The Unsung Heroes of 2010: The Rays' Bullpen

By this time last season, I feel like there had already been three or four instances where we all wanted to kill our bullpen. They'd blown multiple games, putting the Rays father out of the AL East race than they could have been. Obviously the pen wasn't the only reason the Rays didn't make the playoffs last season, but it was a contributing factor and one that drew lots of ire from us fans, especially early in the year.

This off-season, Andrew Friedman and company decided to shore up the pen by adding Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit, which has allowed our pen to remain effective even while losing J.P. Howell for the entire season. Take a look at the bullpen's overall numbers:

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Rafael Soriano

1.52

2.66

4.07

Grant Balfour

1.91

1.96

3.09

Joaquin Benoit

0.57

1.91

2.30

Dan Wheeler

3.48

4.04

3.87

Randy Choate

5.29

3.48

2.59

Lance Cormier

3.90

4.89

5.43

Andy Sonnanstine

4.45

4.79

4.56

When you look at the bullpen/rotation breakdown provided on StatCorner, it shows the Rays' bullpen posting a 3.72 tRA (True Runs Allowed) so far this year while the rotation has posted a 4.44 tRA. For those of you unfamiliar with tRA, that's a damn good number. While ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) are calculated on an earned runs allowed scale, tRA is calculated on a runs allowed scale, meaning a good tRA is a much higher number than a good ERA. Zach Grienke has a 3.88 tRA so far in 2010; CC Sabathia has a 3.59 tRA; Ubaldo Jiminez - destroyer of worlds - only has a 2.76 tRA. According to tRA, the Rays' bullpen has been the second best pen in the American League this season, with only the Twins (3.47 tRA) beating them.

When you look at the Rays' bullpen, only Lance Cormier and Andy Sonnanstine have been mediocre-to-below-average; every other pitcher in the bullpen has been above average. Judging by the difference between their FIPs and xFIPs - Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, which normalizes homerun rates - Randy Choate has gotten very unlucky with homerun balls this season (and some early season implosions are still haunting his ERA) while Grant Balfour and Rafael Soriano have both let up fewer homeruns so far than they should have. The same can be said about Dan Wheeler, but to a lesser degree. And Joacquin Benoit...well, he's been as dominant as they come.

If they Rays were want to make a move to add some bullpen depth, it appears that Lance Cormier would be the odd man out. While Andy Sonnanstine hasn't pitched well either, Sonnanstine is a low-leverage mop-up man, making a roughly average performance from him acceptable. According to their leverage indexes, Lance Cormier is being brought into many more high-leverage situations than Sonnanstine (.84 to .29), so his below-average performance is less easy to swallow.

Do the Rays need to add a bullpen arm? The bullpen has been good so far this season, but we should expect some regression to happen somewhere along the way; the odds are that Soriano, Balfour, and Benoit will not finish the season with ERAs under 2. Depth can never hurt, especially now that the Rays have called up Benoit, their ace in the hole. Is acquiring bullpen help a priority? No, not with the way the pen has looked so far. But is it something the Rays are probably looking at? Yes, I wouldn't be surprised.

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