Ouch! Some Bullpen Numbers

In all phases of the game, hitting, starting pitching and relief pitching, the Mariners have disappointed at one time or another. Unable to drive in runners from scoring position, inconsistent starts that wear out a bullpen, and all those bullpen losses and blown saves were just too much to win consistently.  It shows in the team’s inability to string together a meaningful run that would get them in the playoff discussion, let alone a run at the division title.

Of all the failings, however, perhaps none equals the complete collapse of the bullpen. The team began with a bullpen largely intact from last year.  Closer Fernando Rodney, former closer and set up guy Danny Farquhar, last year’s bullpen glue, Tom Wilhelmsen, last year’s righty phenom Dominic Leone, and lefty Charlie Furbush were joined by Rule 5 claim, David Rollins. 2014’s ‘pen was phenomenally good, and I’ll show how later. But this bullpen, with all of last year’s success, looked to be very good.

But bullpens are fragile things and this year’s bullpen, from top to bottom, beginning to end, lefties and righties was bad. Though it shows signs of righting itself, it’s much too late to do much more than exhale and mumble something about next year. Looking at individual members of the bullpen all you have to do is compare the raw numbers between 2014 and 2015.

But I’m not sure that does much good to get an idea of the big picture.  So let’s look at some simple numbers: games won in relief (WGR) games lost in relief (LGR,) saves (SV,)  blown saves (BS) save perecentage (SV%,) and League %. These are big crunchy numbers that give a big picture of overall effectiveness and doesn’t get into the whys.  They are narrative numbers and not analytic.

I chose them because the M’s have blown a lot of games in relief. For a team that has played a lot of close games, the Mariners, it’s critical they have a bullpen that keeps the games close so the offense can do its part to chip away at narrow leads, hold on to narrow leads or allow them to score deciding runs in tie games. Blowing leads, in statistical terms blowing saves is devastating and demoralizing. But all teams do it, and likely more than you think.  Something to keep in mind is that between say 1989-present the league average save percentage (SV%) is somewhere between 67-71%.  It’s nowhere close to perfect, even in the best bullpens.

But as a way of comparing, let’s take a look at three teams: 2014 Seattle Mariners, 2015 Kansas City Royals, and the 2015 Seattle Mariners.

2014 Seattle Mariners

This Mariner bullpen was easily  the best   based on these numbers. From top to bottom, left and right this team was effective, though Rodney and Medina sometimes wobbled. But they could get it done and contributed to the lowest run total allowed in Mariner history.

WGR        LGR        (SV)       (BS)      (SV %)         League %

25             20            51          12         81 %             69 %

The M’s played lots of tight games and struggled to score runs.  They only way they won 87 games was to keep the opponents’ offense down.  They did that, allowing only 554 runs in 162 games.  How good is that? Only one other Mariners team has allowed fewer than 600 runs-the 1981 team.  But they only played 109 games in the strike shortened year.  As a more immediate means of comparison, the 2013 team allowed 774 runs, 200 runs more. The 2015 team has already allowed 616 runs with 28 games left to play.  The bullpen won more games than they lost and has the highest save % in team history. They played an important role in allowing the minuscule run total.

2015 Kansas City Royals

If the M’s were the class of major league run prevention last year, this year it is the Kansas City Royals.  Combining very good pitching with great defense, the Royals are the Cadillacs of run prevention, allowing only 491 runs through 132 games. Their bullpen, featuring the triumvirate of Wade Davis, Franklin Morales and Greg Holland is the class of the American League if not all of baseball.

WGR       LGR         SV         BS           SV %         League %

26             9             47         16            75              69

This is a team that often scores a lot of runs, putting its bullpen in a position to get fewer decisions, but they don’t make mistakes.  Again, not perfect, they blow saves too, but fewer than league average

2015 Seattle Mariners

This team has struggled.  It’s most consistent performers are Mark Lowe and Charlie Furbush, and neither of them are currently with the team. The individual performances, and why they are so terrible compared to the 2014 stats are a mystery to me.  They certainly haven’t been helped by the struggles of the rotation and the number of short outings they’ve had. Again this is a narrative not an analysis.

WGR        LGR         SV         BS        SV%            League %

14             28            40          21         66               69

As you can see, the team has a SV % well below league average.  It’s also climbed 2 % in recent weeks because the bullpen has performed better. Even though the save percentage isn’t great it’s nowhere near the worst in Mariner team history.  That would belong to the 1986 team, with a 51 % SV %.  More troubling, however is that the bullpen has a .333 winning percentage in those games in which they have decisions. 42 decisions and they’ve only managed to win a third of them.

Again, this doesn’t really tell the story of the bullpen.  It merely illustrates how bad they’ve been compared to good bullpens. But there is little question in my mind they’ve been the most disappointing part of a disappointing team. .

All statistics are courtesy Baseball Reference.com

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