Old bullpen rules tossed out this postseason

Closers not restricted to three outs when everything is on line

Old bullpen rules tossed out this postseason

CHICAGO -- The almighty save has roots right here alongside Wrigley Field's iconic ivy. The man who turned the ninth inning into the domain of millionaire "proven closers" was Jerome Holtzman, a correspondent for The Sporting News covering the Cubs, who in 1960 was sitting on the team bus in St. Louis when he scribbled out a formula to reward relief pitchers for their under-noticed work.

Holtzman's formula was modified in subsequent years, but the save stuck. Now it is at the center of a debate that has found its way to the forefront in a 2016 postseason packed with late-inning drama, from Orioles relief ace Zach Britton waiting for a save situation that never materialized in the American League Wild Card Game to Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen pitching in the seventh inning of Thursday's decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 15 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 2 Oct. 16 LAD 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 3 Oct. 18 LAD 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 19 CHC 10, LAD 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 20 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 6 Oct. 22 CHC 5, LAD 0 video

Is it time to throw out the old rules of bullpen management?

"Obviously, Tito's done a lot of that," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts in a nod to Indians skipper Terry Francona, who brought relief ace Andrew Miller in as early as the fifth inning in the AL Division Series against the Red Sox. "Guys around baseball are being more aggressive."

Roberts was aggressive when he called for Jansen in the seventh inning against the Nationals, with a runner aboard and the Dodgers leading, 4-3. Washington loaded the bases that inning. but Jansen escaped. He was still protecting that one-run advantage as his pitch count topped 50 and his legs started turning to jelly in the ninth.

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 14 CLE 2, TOR 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 15 CLE 2, TOR 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 17 CLE 4, TOR 2 video
Gm 4 Oct. 18 TOR 5, CLE 1 video
Gm 5 Oct. 19 CLE 3, TOR 0 video

That's when Roberts made his next unconventional move. He called for ace starter Clayton Kershaw, on one day of rest, to record the final two outs. Next thing they knew, the Dodgers were taking the field at Wrigley on Friday for a workout ahead of Saturday's NL Championship Series Game 1 (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

"In theory, it's phenomenal and it's really not outside the box -- it really makes sense," Roberts said of his early call to Jansen. "But it's more of trying to -- and communicating with players to understand, to buy-in to accepting whatever situation is presented to them for that particular game. I think that, for me, that's something that I tried to communicate with our relief pitchers since day one of Spring Training. Fortunately, we have got such an unselfish group that the buy-in was there, and for us it's worked out."

Said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons on Friday in Cleveland: "It's turning the baseball world upside down, the way bullpens have been used lately."

Gibbons has used his closer, Roberto Osuna, for more than three outs on seven occasions in the past month, including in all three of Osuna's postseason appearances.

Gibbons on Osuna's workload

Cleveland's Francona has been similarly aggressive with both of his top two relievers, left-hander Miller and right-hander Cody Allen. Miller entered Friday night's Game 1 of the ALDS in the seventh inning and pitched 1 2/3 innings, striking out five of the six batters he faced, in the Indians' 2-0 victory. Allen pitched the ninth for the save.

On the NL side, Roberts used Jansen in four of the Dodgers' five NLDS games, including twice for more than three outs.

Francona on usage of bullpen

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, however, has taken a more traditional approach with flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman. Only four of Chapman's appearances in the regular season spanned more than three outs, last on Sept. 4. When Maddon tried to coax a two-inning save from Chapman in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Giants, he surrendered three runs and took a blown save in a game the Cubs would lose in extra innings.

"I think it's getting more play right now in regards to coverage, and you get all the different TV shows, where people are generating this kind of concept," Maddon said. "This is stuff that's been out there. I think it's just becoming more prominent and being spoken about more. And then, thus, you're seeing more of it in the game."

It's also a product of the postseason. Both Maddon and Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made the case that breaking away from the rules of bullpen management in the regular season is more complicated.

"I think the regular season is obviously much more difficult with the way the incentive structure is set up currently," Friedman said. "Especially in arbitration. I think in the free-agent market, that's starting to change and evolve. But until the incentive structure is more in line, I think it's difficult. I think the postseason is very different. It's much easier to do in the postseason."

Said Francona: "I don't think you're going to see as much [change] as people think, just because of the way our -- like the arbitration system, the way people are rewarded for saves. Again, I'd love to see that changed, because I think if that was changed, you would see how pitchers are used differently and I think we'd have a better game."

Roberts and the Dodgers had more immediate matters on their minds Friday. The Dodgers did not arrive at Wrigley Field until after 4 p.m. local time, and Jansen was not available to discuss with reporters his status for Saturday night. Roberts said the fatigue affected Jansen's legs and not his arm, and predicted Jansen would be an option to pitch.

"I'll know more [Saturday], but do I envision a one-plus [inning] situation? Probably not." Roberts said.

He quickly added: "But don't hold me to it."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.