities. In any case, Gagne still posted a wonderful ERA even when he couldn't get a save.

Non-save opportunity stats: 22 1/3 IP, 14 H, 7 R, 5 BB, 30 K, 2.82 ERA
Save opportunity stats: 60 IP, 31 H, 11 R, 11 BB, 84 K, 1.65 ERA

2003

The killer game for Gagne, the one that more or less established his reputation as a non-save opportunity stiff - or NSOS - was May 12 vs. Atlanta. Entering a tie game in the top of the ninth with a 0.48 ERA for the season, Gagne allowed three hits and a walk, all of whom scored in a seven-run Braves ninth inning. He followed that game with two runs allowed in his next non-save opportunity 17 days later, allowing Todd Helton's third home run of the game with a man aboard in the Coors Field environment that always plagued him as a starter, cementing his NSOS status for most people.

Again, this infamous stretch overshadowed how useful Gagne was whenever he pitched.

Non-save opportunity stats: 25 1/3 IP, 16 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 11 BB, 38 K, 3.20 ERA
Save opportunity stats: 57 IP, 21 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 9 BB, 99 K, 0.32 ERA

Absolutely ungodly in save opportunities, Gagne was still aces virtually any other time he emerged from the bullpen. Again, just to show the impact of one game, his ERA in non-save opportunities outside of May 12 would have been 1.80.

2004

In his first 14 appearances without a save opportunity, covering 17 1/3 innings, Gagne allowed one run on eight hits while striking out 23 - an ERA of 0.52. This should have put to rest the myth that Gagne was ineffective in non-save opportunities for good - not that the myth should have existed in the first place.

Unfortunately, Gagne's nadir game of 2004 came in his second appearance after Guillermo Mota was traded to Florida, which was also his first appearance after pitching three shutout innings in a memorable non-save opportunity that led to perhaps a season-saving victory at San Diego. On August 6, with the local media raging against asunder-tearing Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta, Gagne pitched a shutout 10th inning before allowing four runs in the top of the 11th in a 9-5 Dodger defeat. This came 12 days before Gagne's record consecutive save streak ended at home against Florida. Though the storm of 2004 was the canard that Gagne was overworked - something else that proved untrue, somehow the myth of Gagne's short attention span theater in non-save situations persisted.

On September 17 - in a non-save opportunity in Colorado - Gagne faced eight batters. He allowed one hit, one walk and struck out six. So much for lack of concentration.

In the playoffs, because Jose Lima pitched a complete game in the Dodgers' one victory, Gagne only pitched in non-save situations. He threw three shutout innings, allowing one hit, walking one and striking out three.

Non-save opportunity stats: 33 IP, 20 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 8 BB, 43 K, 2.18 ERA
Save opportunity stats: 52 2/3 IP, 33 H, 16 R, 12 ER, 14 BB, 71 K, 2.05 ERA

Virtually equal.

2005, through May 22

There you go again, Eric. You come off the disabled list after nearly two months and have the nerve to allow two home runs in your first game back. Must have been because a save wasn't on the line.

Since those first two batters homered, Gagne has pitched four shutout innings. But you can't change how the ERA is calculated:

Non-save opportunity stats: 4 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 4.50 ERA
Save opportunity stats: 0 IP

Which leads us to Gagne's record in non-save opportunities since becoming the Dodger closer in 2002 ...

Totals, 2002-2005

Non-save opportunity stats: 84 2/3 IP, 54 H, 27 R, 26 ER, 25 BB, 119 K, 2.76 ERA
Save opportunity stats: 169 2/3 IP, 85 H, 29 R, 25 ER, 34 BB, 254 K, 1.33 ERA

Eric Gagne is insanely great in save opportunities, merely great in non-save opportunities.

  • While becoming a reliever certainly has been an incredible success for Gagne, his chances to succeed as a starter were not close to being over in 2002.

  • And since becoming a reliever, by no stretch of the imagination should Gagne be considered ineffective when pitching without a save on the line.

    It doesn't matter what inning it is for Eric Gagne. Use him or waste him.

  • Comments (56)
    Show/Hide Comments 1-50
    2005-05-23 21:40:25
    1.   dzzrtRatt
    My God. For a guy under the weather, this post is absolutely heroic. I can only say, Jon, you are my daddy.

    The game by game analysis is crucial to making your case, and overcoming what the cold numbers seem to say. What a feat of analysis combined with sterling prose.

    Still, it's interesting that there is a difference, but I agree, it doesn't mean what the "myth" says it means. It just means he's a ridiculously great pitcher who happened to come into his own via the bullpen. No question, a career as an excellent starter was available to him had the Dodgers kept him in that role.

    But, one last recollection you can confirm or shoot down...in 2002, wasn't Gagne on the bubble in Spring Training, until it became necessary to try him in the bullpen? Weren't the Dodgers having a surplus of starters, with Gagne the most likely to get sent down? I seem to recall that the switch not only helped the team, but helped keep him in the majors. But, as you've demonstrated, my memory is shaky.

    2005-05-23 21:57:15
    2.   Woody
    Use him or waste him? With our current staff would it be out of the question to start him and let Brazoban close? Please, no brickbats.
    2005-05-23 22:00:34
    3.   Fearing Blue
    Woody, duck! I offhandedly (is that a word?) made that comment in the last thread and almost lost my head :).
    2005-05-23 22:10:37
    4.   Jon Weisman
    Sometimes writing is the best medicine, Ratt.

    As far as 2002 Spring Training goes, I think your recollection is on target. The Dodgers had five solid starting pitchers that year, even with Kevin Brown injured for much of that time: Nomo, Perez, Ashby, Ishii and Daal. So they needed to do something with Gagne. Had 2002 been 2005, a year with less pitching depth, Gagne would probably still be a starter today. I may make a note of that in the piece above.

    That's not to say that Gagne should be made a starter today, just that he didn't fail out of starting.

    2005-05-23 22:15:18
    5.   Fearing Blue
    #1: My recollection is that you are correct. Gagne was "on the bubble", because of our pitching depth. He and Perez were competing for the 5th starter slot. The fact that he was pitching so well in Spring Training forced the Dodgers hand in finding a spot for him.

    I tried searching the LA Times archives, but all of the stories are pay stories. Based on the story abstracts, there were a couple interesting notes. Prior to the 2002 season, we were considering Ugueth Urbina and Antonio Alfonseca as solutions to our closer problem. Also, everyone was upset that we traded Herges and Jorge Nunez for Mota and Wilkin Ruan. I'm guessing the story said something about heart and soul.

    2005-05-23 22:30:14
    6.   Louis in SF
    Jon, great post and Dzratt and you are correct about Gagne being on the bubble in 2002, and the bullpen seemed to be the best place for him. The other point, how much of it entered into the Dodger equation, I don't know was his history of injury. Didn't he have at least one Tommy John surgery and an additional elbow surgery.

    The other great point in your article is the whole problem of certain pitchers only being allowed to pitch in certain situations. Most on this site are still proably chocking on Tracy's pitching decisions in the 8th inning on Saturday..there were so many wrong moves in that inning. But in fairness to to the new world of baseball, once you become a set-up man it seems that you can only pitch in a set-up/hold situation. Hence since the Dodgers were tied with the Angels going into the 8th on Saturday Yahncy could not pitch. Had they been up we probably would have seen him.

    The definitation of a closer and save has become so solidified as a one inning position, it seems doubtful that any team with a great closer, the Braves being the exception are going to change the role of a great closer. I grew up in the era of Jim Brewer, Peronoski and they both often pitched 2-3 innings, and saves in the high 20's were considered great. Completly off topic, bullpen issues for many teams including the Dodgers would be minimized if we were only using 4 starting pitchers.

    The 5th pitcher question on the Dodgers is a by product of having to trot out 5 pitchers.

    2005-05-23 22:33:39
    7.   Steve
    Free Eric Gagne!
    2005-05-23 22:43:41
    8.   scareduck
    Jon, I've already made my case why Gagne shouldn't have been used in his first game back from the DL; he wasn't 100% and the game was still within reach. It was a bad decision by Tracy that sealed the deal, especially considering the guys coming up against him had histories of hitting him well.

    I want to see your data. The more I look at these numbers -- especially with the large number of non-save situations -- the more I think my case is correct: Gagne is not as good a pitcher in non-save situations. The "small sample size" argument falls by the wayside.

    2005-05-23 22:50:50
    9.   Bob Timmermann
    Jim Brewer didn't really pitch a lot of innings. He became a reliever fulltime in 1968 and his high was 89 innings and also 59 games.

    However in 1974, Mike Marshall put in 208 innings and 106 games.

    The last Dodger who pitched completely in relief (that I can find) who topped 100 innings in a season was Tom Niedenfuer in 1985.

    Rogel McDowell got over 100 in a season he split between Philly and L.A.

    2005-05-23 22:56:35
    10.   regfairfield
    Wow, I feel like I started something here. Or this is just a coincidence compeletly unrelated to what I wrote. Either way.

    Anyway, much like my perception as Gagne being a one inning guy was shattered when I looked at the numbers, my perception of Gagne as incapabable in non save situations is gone too.

    With this is mind, seeing him pitch his usual 88.1 innings, despite missing his first month.

    2005-05-23 23:01:01
    11.   Jon Weisman
    Rob, I've just showed you my data - don't really know what else you want me to do. I think you're just framing the argument counterproductively by saying that Gagne is not as good a pitcher in non-save situations. So what? He's still great. A 2.76 ERA and you're still not allowed to use him?

    I disagree with your post about his first game this year, as you know, but in any case, this article isn't about that game.

    2005-05-23 23:47:13
    12.   Improbable88
    Jon, thoroughly great stuff. I have to admit that back in the 2002 and 2003 seasons, my friends and I would look at each other nervously whenever Gagne trotted out in a non-save situation. Obviously, the intensity level helps Gagne perform at superhuman levels, but his non-save stats, as you've shown, are still fantastic. I think part of our Dodger-fan-fear in non-save situations, stems from the kind of let down we all experienced when we first realized our parents weren't invincible--because of a few unforgettable times past, we are a tad hesitant when Gagne comes in because we can't stand to see our pride and joy falter, even a little. He is still human...just to a much lesser extent than every other relief pitcher in baseball...you too, Rivera!
    2005-05-24 05:14:25
    13.   Langhorne
    Thanks a lot, Jon. I get home from work at 3a.m. and think I'll take a quick look at DT before going to bed. Then I spend the next hour and counting looking at four year old boxscores until my eyes are bleeding. I have come to two conclusions. The first is that if Gagne had stayed in the starting rotation it is possible he would have continued to improve. The second is that he wouldn't have been nearly as successful or as valuable as a starter as he has been in relief. The second conclusion is based mainly on the fact that he averaged less than six innings per start in his time as a starter. In 2000 he was pretty inconsistent and his bb/k ratio wasn't great. In 2001 he went back and forth from the rotation to the pen all year. His bb/k was much better but he seemed to have a pattern of several strong starts then tailing of with several 2 or 3 inning starts. At which point he'd be sent to the pen. He'd pitch well in relief and they'd start him again and the cycle would repeat. It makes me think that he might not have enough stamina. I'd also like to see how many of his strikeouts as a starter came in the first 3 or 4 innings. I seem to remember him running out of gas a lot as a starter.
    In a perfect baseball world there wouldn't be these arbitrary divisions between "starters" and "relievers". They wouldn't need stats like wins or holds or saves. They'd all live in harmony as pitchers.(cue inspirational music)
    2005-05-24 06:39:23
    14.   Fearing Blue
    My concern with that reasoning is that we have no framework for removing legitimate improvement (in both ability and stamina) when comparing pre-2002 performance to post-2002 performance. I have a (very strong) feeling that if Brett Myers had been moved to the bullpen this year or Ben Sheets last year, everyone would be saying the same things as they were with Gagne. Essentially, we moved a young pitcher to the bullpen during his breakout year, so we have no idea how good he would be as a starter.

    I tried to think of classes of relievers and starters as mediocre, good, or great. I can't think of one that changed class when they moved around later in their career.

    Eckersley and Smoltz (great as starters and closers)
    Lowe and Kim (good as starters and closers)
    Graves, Batista, Hermanson and Affeldt (mediocre as starters and closers)

    If anything, the conversion of Gagne created this perception in MLB that there were these mediocre starting pitchers out there that would become great as relievers. But, every starter that's been converted since then has been a counter-example. It's possible Gagne is a special case, since there really still aren't enough data points to make a definitive case. On the other hand, I think it's much more likely that Gagne got significantly better as a pitcher, but that improvement was hidden by his move to the bullpen.

    2005-05-24 07:31:58
    15.   Adam M
    Pitchers whose quality changed dramatically when switching from closing to starting or v.v.--anyone else agree/disagree?:

    *Jose Mesa. Current struggles and Game 7 notwithstanding, he was a decent closer for a few years, while I only remember him as a mediocre starter.

    *Byung-Hyun Kim: Mediocre starter, outstanding reliever...for a while. I remember Rob Neyer saying that Hillenbrand for Kim was highway robbery...for the Red Sox.

    *Tom Gordon--remember him being a lot like Gagne as a starter: he'd roll for a few innings then give up the big inning.

    2005-05-24 08:10:56
    16.   Eric Enders
    What's interesting about the stats above is that Gagne's H/9 and K/9 rates are the same in both save situations and non-save situations, and his walk rate is actually better in non-save situations -- but his ERA nevertheless doubles.

    We can't really draw a complete conclusion from this without the HR given up numbers. If they are also the same, then I think we're forced to draw the conclusion that Gagne being less effective in non-save situations has been nothing but dumb luck so far.

    If the HR rate is higher in non-save situations, as I suspect it is, that would be a pretty obvious indication that Gagne is simply pitching to the score and challenging guys more often when the game isn't on the line.

    2005-05-24 08:33:14
    17.   Formerly R
    I understand your argument, Jon, that in non-save situations Gagne is still a very good pitcher. But are you also arguing that he should go back to starting?

    Here are a couple of recollections culled from a poor memory.

    As a starter, Gagne ALWAYS seemed to hit a wall and hit it hard, much like what's been happening to Weaver lately. A couple of spins through the lineup was all Gagne was good for. He'd either run out of gas or the other team would catch up to him or a combination of both. With more experience, maybe this would have changed, but it seemed like Gagne was never going to get over that proverbial hump.

    Or maybe he needed another pitch?

    If my memory serves (which it rarely does), when Gagne started he did not have that devastating split/change pitch he uses so effectively now. That's a pitch he seems to have perfected since going to the bullpen. (I'd love to see if other DT readers verify or refute this.) Now that he has better command of an incredible offspeed pitch, would this make him a more effective starter?

    I don't know if this has any bearing on Jon's argument or not. Just throwing it out there.

    2005-05-24 08:33:39
    18.   Fearing Blue
    Jose Mesa could be a counter-example, though, like Gagne, he was converted from a starter to a reliever when he was young (27/28 years old). Thus, some of his improvement could have been just that.

    In 2002, Kim was an great reliever. In 2003, Kim was good as both a reliever and a starter. His ERA as a starter was 3.38 and as a reliever was 3.22. After 2003, Kim was bad as both a reliever and a starter.

    I hadn't remembered Gordon as a starter, and he is a good counter-example. Gordon was much better as a reliever than a starter. In 1997, his last and best year as a starter at age 29, he posted a 3.75 ERA with 25 of his 42 games coming as a starter. In 1998, he was a great reliever, with a 2.72 ERA, and has gone back and forth from good to great since then.

    Rivera could be another counter-example. He had one bad year as a starter in 1996 at age 26, before becoming one of the most dominant closers in the game for going on 9 years.

    One theory to explain this could be that pitchers with a small pitch repertoire do better in the bullpen. Rivera, Gordon, and Kim each only throw two quality pitches (fastball / cutter, fastball / curve, and fastball / slider respectively). Mesa and Gagne each have three quality pitches (fastball / split finger / slider and fastball / changeup / curve respectively).

    2005-05-24 08:45:25
    19.   Jon Weisman
    As I said above:

    "That's not to say that Gagne should be made a starter today, just that he didn't fail out of starting."

    2005-05-24 08:46:08
    20.   Fearing Blue
    #17: I don't think anyone is arguing that Gagne should be moved into a starting role, because he may be more valuable as a closer, especially with Tracy at the helm. The argument I'm trying to make, along with Jon I believe, is that Gagne is a excellent pitcher period and therefore would excel in any role he's placed in (starter, smokejumper, setup-man, closer, LOOGY, ROOGY, middle-relief, mop-up, etc.). If we agree on that point, it makes for an interesting discussion, which is "What is the most valuable way to use your best pitcher?".
    2005-05-24 08:53:52
    21.   mcrawford
    " If the HR rate is higher in non-save situations, as I suspect it is, that would be a pretty obvious indication that Gagne is simply pitching to the score and challenging guys more often when the game isn't on the line."

    This is merely anecdotal and should be taken as such, but I have seen this be the case for Gagne. I remember last year when I was at a game at SBC, with the Dodgers up by about 3 runs, and Bonds was at the plate with no one on. So his run didn't matter. And Gagne just threw him fastball after fastball, obviously seeing if he could throw it by Bonds every time. And Bonds hit it out.

    2005-05-24 08:56:56
    22.   mcrawford
    "What is the most valuable way to use your best pitcher?"

    If we also accept the assumption that Gagne is more effective pitching 3 innings or less every couple of days (i.e., not starting every 4-5 days and trying to pitch 6 innings), then it seems like none of the roles you list are the best. It's probably better to use him whenever the game is on the line, from the 6th inning on. 2 on, 1 out in the 7th inning, heart of the lineup coming up, use Gagne. That kind of thing.

    2005-05-24 09:02:07
    23.   the OZ
    UNRELATED:

    Jayson Werth finally hit a home run on his rehab stint. He's now hitting .317/.472/.390 in Vegas with just the one XBH, but is trending in a positive direction.

    2005-05-24 09:11:50
    24.   Im So Blue
    Re #5: In March '02, Odalis Perez was chosen as the 5th starter over Omar Daal and Gagne. Daal was upset at being sent to the bullpen as the long relief guy, and demanded a trade. Gagne was to join the "closer by committee" group. Here is an excerpt from an article by Brian Dohn in the Daily News :

    March 24, 2002

    Gagne embraces role: Gagne didn't allow a run in 12 spring innings as a starter but doesn't mind being in the bullpen.

    He was clocked at 97 mph during his perfect three-inning relief stint Friday against Montreal and would embrace a chance to be the closer.

    Gagne's only experience as a closer came in 1995 for the Canadian national team. He pitched 12 scoreless innings, striking out 20 and allowing six hits.

    "You know, I would love to be the closer," Gagne said. "I would love to. When you're in relief, you want to close. You're always the last guy off the field, you want to get the save for the team, you want to end the game. That's really important. And if I'm in relief, I would love to be there."

    [For those of you who want to dig into the newspaper archives, try your local library. The Torrance Public Library has web access from home to Newsbank (an archive of 486 US newspapers), with articles going back to 1985/1986 for the LA Times/LA Daily News.]

    2005-05-24 09:13:52
    25.   Landonkk
    So being the master of OT posts, allow me...

    Mark Loretta is having surgery on his thumb and will be out two months possibly for the season. Any bad news from SD is good news for us. Possible replacement options for the Padres include none other than Alex Cora...

    Jayson Werth had his first extra base hit last night in Vegas - a solo shot in the 7th. As I understand it, his rehab assignment is over and he now must be activated or placed on the DL again.

    Andy LaRoche is at it again in Vero Beach. Going 2 for 4 with 2 HRs and 3 RBIs last night, he is now hitting .361 (.398/.710) with 17 HRs. A mad pace, he is sure to be headed to Jacksonville soon. I am of the opinion that we should fast track him to Vegas, but then where does Nori play? Speaking of Nori, he is doing rather well. Is there such a big difference in AAA pitching that he could thrive there, or did he figure something out?

    If there is an unsaid rule abour OT posts, I apologize. Somebody let me know if it is a no no.

    2005-05-24 09:14:25
    26.   Colorado Blue
    #17: Now that he has better command of an incredible offspeed pitch, would this make him a more effective starter?

    I would say yes... as my poor memory serves Gagne threw mostly heat as a starter... I believe that the games that the opposing hitters got to him was because a) they had been through the lineup at least once, and b) Gagne would begin to leave the ball up.

    Great post Jon; I hope that DePo is a regular "lurker" here... he would be well served to Think Outside the Boxscore TM on the usage of both Game Over and Ghame Over: I think the Dodgers could experiment with a 7-8-9th inning platoon of those 2 in close games... use the rest of the bullpen for games that we further ahead/behind. In the latter case, either Game or Ghame could be brought in the 8 2/3th or 9th if the score gets close in our favor.

    Anyway, I loved the post and it's argument for not being so obtuse in defining roles for our best pitcher.

    2005-05-24 09:29:54
    27.   mcrawford
    Rick Aguilera is another guy who began as a starter, then converted to a closer. He was good as a starter, but seemed better as a reliever. When they tried to put him back in the rotation in 1996, it was horrible.
    2005-05-24 09:35:48
    28.   DepoBall
    Using Gagne more and more innovatively seems to be supported well by Jon's post. Maybe if we went to 4 starters it would force Tracy to use his entire bullpen more 'out of the boxscore'

    Does any team in the league go with 4 and a beefy bullpen? I know we're not the only ones with a weak rotatation.... how about stats on this approach? what would you use to evaluate fairly? I mean to determine work vs overwork on both the starters and the pen?

    efficiently using what pitching we have is a way bigger deal to this team than anything we do with batting order, imo

    2005-05-24 09:38:00
    29.   mcrawford
    I'm just going through the Lahmann database now.
    Jim Gott began as a starter, not sure if he was better as a reliever though.

    Rick Honeycutt was good as a reliever and as a starter.

    Latroy Hawkins was awful as a starter, but has been lights out as a set-up guy.

    Isringhausen was another average starter when he came up, looks a lot like Gagne's story.

    Derek Lowe has obviously done both, but I would say the jury is still out on whether he's as good a starter as a closer.

    2005-05-24 09:39:45
    30.   Fearing Blue
    #16: Here are the HR breakdowns:

    2002:
    Non-save: 2 HRs in 22 1/3 IP for a .79 HR/9
    Save: 4 HRs in 60 IP for a .6 HR/9

    2003:
    Non-save: 2 HRs in 25 2/3 IP for a .7 HR/9
    Save: 0 HRs in 57 IP for a 0 HR/9

    2004:
    Non-save: 1 HR in 33 IP for a .27 HR/9
    Save: 4 HRs in 52.7 IP for a .68 HR/9

    2005:
    Non-save: 2 HRs in 4IP for a 4.5 HR/9
    Save: 0 HRs in 0 IP

    Overall, 2002-2005:
    Non-save: 7 HRs in 84 2/3rd innings for a .74 HR/9
    Save: 8 HRs in 169 2/3rd innings for a .42 HR/9

    But, the all the numbers involved are so small, that if you don't include the 2 HRs coming back from rehab this year it makes a huge difference:

    2002-2004:
    Non-save: 5 HRs in 80 2/3rd innings for a .56 HR/9
    Save: 8 HRs in 169 2/3rd innings for a .42 HR/9

    2005-05-24 09:40:01
    31.   mcrawford
    I always think of Alejandro Pena as sort of a Dennis Eckersley-lite story. Great starter, messes up his arm, becomes a great reliever. Except obviously Eckersley was greater at both.
    2005-05-24 09:47:51
    32.   Eric Enders
    In his last four games, Andy LaRoche has six home runs.

    In their last four games, the Dodgers as a team have two home runs.

    LaRoche now leads all of professional baseball in home runs this year (17).

    2005-05-24 10:03:19
    33.   Jon Weisman
    #25 - Open chat is any thread is fine by me.

    Feeling better but still sick. Next post will be the game chat thread tonight.

    2005-05-24 10:10:42
    34.   gvette
    1)Good starter becomes great reliever;
    Dave Righetti;

    2)Mediocre young starters become good relievers;
    John Wetteland
    Goose Gossage
    Terry Forster

    3)Terrible reliever becomes good starter;
    Charlie Hough

    2005-05-24 10:24:12
    35.   Fearing Blue
    #29: What is the Lahmann database? Can you provide a link?

    Hawkins was not great as a reliever until 2002, which was 2 years after he was converted from a starter. Also, his last year as a starter came at age 26. The combination of those points makes me think that legitimate pitching improvement played a role. Though, even in the intervening years of 2000 and 2001, Hawkins was still better as a reliever than he had been as a starter, he just hadn't fully hit his stride. Also, related to my secondary theory, ESPN has Hawkins listed as having two quality pitches (fastball / curve).

    Isringhausen seems very similar to Gagne. They both pitched exceptionally well in AAA as starters. They both were converted to closers prior to their prime, based on mediocre starting performance in the majors. And, they both have a breadth of quality pitches.

    I'll agree that the jury is still out on Lowe. On the other hand, his first season as a starter was arguably better than any of his seasons as a closer.

    About half of the converted starters spent time as starters during their expected peak performance years. Honeycutt (34), Eckersley (32), Smoltz (34), Gordon (30), Batista (34) and Hermanson (32) were 30 or over before being converted to closers. Lowe and Graves were both converted from a closer to a starter at age 29, but Graves was immediately converted back. When evaluating the conversion from starter to closer, this group is probably the best to work from, since performance levels were pretty established at the time of conversion.

    At the time of their conversion, Gott (27), Mesa (28), Rivera (26), Isringhausen (27), Hawkins (28), Gagne (26), and Affeldt (24) were likely still developing as pitchers.

    Byung Hung Kim is a strange case. He's been across the spectrum as a starter and a reliever and he's still only 26. I now understand why the Rockies were willing to take a flyer on him.

    2005-05-24 10:25:23
    36.   Xeifrank
    14.

    I believe Billy Wagner was also a very good starter before they made him a closer in Houston. I don't think he had alot of starts, but I remember him mowing down the Dodgers as a starter in his rookie year.

    I would think that a starter would need a more variety of pitches than a closer would need. Many good closers seem to get by on fastball/slider or fastball/splitter. I'm not sure how many arrows Gagne has in his pitching quiver.

    vr

    Xei

    vr

    Xei

    2005-05-24 10:33:26
    37.   Fearing Blue
    Righetti (25), Wetteland (25), Gossage (26), and Forster (25) were all pre-prime conversions so it makes sense that they set new performance levels in their new roles.

    Hough (34) was converted (back) to a starter, and a good one. I don't think he was terrible as a reliever though. His two bad years (79/80) as a reliever were bounded by a whole lot of good years (72-77 and 81).

    I wonder if this dataset is getting large enough to analyze in order to prove or debunk the Starter vs. Reliever distinction?

    2005-05-24 10:37:16
    38.   Fearing Blue
    #36: Wagner was a starter in the minors through 1996, but he never started any games in the majors.

    Gagne's pitch repertoire is a great fastball (both two-seam and four-seam), a good curve (both hard and soft), and an excellent vulcan changeup (which acts a lot like a split finger).

    2005-05-24 10:40:31
    39.   Eric Enders
    Xeifrank,
    You might want to re-check your memory regarding Billy Wagner. He's never started a game in the major leagues.
    2005-05-24 10:40:36
    40.   Adam M
    *I'm with Fearing Blue: Gagne as a starter was a 4-5 inning guy at best. OT, an interesting quesiton might be if such a person could ever be used effectively (or was) by an organization. Anyone know of any examples? If you argue that such a person is ideally a long reliever, would anyone support using Gagne in this role? I doubt it.

    *And the best relievers do seem to be 2-pitch guys, but this probably reflects the fact that two-pitch guys are less successful as starters than any inherent advantage. The worst combination of two-pitches in a closer seems to be fastball/forkball--as a mariners co-fan (bias alert) I have agonized as Mike Schooler (?), Bobby Ayala & Kaz Sasaki all shot to prominence mixing wicked heat and nasty splitters. After about a season and a half, hitters eventually learn to wait on counts and force them to throw the fork for strikes, after which point batters get walked until invariably the one dead-duck splitter that doesn't sink gets thrown and gets the stitches knocked off of it. Which proves that ML hitters are much faster learners than the M's organization.

    *Bill Swift was an OK starter who turned into an incredible DP specialist in the bullpen, then went to the Giants and became a great starter for about a year and a half.

    *Guys who defy categorization here: Alvarez, Wakefield, Dreifort, Lowe, Chacon, Bueller, Bueller...?

    2005-05-24 10:41:54
    41.   Xeifrank
    Ok, must be wrong. Probably he just struck out so many Dodgers in relief it felt like he was a starter. :)

    vr

    Xei

    2005-05-24 10:42:00
    42.   Adam M
    We seem to have overlooked a major example here:

    Bert Blyleven.

    pwned!

    [burns with shame]

    2005-05-24 10:51:04
    43.   Xeifrank
    If you really wanted to use your pitching staff in the most effective way, there would be some big changes. The save and hold stat have really damaged the way pitching staffs are managed (as others have mentioned). Your best relief pitcher (obviously) should be used during the most important situations, or what you think to be the most important. I have also read one study where they suggest starting a relief pitcher and pinch hit for him the first time through the lineup, then bring in your starting pitcher. This would give you the equivalent of a DH early in the game. Of course it would mess up stats like complete games, shutouts, quality starts and even wins. Stats have pigeon holed modern day managers into strategizing in a certain way, a way that may not maximize a teams chances of winning. I'm sure if DePodesta asked Tracy to use the start a reliever strategy the Dodgers would be the laughing stock of baseball. But then again they say we laugh at things we don't understand. Maybe that's why I am always laughing. :)

    vr

    Xei

    2005-05-24 10:57:39
    44.   Adam M
    Xeifrank, where is this study? After Weisman pointed out the Dodger pitchers' worst inning was the first, I suggested Gagne needed to pitch just the first inning, it was too important to be entrusted to a bunch of galoots like Scott Erickson. But it was a joke.
    2005-05-24 11:03:21
    45.   Fearing Blue
    #44: I believe that Earnshaw Cook was the first person to tackle this subject in "Percentage Baseball" in 1966. Some of his findings in that book have been disputed due to sloppy methods. I'm not sure what the status of that particular one is.
    2005-05-24 11:14:35
    46.   Xeifrank
    44/45.

    Yes, it was Mr Cook. I read it in the Alan Schwarz's book The Numbers Game... an excellent read about the history of baseball stats, I highly recommend it.

    Here is a chat transcript from Schwarz regarding this topic on one of the ESPN boards.

    Mike (miami): what are your thoughts on Cook's ideas for starting a relief pitcher and having sluggers bat first? The first one is interesting, the sluggers hitting first seems a bit stupid, yes, they may get more AB's.. but i think it will hurt the team as a whole throughout the game.... your thoughts?

    SportsNation Alan Schwarz: Two things -- I was asked by a GM last week what I thought the next great innovation in baseball was going to be, and I said that someone is going to come along and figure out a FAR better way of deploying starting pitchers, whether in a 4-man, 8-man (4 IP each) or whatever rotation. The five-man is not the most efficient way of using $6 million arms....As for the batting order, most studies I've seen have determined that it matters a lot less than people assume. Casey Stengel used to bat Bob Cerv or Elston Howard leadoff sometimes. Bobby Bragan did the same thing with the '50s Pirates and '60s Braves. In general, since I don't think it matters a whole lot, no manager will want to bother with the uninformed hullaballoo that would undoubtedly follow.
    --
    vr, Xei

    2005-05-24 11:17:58
    47.   Xeifrank
    And as a follow up to #46, a study on moving Bonds to the leadoff spot.

    http://danagonistes.blogspot.com/2004/08/batting-barry-first.html

    vr, Xei

    2005-05-24 11:22:06
    48.   jbruin152
    Just a minor correction in your 2004 section. The Florida loss was not the one that broke Gagne's save streak--that was his 2nd blown save that season. The correct game was against Arizona a month prior.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/recap?gameId=240705119

    2005-05-24 11:35:30
    49.   Bob Timmermann
    I tried to read Earnshaw Cook's book once. It's available at LAPL. It's a mess. Cook wasn't very good at minor stuff like writing styles and such.

    And there are pages and pages of very dreary looking numbers.

    2005-05-24 12:19:49
    50.   mcrawford
    #35 -- you can D/L the Lahman database at:
    http://www.baseball1.com/

    I have it on our system and wrote a little program to pull out pitchers who spent some time as starters and relievers. Then I was just glancing through them to find interesting ones.

    I agree with your assessment, it's usually impossible to distinguish between a leap in overall effectiveness, and the change from starter to reliever.

    I think Righetti was a very good starter, and then remained a very good reliever. His ERA as a starter and reliever is about the same (actually his starter ERA is a bit lower, but it's real close).

    #40 -- Bill Swift is pretty interesting. He was mediocre for a few years as a starter. Then he moved to the bullpen for two years and was awesome, then moved back to the rotation and was awesome again. Then he was mediocre again after a couple of years. So wouldn't this suggest that he was just mediocre, got better and had a real high peak, then dropped off again? Doesn't seem to have any relationship to being a starter or reliever.

    Julian Tavares was pretty good as a reliever, then pretty awful as a starter, then good again as a reliever. That's a pretty nice example of a guy who did much better as a reliever, because his bad years as a starter were right in the middle of his career.

    Show/Hide Comments 51-100
    2005-05-24 13:33:17
    51.   MSarg29
    I saw some have mentioned Heath Totten as a potential 5th starter, but he's been suspended for performance enhancing drugs.

    http://tinyurl.com/9xqf6
    I wonder how this affects his future.

    2005-05-24 13:52:35
    52.   Fearing Blue
    #50: Thanks for the information. This area seems like it's ripe ground for further analysis.

    As far as Tavarez, perhaps he wasn't able to keep enough junk on his cap to go multiple innings? :)

    Though his ERA was better as a reliever (99 & 00) before he became a starter (01 & 02), his peripherals (K/9, HR/9, K/BB) didn't really improve until he became a reliever again in 2003. At that point, he stopped walking people and stopped giving up HRs. He may have just been a late bloomer at age 30.

    2005-05-24 14:50:51
    53.   franklin
    For a nice baseball history piece (by Gordon Edes, Baseball Digest, Aug 2003) on well known relievers and how they ended up and did in the pen...

    http://tinyurl.com/7lz82

    Best quote in the article is Dick Williams explaining Rollie Fingers failure as a starter and success as a reliever: "When he had to think about it, he was his own worst enemy. But when he didn't know he was going to pitch, he was great."

    2005-05-24 14:54:53
    54.   Eric Enders
    I'm skimming the thread so this may have been pointed out already, but arguably the two best relievers ever (Wilhelm and Gossage) were each tried as starters for one season after becoming dominant relievers. Wilhelm was a spectacular success as a starter, even winning the ERA title, but switched back to the bullpen the next year anyway. The Gossage experiment, on the other hand, was a complete disaster.
    2005-05-24 18:38:52
    55.   Adam M
    Thanks, Xeifrank - if teams put their best hitters first, there would be an extra incentive for opponents to start their closer for the 1st inning, and a lovely convergence would take place.

    #50: I think Swift was one of these guys who only really gets motivated by failure. The M's letting him go to the Giants after converting him to relief really seemed to cheese him off. My schadenfreude spidey-sense is praying for a similar effect on Carlos Guillen before too long. Adam M:Carlos Guillen::Bob Timmermann:Russ Ortiz

    franklin: are you named for the puppet on "Arrested Development"? In that case, mad props, and..."Hey, Franklin!" Otherwise, sorry for confusing the hell out of you.

    2005-05-24 18:52:40
    56.   franklin
    are you named for the puppet on "Arrested Development"? In that case, mad props, and..."Hey, Franklin!"

    you know me, just tryin to break down racial barriers among the Dodger faithful.

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