A baseball bullpen game means using your relievers to pitch most, if not all, of the match. Bullpen games can occur for three reasons. One reason is that starting pitcher gets an injury early in the game. The second reason is if a starter is ineffective in a game, so the manager goes to their bullpen early. The third reason is if teams elect to use their relief pitchers all game to win.
So, how does a bullpen game work? What relief pitcher receives the win during a bullpen game? What are the pros and cons of using this strategy, and is an opener the same as a bullpen game? Have there been any bullpen games in the postseason or World Series?
Here is the complete breakdown of what a bullpen game is in baseball.
How Does a Bullpen Game in Baseball Work?
A bullpen game in baseball can stem from an injury, a pivot, or a plant by a team. A starting pitcher might get an injury or struggle in the first inning for various reasons, which means the team needs to bring in a new pitcher to pitch. When this occurs, the match becomes a bullpen game because most relief pitchers can only go 1-2 innings. With that being the case, they will need multiple pitchers to pitch to complete the game. Most traditional starters go about five or six innings in MLB games.
Like the Tampa Bay Rays, some teams look at matchups when constructing their pitching staff throughout the regular season. The Rays will sometimes use a bullpen game if they see certain relief pitchers match up well against a team. For the Rays, winning every matchup is more important than putting out a conventional starter every five games.
What is the Benefit of a Bullpen Game?
The benefit of using a bullpen game comes down to matchups and resting a pitcher. Some teams and their pitching coach look at ballpark data and match that to what pitcher/s would be most effective against their opponent. A bullpen game that is designed by that from the start, in theory, can give your team the best opportunity to win that game.
For example, you might have a relief pitcher on the Boston Red Sox who records a lot of flyouts when they pitch. If the Red Sox are playing in a big ballpark, like Oakland, they could opt for an opener that gives up flyball outs because they won’t be a home run in that stadium.
However, if the Red Sox were playing at Yankee Stadium, some fly balls would be home runs, so they would use a different pitcher who records more strikeouts or groundouts against batters. If that is the case, the Red Sox might start a pitcher who records a lot of strikeouts or groundouts or might elect to use their starter if they want them to go deep into the game to have their bullpen finish it off.
What is the Downside of a Bullpen Game?
The downside of using a bullpen game is two factors. First, some games assume that their starting pitcher will go at least five innings during a game, but they get injured in the first inning, which means a relief pitcher needs to warm up and get into the game earlier than expected. That means that teams need to change their plan during the game to become a bullpen game, which might not be suitable for them.
The second downside is that the metrics on paper might not translate onto the field. While the data suggests that a relief pitcher can record outs against a team, they might struggle in their outing, which means a team needs to go to their other relievers earlier than expected. When this happens, some pitchers will need to throw more innings than expected to complete a game, meaning they are unavailable to pitch the next day or two or simply won’t be effective during that outing because they are throwing too many pitches.
The third downside is that games could go into extra innings, throwing off a team’s strategy of nine innings of baseball. For example, let’s say the game is between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies, and the Rockies use a bullpen game as their strategy. As the game moves into extra innings, the Rockies might not have enough relief pitchers to pitch, which means they might put a starter in that spot. Putting a starter into an extra-inning game is not a great choice because it means they won’t be able to start their next start since they need to rest, so you have to maneuver your pitching staff again the next game.
What Relief Pitcher Gets a Win During a Bullpen Game?
A traditional starting pitcher needs to go at least five innings with the lead to win a game. There are things to understand when a relief pitcher starts the game and only goes one inning.
According to rule 9.17 (Winning and Losing Pitcher), the official scorer determines who should get the win based on who was pitching when their team took the lead and kept it throughout the complete game. When the game becomes a tie or another team takes the lead, a new pitcher can record the win based on how the official scorer determines that.
Let’s say that a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds both had a bullpen game. Both had an opener go two innings, and the game was still tied. The Brewers then take the lead in the fourth inning and give the ball to a new pitcher in the fourth who goes two innings. If the Brewers maintain a lead through the rest of the game, the scorer can give the win to the pitcher who pitched the inning before the lead took place. Likewise, the scorer can give the loss to the pitcher who gave up the lead.
Is an Opener the Same as a Bullpen Game?
A Major League Baseball team that uses an opener is, in theory, using a bullpen game that day. An opener is a relief pitcher who tends to go one inning to start an MLB game. Using a relief pitcher to start the game means you want them to get the top of the lineup out with as little damage as possible. Since most teams put their best hitters at the top of the lineup, teams will counter by putting out their best pitcher.
An opener won’t receive a win credit unless they can get through five innings of baseball with a lead.
Has There Been a Bullpen Game in the Postseason?
The Tampa Bay Rays are a team that has had a few bullpen games during the playoffs. They had a bullpen game against the Houston Astros in the 2020 playoffs.
Has There Been a Bullpen Game in the World Series?
The 2021 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves had a bullpen game. The Braves didn’t have a starting pitcher ready for game five, so they had a bullpen game. While they lost game 5 of the World Series, they won the pennant at the end.
Conclusion: What is a Bullpen Game in Baseball?
In summary, a bullpen game can either happen due to an injury or by a team’s design. A bullpen game means that a baseball team uses their relief pitchers to get them through a complete game. Sometimes a bullpen game works in team’s favor, while other times, not.
It comes down to what gives your team the best chance to win. Some groups have a great bullpen, so they elect to use bullpen games because that works for them to win. Other times, teams will use a bullpen game to give a starter an extra rest day. Giving an extra day is important, especially during a doubleheader match.