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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Nationals, Orioles have all-time bad MLB bullpens | SI.com

Relief pitching has reached a tipping point.

For half a century, ever since the mound was lowered in 1969, relief pitchers posted a lower ERA than starting pitchers. That no longer is true.

As managers go to bullpens earlier and earlier, and as the use of openers grows, workload is catching up to bullpens.

Relievers have a higher ERA (4.50) than starters (4.44) for the first time since 1969. Only three years ago, relievers’ ERA was almost half a run better than that of starters (3.93 to 4.34).

Bullpen ERA this year is the second worst in the past 69 years (only 2000 was worse) and the eighth worst of all time. And it’s getting worse as the workload piles up. Monthly bullpen ERA this year: 4.37 in April, 4.45 in May and 4.72 in June, making this the worst June for relievers since 1950.

Jim Furtado Posted: June 25, 2019 at 06:25 AM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pitching

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   1. PreservedFish Posted: June 25, 2019 at 09:20 AM (#5855609)
For half a century, ever since the mound was lowered in 1969, relief pitchers posted a lower ERA than starting pitchers. That no longer is true.


I had no idea this was happening. Fascinating.

I would suspect that, at the same time, the elite bullpen pitchers are as good as ever, that it's being driven by an increase in innings devoted to garbage time / mopup men.

Or is it mostly because the 3rd/4th/5th starters never face the lineup that third time anymore?
   2. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: June 25, 2019 at 09:28 AM (#5855613)
I would suspect that, at the same time, the elite bullpen pitchers are as good as ever, that it's being driven by an increase in innings devoted to garbage time / mopup men.

Probably. If you go from 5 RPs per team, to 8, quality is going to decline, but not for the top-5.
   3. Nasty Nate Posted: June 25, 2019 at 09:30 AM (#5855614)
It's probably only a small factor, but presumably Openers like Ryne Stanek are included w the SP stats.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: June 25, 2019 at 09:35 AM (#5855616)
Good point. And the Yarboroughs stuck with the RPs.
   5. filihok Posted: June 25, 2019 at 10:45 AM (#5855632)
So, as the line between starter and reliever is blurred, their performance is more similar. Strange that.

I imagine if these same starting pitchers were pitching more innings they would perform worse giving relievers the edge again.

The article mentions bullpen ERA increasing monthly. How about starter ERA?
   6. SoSH U at work Posted: June 25, 2019 at 10:49 AM (#5855633)

It's probably only a small factor, but presumably Openers like Ryne Stanek are included w the SP stats.


Stanek is definitely doing his part. He's been simply excellent in the opener role (1.85 ERA in 34 innings). As a traditional reliever, he has not performed well (4.66 in 9.2).
   7. RJ in TO Posted: June 25, 2019 at 10:58 AM (#5855637)
The Orioles have an all-time bad everything. There's no need to point out just the bullpen.

It's amazing. They were a train wreck last year, when they went 47-115. But this year, they're actually on a slightly worse pace, and projected to finish with only 46 wins. Team OPS+ of 85, Team ERA+ of 78, and it's not like they're stuffed with veterans on their way out. Rather, a huge chunk of their players have been in the 25 to 29 year old band (average age for hitters of 26.7 and pitchers of 27.4), which should theoretically be their primes.

They're garbage, and there's no reason to think they won't be garbage for a long time.
   8. Itchy Row Posted: June 25, 2019 at 11:20 AM (#5855646)
AL relievers (4.48) have still had a better ERA than AL starters (4.59) this year, but those two figures are closer than they were last year- 4.39 for starters and 4.09 for relievers.

In the NL this year, starters have a 4.30 ERA and relievers are at 4.52. Relievers had a higher ERA than starters in the NL last year, but it was closer- 4.00 for starters and 4.08 for relievers.
   9. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: June 25, 2019 at 11:38 AM (#5855653)
Boston's bullpen is historically terrible.
   10. BrianBrianson Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:04 PM (#5855663)
I'd have to think under optimal usage, bullpen era=starter era. If your bullpen has a lower era than your starters, you should let them pitch more, right?
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:14 PM (#5855664)
I'd have to think under optimal usage, bullpen era=starter era. If your bullpen has a lower era than your starters, you should let them pitch more, right?


I think bullpen ERA should be better, since you can leverage them in a way that you can't with starters.

   12. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:18 PM (#5855665)
I think bullpen ERA should be better, since you can leverage them in a way that you can't with starters.

How does leverage impact the aggregate bullpen ERA? Leverage means your best relievers with pitch the most important innings, but aggregate ERA treats all innings equally.

If you have 4 RPs with a 2.50 ERA in 60 IP, and 4 with a 4.50 ERA in 60 IP, your bullpen ERA is going to be 3.50, no matter how you deploy them.
   13. SoSH U at work Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:26 PM (#5855670)
How does leverage impact the aggregate bullpen ERA? Leverage means your best relievers with pitch the most important innings, but aggregate ERA treats all innings equally.


No, it also means using them when they're most likely to be effective (Loogys and other platoon situations).

   14. michaelplank has knowledgeable eyes Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:27 PM (#5855671)
I'd have to think under optimal usage, bullpen era=starter era. If your bullpen has a lower era than your starters, you should let them pitch more, right?


I believe offenses generally utilize one-run strategies later in games, so that would tend to favor relievers.
   15. PreservedFish Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:31 PM (#5855673)
No, it also means using them when they're most likely to be effective (Loogys and other platoon situations).


But they're also lesser pitchers to begin with. It's not a matter of having a 4.50 ERA starter and a 4.50 ERA reliever and being able to leverage the reliever into a 3.50 ERA. It might be a matter of a 4.50 pitcher and a 5.50 pitcher that has to be heavily leveraged to get down to 4.50.
   16. BrianBrianson Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:33 PM (#5855674)
I mean, I'd have to Monte Carlo it, but I have to think that if you're using relievers when they're so likely to be effective they're outperforming the starters, you're being too cautious and under-using them. Maybe there's some reason that's not true, but it seems like the obvious null hypothesis.
   17. PreservedFish Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:44 PM (#5855682)
I have to think that if you're using relievers when they're so likely to be effective they're outperforming the starters, you're being too cautious and under-using them.


This feels right to me, but I don't know. It's complicated. There's also the fact that garbage time is garbage time and is almost meaningless. It might be smart, from a team construction standpoint, to have the 13th man in the bullpen be only the 23rd best pitcher in the organization, and work him like a rented mule, and not care about giving up extra garbage time runs.
   18. SoSH U at work Posted: June 25, 2019 at 12:53 PM (#5855686)
But they're also lesser pitchers to begin with. It's not a matter of having a 4.50 ERA starter and a 4.50 ERA reliever and being able to leverage the reliever into a 3.50 ERA. It might be a matter of a 4.50 pitcher and a 5.50 pitcher that has to be heavily leveraged to get down to 4.50.


Sure, if those numbers are real.

Teams have been able to leverage lesser relievers into better rate-stat performers than starters. Tony Fossas had a career ERA+ of 111, which is better than all but the very top starters. But I don't think giving him more work against guys who hit .311/.388/.469 was going to help very much.

He was that effective only because teams were able to employ him in a way that absolutely maximized his value, which is a situation that simply doesn't exist with starters (obviously, Fossas is an extreme case, but he does demonstrate how relievers can be leveraged).

I mean, I'd have to Monte Carlo it, but I have to think that if you're using relievers when they're so likely to be effective they're outperforming the starters, you're being too cautious and under-using them. Maybe there's some reason that's not true, but it seems like the obvious null hypothesis.


That's certainly possible, but it wouldn't be my guess.

   19. michaelplank has knowledgeable eyes Posted: June 25, 2019 at 01:04 PM (#5855688)
He was that effective only because teams were able to employ him in a way that absolutely maximized his value


And because he was followed by (sometimes better) guys, also being maximized, who helped tamp down any mess he might have created. It's hard to have your ERA blow up when you're only facing one batter at a time, and even if you put him on, the relievers that follow get out of the inning.
   20. The Yankee Clapper Posted: June 25, 2019 at 01:35 PM (#5855696)
In unsurprising bad bullpen news, the Yankees have optioned Jonathan Holder to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre:
After watching all five batters he faced come around to score in the Yankees' 10-8 victory over the Blue Jays, the struggling reliever was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. . . . In Holder's last six appearances, he has surrendered 13 hits and 13 runs in 5 1/3 innings (21.94 ERA). Overall, Holder is 5-2 with a 6.81 ERA in 31 appearances, permitting 40 hits and 30 runs (27 earned), with 11 walks and 40 strikeouts.
No corresponding roster addition announced yet.

EDIT: Looks like they’re adding Stephen Tarpley, while cutting Kendys Morales.
   21. TomH Posted: June 25, 2019 at 02:02 PM (#5855709)
Plus relievers ratio of ERA to OPS allowed is better than starters because the inherited runners are charged to the starter. OPS or wOBA would be a better comparison.
   22. Kiko Sakata Posted: June 25, 2019 at 03:27 PM (#5855779)
I'd have to think under optimal usage, bullpen era=starter era. If your bullpen has a lower era than your starters, you should let them pitch more, right?


Even if equilibrium has the two pitching equally effectively, relievers would end up with a slightly lower ERA because of inherited runners. Inherited runners who score are partially the fault of the pitcher who let them reach base and partially the fault of the pitcher who let them score. But ERA charges such runs entirely to the pitcher who let them reach base. As a group, only starters can have inherited runners who score and push up their ERA (if an individual reliever allows an inherited runner who eventually scores, the pitcher who allowed the run was another reliever).

EDIT: Coke to #21.
   23. . Posted: June 25, 2019 at 03:44 PM (#5855781)
There was no way there was going to be enough major league caliber pitching around for every team in baseball to carry a 12 or in most cases 13-man pitching staff. Particularly when the teams are also using the 10-day IL to effectively make their staffs even bigger than 13.
   24. Dog on the sidewalk has an ugly bracelet Posted: June 25, 2019 at 03:59 PM (#5855789)
Even if equilibrium has the two pitching equally effectively, relievers would end up with a slightly lower ERA because of inherited runners. 

OTOH, relievers pitch to pitchers far less often, making starters look superficially better.
   25. BrianBrianson Posted: June 25, 2019 at 04:04 PM (#5855792)
I do buy the argument about OPS against vs. ERA. Really, WAR/IP or something like that is probably the proper metric.
   26. Bourbon Samurai, what price fettucine? Posted: June 25, 2019 at 04:55 PM (#5855814)
The Nats just added Fernando Rodney and Johnny Venters to the roster, so I'm sure that bullpen era will be improving any minute now
   27. PreservedFish Posted: June 25, 2019 at 05:27 PM (#5855831)
Really, WAR/IP or something like that is probably the proper metric.

The WARs that we have are adjusted to account for relief pitching being easier. So they don't work for this.
   28. Walt Davis Posted: June 25, 2019 at 05:52 PM (#5855836)
1. In the last few years, teams made the push from abonut 490 relief innings to about 560 with the additional reliever. This was bound to increase reliever ERA and decrease starter ERA.

2. Teams seem much more cavalier about low leverage situations. Despite the 13th pitcher, I'm pretty sure we've also seen historically high amounts of position-player pitching (just the obvious example, there are still so few innings it doesn't matter).

3. But similarly, unless it becomes widespread, a guy like Stanek just doesn't pitch enough innings to substantially impact the overall numbers. (Yarbrough probably has slightly more effect on reliever ERA but still not enough to matter.)

4. The "relievers better ERA than starters" trend was really noticeable when it came to the shift towards 1-inning relievers.

5. If you think about it, it's not so much an "inherited runners" issue, it's an "outs already made in an inning" issue. The reliever who enters with a runner on (or not) and gives up a "leadoff" single to the first batter only needs 1 more out to avoid surrendering a run charged to him. Relievers entering with 0 outs, whether there are runners on or not, don't have an advantage here. (Note also that, when dissussing relievers in the aggregate, runners "bequeathed" from one reliever to another show up in reliever ERA.

Over 16 years ago, I wrote an article for this very web site on this very topic. It was tough to get it formatted correctly and if you follow that link you'll see it's totally messed up now (and the graphs are probably gone). Then a key issue was "short" reliever vs. regular reliever -- the short guys really dominated. (The comments are pretty readable and the difference is made pretty clear in comment 15) In the comments there's also a link to another study published aorund the same time which apparently I then thought was better than mine, maybe you can find that too.

(I don't recall thinking my study was anything too exciting back then, it's surely even less exciting now. I thought of it because I'm pretty sure it tracked starter/reliever ERA historically which was relevant to this article. ... within the context of being able to track those sorts of things using the Lahman database which was limited at the time .... not sure we had access to true splits data.)
   29. bobm Posted: June 25, 2019 at 07:08 PM (#5855852)
Starter tOPS+ = 100 in 2019 (year to date) for the first time since (full season, such as it was) 1994.

For single team seasons, From (EDITED) 1969 to 2019, All Teams in Major Leagues, as Starter (within Pitching Role), sorted by season

                                       
Rk         Split Year    G tOPS+     PA
1     as Starter 2019 2342   100  52830
2     as Starter 2018 4862   101 110492
3     as Starter 2017 4860   104 114870
4     as Starter 2016 4856   103 116838
5     as Starter 2015 4858   102 119244
6     as Starter 2014 4860   102 122052
7     as Starter 2013 4862   103 121435
8     as Starter 2012 4860   104 121548
9     as Starter 2011 4858   102 124544
10    as Starter 2010 4860   101 124129
11    as Starter 2009 4860   103 121839
12    as Starter 2008 4856   102 121818
13    as Starter 2007 4862   103 122237
14    as Starter 2006 4858   103 122956
15    as Starter 2005 4862   102 125020
16    as Starter 2004 4856   102 123439
17    as Starter 2003 4860   102 123603
18    as Starter 2002 4852   102 123795
19    as Starter 2001 4858   103 124303
20    as Starter 2000 4858   102 126129
21    as Starter 1999 4856   102 125452
22    as Starter 1998 4864   102 127553
23    as Starter 1997 4532   101 117319
24    as Starter 1996 4534   102 117644
25    as Starter 1995 4034   101 103599
26    as Starter 1994 3200   100  84264
27    as Starter 1993 4538   101 119081
28    as Starter 1992 4212   102 110453
29    as Starter 1991 4208   101 108750
30    as Starter 1990 4210   101 108714
31    as Starter 1989 4212   102 110184
32    as Starter 1988 4200   100 112643
33    as Starter 1987 4210   102 110215
34    as Starter 1986 4206   100 110790
35    as Starter 1985 4206   101 111164
36    as Starter 1984 4210   102 112214
37    as Starter 1983 4218   102 112701
38    as Starter 1982 4214   103 111781
39    as Starter 1981 2788   100  73280
40    as Starter 1980 4210   101 113270
41    as Starter 1979 4196   100 113525
42    as Starter 1978 4204   100 114972
43    as Starter 1977 4206   102 113516
44    as Starter 1976 3878   100 106757
45    as Starter 1975 3868   100 107844
46    as Starter 1974 3890   100 108271
47    as Starter 1973 3886    99 108348
48    as Starter 1972 3718    99 103026
49    as Starter 1971 3876   100 108159
50    as Starter 1970 3888   100 106177
51    as Starter 1969 3892    99 106020


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/25/2019.


   30. bfan Posted: June 26, 2019 at 08:20 AM (#5855950)
The Orioles have an all-time bad everything. There's no need to point out just the bullpen.


Exactly. If they had a good bullpen, it would be a waste that they should immediately trade for prospects, for the next good Orioles team (2024?).
   31. Swoboda is freedom Posted: June 26, 2019 at 03:05 PM (#5856121)
Has no one seen the Met bullpen? Man are they bad.
   32. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: June 26, 2019 at 06:36 PM (#5856218)
The Nats just added Fernando Rodney and Johnny Venters to the roster, so I'm sure that bullpen era will be improving any minute now

Fernando Rodney is the only player over 40 in the majors currently. Nice to have him around.
   33. Rally Posted: June 27, 2019 at 09:00 AM (#5856290)
Fernando Rodney is the only player over 40 in the majors currently. Nice to have him around.


Last player born in the 1970s. I could let that make me feel real old, but I look at it this way: Nobody in MLB right now was good enough to have made my high school team. I graduated in 1989, even the most talented 9 year old is not going to be able to play with high schoolers. OK, maybe Mike Trout, but he wasn't 9 in 1989, he wasn't even born yet.

OK, Pujols could have made my high school team. He was "9" my senior year but probably hit like a 16 year old.

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