The late-1990s Rangers clubs always intrigued me.
Tell me if this recipe sounds familiar. . .They built a power-hitting offense that was helped tremendously by a homer-friendly ballpark. They had a deep bench. They employed an okay rotation that gobbled up innings. And they constructed lights-out bullpens that were true assets.
[The Reds were trying to follow this formula in the O’Brien years, in case you missed it.]
How did the late-1990s Rangers make the playoffs twice?? That last component really got me—how did the Rangers build a great bullpen in a relentlessly brutal ballpark? Were there lessons to be gathered from those clubs?
Starters IP and Bullpen Quality
My hypothesis was that the Rangers’ innings-eating starters helped the bullpen substantially by pitching deep into games. The predictable six- or seven-inning starters make it easier to build a good bullpen because it provides relievers with more consistent and predictable work. A few years back, I sought to study the issue. I gathered 1998-2004 team data on IP and IP/start, and examined it relative the quality of the bullpen, as measured by aggregate adjusted runs prevented (ARP). This data set gave me 210 pitching staff seasons to work with. So I looked at top 2 starters on each club, the top 3, and the top 4.
What I found was that the bullpen’s ARP results were largely random and not related to starters’ IP. . . at least the way I studied it. The results were statistically significant in a few cases, although the starters’ IP only explained 20% of the variance (if that) in reliever ARP.
What was really interesting to me is that, if you compare the clubs in the top 30 in terms of IP to those in the bottom 30, the top clubs’ bullpens were 11 runs better than those on the bottom. So yes, teams with high-IP starting rotations generally have better bullpens than those with low-IP starting rotations.
I suspect that there is a tactical benefit of high-IP rotations, which is not captured in my study—that regular, predictable work and rest is essential for bullpen success. High-IP rotations usually provide that predictability to bullpens. I'm afraid the proof is lost in the fog, if there at all.
After putting in a lot of work into this study with very little to show for it, I finally let it go.
Until the past few weeks, that is. I began looking at the IP projections from ESPN, and what do you know, the Reds top four starters are pace for more than 830 IP. Take a look:
Harang: 220 IP projected
This would have placed this Reds rotation as #16 out of 210 teams I studied, in terms of IP among Top 4 pitchers. Astonishingly, the Reds Top 4 guys were on target to surpass the 2001 Mariners, the 2000-2004 Braves, the 1998 Yankees, and the 2004 Red Sox, among other great rotations of that time period. I was quite shocked this rotation had anything close to resembling the quality of those rotations. But there is the proof—the Reds have four innings eaters!
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that, despite the bullpen woes, the Reds appear to have a great foundation for building a very good pitching staff. Bullpen included. (The health caveats apply here, as well as the looming Lohse trade caveat.)
And there certainly is circumstantial proof that the current Reds bullpen performs well with predictable work and rest. With one day of rest, the bullpen ERA is 3.23. With zero or two days rest, the bullpen ERA is 5.32 and 7.55 respectively. Reliable bullpen usage makes a difference.
In case anyone wondered, for those clubs with top 4 starters in the 820-860 IP range, the bullpens average +30 ARP. I don’t know what the Reds bullpen ARP currently is (I don’t have a BP subscription), but I can only imagine its godawful bad. . . like negative 20 or negative 30. That would put this bullpen as the worst, by far, among teams that got this many IP from their starters. So this bullpen has been freakishly bad, in case you needed any additional proof.
Man, what a frustrating pitcher to root for. He looks like he has it some days, and then he has one bad inning that snowballs into a nightmare outing.
On the other hand, I think most Reds fans have underappreciated his contributions. As a Red, he has been a fine asset—he provides 5 ½ -IP per start and performs around the league average. He has been healthy and continues to take the ball every fifth day.
Plus he flashes signs of dominance now and again. He is the owner of two sparkling performances this year: he has an 85 and a 77 game score. That puts him tied for third in the NL in starts with 75+ game scores this year:
1.) Peavy, 5 starts with 75+ game score
2.) Hamels, 3
3.) Lohse, 2 (Harang has 2, as well)
Hopefully other clubs trying to pick him up before the deadline look askance when they see his 3-9 record. With his agent and likely price tag (three years and $21M+ is the going rate now), I can’t imagine why and how the Reds would keep him beyond July 2007.
Contrary to their offensive counterparts, the Reds pitchers have struggled pitching at home (5.21 ERA) and done quite well on the road (4.22 ERA). That’s a pretty substantially split, although I think it can be easily summarized in a few metrics:
The Reds pitchers have relinquished more than twice as many HRs at home as on the road. We know that the GABP is a home run park. It inflates HRs by ~25 percent, but certainly not by 109 percent. So what the devil is going on here??Code:HR K/9 IP HBP Home 45 6.92 25 Road 21 5.72 5
The final two columns might provide some help: the K/9 and HBPs at home and on the road.
I suspect the Reds pitchers have taken a different tactical approach at home than on the road. On the road, they trust their fielders more, let the ball fall where it may, and generally pitch more conservatively. At home they gamble more—they come inside more frequently and pitch only centimeters from hitters’ wheelhouses. The benefit is more Ks, but the significant side effect is more HBPs and HRs. And the HRs more than offset the Ks. Coffey, Arroyo, Stanton—these guys have all displayed dramatic home/road splits in HRs, Ks, and HBPs. And they have all displayed the same dramatic home/road ERA splits, too.
It may be that these pitchers lack the “stuff” to success in the unforgiving GABP environment, but I suspect a lot of the results have been poor coaching and a poor tactical approach in GABP.
[I’m a guy that “watches” the Reds play on the radio, so I appreciate any input from those who gets to see the pitchers play at home and on the road.]
Good, Bad, Ugly
Good: Harang, Lohse, Belisle, the rotation’s IP, lots of interesting young bullpen arms
Bad: old, mediocre bullpen chaff
Ugly: Narron’s bullpen deployment
For the previous article on the defense, see this link:
For the previous article on the offense, see this link: