Friday, July 15, 2005

Bailing Wire And Glue

There are certain statistical analyst who dwell on starters' pitch count. They've developed several iterations of statistics to show which pitchers are being abused. By most of their measures, Livan Hernandez is clinically dead. Yet he survives.

Sometimes observation is enough to make a judgement. And, when you combine that with numbers, you frequently come closer to the truth.

All of which is a long way of saying that our relievers are toast.

Remember back in May how confident you'd be when the game was turned over to Ayala or Majewski? Do any of you still have that supreme confidence? Or have you started hoping, instead of knowing?

The reason that we're in first place this deep into the season is the same reason we've been able to do so well despite being outscored. It's not because we're clutch. It's not because of character.

It's simply because our bullpen has been kicking ass. When they came into the game, the opposing team wasn't going to score. It was as simple as that. Our relievers gave us just enough time to scratch one or two runs across the board -- think of all the late-inning rallies we've had. Without a shutdown bullpen, they'd have been for nought.

In the process of racking up all those one-run wins, the bullpen over-extended itself. They can only throw so many innings, and in half a season, they've thrown about two-thirds of a season's worth.

That doesn't bode well for the future.

I started looking at their stats more deeply. Other than Cordero's numbers, there's a lot of smoke and a few too many mirrors being used.

          K/9    BB/9    HR/9   ARP    WRL   IP     ERA
Cordero 7.93 2.22 0.74 17.2 4.6 48.2 1.13
Ayala 4.76 1.36 0.85 8.7 1.9 53 3.06
Majewski 4.36 3.95 0.21 4.4 1.4 43.1 3.53

The first three stats should be self-explanatory: strikeouts, walks and homers per 9 innings pitched.

ARP and WRL are Baseball Prospectus statheady stats, but they make intuitive sense.

ARP is adjusted runs prevented; it aims to tell you how many runs better they are than an average pitcher. In Cordero's case, an average pitcher would've given up over 17 more runs. That might not sound like a lot on the surface, but think about when those runs would come. Then think about how many one-run wins we've had.

WRL is wins over replacement level. This stat essentially does the same thing as the previous, but it measures the actual impact on wins given the opposition. Cordero's figure leads the league by 1.5 wins; a huge total.

Those two stats show how damn valuable our pen has been to our success.

But the first three stats can help to tell us whether we're likely to keep it up.

  • Cordero's numbers are excellent. He's not a dominant strikeout pitcher. Brad Lidge, for example, has a K/9 of around 14. Despite that, his rate is above average, and he's shown an ability to get the K when he really needs it.

    His walk rate is very good, which is important for a closer. You don't want him putting on any more runners than necessary.

    I was surprised at the homer rate. It's a little higher than I had expected, but he has shown the propensity to give up a solo bomb when he has a two-run lead. He can be beaten with the homerun, but he's far from prone.

    He's pitched a ton of innings and throws a lot of pitches per inning, but other than when he's been used heavily (three days in a row, or four of five), he's shown an ability to handle it. Despite the overall workload, there hasn't been a noticeable decline in his pitching.

  • Luis Ayala was the rock. But he's thrown a ton of innings this year and last. Also, he played winter ball, and served as the closer for the Mexico team that won the Caribbean World Series. I can't find a record of how much pitching he did in the off-season, but it came off an 81-appearance, 90-inning season last year.

    He's complained of shoulder pain recently too. It's been reported that he had asked out of the weekend with the Phillies, in part, because of his desire for time off.

    And it's starting to show. He's given up runs in each of his last three appearances, and his season numbers have started to climb; opposing batters are now hitting .307 off him.

    What's worrying about Ayala's performance are those underlying numbers. His 4.76 K/9 is dreadfully low, especially for a setup reliever. Last season, he struck out over 6 batters per 9. That could be an indication that he's tiring and losing a little on his pitches.

    He's succeeded to this point because of his extremely low walk total. He hasn't given anyone a free base; he's made them hit their way on, which they've been doing with increasing frequency. He's been fairly stingy with the longball too, but his homer rate probably isn't anything special when you factor in the park; he's definitely given up his share of long drives to the warning track at RFK.

    Going forward, I have a lot of concern about whether he can remain as successful. He was frequently overshadowed by Cordero, but his success in the first half was almost as important.

    We don't notice how important until we see him fail, as he did yesterday against Milwaukee.

  • Gary Majewski is in much the same state as Ayala. He has a lousy strikeout rate. But he's also been pretty medicore when it comes to giving out walks. His 3.95 BB/9 rate is pedestrian at best. He has survived solely because he doesn't give up homers.

    The homer he gave up to Thomas Howard last week, which blew a save chance, was the first he's allowed all season.

    That alone should put up red flags. Majewski's homer rate has nowhere to go but up. If that goes up, and he's not able to increase his strikeouts or reduces his walks, his ERA will balloon up pretty damn quickly.

  • _____

    Hector Carrasco, and perhaps Mike Stanton, will take on an increasingly vital role as we march through the summer. Does that sentence scare you as much as it does me?

    That alone is why Bowden needed to bolster the pitching staff before adding another bat to an already crowded and competent outfield.

    Just to throw some random names from bad teams out there:
    Danys Baez, Kent Mercker, Kyle Farnsworth, Jamie Walker, Aaron Fultz, Ron Villone.

    I'm not necessarily endorsing these guys -- I just took a superficial look at their numbers. The larger point is that Bodes could have any of these guys for next to nothing. There are relievers with decent numbers falling out of the sky.

    It's just a matter of identifying the problem, and taking action to correct it.

    Because with fatigue starting to dramatically impact our already over achieving bullpen, Bodes could trade for Miguel Tejada and it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference.


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