Rays Bullpen Backdraft

A backdraft is a situation which can occur when a fire is starved of oxygen; consequently combustion ceases but the fuel gases and smoke remain at high temperature. If oxygen is re-introduced to the fire, eg. by opening a door to a closed room, combustion can restart often resulting in an explosive effect as the gases heat and expand.

That sort of describes what we've seen lately come the eight and ninth innings of games. Once Joe Maddon opens that bullpen door...boom. The Rays bullpen has been bad lately and that's putting it nicely. The pen has combined for 43 appearances and 26.2 innings of awful baseball this month. Once again, traditional or advanced metrics, it doesn't matter; they tell the same story.

This group of collective relievers has posted an ERA of 7.76 and an FIP of 6.86 in the month of September. We have not seen numbers that bad since the 2007 version of the Rays pen. The key is to not be shortsighted here. While there is no rhyme, reason or no sugar coating for how atrocious they have been recently, it is a small sample size compared to the full season.

If we look at this group's work over the course of the entire season, it should bring a few people back from the ledge. In 2009, the Rays bullpen has an ERA of 3.94 and a FIP of 4.35. Here is how they stack up to the bullpen of the current AL playoff teams...

 

Innings

ERA

FIP

Rays

401.2

3.94

4.35

Yankees

445

4.00

4.5

Red Sox

410.1

3.66

4.01

Angels

417.2

4.59

4.41

Tigers

405

4.24

4.44

Overall, things have been pretty good. I don't here calls from any of these teams fans to blow up their bullpens and start from scratch. In fact, out of the five teams above only the Red Sox pen has been better this year. Also take into account that these numbers include the awful September as well as Troy Percival, Joe Nelson, Jeff Bennett and others.

Another thing I wanted to check was inherited runners. It seems that every night we see the same scenario; A Rays starter will be at or near the end of his rope. Maddon sends the starter back out to start the next inning and a runner reaches base. From there Maddon marches to the mound and here we go. 

The Rays pen has been above average in terms of inherited runners scoring. The AL average for an inherited runner scoring is 35%. The Rays pen is at 32%. However, the Rays have allowed the second most inherited runners to score (102). How is this possible? Simple, the Rays pen has pitched to over 100 more inherited runners than the league average and faced 79 more inherited runners than the next closest team.

 

IR

IS%

BAL

228

33

BOS

183

30

CHW

194

38

CLE

223

38

DET

201

34

KCR

236

46

LAA

203

29

MIN

222

36

NYY

219

27

OAK

198

36

SEA

151

31

TBR

315

32

TEX

191

37

TOR

164

37

AVG

209

35

It's pretty amazing when you think about how the pen has been used. A Rays reliever has entered the game with a runner on base 202 times this year. The next closest team is Cleveland with 139. Grant Balfour alone has inherited 63 runners (IS 29%). That is 14 more than the next reliever, who happens to be Randy Choate with 49.

As we head into the offseason there will certainly be turnover as there should. Andrew Friedman and his staff recognize bullpen volatility and are always looking at ways to improve their pen. Names like Percival, Nelson, Shouse, Bradford, Springer and Isringhausen will be gone freeing up space and money for the next crop. However, there is a solid core here that should remain in tact. J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Lance Cormier are all under team control. And if we are smart about this and look at the whole season compared to the last two weeks, that's a good foundation.

 

Innings

ERA

FIP

Howell

63.2

2.97

3.67

Wheeler

50.2

3.55

4.69

Balfour

60.2

4.9

3.75

Cormier

70.1

3.33

3.86

As was the case last season, if we can move Dan Wheeler and his shinny ERA I wouldn't be opposed to that. However, the other three should be back and probably at a combined $5 million dollars or less. Throw in a Dale Thayer type from within the organization, a LOOGY, and the Rays should once again have a thrifty, yet solid, bullpen.

One of the more annoying things about the upcoming offseason will be all the calls for a proven veteran closer. Look at the market. Do you want to throw money at Fernando Rodney? Jose Valverde? Trevor Hoffman? While I disagree with the notion of paying a reliever $8-10 million dollars (unless he is a true elite reliever), the Rays will have the flexibility to add a medium price ranged reliever (Joaquin Benoit? Kiko Calero?) should they chose to.

We all get frustrated and emotional at times especially during an eight game streak in which every game seems like a repeat of the last. However, sometimes we need to just step back, take a look and realize things could be worse. Afterall, 2007 was just two years ago and that was a whole year of pain not just two weeks.

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