In Final 51 Games, Bullpen Must Focus on Limiting Walks

The Phillies were gut-punched yet again yesterday when they learned that reliever Antonio Bastardo would serve a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. The Phillies enter tonight’s series opener against the Cubs carrying the National League’s worst bullpen ERA at 4.29, just a shade ahead of the Cubs at 4.21. Losing Bastardo, one of the two legitimately good throwers in the bullpen, means the Phillies will have to depend on the likes of Justin De Fratus and Jake Diekman to get the job done in high-leverage spots.

There are quite a few flaws in the bullpen. For instance, the bullpen as a whole has compiled baseball’s sixth-worst strikeout rate at an even 20 percent. They have allowed the second-highest percentage of inherited runners to score in the National League, at 38 percent. The biggest issue, by far, has been the propensity to issue walks. As a group, they have walked 10.5 percent of batters, the highest rate among all 30 bullpens in baseball.

As you can see in the following chart, the only relievers not at fault are Jonathan Papelbon and Raul Valdes.

Unless GM Ruben Amaro plans to sign a handful of veteran free agent relievers during the off-season, we will see many of these faces again in the 2014 ‘pen. De Fratus, Diekman, Garcia, et. al. should focus primarily on consistently throwing strikes, even if it comes at the cost of missing bats, getting BABIP unlucky, or serving up a handful of home runs. Relievers pitch in some of the most important situations in a game, and it is unacceptable to have six of seven guys walking batters at the league average rate or worse.

The corps of young Phillies relievers need to utilize the rest of the 2013 season to iron out mechanical kinks and get over mental hurdles, then they can worry about the other stuff like missing bats and adding new pitches.

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  1. Scott G

    August 06, 2013 09:31 PM

    Larry and others,

    Please don’t talk about padding stats anymore. Every run helps the team in some way or another.

  2. Larry

    August 06, 2013 11:53 PM

    @ Scott and the others,

    Maybe you were a little bit nervous at the outcome tonight, I don’t blame you. As far as the padding of the stats comment goes, well maybe you should know your F….., wait a minute, you said please…..

    Make no mistake about it, I believe the padding of the stats has resulted into less runs, not more. This was an overreaction by you, because of tonight’s game.

    I read your little blog son and I see you don’t like Charlie Manuel. Well, if I said to you that Charlie was a good manager, because he kept Delmon Young out of the lineup tonight, you would say:

    But Larry……uh Larry that’s an overreaction, because he should have been taken out of the lineup months ago….And yes that would be the right call. Darin Ruf should have been here way earlier this year.

    So Calm down Scotty, be happy that they finally won.

    As far as these others you talk about, well… they are just here to find out why women can’t have children on the island. If you got that reference, then I just might like you enough to be civil.

  3. Phillie697

    August 07, 2013 01:24 AM

    @Danny Jackson,

    Well, I don’t know what BB thought or thinks, but I can tell you I don’t care that much about the bullpen, not enough to want to spend significant dollars on it; it is the last place I would spend money on because 1) its inherent unpredictability, 2) replacements are easier to find, and 3) its effects on the ultimate outcome is probably the most minor outside of bench bats and utility players (certainly no one would ever advocate spending $50M on a pinch hitter, would they?)

    Don’t get me wrong, bullpen failures are quite noticeable and painful, and certainly highly publicized. But what people fail to realize is that teams play 9 innnings, and innings 1-6 (or 7) count too; if your team is up by 10 runs by then, a pen full of replacement level pitchers would do nicely. Considering that you’re basically using 7 pitchers to do the work of two starters, it’s probably not the place you want to spend significant dollars. It certainly would not be a high-priority on my list.

    Of course, I’m not saying I would spend NO money; 2 starters’ worth of innings is still SOMETHING. It would just be prioritized after other, more important, positions.

  4. Matt

    August 07, 2013 08:26 AM

    I’m not interested in limiting walks, I’m interested in limiting production.

  5. Scott G

    August 07, 2013 09:15 AM

    Oh please Larry, papa, be civil to me.

    Manuel probably sat Delmon Young last night because he was underwhelmed by Young’s significant sample of PAs vs. Edwin Jackson. I mean he’s only 1/4 against him in his career.

  6. Larry

    August 07, 2013 10:50 AM

    What’s the matter Scott? You don’t like Uncle Charlie? He’s a good manager, just ask any of Charlie’s Angels, they’ll tell you: Papelbon, Bastardo, Jroll, and Delmon Young. One can only imagine the conversations between them in the locker room:

    Charlie Manuel: Hey Papelbon, Bastardo, Jimmy, Delmon, Get over here stat!

    JRoll : Did someone say stats?? Did you know I’m only 1 double away from the all time Phillies record? I only need to get caught stealing 6 more times to break that record too! I’m the best of the best!

    Charlie Manuel: That’s good Jimmy. That’s pretty good, that’s actually very good. But…Do you guys think I’m a good manager?

    Bastardo: I think you’re good, but Charlie do you know any other descriptive words besides “Good” ? Like “Great” or “Awesome”

    Charlie Manuel: No I don’t, and Bastardo stop using drugs please!

    Bastardo: Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue!

    Delmon: I think you’re a good manager Charlie…..I mean you’re not Jewish right???

    Charlie Manuel: That’s a horrible thing to say Delmon! You guys better get your act together! I have 99 problems and a contractor who’s going to kick your asses!!

    Papelbon: I didn’t come here for this!

  7. Pencilfish

    August 07, 2013 11:42 AM

    “I don’t care that much about the bullpen, not enough to want to spend significant dollars on it; it is the last place I would spend money on because 1) its inherent unpredictability, 2) replacements are easier to find, and 3) its effects on the ultimate outcome is probably the most minor outside of bench bats and utility players”

    Last year, the average MLB team had 42 saves and 18(!) blown saves. I could not find stats on the average number of losses caused by the blown saves, but even a 4-5 game swing can easily be the difference between a playoff team and a pretender. We may not want to spend too much on middle relief, but the closer and setup guy are not as irrelevant as you think. The last 2 innings count as much as the first 7, if not more.

  8. Pencilfish

    August 07, 2013 12:06 PM

    Danny Jackson,

    “If your young players suck because you have no farm system, then how can you expect to create a good bullpen made up entirely of young players?”

    You don’t. That’s why the Phillies have to make some trades, sign some FA and sign/keep/promote only those farm hands with better peripherals and upside.

    “And that’s just putting your head in the sand, and it’s disingenuous to wave it away by saying “oh, relief pitchers are volatile and a crapshoot.””

    Absolutely! Other teams have a formula for consistently developing BP arms in the minors (ie, Tampa, Atlanta, Texas, etc), and I bet it is not throwing darts blind-folded.

  9. Phillie697

    August 07, 2013 12:07 PM

    “The last 2 innings count as much as the first 7, if not more.”

    This. Trying to protect a lead that may not exist is why MLB bullpens are criminally mis-managed. Remember how we always bitch about holding onto closers for the imaginary save situation? Same logic apply here.

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