Yesterday, the Phillies entered the seventh inning against the Mariners in a 3-3 tie and wound up losing the game 11-6. Now, I know you irrational folks out there were ready to blame the bullpen just because Phillies relievers Joaquin Benoit, Edubray Ramos, and Jake Thompson combined to allow six walks, seven hits, and eight earned runs. But as Benoit, a man who walked three batters in less than an inning and retired only one out the seven hitters he faced, explained after the game: the problem isn’t that the Phillies relievers are bad, it’s that they don’t have their bullpen roles clearly defined.
Perhaps what Benoit and the relief corps needs, then, is a completely redefined bullpen system, filled with new roles and responsibilities. I have taken the liberty of outlining such a system.
Switch Hitter Specialist: A position only a chosen few can hold, the SHP’s job is to stand on the mound, switching his glove from hand to hand while the switch hitter he is facing counters by moving back and forth from either side of the plate. The goal of this exercise is to give the real reliever more time to finish warming up. The SHP will ideally not throw a single pitch. An alternative would be a guy who comes out and keeps asking the umpire for a new ball for twelve straight minutes.
Non-Save Situation Closer: This one will probably come up a lot for the Phillies in particular. Remember when they used to put Jonathan Papelbon in the game when even though they were down by seven runs, just because he hadn’t pitched in a while? I haven’t experienced a more demoralizing baseball moment in all of my days. Well, guess what - that’s now a job! This pitcher would get a fraction of a Papelbon paycheck to go out there and not even take on "mop-up duty;" his objective would simply be to "survive." Good luck out there, friend! At least you can take solace in the fact that you have a defined role in the pen, as terrible as it is.
Arsonist: Sets the table for the oft-mentioned, already established role of "Fireman," in that he enters a game in the later innings and puts multiple runners on base, creating a situation in which the pitcher behind him can become a hero. Potentially starts a small fire in the dugout after being removed to up the chaos.
Set-up Man: I know, technically this name is already in use, however, in this case, it refers to one of the pitchers in the bullpen framing the closer for murder, forcing him to flee the stadium. Things get really interesting when the real murderer turns out to be - you guessed it - the closer’s twin brother.
Axeman: This guy gets an axe. Just let him stand far away, but in full view, of the other team. He’s never explained and he doesn’t pitch.
Mustacheist: Look, baseball is stressful. Not everyone has a glorious mustache in which to burrow during the game’s tenser moments. But Bob McClure does. And if he’s too busy walking out to the mound to evaluate if his reliever has had his mind shattered by the sheer force of opposing team dingers, then who is going to keep his face-fur looking illustrious? The answer is: this guy. Give him a bottle of wax and a tiny comb, and McClure doesn’t even need to hide from the cameras anymore.
Three-headed Closer Monster: One thing people can’t stop talking about these days is how fast a baseball game goes by. You’re finding your seat, grabbing a couple of $14 brews, get your score card out, get the muzzles on your kids, spend 4-5 innings on your phone crafting the perfect tweet, and next thing you know - they’re ripping the bases up! The answer to this is of course to stretch the final inning out as long as possible. It’s the most exciting bullpen moment of any nine frames anyhow, so why not give it even more scrutiny? That’s why these three bullpen roles will now exist - a closer for every batter. It may require teams to carry something like 14-15 hurlers, or potentially train bench players to pitch, but think of the advantages: Instead of a single pitcher who can throw 102 MPH for one inning, you could have three pitchers who would throw 115 MPH for a third of an inning. And I guess you could take hitter match-ups into account as well, but the most important thing is to keep those heaters blasting, that bullpen gate swinging, and the baseball game nice and interminable, like people want.
I know what you’re thinking: But what if the ninth inning goes longer than three batters? Well, that’s why one of your relievers is actually two guys wearing the same uniform. Anything else, smart guy? No? Great, let’s move on.
Embedded Agent: This pitcher emerges from the crowd, having been sitting in the audience disguised as a spectator the whole time. Imagine stepping into the batters box with the game on the line, when suddenly Pete Mackanin screams, "NOW!" The current pitcher hurls his glove high into the air while a guy from the stands vaults over top of the dugout, sprints onto the mound, and catches the glove before it lands, thereby taking over as the pitcher, legally. Try to focus with a clandestine baseball op unfolding before your eyes.
Re-Starter: The starting pitcher, who gets to re-enter the game to face a single batter of his choosing. Perhaps somebody he was able to retire successfully all day, perhaps somebody against whom he holds a grudge. Doesn’t matter. He gets to go back out there for a single out and he doesn’t have to explain to anyone why he’s made the choices he’s made. It’s his business. Not yours.
Gatekeeper: Look, with all this gate action going down, somebody’s got to make sure the thing is functioning properly. Is anyone out there with a bottle of hinge grease? A screwdriver? I didn’t think so. And what if the wrong pitcher attempts to enter the game? The Gatekeeper would install a "secret password" situation so as to make sure the correct Phillies bullpen staffer is
blowing entering the game. Should an impostor somehow learn the password, the Gatekeeper will work in tandem with the mysterious Axeman to resolve the situation.
Snacks: Back in the day, hungry relief pitchers would trade baseballs from the bullpen to fans above in exchange for food from the concession stand. "I’ll give you this ball sack for a can of lard!" they’d shout. But those days are gone. Now, relievers are expected to sit on their ravenous hunger until the end of the game. As an answer to this unacceptable situation, one Phillies reliever would be assigned "Snacks," and simply take an order from every reliever each inning, scale the wall, wait in line at the snack stands of the pitchers’ specifications, and return before the end of the inning. For no bullpen should every go hungry.*
*This would be a quote engraved over the entrance to the bullpen, credited to me.
Aaron Altherr Three-Run Home Run-Getter: If the last few days have been any indication, it’s that the Phillies need a solution to this growing issue. Aaron Altherr’s third three-run home run in three days made it clear that if nothing else, the situation is "recurring." We don’t know if Altherr even wants the baseballs he hits into the stands - in fact, you could argue he hates them because of how far away he sends them - but just in case he wants to build a house with them or something and then live in it, the balls should be retrieved from fans through bargaining and intimidation (Possible Axeman duty). We should be taking every precaution necessary to keep Altherr as happy as possible. Philadelphia’s not so bad, right, Aaron? We’re willing to menace our fans with an ax to keep that glorious smile on your face.
Look, people. In all seriousness, does it help to know what your job is? Of course. Is part of this issue on Phillies leadership for being ambiguous about bullpen roles? Probably. Benoit likely knows a thing or two about relief pitching, having been doing it for 16 years. Every job gets easier the more details there are on how to do it. What we’ve done today is merely explain the plethora of options available for Pete Mackanin and Bob McClure to explore.