the (k-)kids are all right

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 5: Reliever Eduardo Sanchez #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Florida Marlins at Busch Stadium on May 5, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

maybe nothing in baseball lends itself so much - and so falsely - to the creation of narrative as the bullpen. when a pitcher pitches well, or when he gets good results, he was "locked in," "confident," "in charge," etc. when he blows a save, he was "lost on the mound," "incapable of getting outs," or even the dreaded "he lacks the makeup to close out games."

the cards are in the middle of a glorious streak of baseball. the unidentified hair on the vanilla ice cream cone of our current baseball success is a series of blown saves. this has led to any amount of cursing and handwringing and trade-demanding.

it's a false narrative. there are two things wrong with our bullpen - miguel batista and ryan franklin. i remain on the fence about trever miller, who has a long history of being a very good loogy, but who this year increasingly looks like ron villone - thanks to a poster in the other thread who reminded me of the long, regional 4-ball-free-base nightmare named villone. miller, i think, should get some more rope to show whether he is actually done or not. in any event, if we can narrow the bullpen's problems to just our LOOGY, we'll be doing pretty well.

what's not right, and what is not really defensible, is complaining about the bullpen as a whole.

 

ERA

FIP

xFIP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

Sw S %

Pitcher A

3.38

2.26

2.68

9.16

1.45

0.48

11.2 %

Pitcher B

1.15

2.32

3.43

8.04

2.87

0.00

10.0 %

Pitcher C

2.16

2.42

3.74

8.10

3.78

0.00

11.5 %

Pitcher D

3.00

3.29

3.73

13.20

6.60

0.60

14.2 %

Pitcher E

1.29

2.53

3.27

7.71

3.86

0.00

10.9 %

 

i'll identify the above pitchers below the jump. (stats courtesy fangraphs.)

pitcher A is the cardinal reliever with the best FIP on the staff - mitch boggs. there's nothing about his line so far that should give anybody pause. ditto pitcher B - fernando salas. and pitcher C - jason motte looks fine. all three have decent K rates, decent walk rates, throw a lot of swinging strikes, and have gotten good results.

pitcher D is the easiest to figure out, because his line sticks out. eduardo sanchez has two very nasty pitches. he's been a mixed victim of some terrible, possible vindictive umpiring on balls and strike and maybe some rookie nerves. his walk rate is a lot higher than we'd like to see. i presume that he will settle down, the umpires will cut him some slack, and that any small sample sizes will resolve themselves. he's a great reliever, and he will be in the future.

pitcher E is not a cardinal at all. he's heath bell, padre closer and straussian lust object.  now, showing bell's small sample size results and peripherals thus far is a little unfair. zips projects him to have a 10.10 K rate, a 3.67 walk rate, and a 2.73 FIP the rest of the season. bell is a good pitcher. is he remarkably better than what we've seen so far? well, from franklin and batista, yes. if we can trade for bell without giving up too much, AND we replace franklin with bell, we've made the team a lot better. if we trade for bell and he costs a lot, or we put salas in AAA to accommodate him? it's a waste of time, roster space, money, and prospects.

we cannot get carried away with the blown saves thus far. we have 9 blown saves, second worst in the majors behind the astros. now, granted, the astros suck. and their bullpen sucks.

however, we are one blown save ahead of the atlanta braves. they have 8 blown saves.

does anybody want to guess who has the best bullpen in the league? the atlanta braves lead the majors in reliever FIP, with a 2.86 FIP for their relief squad. go look at the stats of individual relievers in the braves bullpen. they're ridiculous.

the point is that blown saves are a function of a lot of things. luck is a big factor. playing on a team that keeps a lot of games close is a big factor. and you can have an outstanding bullpen and still blow a bunch of saves.

for what it's worth, even carrying franklin and batista, we have a decent bullpen overall, with a 3.71 FIP for our bullpen, which is middle of the road. the rays have had virtually identical overall results, and have only 2 blown saves for their troubles. the dodgers have a weak bullpen (4.19 FIP overall, fifth worst in the majors) and have 2 blown saves.

now, some of our blown saves are not just dumb luck. some happen because we have a handful of terrible relievers on our team.

 

ERA

FIP

xFIP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

Sw S %

Ryan Franklin

9.49

7.58

5.33

3.65

2.92

1.25

4.0 %

Trever Miller

3.00

4.79

5.95

3.00

7.50

0.00

7.7 %

Miguel Batista

1.69

3.89

5.34

5.06

4.50

1.13

7.5 %

 franklin has 4 blown saves to his credit, and batista and miller have one each. i still don't think the blown save stat tells you very much, but to the extent we're worried about that stat, it makes more sense to hang it on the three older relievers than the four youngsters. here are three guys whose performance so far makes it appear that we should expect an FIP north of 5 from each of them. like i said above, it's a little preliminary to condemn miller, since he's only faced 27 batters so far and has a generally good record. his high walk rate may be a small sample size, an injury, a loss of control in old age, etc. batista has been terrible for a long time. franklin was not great in earlier seasons, and shows substantial signs of having lost whatever it was that made him above replacement value.

anyway, the take-home message is that a blown save problem is not automatically a bullpen problem. the braves have a blown save problem, but if they have a bullpen problem, EVERYBODY's got a bullpen problem. let's not mistake a few bad games for conclusive proof of systemic bullpen problems.

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