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Rethinking the bullpen with RE24

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When it comes to the bullpen, closers tend to get all the attention, while saves or FIP for instance do not really help us to assert a middle or late reliever performance in the best way. Though strikeouts and walks ratios are already doing a decent job to evaluate the relievers, RE24 might be the best tool to date to value them.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What is RE24? Some may know the acronym from the prescription drug used in the treatment of edema. Others know it as a tool to evaluate the run expectancy by the 24 base/out states. You probably guessed it, here we are going to talk about the latter.

Introduced by Tom Tango in The Book, run expectancy "is the expected number of runs scored in the remainder of an inning based on the base-out state". And RE24 is nothing else but the difference in run expectancy between the start and the end of a play. For reference, here are the twenty-four base-out states and their run values, thanks to Fangraphs' glossary.

Base-out states

As an example, at the beginning of an inning there is a 0.461 run expectancy. Let's say the lead-off hitter hits a double. The next batter will be in the situation of having a runner on second base (_2_) and no outs, which makes the run expectancy jump to 1.068. So the 2nd batter would get a +.607 (1.068-0.461) RE24 while the pitcher gets penalized with a -.607 RE24.

RE24 is a cumulative statistic, so that during the season, a batter or a pitcher's RE24 will change according to his performance. Therefore, the higher the RE24, the better the player's performance. Thanks to the formidable Fangraphs' glossary, we have a "rule of thumb" to help us asserting an excellent year from a good one etc.

RE24 Rule of Thumb

You probably noticed that relief pitchers does not need a RE24 as high as starters to get an "excellent" rating. Considering they get way less time on the mound during a season, this is perfectly understandable. And like many other sabermetric statistics, zero is the average which makes it really easy to distinguish above and below average players.

Now, the reason why I like RE24, especially for measuring the bullpen performance, is because it gives a run-based value for pitchers who have to deal with runners allowed by the pitcher(s) before them. Indeed, RE24 takes that in account thanks to the base-out states.

RE24 can also be a good counter-part to WAR for relievers as they don't have that much options to "capitalize" on wins, although they can do so on runs. Also, when you have a relief pitcher in the sixth, seventh or eight inning, you're thinking about preserving your lead or reducing your gap with the opponent, in terms of runs.

If you're reading Beyond the Box Score (if not you really should), you may have noticed past articles about RE24 and notably this one from last June. Thanks to Ryan Morrison work, you could learn that Dellin Betances, Darren O'Day or Zach Britton were among the best relievers in 2014 in terms of RE24 at the time of the article.

Just for you, I've decided to make my own ranking for the full 2014 season, excluding closers. Why? Because I wanted to pay a closer attention to the other members of the bullpen and closers tend to play mostly in the nine inning where they don't inherit any runner. Thus using RA9 would be as useful as RE24.

Rk Player IP RE24 K% FIP
1 Dellin Betances 90.0 30.919 39.6% 1.64
2 Kelvin Herrera 70.0 25.725 20.7% 2.69
3 Wade Davis 72.0 25.119 39.1% 1.19
4 Fernando Abad 57.1 20.608 23.6% 3.25
5 Darren O'Day 68.2 18.758 26.9% 3.32
6 Andrew Miller 62.1 16.301 42.6% 1.51
7 Zach Putnam 54.2 16.019 21.6% 3.08
8 Tony Watson 77.1 15.952 26.6% 2.69
9 Tom Wilhelmsen 79.1 15.928 22.7% 3.74
10 Pat Neshek 67.1 15.881 26.7% 2.37
11 Scott Atchison 72.0 14.936 17.5% 3.08
12 Brad Boxberger 64.2 14.569 42.1% 2.84
13 Ken Giles 45.2 14.41 38.6% 1.34
14 Jared Hughes 64.1 14.038 14.1% 3.99
15 Dan Otero 86.2 13.916 12.9% 3.28
16 J.P. Howell 49.0 13.026 24.1% 3.30
17 Jonathan Broxton 58.2 11.984 21.2% 3.37
18 Burke Badenhop 70.2 11.916 13.8% 3.08
19 Kevin Quackenbush 54.1 11.528 25.2% 2.65
20 Brett Cecil 53.1 11.466 32.5% 2.34

Betances is still atop of the league among his peers and in terms of RE24, whilst Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis made their way to the top three. As for the Rays, Brad Boxberger is in the top 20, proudly standing at the 12th place with a 14.569 RE24 in 64.2 innings pitched. As you can see on the table above, a low FIP does not automatically suggest a high RE24, nor does a high K%. Although, generally a good FIP or K% means that a pitcher have a good probability of having a good RE24 as well, as the graphs below show.

RE24 FIP

RE24 K

For reference, I used the RE24, K% and FIP of non-closing pitchers who threw more than 10 innings in 2014 as relievers.

So, now that we've gotten more into RE24 and its implications, let's see what this means for the Rays bullpen. Without further ado, here's your ranking of the best Tampa Bay middle and late relievers for 2014:

Player IP RE24 K% FIP
Brad Boxberger 64.2 14.569 42.1% 2.84
Joel Peralta 63.1 3.827 27.9% 3.40
Jeff Beliveau 24.0 3.074 28.0% 2.47
Kirby Yates 36.0 1.271 26.9% 3.74
Brandon Gomes 34.0 -0.545 17.4% 4.60
C.J. Riefenhauser 5.1 -0.749 8.3% 4.07
Cesar Ramos 82.2 -0.951 18.3% 4.24
Steve Geltz 8.1 -4.568 37.8% 6.97
Heath Bell 17.1 -6.386 13.6% 4.57

No surprise at the top as we already saw that Brad Boxberger was the top player of the Rays in 2014, but after him it gets a little bit more messy.

The good news is that three of the top four will stay with Tampa Bay this year.

The other good news is that Kevin Jepsen, one of the new relievers for the Rays, had a 8.88 RE24 in 2014 with the Angels, and that Ernesto Frieri, despite his horrendous performance last year, averaged a 7.01 RE24 in his previous five seasons. If they perform well, they could help the Rays bullpen to crack to the top 10 in terms of total RE24.

Finally, the table below presents the 2014 rankings in terms of Total RE24 accumulated by relievers that are not closers.

Rank Team Total RE24 in 2014
1 OAK 51.20
2 SEA 37.13
3 SDP 34.20
4 PIT 33.76
5 KCR 30.96
6 NYY 29.52
7 NYM 28.23
8 CLE 27.73
9 BAL 24.87
10 TOR 24.36
11 LAA 23.01
12 WSN 21.08
13 ATL 15.89
14 TBR 9.54
15 STL 9.53
16 BOS 9.26
17 SFG 7.06
18 MIL 6.46
19 MIA 2.83
20 TEX -1.10
21 LAD -2.80
22 CHC -4.15
23 PHI -9.65
24 MIN -11.10
25 DET -12.51
26 ARI -19.44
27 CHW -23.61
28 CIN -32.66
29 HOU -33.99
30 COL -59.07
Average 7.22

RE24 is, in my opinion, an excellent tool to assess of the impact a relief pitcher had on his games. It also helps us to see beyond standard metrics such as walks or strikeouts, even though they are important for pitchers, but not to be limited by WAR as it is more useful for starters due to their amount of innings pitched.

On a team scale, it can also be helpful to assess the ability of a general manager to build a successful team of relievers. Next time, on Serial.

All statistics used in this article come from Baseball-Reference.