January 28, 2021

A Reliever Usage Check-In | FanGraphs Baseball (FanGraphs)

When baseball finalized its jam-packed schedule for this year, one thing was immediately evident. Between an abbreviated ramp-up schedule and a dense slate of games, relievers would be in more demand this year. Starters would need time to get stretched out, and that’s extra innings for the bullpen. Stretches of six games in five days would be more common with fewer off days — a perfect time for a bullpen game, or for three competent frames from a minor leaguer and six relief innings.

True to form, 2020 has been a relief-heavy endeavor. As Jay Jaffe noted, starters are on pace to throw their fewest innings per start ever. You can do the math — that means that relievers are on pace to throw their most innings per game ever. Given all that, here’s a question for you: what does that mean for reliever rest and usage patterns?

The correct answer, as usual, is that it’s complicated. Not every relief pitcher is built equally, and not all of them play the same role on a team. You want 2014 Craig Kimbrel in the big spots and some worse reliever (saw the 2020 Kimbrel joke, passed it up, too easy) when the game isn’t close. “Relievers are pitching more innings” is…

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