Monday, August 04, 2008

How to Fix a Bullpen, Part 1

If there is one part of this year's Tigers team that has stood in the way of winning, it is undoubtedly the bullpen, which is under big time scrutiny after yesterday's disaster. I wanted to start a series looking into ways to fix a bullpen. Frankly, I'm not quite sure how to do it. I plan to look at different ways that teams have tried and see how successful those techniques were in trying to fix a bullpen.

First, I wanted to present some numbers. Below we have the twenty most improved bullpens from one year to the next since 2005. To measure bullpen improvement, I have used Relievers Fair Runs Allowed from Baseball Prospectus, and subtracted from one year to the next.

TBA 3.3 2008
CHA 2.32 2008
CLE 2.3 2005
BAL 1.68 2008
CIN 1.54 2008
SLN 1.54 2005
BOS 1.51 2007
KCA 1.48 2007
ARI 1.43 2006
PHI 1.41 2008
WAS 1.4 2005
CLE 1.34 2007
DET 1.28 2005
OAK 1.17 2008
TEX 1.06 2006
CHA 1.01 2005
SFN 0.94 2007
NYA 0.93 2008
COL 0.92 2005
WAS 0.88 2007

That's a random bunch of teams. In the coming days/weeks/months/years, I want to break that list down and see how those teams improved and if there was anything in common that was done to improve those bullpens. Here are some factors, based on personal observations, that could lead to an improved bullpen.
  • Better pitchers. This one is easy, but vague. Specifically, I want to check out if relying on pitchers who pitched well the year before to pitch well again in the subsequent season has worked for these teams.
  • Spending Money. This one is thrown around frequently. I'm not sure it's as effective as widely believed. This also brings up ways to spend money. Are we talking about increased money paid to the relievers in a given season? Are we talking about acquiring high priced relievers via trade? What about signing a bunch of free agents? How do you measure money spent? And more importantly, does it work?
  • Flexibility. If you have five pitchers who are out of options and stuck in a bullpen through stubbornness of a manager, that seemingly makes it incredibly difficult to mix and match until you have the best six or seven guys in the bullpen.
  • Health. If your big arm returns from injury, typically, he will reinvigorate the bullpen.
  • Defense. More players making plays behind you will help your bullpen hold onto leads. The presence of this year's Tampa Bay team confirms that a dramatic defensive improvement can help a pitching staff in a big way.
  • Improved Starting pitching. More innings out of your starters means a fresher bullpen. Jim Leyland always says "You would like to use your bullpen when you want to, not when you need to." There may also be a
  • Deployment. Are the best relievers being used in the tightest spots? I've already covered the Tigers' problems with deployment.
If anybody wants other things to check up on, please post them in the comments section.


John said...

In a previous post you mentioned that an ideal bullpen would have a couple of high priced studs mixed with riding the hot hand of some younger players.

Could you provide some examples of players who would be available on the market this offseason (not named Kyle Farnsworth) and candidates from the 2008 and previous drafts who could step up in the future?

Eddie B said...

I was shooting from the hip when saying that. Part of the reason I want to look into successful bullpens is to verify/refute that.

Tons of pitchers from this year's draft are off to great professional starts.

Ryan Perry (1) is the most likely candidate to contribute next year, but he is being treated with extreme care this year.

Cody Satterwhite (2) finally gave up a run the other day. He's got 7.1 IP in Lakeland with 10 k's and a 1.23 ERA.

Robert Weinhardt (10) has thrown 26.1 IP with 32 K, 3 BB and 11 hits... Oh yeah, no runs. He's at Lakeland now. The drastic part of me sees him getting a shot if things get worse.

As far as guys already in the system, Casey Fien is the top candidate. Closing in Toledo now with Blaine Neal off with the olympic team.

You have guys who have already had a shot dominating Toledo in Clay Rapada and Francisco Cruceta.

As for bullpen darkhorses lower down the system, I wouldn't rule out Alfredo Figaro or Guillermo Moscoso.

Lee Panas said...

This should be interesting. You might want to see what Geoff Young at Duck Snorts has done. He likes talking about bullpens.


bryan said...

I must say, this blog is one of the best I've come across. The fact that I'm a diehard Tigers fan doubles the awesomeness of this blog. Great work man!

As far as bullpens go, I'm really interested to see what you come up with here. I agree wholeheartedly that you need the young guys to cycle in and out. Look at San Diego... they've had arguably the best bullpen over the past 3 years and all of their studs have been homegrown. They also have been smart about shipping off guys who they feel are declining for a decent return (see Scott Linebrink). After tonight's 14 inning-er... we need to figure out some way to have a good bullpen again.