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.
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.