Thursday, May 14, 2009

Saving the Bullpen

I am thoroughly amazed at some of the things we are seeing in Arlington this summer, and while my calendar reminds me that we are merely passing the "20% of the season" pole today, it is worth noting our sample size is growing by the week.

With that in mind, the stat that has always been front and center for me is the distribution of innings between your starters (generally, guys you have invested most of your resources into between dollars and assets) and your bullpen (guys you have determined are not great candidates to be starters at this time). Really good pitching staffs actually approach 70% work load being shouldered by the starters, which then leads to a number of good results in many categories. The Rangers in 2008 were at about 60%. While that 10% may not seem like much, perhaps it better explains why people like Nolan Ryan discuss "one more inning" or "one more out" from the starters. Because that 10% is the difference between the best staffs in baseball and the worst.

This morning, the Rangers starting rotation work load percentage stands at 68.5%. Phenomenal on so many levels for this staff to be able to shoulder that much work. Scott Feldman last night kept the beat going, and the bullpen remains rested and ready (Francisco news pending, of course). Their quality will be tested as the summer goes on, but the fact that there are things this far into the season that we are not sure about regarding the bullpen speaks to the improvements. In past summers in recent memory, we knew way TOO much about the Rangers' bullpen by now.

The following table demonstrates the performance of the starters compared with a 5 year sample from 2004-2008; Pay particular attention to Innings/Start to show that the starters are routinely completing 6+ innings. Also, the ML and AL Ranks are ranks on workload. In the last 5 years, the highest the Rangers starters have ranked in MLB is 27th! It is early, but...
YearGamesInningsInn/StartMLB RankAL Rank

Table Tutorial

According to my calculator, the Rangers' starting pitchers are pacing to pitch 982 innings in 2009. You can see that blows away anything on the chart.

Now, let's look from the other direction. The bullpen's use so far. Keep in mind here, you DO NOT want to have a good ranking amongst your peers. #1 is bad. #30 is good. Check it out:

YearGamesInningsInn/GameMLB RankAL Rank

Table Tutorial

And now, for your final eye-catching graphic, here is the all-important distribution of workload percentage chart. This is where you see how close you come to comparing with the league leaders and the magical 70% number:

YearStarters %Bullpen %

Table Tutorial

There it is obvious for all to see. I cannot swear specifically what Mike Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Ron Washington, and any other management and staff might be doing. I also cannot swear that a quicker tempo is really that effective. There are many things I do not understand about pitching and especially pitching in Arlington.

But whatever it is they are doing to produce these early results - KEEP IT UP.

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