Great Bullpen Reads

I have a post coming up later today about how the guys in the bullpen are pitching, but in the last 24 hours, there have been two excellent articles on how to build a bullpen.

Our friend, Jonah Keri, put one up at ESPN yesterday (subscription required) which he brings home with:

If those names don’t excite you, remember that the Rays have built great bullpens from spare parts before. They grabbed Balfour off the scrap heap from the Milwaukee Brewers, designated him for assignment, brought him back to the big leagues, then watched him turn into a dominant force on the Rays’ 2008 pennant-winning team. Balfour’s running mate that year, J.P. Howell, was acquired in a trade for Joey Gathright, a player with little on his résumé other than jumping over cars on YouTube.

The lesson here: Don’t overpay to bring back last year’s success stories. Instead, dig deep to find the new one, for millions less. It’s a smart move for any team trying to build a bullpen.

Corey Ettinger, who writes for as many sites as I go, wrote a solid piece related to the Twins who are also rebuilding the bullpen.

…the American Leagues best bullpen in 2010 belonged to the Tampa Bay Rays. Their staff combined to throw 454 innings of 3.33 ERA baseball, allowing a total of 168 runs (or 1.037R/G). The Royals came in dead last. Their bullpen threw 496.2 innings with a 4.46 ERA, allowing a total of 246 runs (1.518R/G).

Clearly the Rays bullpen benefited from having a better starting staff as well, and needed to throw 42.2 innings less. On average, AL bullpens threw 463 innings, allowing 200 earned runs, for a 3.89 ERA.

So the first thing we need to do to accurately compare the two bullpens, is look at runs allowed per innings (ERA) and balance that out over the league average. When we do that, the runs allowed number becomes 171.33 for the Rays, and 229.33 for the Royals.

The total spread is just 58 runs. Fifty eight runs, that sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But how much is it really? Well, in practical terms, it’s about one run every three games. Could that run be the difference between a win and a loss. It could, but probably not. Most games are decided by more than one run after all. In sabermetric terms, the difference is greater – 5.8 wins. Six games after all is a lot, especially when a team is in a playoff race. Of course, it’s important to remember that were discussing the difference between the best bullpens and the worst bullpens. Most teams by rule, are neither.

I understand that those who don’t buy into advanced metrics will quite simply be dismissive of such obvious evidence. But whether you choose to believe in it or not, no reliever, not even Mariano Rivera is so much better than someone else that he can’t be replaced rather easily. Nor is any bullpen, no matter how decimated by injury or departure, so far gone that it can’t be rather easily fixed.

Putting that into perspective, the 5.8 wins in a season by the ENTIRE bullpen from last season is still nearly two full wins less than what Evan Longoria was worth to the Rays last season (7.7 WAR). If you keep the entire Rays pen from last year into this season and replace Longoria with Willy Aybar at third base, the club suffers nearly an eight game loss in the standings (on paper).

Coaches are hired to be fired; bullpens are built to be rebuilt.

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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