Friday, August 21, 2009

Bobby and the 'Pen

This post from Mark Bradley about Bobby's good handling of the starting rotation and his complete abuse of Messrs. Soriano, Gonzalez, Moylan, and O'Flaherty does a great job of summarizing what I've been thinking about the Braves' pitching staff. Money 'graf:

My problem with Cox isn’t that he leaves his starters in too long — the business with Lowe on Tuesday was an obvious exception — but that he wears his relievers to a frazzle without cause. (It wasn’t always this way. At no other time in this decade have the Braves had more than one reliever among the top 10 in games.) The Braves have three relievers with 60-plus appearances. The Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers have none.

It's interesting that Bradley references the Dodgers in his post because overuse of set-up guys was the biggest criticism that Yankees fans had of Joe Torre when he was managing in the Bronx. Maybe he's changed his ways? Maybe he has a deeper bullpen this year?

The one flaw in Bradley's otherwise excellent argument is his claim that the Braves' volume of quality starts mean that the bullpen should be less taxed. The consistent quality starts have kept pitchers like Kris Medlen from racking up appearances, but even when a starter throws six or seven good innings, Bobby still needs some combination of Moylan, Gonzalez, and Soriano for the final outs. Also, the Braves' offense, which was mediocre at the start of the year and has progressed to pretty good by August, has had a hand in the relievers piling up appearances. The team hasn't scored a ton of runs, which has meant a lot of close games and high leverage situations that require Bobby to deploy his best relievers.

The concern for me is whether the bullpen could derail this team, either in September if they pull closer to the wild card lead or next year when one or more of these four relievers may see their arms fall off mid-pitch. Bradley is right that the Braves are shaping up to be very, very good in 2010. The one red flag is that they rely upon pitchers whose arms will be shot after a Bataan Death March of appearances in 2009. I suppose it's possible that Jason Heyward is going to hit four home runs per game next year and the Braves' closer will have seven appearances over 162 games, but in the unlikely event that that doesn't happen, we now have something about which to worry this winter.


chg said...

Cox left the starter in too long again last night. The difference in the game was each manager's decisions in the 7th.

I know the Marlins' guy was coming off an injury, but he was pulled after a leadoff double in the 7th, and the initial RP was pulled immediately after the homer. All of this was with a lead, when you could understand a manager giving his pitcher a little more room.

In contrast, Cox left Vasquez (coming off a 6th with 2 hits and a wild pitch) in a close game for HR-2B-SAC-K-1B-HR. By the time he made the move, the game was again out of hand. It's like the man doesn't understand there is a WC race.

Jesse said...

Is game appearances really a good measure for the usage of middle relievers? Without doing a ton of legwork while at work, I'm pretty sure that IP would be a much better measure of over/under use of middle relievers. I'm also pretty sure there is a usage rate stat (though I could be thinking of basketball here).

Ignoring that, I would think that chg's example above might be the cause of any overuse by Cox. If he isn't managing the starters properly, then he is causing many of the situations that require using multiple relievers to get back in front of things in an effort to not lose the game.

If I get the chance, I will try to pull some numbers w/r/t to my first part.

Anonymous said...

Name - IP - IP/GA - GR - 0DR(%)
Soriano 57 - 1.000 - 57-20(35.09)
*Gonzalez 57.2 - .930 - 62-22(35.48)
Moylan 54 - .794 - 68-20(29.41)
*O’Flaherty 42 - .689 - 61-22(36.07)
Bennett 34 - 1.030 - 33-9(27.27)
Medlen 33.1 - 1.667 - 20-2(10.00)
Acosta 31.1 - 1.044 - 30-7(23.33)
Carlyle 19.1 - 1.381 - 14-2(14.29)
*Logan 14.2 - .917 - 16-3(18.75)

That’s IP in relief, IP per Game Appearance, Games in Relief, and the percentage of appearances in relief that came on zero days rest or on the back end of double headers. The * denotes left-handed pitchers since they tend to be less available and might get used more often than there right-handed counterparts. Of all relief appearances (380), only 29% of the time (110) have they been put in off of zero days rest. I have yet to compare this to other teams in the league so I’m not sure how that stacks up just yet. Also, I’m leaving Reyes off because he started 5 of his 6 games, as well as Campillo, Valdez, Parr, and Boyer because none of them have appeared in at least ten games.

Gonzalez leads all Braves relievers in IP @ 57.2 in 62G which seems to put him about average in use compared to many other relievers in the league. Here are a few random names I pulled off the master list at Troncoso sits at 69.1 in 57G, Coffey is at 64.2 in 58G, Bass has 73.2 with only 38 appearances, Camp with 61.1 in 42G, etc. As seen here, there are many relievers who are putting equal or more IP in far fewer appearances, either because of lack of depth or overuse.

It seems as though the Braves have a decent amount of depth in middle relief. Whether it is quality or not is debatable, but it’s also not my focus. What is, is the overall use of our relief staff, which by all indicators other than the innocuous Games stat, seem to point to the fact that Cox is simply using the depth to spread the load versus using only a select few. Without pulling the 0DR data for every relief pitcher in the league (or even for every relief staff for that matter), I’m not sure how it all compares, but I’d like to think that the use of multiple relievers in small amounts, many times, would be a better use of the bullpen than relying heavily on one or two for longer stints three nights a week. At least from an overall arm health view, but I’m not an expert so who knows.

It could be that these stats don’t help shed any new light on this topic, but there’s at least a starting point with the data. Feel free to expand.

Jesse said...

Oops, that was me above. Just forgot to add my name.