Monday, April 25, 2011

The Bullpen Issue

Flashback to 2010. The Nationals bullpen corps, lead by Clippard, Storen, and Burnett, was one of the best in baseball. Their peripheral stats placed them well ahead of the starters in terms of overall value. And going into 2011, many expected that the Nationals bullpen would remain in top form, though after 20 games the bullpen hasn't been able to replicate its .235 BABIP, 3.35 ERA, and 1.28 WHIP. What seems to be the problem?

First, let's see how the bullpen stats are faring compared to last year.
ERA - 3.35 in 2010 - 3.45 in 2011
WHIP - 1.28 in 2010 - 1.34 in 2011
BABIP - .235 in 2010 - .298 in 2011
K/9 - 8.5 in 2010 - 7.5 in 2011
Shutdowns - 130 in 2010 - 15 in 2011 (121 pace)
Meltdowns - 74 in 2010 - 9 in 2011 (73 pace)

ERA and WHIP are pretty close to last years numbers and strikeout rates are down, but there are serious issues when you look at the BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play). The rate last year was extraordinarily low, and there was little way that they would be able to continue the pace this year - especially with such a huge roster turnover. Which leads me to my next issue. Enormous roster turnover.

Last year the Nats had 16 players suit up in their bullpen (including names like Scott Olsen, Joe Bisenius, and Brian Bruney). This year there has only been 8 (SMALL SAMPLE SIZE). But of those 8 players that have pitched out of the Nats bullpen this year, 5 are returners (including Balester). Yes, Clippard, Storen, and Burnett have been just as good, if not better, than last year - but they are not at all the issue. The issue lies in the quality of the supporting cast.

2010 Mainstays (aside from Clip, Burn, Storen) -
Matt Capps - 2.74 ERA - 1.30 WHIP - .313 BABIP - 20/7 SD/MD
Doug Slaten - 3.10 ERA - 1.30 WHIP - .283 BABIP - 10/2 SD/MD
Collin Balester - 2.57 ERA - 1.24 WHIP - .283 BABIP - 0/1 SD/MD
Joel Peralta - 2.02 ERA - 0.80 WHIP - .200 BABIP - 13/4 SD/MD
Miguel Batista - 3.94 ERA - 1.36 WHIP - .257 BABIP - 7/6 SD/MD

Now, let's fast forward to 2011 and see how the bullpen is doing with a few new parts.

Doug Slaten - 0.00 ERA - 1.71 WHIP - .429 BABIP - 0/3 SD/MD
Collin Balester (3 games) - 8.10 ERA - 1.80 WHIP - .200 BABIP - 0/0 SD/MD
Todd Coffey - 6.23 ERA - 1.38 WHIP - .214 BABIP - 1/0 SD/MD
Chad Gaudin - 7.04 ERA - 2.61 WHIP - .458 BABIP - 1/3 SD/MD
Brian Broderick - 7.36 ERA - 1.23 WHIP - .250 BABIP - 0/0 SD/MD

Once again, for good measure - SMALL SAMPLE SIZE.

That being said Coffey, Gaudin, and Broderick have not even come remotely close to competence. And the only reason that Slaten's ERA is at 0.00 is because of his LOOGY status, any base-runner allowed is left for others to mop up - in 3 of his 11 appearances he has failed to record an out. The Pen - minus the Big 3 - has combined for 2 Shutdowns and 7 Meltdowns. That, frankly, isn't going to cut it at all.

Look for some moves changing the look of the Nats bullpen. Limiting Riggleman to just 3 or 4 legit options out of a 7 man pen is going to have serious repercussions in the long run. Its time for a change.


  1. Mac,

    Just curious here...why the use of BABIP for this analysis (which I always thought was largely out of the pitchers' control) instead of something like BAA?

    Love the SD / MD notes, though, which validates the eye test of last year that Batista failed miserably about as often as he succeeded.

  2. Natsochist: BABiP shows just how "lucky" the bullpen was last year and how bad an idea it is to rely on the data instead of the skill set in determining roster spots and roles.

    league average BABiP is around .298 or so, so this year's pen (cumulative) is performing about where they should. of course, individual performances should be evaluated appropriately.

  3. You're really comparing the bullpen of 2011 to the bullpen of 2010 and you're NOT putting in the stats of Brian Bruney or Tyler Walker or Jesse English or Jason Bergmann? All of these relievers were with the Nats at the start of 2010. All were bad and all were either released or sent down to AAA (Walker hit the DL).

    And who came up after these guys were let go? Doug Slaten (debuted 5/10), Joel Peralta (6/22) and Colin Balester (6/24).

    Relievers are basically a dime a dozen. One never knows what kind of shelf life a reliever is going to have. That's why GM's stockpile as much as they can just in case a couple go bad. And that's what I think Rizzo will do here as well.

    Gaudin and Coffey probably aren't going to stick around much longer (mid to late May, tops). They'll either be traded or released. If Slaten can't straighten himself out, then he's a goner as well (probably replaced by Matt Chico as the designated LOOGY).

    BTW ... Take away Broderick's horrific debut and he's been pretty stellar since:

    6.2 IP; 2.70 ERA; 0.90 WHiP; .217 BABIP

  4. And Dave takes the words right out of my mouth. Thanks!

    Our bullpen performed at such a high level last year (as the BABIP suggests) that a regression towards the mean is expected.

  5. erocks,

    I wanted to focus on those that were able to hang around last year for an extended period of time, so not Bruney/English/Bergmann. Thanks for chiming in!

  6. The real questions are:

    1, Henry Rodriguez has been doing pretty well in Syracuse. Okay in Harrisburg He looks ready when is he going to be brought up and who does he replace?
    2. Cole Kimball looks ready but they are waiting until June with he and Adam Carr for contractual reasons ... purportedly?
    3. Josh Wilkie, he definitely looks ready to be brought up. He needs to replace someone and you can start with Coffey and/or Gaudin.