Monday, October 31, 2016

Andrew Miller Holds Cubs Hitters' Feet to the Fire

The 2016 World Series is a throwback, not just because it's Indians versus Cubs, but because of the way a fireman has been used to snuff out trouble. Indians skipper Terry Francona has been deploying almost unhittable reliever Andrew Miller as his fireman--the guy you call on to stamp out trouble with his mighty rubber galoshes, whenever that trouble surfaces. Sixth inning? Sure. Fourth inning? Could be.

It's a job that was much more common before the save became a major stat, and a high number of saves meant big bucks in salary.

As noted near the beginning of the season, the sabermetrics geeks have been pushing the fireman model for some time. Writes R.J. Anderson:

For years, devout sabermetricians have urged teams to eschew the traditional closer approach and return to the fireman model -- that is, a roving reliever who checks in during the game's most crucial moment (as opposed to only the ninth inning), and who is able to throw multiple innings per outing. Maybe it's too early to declare Erasmo Ramirez the game's present-day fireman, but he's the closest thing going.

Joe Posnanski delves deep into the return of the fireman on NBC Sports, noting how John Hiller may have been the first of his kind back with the Tigers in the mid '60s. Posnanski gives then-Tigers manager Billy Martin the credit for using his ace reliever in what later became to be known as high leverage situations.

In many ways, Hiller was the first “Fireman,” a term that gained much more popular usage in the 1970’s. He was called to put out fires. And over the next decade or so, the fireman reined. Goose Gossage in 1975 was an extraordinary fireman. Bruce Sutter threw 107 innings in 1977 and had a 6.5 WAR, which would have led the National League this year.
Jim Kern in 1979 for Texas … Doug Corbett for Minnesota in 1980 … Willie Hernandez in his 1984 MVP season … these were firemen. In 1983, Dan Quisenberry set the record with 26 saves pitching at least two innings. The next year, he had 27, which remains the record. Bill Campbell in 1977 had 11 THREE inning saves. Gene Garber (remember him?) had 13 career FOUR inning saves. Rollie Fingers got to the Hall of Fame as a fireman; he had 131 career multi-inning saves, which is the most all time. Lee Smith was a fireman early in his career (though he morphed later into a more modern closer) Kent Tekulve was a fireman. Sparky Lyle … Jeff Reardon … Gary Lavelle … Roger McDowell, among others.

In fact, adept relievers were saluted as firemen years before Hiller took the hill. The Sporting News used to honor the "Fireman of the Year", with the best reliever in each league given the trophy. The award began in 1960 and was renamed Reliever of the Year in 2001. 

Cleveland's Plain Dealer opines that the fireman name, like so much from the '60s and '70s, deserves an update. How about, posits Doug Lesmerises, the Super Reliever?

Francona acknowledges that it's much easier to have a fireman do his thing in the post-season, when everything is at stake and there are several months to rest starting in a few days, than in the regular season. "I guarantee you everyone would like to have Andrew Miller. There's only one," Francona told the Plain Dealer. "There's not many. This isn't really rocket science what we're doing, and we're not reinventing the wheel either."

No comments: