Former Yankeeist readers will recall that last September in the weeks leading up to the postseason we ran a handful of posts that functioned as something of a pre-preview of the playoffs. Rest assured that once we know who the Yankees are actually facing in the ALDS we’ll be publishing our customary disgustingly comprehensive playoff preview over several posts, but in the meantime I thought we’d get a head start and take a gander at certain aspects of the prospective postseason teams. Today we’ll compare bullpens (here’s last year’s post).
One important caveat to take into account with any comparison of full-season team stats is that obviously the stat lines are the product of every single player who donned a uniform for a given team that season; as such in some cases the team numbers will probably be slightly improved once teams pare their rosters back down to who they feel are their best 25 players. That said, I still think a 162-game sample composed primarily of statistics from men whom one would expect to make the postseason roster can be a helpful barometer when assessing and comparing a team’s relative strengths and weaknesses against each other.
Here are the seasonal numbers for the bullpens of the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers and Rangers in a handful of key categories across three different charts (all statistics are year-to-date prior to games of Thursday, September 15):
The Yankee relief corps has basically been the class of the American League all season, making them the top unit of these four groups. They strike the most men out per nine, have the lowest HR/9, best ERA (3.06), FIP (3.46), xFIP (3.67), ERA- (74), xFIP- (91) and are tied with Boston for best FIP- (84). Although perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the above charts is that the Yankee relievers have the highest BABIP of all four teams, but also the best strand rate by far. In my experience, a high LOB% almost always seems to be fueled by a low BABIP, which I guess means that the Yankees relievers have done an outrageously good job of pitching out of jams.
As I noted a few weeks ago in my post looking at how well-rounded the 2011 Yankees are, this year’s bullpen has a chance to go down as one of the top five of the franchise’s last 43 seasons, and much of the Yankee bullpen’s success has been due of course to the emergence of David Robertson as arguably the best relief pitcher in the American League, setting up for the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera. Credit also goes to Brian Cashman for picking Cory Wade up off the scrap heap to provide valuable middle relief innings, and also to Joe Girardi for breaking Hector Noesi in. Even the much-maligned Boone Logan has chipped in 0.6 fWAR, and while we know WAR is a lousy way to value relievers, that’s still a pretty impressive plateau for someone who’s only pitched 38 innings. Of the top 30 AL relievers in fWAR (minimum 30 innings), only two relievers have accumulated more WAR in fewer innings than old Boone.
That said, the Red Sox of course have quite the 1-2 punch of their own in Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. Bard’s recent hiccups aside, he’s still one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, and the less one has to see of him the better. Old friend Alfredo Aceves has also acquitted himself quite well in his customary “little bit of everything” role, although after Aceves things begin to tail off a bit, with Matt Albers, Franklin Morales and Dan Wheeler providing mostly serviceable if unexceptional work.
The Tigers also boast a formidable “big three” in the ‘pen, anchored by rock star Al Albuquerque and his better-than-even-D-Rob K/9, former Ray Joaquin Benoit, and one of the most annoying pitchers on earth, Jose Valverde. Even old friend Phil Coke has performed well for the Tigers since moving back to the ‘pen in the beginning of July.
The Rangers are a slightly different story, although to their credit they recognized what had been a substantial weakness and patched it at the trade deadline with former Padre Mike Adams and former Oriole Koji Uehara. Adams has been superb since coming over; Uehara less so — while his K/9 and BB/9 have been phenomenal, his HR/9 is stratospherically bad, although the good news is there’s no way it can last. Closer Neftali Feliz has been good but not as superb as he was in 2010; he appears to be dealing with control problems as he’s apparently taken two strikeouts from his K/9 last season and added them to his walk rate. And the ageless Darren Oliver has actually been Texas’ most valuable reliever, continuing to give lefties everywhere fits.
Given the volatility inherent in a Major League bullpen, I also thought it’d be helpful to see how each team’s relief corps fared in a select handful of categories on a month-by-month basis (click on images to enlarge):
Really the only slight mar on the Yankee ‘pen’s 2011 performance has been slightly elevated walk rates in three of the six months, and a jump in the HR/9 the last two, although given how stingy the staff was for the first four months of the year this was a long overdue correction. Other than that this is about as good as one could hope a graph to look with regards to season-long bullpen performance.
Boston’s bullpen was brutal in April, but really picked things up in the middle four months to become one of the best bullpens in the league, although things have not exactly gone well in September. The above graph almost look like someone’s face scrunched up into a laugh, with the K/9 line representing the eye/eyebrow area, the middle four lines the middle of the face, and the HR/9 line a grin/smile.
The Tiger ‘pen really struggled for the first four months of the year before finding its groove in August/September, much like the rest of the team apparently has.
Things were really bad for the Ranger bullpen in May, before starting to get better in June and pretty much settling in during July and August. Things have gotten a bit messy for the ‘pen in September (5.46 ERA, 4.91 FIP), although the Rangers have been beating the tar out of ball so badly on offense this month that I don’t think anyone’s even noticed the performance of the bullpen.
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