You don't have to dig very deep to find a poor Rays bullpen performance. Steve Geltz allowed the Indians to blow the game open on Tuesday night, just as Erasmo Ramirez allowed the Indians to blow the game open on Monday night and as Matt Andriese failed to keep the Rays close on Wednesday night.
For fans, and maybe even for players, a poor bullpen performance can really stand out. Unless the game is a blowout, relievers often come in late in games, trying to protect a lead or keep a game close. Even giving up a single run under those circumstance can seem like an enormous failure.
For Rays fans, the bullpen has made an easy target. But is that criticism fair? Has the bullpen been that bad?
How has the bullpen performed?
(Note: all stats as of 6/21/16)
If we review the bullpen's performance thus far, we see that the Rays bullpen comes in a tick below the league average of 3.93 ERA.
Win Percentage Added (WPA) is set to the difference in win percentage based on the outcomes of the at bats when the Rays pitchers on the hill. As a whole the bullpen has earned just over a third of a win which is just slightly below the median.
RE24 is based on the run equivalency of the outcomes of the plate appearances. League average is set to zero. The Rays have been 2.89 runs better than average. RE24 doesn't account for leverage unlike WPA.
pLI is the average leverage when the relievers are in the game and league average is set to 1.00. The Rays relievers have pitched in extremely high leverage situations compared to the rest of the league. This is mostly due to the Rays failing to blow many teams out and at the same time not being blown out very frequently.
RA9 WAR is a wins above replacement metric determined by using runs allowed instead of FIP to determine effectiveness. The Rays bullpen is right in the middle of the pack with 1.8 RA9 WAR.
Woof, this last week has been one to forget.
Before this last week the overall numbers in the pen were actually pretty solid. However things haven't been good at all this week as even the reliable relievers such as Alex Colome, Xavier Cedeno, and Erasmo Ramirez have faltered.
With an ERA above six it's unsurprising that the Rays bullpen has ranked so poorly, but it is a bit surprising to think there have been five bullpens that have allowed more runs per nine.
The leverage has been incredibly high as most of the games were lost in the eighth inning or later. By WPA the bullpen is only responsible for about half a loss more than average.
The Myth of Overwork
The failure of starters, especially earlier in the season, to go deep into games has led many fans to believe the the bullpen has suffered from pitching so many innings. You may therefore be surprised to note that the Rays bullpen is well below the median in all workload categories. They have pitched the eighth fewest innings in the league. Rays relievers have also faced the tenth fewest batters while throwing the seventh fewest pitches.
Erasmo Ramirez is probably overworked as he's amassed 49 innings pitched. That would equate to a pace of just over 115 innings for the full season if he keeps up the workload. His recent results suggest he may be in need of a break.
Who's performed? Who are the weak links?
Alex Colome has been a stud in the back of the pen as he's pitched the highest leverage innings and has allowed only a 1.76 ERA while closing out 19 of 19 save opportunities.
Erasmo Ramirez has had a rough patch, but his stretch at the beginning of the season was invaluable and a lot of this is volume based as he's thrown 43.1 innings out of the bullpen (this doesn't count his five inning start.) His combination of volume and high leverage are quite impressive.
Xavier Cedeno has the second highest leverage index on the team and has added over half of win in WPA.
Newcomer to the bullpen Andriese is the only other member of the bullpen that has pitched in higher than average leverage situations. He's just shy of half a win added in WPA as he's yet to allow a run in 3.2 innings pitched.
Enny Romero has been the only other one with a significant average leverage over 0.50. He's lost the Rays 0.06 win in WPA. When he's on he can look unstoppable, but when he loses command it can be a struggle.
The two biggest disappointments have been Steve Geltz and Dana Eveland. Steve Geltz has been beyond bad and the numbers back that up. He alone has cost the Rays almost 2 wins. At least these two have typically pitched in low leverage situations as they have pLIs of 0.47 and 0.57.
Geltz and Eveland are the only relievers with ERAs north of Enny Romero's 4.07. Both have been demoted to Durham, with Geltz recently making a much regretted return. One can only hope that they aren't pitching for the Rays in the future.
Does the bullpen deserve the criticism it has received?
Overall the bullpen looks like it's a touch below average. It needs to be better for the team to be really competitive, but given the trade of McGee and the loss of Brad Boxberger to injury, the results are not surprising.
Alex Colome, Xavier Cedeno, and Erasmo Ramirez have done a pretty great job overall. They could use some help in either a couple guys stepping up or a promotion.
Steve Geltz and Dana Eveland are certainly not the help they need. They have been awful and deserve much of the criticism hurled their way. But other relievers have been at least solid if not better.
For those who want to compare the 2016 bullpen to that of the 2007 Devil Rays -- think again. That bullpen had no good options and posted a 6.16 ERA and -7.4 RA9 WAR. This year's bullpen, in contrast, is just a tick below average and could be good with a few tweaks.