Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Part of the Jays Bullpen Really, Really Sucks


So lately a lot of bloggers, yeah I am talking about the guys over at Getting Blanked, have been trying to justify how the Jays bullpen isn't in fact all that bad. Both Drew Fairservice and Dustin Parkes have written stories over the past few weeks trying to calm readers outrage over the almost universal slagging of the team's bullpen.

Both make strong arguments on their relative arguments - Drew argued that the blown saves stat is about as useless as the saves stat itself, while Parkes argued that the Jays should not in fact go out and sign a bona fide closer this offseason because of the top ten relief pitchers in high leverage situations this season, only 1 of the ten pitchers was a 'closer' signed by a team to in fact be their closer.

The thesis of both stories boil down to their belief that a) the Jays bullpen isn't as bad as everyone likes to think it is, and b) that the Jays would absolutely be out of their mind if they went out and signed a closer to a hefty contract for next season. The reasoning behind both is sound, yet I believe that the former of their arguments is flawed.

The Jays bullpen isn't that bad, but the back end of their bullpen is very bad. This is true on two fronts, both public perception and statistical analysis. Lets start with the first.

Public Perception - The Jays bullpen has been slagged by just about everyone who has watched the team play this season. You can't listen to a single program on the Fan 590 or any radio/TV broadcast this season without hearing a fan or a commentator degrade the Jays 'pen. While Mike Wilner stands basically alone in terms of main stream media when it comes to defending the bullpen, bloggers like Parkes and Drew have joined him.

Now don't get me wrong - public perception is always flawed, emotion always plays a huge role influencing fans. The average fan this season has watched the Jays relievers blow 19 saves. Unfortunately, the average fan at least here in Toronto is not one to take into account that those 19 blown saves have not resulted in 19 losses. Nor do most grasp the concept that several of those blown saves have occurred in the same game. All the average fan knows is that when he watches the game on television or listens to the game on radio, picks up the sports section in the morning or hears Bob McCown driving home, that the team is third in the league in blown saves. The average fan doesn't take into account that while the Jays and their perceived garbage bullpen is third worst in terms of the stat they perceive most indicating of bullpen quality (saves/blown saves), the Atlanta Braves with the best bullpen in the majors has only three fewer of the same statistic.

It's this ignorance to the bigger picture that irritates many sports fans and analysts alike. But newsflash guys, this isn't likely to change any time soon. The problem is that while the fans point of view may in fact be flawed and outdated, they aren't that wrong. See to that same average fan watching the game at home or on the radio - the bullpen is bad. Unfortunately the "bullpen" in the eyes of fans is lumped in as a whole. Whereas it should be looked at as an independent collection of relief pitchers. No one outright says the rotation is terrible as a whole (even though statistically it is), because the bright spots in the rotation are the one's fans enjoy.

Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are the Jays 1 & 2 starters right now and fans appreciate that they have been impressive thus far. However the back end of the rotation this season, which has acted as a revolving door to this point, has been almost below replacement. But this brings me back to perception. Fans don't look at the starting rotation and say bad things because they look at the one or two guys who are supposed to be good and realize that they are in fact doing a good job. The same logic applies to why the Jays fans perceive the bullpen to be poor. The Jays bullpen is lumped together as one because the players fans perceive to be important- the eighth and ninth inning relievers have been very bad. It's all about perception.

Stat Analysis - The statistics is where the logic becomes more clear. Lets take a look at the theory I threw out there about the perception of the rotation. Fan perception of the rotation this season suggests that the rotation has been pretty decent because Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow have been acceptable to their standard of an ace and a number two starter. Thus the rotation is considered good. Yet taking a look at the Jays starters as a whole in terms of Wins Above Replacement suggests that the Jays rotation is fourth worst in the AL - chalking up an underwhelming 7.8 fWAR.

Lets dig a little deeper shall we. The Jays starting rotation as a whole has only posted 7.8 fWAR this season, yet Romero (2.4) and Morrow (3.2) combine for 5.6 fWAR. Those stats are very underwhelming for your 1-2 punch. But if you compare them to the White Sox who rank second in team fWAR, their combined 5.6 fWAR exceeds that of the top two starters for the season for the Sox. The now departed Edwin Jackson (3) and Phillip Humber/Mark Buerlhe (2.5) combine for a 5.5 fWAR upfront. As a whole however the depth of the Sox rotation is far better and thus places them second in the AL. In terms of top two starters per team by fWAR, only the Angels, Mariners, Yankees, Rangers and Tigers have more than a 1 Win differential than the Jays top two. Perception and relativity. Those who fans expect to be solid in the rotation this season have in fact been solid.

This brings me to the bullpen. I posted a week or so back, that Wins above Replacement is a very difficult stat to utilize when analyzing relief pitchers because their innings pitched are so low and the difference between an average reliever and a replacement reliever is very minuscule. To keep things on an even playing field, I will only compare the Jays bullpen to other AL squads as their usage is far more similar than that of an NL team.

So lets do the same thing I did above for the starters and apply the same analysis. Lets start with that magic word perception again. Jays fans perceive that the bullpen this year has been worse than ever before, or at least terribly bad. Their rationale is quite simple, the Jays lead the AL in blown saves with 19, and in their minds that could be 19 more wins for the club this year which theoretically in their minds catapult the Jays into the playoffs. Their argument that the bullpen as a whole is terrible though can be debunked pretty quickly though if you can understand wins above replacement.

By fWAR, the Jays bullpen is in fact 7th out of 14 teams, placing them in the middle range of bullpens. Their team 1.5 fWAR isn't all that bad compared to teams such as the Twins or the Rangers who thus far have been below replacement at -0.7 and -0.5 respectively. Both the Tigers and the Rays are hovering awfully close to replacement level as well at 0.2 and 0.3 fWAR respectively. The argument is thus made that while the Fans perception of the bullpen is that they are terrible, the stats show their are far worse bullpens in the AL and the fan is disillusioned by the concept of a blown save. (I do in fact agree with that)

But lets dig a little deeper once more. Do the fans in fact have a case to be made that the Jays bullpen sucks? Yes, if you consider the whole perception thing. The average baseball fan perceives that a good bullpen is a hierarchy, even if they don't know what the word means. The closer should be your best pitcher and the quality of relievers should descend accordingly from the ninth inning. Lets use that logic to analyze the Jays bullpen this season. From a fan's perspective, the eight and ninth inning guys are Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch (as this season has shown, not respectively). While the Jays pen as a whole has posted 1.5 fWAR, these two not only combine for nine blown saves (fan perspective), but a -0.3 fWAR (stat perspective). That in fact is quite bad. If you include Octavio Dotel in that mix as the other arm that was signed to pitch here this season in late innings, the three late inning relievers combine for a -0.4 fWAR.

Based solely on perception of what a bullpen should consist of to an average fan, the average fan is in fact correct. The late inning relievers for the Jays have been below replacement, even though the bullpen as a whole is quite above replacement. This brings me back to perception, again. Lets take a look at fWAR of the perceived bullpen(Setup and Closer) against the fWAR of the AL Bullpens.

Team

SV

WAR

Setup

WAR

Closer

WAR

Combined WAR

Yankees

30

5.4

Robertson

1.9

Rivera

1.9

3.8

Red Sox

28

4.5

Bard

1

Papelbon

1.8

2.8

White Sox

30

4.1

Thornton

0.9

Santos

1.4

2.3

Angels

30

1.1

Downs

0.7

Walden

1.5

2.2

Mariners

27

0.8

Pauley

0.5

League

0.8

1.3

Rays

22

0.3

Peralta

0.2

Farnsworth

1.1

1.3

Athletics

28

2.8

Balfour

0.6

Bailey

0.7

1.3

Orioles

19

0.7

Johnson

1.4

Gregg

-0.1

1.3

Indians

25

2.2

Pestano

1.1

Perez

-0.2

0.9

Rangers

28

-0.5

Oliver

0.8

Feliz

0.1

0.9

Royals

25

1.6

Crow

0.4

Soria

0.4

0.8

Tigers

34

0.2

Benoit

0.3

Valverde

0.3

0.6

Blue Jays

24

1.5

Francisco

0.2

Rauch

-0.5

-0.3

Twins

26

-0.7

Capps

-0.4

Nathan

-0.4

-0.8

Personally I think this chart is very telling of the divide between fan perception and statistical analysis. In terms of a bullpen as a whole, the Jays rank middle of the pack, but if you break down the bullpen as it is perceived by most fans - the Jays plummet from 7th in the AL to 13th. Unfortunately for the rest of the relievers in the Jays bullpen, they are lumped into the brutality that has been John Rauch and Frank Franciso this season. Despite a 0.7 fWAR season for Casey Janssen and and 0.5 fWAR season for Mark 'Scrabble' Rzepczynski, the bullpen as it is perceived as fans will always be considered terrible. Interestingly enough, if you were to pretend that those two relievers were the 'setup' man and the 'closer,' the Jays in fact would rank middle of the pack on this list as well.

Perception, Perception, Perception.

The Jays Pen doesn't suck as a whole, but the Pen that consists solely of Francisco and Rauch as the average fan perceives is in fact bad.

Solution to the divide between perception and proper analysis- more fangraphs FTW!




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