MLB relievers: A case for eliminating the 8-pitch warmup

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 29: Kenta Maeda #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up in the bullpen before the game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on April 29, 2018 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 29: Kenta Maeda #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up in the bullpen before the game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on April 29, 2018 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Want to improve pace-of-play? Then eliminate the 8-pitch warmup on the game mound. MLB relievers are essentially warming up twice!

Sometimes you think every other person has ideas about fixing baseball’s pace-of-game issues, real or merely imagined. I have a few of my own, too, including but not limited to things like shortening up the television and radio commercial breaks to the old minute-long breaks. But I have further thought about pace-of-game that might seem as radical as bringing the designated hitter to the National League. It involves MLB relievers.

No, I don’t mean the 3-batter minimum, which I first thought sound but now believe otherwise. What I do mean is eliminating the 8-pitch warmup from the mound when a relief pitcher is brought into a game in the middle of the inning, whether it’s because the incumbent pitcher is hurt or gassed, or because the other guys are threatening. There’s no need for them in that moment.

Before you draw my execution papers for the governor to sign, allow me to explain.

Actually, allow Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog to explain. He didn’t come right out and call for the end of the eight mid-inning warmups, but Herzog sent me toward that conclusion after ruminating on bullpen pitfalls in his book, You’re Missin’ a Great Game. And, after revealing how to burn a relief pitcher out without even thinking about it. Which too many managers and God and His servant Casey Stengel know far too many more fans, don’t.

Herzog unloaded in his chapter, “Mound Masters.” His first target was a fellow Hall of Fame manager, Tommy Lasorda. “[The] fly in his ointment—and it baffled me, because Tommy was a pitcher himself—was that he never figured out how to handle a bullpen.”

"He’d take a reliever and warm him up four or five times a game and not use him; then he’d do the same thing the next day. The day after that, he’d put the guy in a game. He’d have nothing out there and Tommy’d say, “Hell, you ain’t pitched in two days, what’s the matter with you?” Some managers think if a guy’s not actually in a game, he’s not pitching. But if he’s tossing on the sidelines, man, he’s getting hot. Over the years I dealt some of my pitchers to [Los Angeles]—[John] Tudor, [Todd] Worrell, Ricky Horton, Ken Dayley—and they always came back with the same report: Tommy was still messing up the pen."

The White Rat’s next culprit was Pete Rose, when Charlie Hustler managed the Reds.

"He’d get [Rob] Murphy up in the third; he’d warm him up in the fourth. Then, he’d sit him down. He’d get [Norm] Charlton up in the fifth. Sometimes I’d look down there, and he’d have both lefthanders going at the same time. Why would you warm ’em both up at once? You’re only going to use one lefty or the other! Then, after he’d worked ’em out three or four times, Pete would put one in the game and be surprised he had no zip. “He can’t be tired,” he’d say. “He ain’t pitched in three days!” Somebody counted how many times he warmed Murphy up one year and it was over 200. I like Pete, boy—but I loved managing against him."

From reading that, I began paying attention to MLB relievers and throwing in the bullpens. Frequently enough, I noticed relievers throwing almost the equivalent of a quality start’s worth of pitches before they were brought into games.

Relievers who were warmed up, sat down, warmed up again, sat down again, then warmed back up yet again and brought in, at last, were more likely to have just enough left to be murdered in the game than those ordered up and throwing and brought in promptly enough without another return to the bullpen bench.