Mid-Season Review: The Bullpen

In a true look at the first half we will only be including games through 6/29 as that was the Rays 81st game. This will be in a similar format to my look at the starting rotation with a couple of tweaks. Anecdotally, the Rays got off to a horrendous start before guys started filtering into their roles or washing out due to injury or ineffectiveness. These are all major league pitchers that can fill a role or be useful in a broad set of scenarios, but the more valuable players are those that are good without having to specialize. Let’s dig into the data:

Click to Enlarge

The above table is the basis for the first four charts for those that are more number-oriented. As always, the upper left is crucial for pointing out the sample sizes that we’re talking about. This is strictly for evaluative purposes, but with larger samples we start to see diminished noise that can lead to some predictive power. Let’s look at pitch usage against lefties:

As a whole, the pen is throwing 61% fastballs to lefties with slightly more change ups than breaking balls. The leaders in breaking balls were Brandon Gomes, Cesar Ramos, Jamey Wright, and Joel Peralta. Note that I classify all split finger fastballs as change ups because that’s how Peralta and others on this staff use theirs. Rodney had an even split between fastballs and change ups, while Peralta and Odorizzi used the offspeed pitch the next most. The most fastball-heavy guys are Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth, and Alex Torres. Those that wonder how Peralta can be so effective despite looking like a Joe Schmoe might ponder a glance at the fact that he so rarely uses the fastball. He pitches backwards and that helps an ordinary offering play up. Jake Odorizzi could learn a thing in this regard. On to the righties:

We see a slight uptick in the team’s usage of fastballs against righties with almost an even split between the secondary offerings for the remaining third of pitches. Again we see Gomes throwing a ton of breaking balls, but he’s now joined by Lueke and Odorizzi. Farnsy, Wright, and Peralta are also throwing more breaking balls than the average. Rodney’s a little more fastball heavy against same-handers with Torres and Peralta actually throwing more than our sharp-shooting closer. We still see just how fastball-dependent McGee is and he’s joined by Farnsworth, Wright, and Rodney. We, again, see Peralta throwing more junk than heat and he’s now joined by Josh Lueke. Now that we have a handle on what they’re throwing we can dig into how successful each pitch has been:

Due to the smaller samples here we’re going to look at total run values and not adjust per 100 pitches or anything else. At the bottom is the total number of pitches thrown to lefties. Recall that negative values indicate better than average and vice-versa for positive values. By total values we see that Peralta has been our best reliever being around 5.5 runs better than average, but Wright is nipping at his heels with 4.96 runs better than average, and Torres is also right there at 4.9 better than average. Jake McGee is the only other pitcher that has been much better than average against southpaws, though Rodney just squeaks by at .17 better. Odorizzi, Lueke, and Ramos have been virtually useless against lefties with Gomes and Farnsy being options you’d prefer not to use, as well.

The single best pitch has been Torres’ fastball, then the fastballs of Wright, McGee, and Peralta have also been very good. The change ups from Rodney and Peralta have been positively electric while Lueke and Wright have featured good ones, as well. The best breaking ball to lefties has been Jamey Wright’s, though Farnsworth has also featured a decent breaking ball. Let’s move on to how they’ve fared against righties:

Here we see where the real magic of Alex Torres shines. He killed lefties and he’s even better against righties. Ramos has also shown usefulness rocking the reverse platoon split and then Rodney and Wright come in as the next best vs. their similarly-limbed counterparts. In fact, everyone, but Farnsworth, has been better than average against righties, though he’s been pretty bad in this regard. The best pitch is again Torres’ fastball so those that think he doesn’t have plus ched should recognize that it’s a legit pitch. If he used the breaking ball more you’d probably see a guy with three above average pitches, but in the pen he’s content to go fastball/change.

We start to see why Joe Maddon likes to call Joel Peralta “the best left-handed reliever in the game,” because of how good he is against lefties and because he’s not nearly the same animal against righties. His fastball plays down a little and his split-change is a worse than average pitch. His breaking ball has been his saving grace. Rodney continues to defy the laws of tradition by showing that same-sided change ups can be a devastating pitch in the right circumstances. Jamey Wright continues to impress with his full arsenal of offerings that keep batters off balance and shaking their damn heads. I now want to take a look at overall pen effectiveness by game:

This is a look at the seven-game trends of overall bullpen run values. We see the poor start reflected with everything reaching a head in early May. After that the bullpen has mostly been a lockdown creature of destruction with a small blip towards the end of May. They’ve been coming back to average of late, but they’ve still been a valuable weapon in both protecting leads and keeping the team in the game. We can drill down a bit deeper here:

This gives a great idea of who was used when with each vertical slice showing that color’s (reliever’s) run value contribution on the day. I think this gives an idea of how often a guy has been used while also showing the daily ups and downs of the bullpen. Pay particular attention to the cluster in June where the pen was just nails day in and day out. There has been some give back of late, but after the disaster that was the early season we’ve seen a mostly reliable pen keeping the team in games.

A common refrain of fans might be that the Rays need to add a reliever at the deadline to really have a lockdown crew, but the addition of Torres is probably better than any available arm and it doesn’t require a shipment of talent going the other way. With a five-headed monster of Rodney-Peralta-McGee-Torres-Wright featuring the ability to get out both hands Joe Maddon is in an enviable position. Lueke/Farnsworth/Gomes (if/when healthy) give a nice situational arm against good or stacked righties so the weak link is probably Cesar Ramos who has been good against righties, but the team may benefit from a true lefty-crusher. I’m sure there will be calls to bring up C.J. Riefenhauser and they might be apt, but if the team was looking to add an arm I’d prefer a mis-used lefty with poor surface numbers that comes with a low tag. Someone like Charlie Furbush, Jose Mijares, or Jose Veras might bring enough situational ability to stick in the pen without having to give up much in return. As a Kendrys Morales honk I’d love to see Furbush and Morales come over for something like Josh Sale and another arm that doesn’t have much of a future here. Though I won’t hold my breath waiting for the Rays to give up talent at the deadline.


About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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