Is the Phillies’ Bullpen Just Bad?

In the comment’s of Paul’s post about Antonio Bastardo, AGH asked this question:

The Phillies have allowed the third most two-out runs in all of baseball. The pitching staff’s two-out ERA is also third worst (5.48), better only than the Rockies and the Indians.

Certainly injuries/lack of talent plays a part, but how much bad batted ball luck is involved in a stat like this? Is this the sort of stat that typically regresses to the mean?

It is an interesting question and one I think is worth addressing in its own post.

Simply put, there is very little correlation from one year to the next when it comes to the bullpen. The correlation coefficient for runs allowed by each team’s bullpen from 2011 to 2012 is 0.169, which is weak. There a lot of reasons why a split that drills down to a) relievers only b) with only two outs c) in only one year isn’t reliable.

Sample size: National League relievers so far this year have faced 24,410 batters with two outs out of 75,284 total batters, or 32.4%. So you’re cutting your sample size by two-thirds right from the start. Each team has had its bullpen pitch with two outs between 1,486 and 1,607 times. Then consider that each team has used at minimum 10 relievers. In reality, we’re talking about individual sample sizes under 100 PA — often way under — for each reliever.  Additionally, teams don’t use their relievers uniformly. For example, Jonathan Papelbon has logged over 50 innings while Raul Valdes is only at 27.2. Furthermore, some relievers are used to get only one out, most notably lefty specialists, so they either never pitch with 2 outs or only do so in a favorable match-up. As a result, your samples are heavily influenced by a lot of outside factors, even beyond what I have listed here.

Batted ball luck: Yep, BABIP plays a huge role in the success or failure of every bullpen. Some years, like the 2008 Phillies, almost everything goes right. Other years, like this year, everything goes completely wrong. From 2011 to 2012, there was actually a negative correlation in aggregate bullpen BABIP, -.153, still weak. But it tells us that BABIP essentially regresses to the mean the next year. In other words, if your BABIP is above-average in one year, it is likely to drop in the next year, and vice versa. Phillies relievers have an aggregate .306 BABIP but their true talent level may lie somewhere in the .290’s since they are so good at missing bats — their collective 24.5% strikeout rate is fourth-best in all of baseball. It is worth recognizing that the Phillies have had an astoundingly bad year on defense, especially with the Chase Utley, Freddy Galvis, and Placido Polanco injuries.

Turnover: Relievers, particularly non-closers, have notoriously bad job security. Teams are happy to shuffle younger arms between the Major and Minor Leagues at a moment’s notice, and often sign the older players to short-term deals. While GM Ruben Amaro brought some familiar faces back, the Phillies did say goodbye to Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero, and Mike Zagurski, among others. There is a difference between that group of players — mostly veterans — and Michael Schwimer, Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, and B.J. Rosenberg — all young players — and it affects the stats we use to judge bullpen performance.

Injuries: The Phillies have been bitten badly by the injury bug as they’ve seen Jose Contreras, David Herndon, and Michael Stutes hit the disabled list. Pitchers, more than position players, are prone to injury, so they may not make the same impact from one year to the next. Additionally, the health of the Phillies’ starting rotation also affects how the bullpen is used. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have both been injured at times this year, forcing Charlie Manuel to use a sub-par replacement (Kyle Kendrick) and rely on his bullpen more.

Trades: This is pretty self-explanatory. In the bullpen, the Phillies have Josh Lindblom and Jeremy Horst, both acquired in trades — Lindblom in the Shane Victorino deal and Horst in the Wilson Valdez trade. David Herndon was also acquired in the Rule-5 draft. This is just another way new faces are brought into the mix and familiar ones can drift away.

It’s easy to look at all of the awful bullpen stats and conclude that the relievers are collectively awful and that the Phillies need to make a significant change, but the reality is the crew they have assembled is actually decent. They have a 4.54 ERA but a 3.95 xFIP, the disparity due in part to an NL-high 39.6% fly ball rate and an above-average 12% HR/FB rate. Don’t forget that 11 of the 40 home runs Phillies relievers have allowed came from Chad Qualls and Brian Sanches, both no longer with the team. Lindblom has allowed three homers in eight innings of work, but he is having a bad year in that regard and figures to  be better next year. The fact is that bullpens in general, and the individual pitchers that are part of them, are volatile by nature. The 2012 Phillies simply had a bad roll of the dice in many ways when it came to the bullpen, but it should be noticeably better next year even if they do nothing.

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14 comments

  1. LTG

    August 23, 2012 04:02 PM

    In honor of 90s retro-night:

    The Phillies should bring back Todd Frohwirth. It was such a mistake to let him go to the Orioles.

  2. Frank K

    August 23, 2012 06:58 PM

    An alarming amount of the blame for this must go to Rich Dubee. I can’t think of one single example where he has helped a troubled pitcher such as Bastardo right himself. Other pitching coaches {read: Dave Duncan} are much better at this, and also at reclaiming starters from the scrap pile.

    The Phillies fail miserably in this area. Bastardo has a great arm and will again be a d*mn good 7th-8th inning man…somewhere. Probably not here. They have no patience with the home grown hurlers. Just ask Michael Schwimmer. And they have some kind of death wish to play favorites with kids from outside the organization such as Herndon and Aumont.

    If you think Bastardo was having a problem with pitch location, you should see Aumont. If you’re sitting behind home plate, bring a helmet.

  3. BobSmith75

    August 23, 2012 07:21 PM

    The solution for the bullpen is to do nothing this offseason? That’s a good idea especially for a system that is lacking relief depth especially with Herndon already out/Stutes questionable status.

  4. LTG

    August 23, 2012 09:06 PM

    If we are going to try to figure out the talent of a pitching coach from the armchair (and I don’t think we have enough information so I don’t advise it), let’s give Dubee credit for:

    KK being decent
    Herndon being a little better than decent
    Hamels developing a cutter
    Madson’s changeup
    Worley far exceeding scouts’ expectations
    Myers second half in 2008

    I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff.

    I have no idea what makes for a good pitching coach, but I highly doubt it’s something that can be seen from outside the organization.

  5. LTG

    August 23, 2012 09:11 PM

    Lacking relief depth? Isn’t this the only position of depth? We don’t even have any prospective starters above AA.

    A list:
    Bastardo
    Stutes
    Herndon
    Diekman
    Aumont
    Schwimmer
    De Fratus
    Horst
    Ramirez
    Blah, blah, blah

    I guess none of those are Chapman or Kimbrel but they are generational players.

  6. LTG

    August 23, 2012 09:12 PM

    *starters meaning starting pitchers

  7. Dan K.

    August 24, 2012 04:25 AM

    @LTG,

    Pettibone and Cloyd (if you’re in the “let him play” camp) are both in AAA. Pettibone is projected to be a starter in the majors by just about every scout. Cloyd isn’t, but someone putting up video game stats in the highest level of the minors at least deserves a look, in my opinion, before writing him off completely.

    But you are correct, RP is our greatest area of depth, although our system has come a long way in other areas of late (C and 3B most especially with the acquisition of Joseph and, to a lesser extent, Lino as well as the emergence of Asche and continued improvement of Franco). But I digress. Whoever thinks we have no RP depth is very sorely mistaken. De Fratus and Aumont profile as high leverage relievers, with De Fratus being ready now. Rosenberg could be a much more effective version of KK as he has been switching between RP and SP at AAA and has been effective there. Diekman is absolutely toxic against LH hitters. And the motley crew we’ve seen in the majors (including those who have been out with injury) have seen success at high levels. I would leave Ramirez off the list, though, and add in Knigge and Friend.

  8. LTG

    August 24, 2012 09:03 AM

    I forgot about Cloyd, which is sad since I was just talking about him. I also didn’t realize Pettibone was in AAA.

    Rosenberg is interesting. He’s had bad results so far, but his stuff looks great. And he had good results last night with that stuff.

    Does Savery still count as part of our relief depth? Or has he had his last and only hurrah in MLB?

  9. Richard

    August 24, 2012 09:06 AM

    It seems to me that the people who tell everyone else to “watch the games” don’t do a good job of watching the games themselves.

  10. Phillie697

    August 24, 2012 01:14 PM

    @LTG,

    By “no relief depth,” I think what those people really mean is “no recognizable names.” In this era, it’s not about getting actual performance. It’s about how to eliminate blame.

    If we rely on young arms, we’re just cheap and lazy. But if we overpay for a bunch of names people have heard of, at least we tried. I mean, come on, signing Papelbon to 5 years/$63M is really good! Imagine how many more games we would have lost this year if we didn’t. I mean, where else would we spend the money on?

  11. Dan K.

    August 24, 2012 06:05 PM

    @LTG,

    Pettibone is a fairly new face in AAA. He’s made 2 (maybe three, I might have forgotten one) starts for Lehigh Valley with great results, although he walked more people than I’m comfortable with (probably just a blip, though, he usually has good control).

    As for Savery, I think he’ll get another shot. I’m pretty sure he still has a couple options left, so they have no real risk when it comes to letting him get a shot for now.

    And Rosenberg should be just fine. Even better if he manages to get that change-up to work for him. But even without it, his fastball is great and his slider is very good.

  12. BobSmith75

    August 24, 2012 07:59 PM

    Reply to LTG tart reply:

    A list:
    1. Bastardo – Horrendous numbers now since last late last August. Too late in the season to send him down and get him straightened out though at Lehigh. He’ll be in the mix largely because he is a LH reliever.
    2. Stutes – Exploratory shoulder surgery found more damage than expected. Shutdown for the year and a question mark to throw this offseason in Winter League Ball. Question mark for next year.
    3. Herndon – TJ surgery. Out until next June at least. Scratch him off the list.
    4. Diekman – Huge command issues and release point consistency which have continued to plague him in Lehigh since he was sent down. No reliever is going to stick long at the MLB level with a BB/9 that is 6+ regardless of how hard he might be to hit.
    5. Aumont – Highly erratic command. We’ll see if he sticks but again hard to get excited about a guy who is so wild and does posses a plus offspeed pitch.
    6. Schwimmer – Up/down but showed he could be an adequate middle reliever.
    7. De Fratus – TBA although he is rounding back nicely
    8. Horst – Been the only reliever who has been a pleasant surprise. Largely acquired as organizational filler but moved up on organizational depth chart due to lack of quality LH relievers.
    9. Ramirez – Not on the organization’s radar really and a non-prospect at this point. Overall mediocre season as a reliever at Reading/Lehigh.

    You forget Lindblom and Rosenberg. Rosenberg is more a depth guy who only has been promoted this year due to injuries & ineffectiveness. Lindblom basically as the ceiling of Schwimmer.

    There are really only 2 guys on that list who potentially can be anything more than marginal MLB relievers or average middle relievers – De Fratus and Aumont. Personally don;t think Aumont has the command or the consistency.

  13. LTG

    August 24, 2012 08:40 PM

    Bob,

    Out of curiosity, do you think that only relievers as good as Papelbon are viable MLB relievers?

  14. pedro3131

    August 25, 2012 04:48 AM

    Ltg, wish I had a like button for your comment. Most of the guys Bob mentioned have tools enough to be adequate mlb relievers. Were not looking for Denis Eckersley, were just looking for guys who can get a few outs

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