Tyler Thornburg: Bullpen Ace

Rob Tringali

Thus far Tyler Thornburg has been truly impressive out of the bullpen. It's led to some discussion about how best to utilize his skills, though it's possible they're already doing the right thing with him.

Last night on the broadcast Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder suggested that Tyler Thornburg, and in turn the Brewers, might be a "victim of his own success." By that they meant that he’s pitching so well the team is going to have to stop using him as the long man and start using him in high leverage situations, leaving the team without said long man. This struck me as both monumentally stupid and incorrect.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Thornburg can handle high leverage situations, but why should they stop using him as their long reliever? The reasoning behind this is because he’s actually pretty good. Let’s let this sink in for a moment...They’re essentially saying they should use him less because he is effective. The problem is that might actually be the eventual outcome. Ron Roenicke was quoted as saying this about Thornburg, "I don’t know, maybe he wants another job. Maybe he wants to close or something." To be fair it was made clear that he was joking when he said that.

However I feel like there is some truth we can glean from his joke as itt gives us some idea of how Roenicke thinks about relievers. If he views Thornburg as a high-leverage guy, I’m worried he’ll stop using him for multiple innings. He’s shown a proclivity towards giving guys defined roles. You have your closer, your set-up man, and your 7th inning guy. For years now the sabermetric community has decried this model. You should use your best relievers when the situation calls for it. If that happens to be the 5th inning, then so be it.

If Roenicke does decide that Thornburg should be his 7th or 8th inning guy that’s a bad thing but it’s not because it leaves them without multi-inning relievers. In fact, I would say multi-inning relievers are the unique strength of the Brewers bullpen. Including Thornburg, the Brewers have at least 3 relievers that have shown an ability to go multiple innings. The other two I’m talking about are Will Smith and Brandon KintzlerLast year, Smith got 5+ outs in 8 relief appearances. Kintzler made 15 relief appearances getting 4+ outs, including 5 outings where he went 2 innings and one where he pitched 3. That same year Tom Gorzelanny made 8 multi-inning relief appearances, in addition to starting, so when he returns from the DL it’s possible we can slot him back in the mix as well. If they do stop using Thornburg as their long man they shouldn’t have an issue covering innings, but that still wouldn’t excuse the choice.

It would still be a bad decision because Thornburg can effectively pitch multiple innings, so limiting him to one at a time is limiting his usefulness. It’s also kind of dumb because Francisco Rodriquez, Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, and Will Smith can also handle high leverage situations. Yeah, some of them are more reliable than others and maybe Thornburg is a better option than one or more of them, but the point is it’s not exactly necessary that he be relegated to the late game. Roenicke hasn’t stated that he plans to change the way he uses Thornburg yet so for right now this is all hypothetical. It’s something to keep an eye on going forward though.

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