Perspective with the Bullpen

With the Phillies 9.5 games behind the first place Washington Nationals, there has been plenty of blame to go around. Whether it’s been injuries, the recent incompetence of the starting rotation, or the historically-bad situational hitting, the Phillies have found a way to fail in new and interesting situations. The most consistently-bad aspect of the team, though, has been the bullpen. After Jonathan Papelbon and recently Antonio Bastardo, there simply hasn’t been a reliable arm that Charlie Manuel can call on in important situations. The bullpen’s collective 4.44 ERA is the third-worst in the National League, thanks to the repeated failures of Chad Qualls, Jose Contreras, Joe Savery, and Michael Schwimer, among others who have had a smaller share of innings.

As a fun game, I compiled four stats for each Phillies reliever (min. 10 innings) this season and compared them to the relievers (min. 20 innings) of another very successful MLB team. The stats chosen are K%, BB%, K/BB, and xFIP because they are the quickest to stabilize and the most elucidating.

Go through the stats and make a selection. At the end, you will learn the identity of the mystery team if you don’t put the pieces together before then. Click on only one link for each set.

Closer

A B
K% 30% 32%
BB% 4% 12%
K/BB 7.25 2.63
xFIP 2.78 3.01

Select: Player A | Player B

Set-Up

A B
K% 35% 20%
BB% 11% 7%
K/BB 3.10 3.55
xFIP 3.18 3.55

Select: Player A | Player B

LOOGY

A B
K% 29% 20%
BB% 2% 15%
K/BB 13.00 1.37
xFIP 2.94 4.34

Select: Player A | Player B

Four Relievers (ordered by IP)

A B
K% 16% 17%
BB% 6% 10%
K/BB 2.57 1.80
xFIP 3.65 4.31

Select: Player A | Player B

 

A B
K% 15% 11%
BB% 5% 6%
K/BB 3.00 1.79
xFIP 4.21 4.32

Select: Player A | Player B

 

  A B
K% 27% 16%
BB% 4% 13%
K/BB 5.00 1.20
xFIP 2.79 4.70

Select: Player A | Player B

 

A B
K% 14% 19%
BB% 14% 12%
K/BB 1.00 1.53
xFIP 5.58 4.92

Select: Player A | Player B

 

If you haven’t figured it out yet, all of the B players come from the World Series champion 2008 Phillies. The ’08 bullpen led the league in ERA at 3.22. If you chose correctly according to the stats, you should have picked mostly 2012 Phillies relievers above, and that should surprise you. If the ’12 relievers are better, then why are they near the bottom in ERA and the ’08 bullpen at the top?

  • Grounders: The ’08 bullpen featured three relievers with a ground ball rate above 50 percent: J.C. Romero (61.5%), Clay Condrey (54.3%), and Ryan Madson (51%). The 2012 ‘pen features two, and neither at the height of Romero: Chad Qualls (54.5%) and Jose Contreras (51.4%). As a team, the 2012 ‘pen has a 40.7% ground ball rate compared to the 48.8% rate of 2008.
  • Home Runs: Grounders are good because when they are hits, the extent of the damage is usually a single, and a double in rare circumstances. A fly ball, obviously, can travel beyond the outfield fence for a home run. This is why the average for the two batted ball types are nearly identical, but there is a huge disparity in power (.021 ISO for grounders, .371 for fly balls). The 2008 bullpen had one member allow more than one home run per 10 fly balls: Romero (14.3%). The 2012 Phillies feature four: Qualls (28.6%), Joe Savery (13.6%), Jonathan Papelbon (11.1%), and Jose Contreras (10%). As a team, the 2012 Phillies are at 12% compared to the ’08 Phillies at 8.5%.
  • Sample Size: Two-plus months doesn’t even begin to approach an acceptable data set when you consider we are talking about relievers who individually account for fewer than five percent of his team’s total innings. The bullpen leader in innings is Chad Qualls at 26. Comparatively, starter Cole Hamels reached 26 innings on April 25. Would you use Hamels’ month of April for anything but the most general of observations? It is possible that the bullpen’s collective true talent includes a HR/FB of 12%, but we don’t know that with two-plus months of data. It is more likely that the relievers individually regress towards the league average 10%, which means Qualls won’t give up homers at a 28.6% rate going forward, for example.
  • Defense: The Phillies remain one of baseball’s elite defensive teams, but the data includes a large majority of games involving Freddy Galvis and Placido Polanco. Galvis was recently injured and will be out for “a significant amount of time“. Galvis came out in the fifth inning on June 6, which was the first game that Polanco was absent as well. In the seven games that followed, the Phillies committed 11 errors, including eight by infielders (Ty Wigginton, 4; Mike Fontenot, 2; Jimmy Rollins; Michael Martinez). There were several more that weren’t scored as errors as well. Of course, errors are a very rough way to measure defense, but there’s no game-by-game UZR (and even if there was, it’d be just as questionable). Generally speaking, though, the Phillies’ defense has been much worse recently than it was to start the season.

Based on the things a pitcher has the most control over, the bullpen has actually done a decent job. Their collective 2.89 K/BB is second-best in the league behind the Cincinnati Reds (2.93) and fourth among all 30 teams. Their 3.75 xFIP places them in the top-ten in the Majors as well. Using SIERA, which better accounts for batted ball profile, the Phillies move into the top-five at 3.16. The bullpen isn’t nearly as bad as they have looked through 64 games, and that is an important realization because if the Phillies are able to make up some ground in the next month and go into the deadline looking to add players, they should abstain from paying for relievers based on two months of volatile bullpen data.

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25 comments

  1. The Citizens Banker

    June 14, 2012 07:14 AM

    Phenomenal, as usual. Tough with no way to account for game-by-game defense and as unreliable a stat as E’s are, the fact that the number is at 11 in 7 games is alarming even without discretion of it’s reliability as a stat on the whole. This is a team that has prided itself on defense. This article also made me very nostalgic. missin u, flash

  2. Dan K.

    June 14, 2012 08:59 AM

    I was going to bring up that it was pointless to use Contreras since he obviously won’t be pitching again this year (if ever again). But it occurs to me Valdes might have eerily similar numbers, although I haven’t investigated.

  3. Max

    June 14, 2012 09:05 AM

    Usage is another factor here. Bastardo *should* be the set-up man, but he’s been used more as a LOOGY. Raul Valdes would make a great LOOGY if not for the unusual surplus of left-handed relievers. (Also, the Romero situation proved that Charlie has no clue what a LOOGY is – he somehow faced 83 more RHB than LHB.) Chad Qualls has also spent the most time in the set-up role, even though he should be the first of those four. If compared to Madson, I’d pick Madson without question.

  4. LTG

    June 14, 2012 09:12 AM

    BB, I have to disagree with your evaluation of the Phillies team defense. They have some top-notch defenders on the team. But as a team they haven’t graded out as unequivocally good since 2009. In 2010 they were right around even; in 2011 they were surrendering more runs on defense than they prevented; this year the measurements are contradictory (+UZR, -DRS). I know the accuracy of defensive measurements are not uncontroversial. But I wouldn’t take my eyes to be better than those measurements.

    At any rate, given that the best defensive measurements are contradictory and that the UZR/150 is just pretty good (4.8), it seems irresponsible to assert that the Phillies still have an elite defense without further argument. The metrics were reading this way before Polanco and Galvis were hurt; so, you cannot just dismiss the evidence as injury-related.

  5. John

    June 14, 2012 09:53 AM

    Isn’t there a reasonable or even likely chance that their ballooned HR/FB rate has more to do with bad pitches in tight situations than luck? I feel like it’s irresponsible to chalk all of this up to, “they’re unlucky, regress it”.

  6. Richard

    June 14, 2012 10:37 AM

    Your points re: the Phillies defense overall, LTG, are correct. However, the infield defense had mostly graded out as elite this year, till both Galvis and Polanco went down. Wigginton was already, obviously, the main exception. The defensive numbers are brought down by Pence, Pierre, and Wigginton. Similarly, last year’s defensive numbers were heavily impacted, negatively, by Ibanez’s and Brown’s horrific numbers, at least by UZR. Overall team defense is important, of course, but there can be some distortions.

  7. Richard

    June 14, 2012 10:38 AM

    Max: I think Bastardo has re-graduated to setup role, basically. Last night was an exception to recent trends, but defensible given that he was essentially employed as a stopper when he was brought in to bail out Hamels (and frankly did a pretty good job, all things considered).

  8. LTG

    June 14, 2012 10:54 AM

    Richard, I agree with your points re: Galvis. But Polanco is currently -DRS as is Jimmy. Galvis has been so good that he made the infield D positive by himself. So, if we go position by position on DRS we get mostly negative scores. The two exceptions are Galvis (shocking, I know) and Ruiz. So, even if I grant your premise that the overall measurement does not adequately reflect the team defense (which I don’t), I would still conclude that team defense is not elite and maybe not even adequate.

    It is also worth keeping in mind that outfield defense can have a rather large impact. The balls that the infield can’t get to usually go for singles. The balls that the outfield can’t get to usually go for doubles. And misplayed outfield balls can turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. This is why having bad corner OFs and an adequate CF (since 2008 anyway) pulls the Phils team defense down so much despite having good infields for that stretch.

    So, I stand by my conclusion from the evidence and would still like to see a reason that we should continue calling the Phillies team defense ‘elite’. (Actually, Richard, I take your response to not really be enough to defend BB’s unsupported assertion in the article, even if it undercut my position.)

  9. LTG

    June 14, 2012 10:58 AM

    Also, Richard’s point about Bastardo’s use seems right to me. I don’t know whether Charlie thought it through but he used his best relievers to get the toughest outs last night. Bastardo in the 7th inning jam against the middle of the order and Paps in the 9th against the top-middle. And otherwise Charlie has seemed to prefer Bastardo in the 8th. I suspect that if Hamels had made it through the 7th Bastardo would have pitched the 8th.

  10. Richard

    June 14, 2012 11:36 AM

    My only caveat, LTG, would be that UZR, for what it’s worth, has both Rollins & Polanco scoring well this year. And naturally I wasn’t suggesting that the arguably superior infield defense made up for the suspect outfield defense, only that it depends on what we’re talking about.

  11. nik

    June 14, 2012 11:37 AM

    Papelbon is awesome. People have stopped whining about the contract at this point.

  12. Richard

    June 14, 2012 11:38 AM

    I’d also suggest that the only reason Bastardo wasn’t the setup guy from the beginning is because of how he struggled towards the end of last season and appeared to be struggling with his elbow/command in ST and April.

  13. LTG

    June 14, 2012 12:03 PM

    Richard, right, I noted the discrepancy between DRS and UZR in my first post. The discrepancy is one piece of evidence that one cannot take for granted that the Phillies have an elite defense.

    I’m also confused as to what your response had to do with my original comment now. Were you suggesting that BB only meant that the Phillies have an elite infield defense? If so, that’s bending his words to the breaking point. And even that claim is suspect.

  14. Richard

    June 14, 2012 12:23 PM

    I was only saying that it’s arguable that the Phillies have still had an elite infield defense. I take your point that it can’t be taken for granted. I wasn’t really arguing with you, just wanting to make it a bit clearer that the true problem has been outfield defense.

  15. LTG

    June 14, 2012 12:29 PM

    Fair enough. We at least agree that the outfield defense has been dragging the team down (and for a long time too it just hasn’t mattered that much), although I am worried that infield defense has become a problem as well. For that reason, I would like to see a more in-depth analysis of the question.

  16. Frank Reynolds

    June 14, 2012 01:02 PM

    I liked this a lot. Cool article.

  17. hk

    June 14, 2012 01:31 PM

    nik,

    Papelbon is awesome, but most of the comments on this board at the time of the signing recognized as much. However, there’s an argument to be made that he most likely would have signed for less and there’s almost no doubt that he could have been signed later (after the new CBA), which would have saved the team a 1st round draft choice.

  18. Dilbert Pickles

    June 14, 2012 04:28 PM

    I loved it

  19. nik

    June 15, 2012 08:51 AM

    hk, agree with the timing, it was dumb to lose a pick. Not so sure about how much less we could have signed him for. He was clearly the best closer on the market and a team like the Marlins could have swooped in to get him.

  20. Richard

    June 15, 2012 10:29 AM

    nik, I think it’s clear the Phillies inadvertantly set their own market for Papelbon by whatever went down and got leaked re: Madson. If the numbers that were leaked were actually discussed, then they were already going too high. We basically have no way of knowing if they could have gotten Papelbon for less, but the Madson talks/leaks likely ensured that they couldn’t.

  21. Dan K.

    June 15, 2012 03:41 PM

    Off topic, but it’s now been a month since Bradley’s last post. Anything you can enlighten us on?

  22. LTG

    June 15, 2012 04:40 PM

    I was wondering the same.

  23. Bill Baer

    June 15, 2012 10:18 PM

    Bradley was traveling so he didn’t have the time to cobble together those massive posts. He should be able to get some more Minor League updates some time in the near future.

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