When Terry Francona went to the mound to bring in Marc Rzepczynski with two outs in the 7th inning Friday night, it was his 541st pitching change of the season, which set a new American League record for most relief appearances. By the end of the night the Indians were all the way up to 547 of them.
Before the game Francona was alerted to the fact that he would likely be establishing a new record that night, and asked whose record he thought he was breaking. His guess was Tony La Russa. Reasonable, but incorrect. Francona laughed when informed that he'd be breaking his own record, set by last year's Indians.
The top 20 relief appearance totals in MLB history have all come since 2006, so it's not especially surprising that a new record would be set this year, as bullpen usage continues to trend upwards. Among those top 20 though, 18 of them belong to National League teams (I imagine this is due to the lack of a DH, leading to more pinch hitting) . Only the 2013 and 2014 Indians crack the list for the American League.
Here is the top ten:
- 2007 Nationals - 588
- 2012 Rockies - 575
- 2007 Marlins - 560
- 2008 Mets - 557
- 2011 Pirates - 549
- 2014 Indians - 547
- 2008 Braves - 545
- 2006 Cubs - 542
- 2012 Astros - 541
- 2013 Indians - 540
The Indians are a lock to climb to at least 3rd place on that list, and at their current pace they'd reach 2nd. Breaking the MLB record is unlikely, but not out of the question. (If the starting rotation hadn't been so good for the last month and a half, the bullpen would likely have reached 600 appearances before the end of the season.)
Leading the way is Bryan Shaw, who has already appeared in 77 games, which is just two behind Bob Howry's franchise record of 79, set in 2005. Not far behind Shaw is Cody Allen, who is at 74 appearances, 6th most in team history. Rzepczynski is at 69 games and Scott Atchison is at 68, which means the Indians will likely have four relievers reach 70 appearances. Here is a full list of teams in American League history that have done that:
[insert empty space here]
Yep, that's all of them. It's happened 11 times in the National League, including the 2006 Astros, who had five relievers reach 70 games, but never in the AL.
In order to have that many relief appearances in a season, a team obviously has to use a ton of relievers in a whole lot of games:
- The Indians have used at least three relievers 116 times so far this season. The AL record is 119 (by the 2013 Twins), so that's likely to fall.
- The Indians have used at least four relievers 78 times so far this season. That shatters the previous AL record of 66, set by last year's Indians. The MLB record of 83 such games (set by the 2007 Marlins) is probably not quite going to happen, but it's possible.
- The Indians have used at least five relievers 36 times so far this season. That's already an MLB record.
- The Indians have used at least six relievers 20 times so far this season. That's already an MLB record.
- The Indians have used at least seven relievers 7 times so far this season. That's tied for the MLB record.
- The Indians have used at least eight relievers 3 times so far this season. That's an AL record.
Simply put, this year's Indians have had the busiest bullpen in American League history. If you figure it as 100 feet from the dugout to the mound, Terry Francona has walked more than 20 miles this season, just making pitching changes.