THE 2016 MLB postseason started with bullpen usage of the past and finished with bullpen usage of the future. Orioles manager Buck Showalter allowed all-world closer Zach Britton to languish on the bench as the AL wild card game slipped away; less than 48 hours later Indians manager Terry Francona called upon reliever Andrew Miller (right) in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the ALDS. Francona's strategy only got more creative. In the end Miller, closer Cody Allen and ace Corey Kluber pitched 672/3 of Cleveland's 134 postseason innings. Their success—Miller had a 1.40 ERA and struck out 30 of the 73 batters he faced—will likely encourage more bullpen innovation ... to a point.
The new fireman method—having a top reliever come in for the highest-leverage outs, no matter the inning—depends as much on personnel as on a manager's open-mindedness. Not all pitchers can deviate from their routines or maintain their stamina over multiple innings. But some seem well-suited to more flexible, flame-retarding roles.
BRAD BRACH ORIOLES
Over the past two seasons Brach has thrown 1581/3 innings. As long as he can bear the workload, he's likely to be used even more.
CHRIS DEVENSKI ASTROS
Devenski had a 1.83 ERA in 391/3 innings down the stretch. He's a rotation option, but don't be surprised if he ends up anchoring the bullpen.
DAVID PHELPS MARLINS
He got more than three outs in only six of 59 relief outings last year, but an 11.0 K/9 in high-leverage spots suggests he can handle more.