Building a Bullpen, 2019 edition

BaseballJones

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This bullpen is 5th in the majors in fWAR, 7th in ERA, 7th in FIP, 7th in xFIP, and 1st in K/9. And that is after a stretch of long extra inning games severely taxing them and requiring to overuse their good pitchers and get lots of innings from their worst ones. If this pen isn't "good" I don't know what your definition of the word is.
All true. But they're also 3rd in MLB in blown saves with 15 (so being 3rd is very bad), and they're tied for second from the bottom in save percentage (53.13%), which his also very bad.
 

bosox79

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This bullpen is 5th in the majors in fWAR, 7th in ERA, 7th in FIP, 7th in xFIP, and 1st in K/9. And that is after a stretch of long extra inning games severely taxing them and requiring to overuse their good pitchers and get lots of innings from their worst ones. If this pen isn't "good" I don't know what your definition of the word is.
8th in Innings.
 

DeadlySplitter

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what do we make of good underlying stats but terrible "traditional" stats like blown saves? how much of that is on the offense?
 

bosox79

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what do we make of good underlying stats but terrible "traditional" stats like blown saves? how much of that is on the offense?
Why would it ever be on the offense? They aren't the ones giving up the lead. Even if they come back to win the game, the bullpen still blew a save.
 

BaseballJones

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what do we make of good underlying stats but terrible "traditional" stats like blown saves? how much of that is on the offense?
It means probably that they do better in non-save situations than in save situations. Which isn't comforting when they're out there trying to protect a slim lead.
 

bosox79

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It means probably that they do better in non-save situations than in save situations. Which isn't comforting when they're out there trying to protect a slim lead.
Is there a way to look up average lead during a save opportunity for teams? If some team goes into Save Opportunities with an average lead of 2.1 runs over another team that goes into the same situation with a 1.2 run lead, it would make a pretty huge difference. I doubt that's actually the case.
 

scottyno

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All true. But they're also 3rd in MLB in blown saves with 15 (so being 3rd is very bad), and they're tied for second from the bottom in save percentage (53.13%), which his also very bad.
Not sure if the actual true numbers would look any better, but looking at save percentage as saves/saves+blown saves is a terrible way to look at it, blown saves can potentially be in almost any inning, saves can only be in the last inning. A more accurate number would be either saves+holds, or just saves/9th inning or later save chances.

You can't get a save in the 8th inning, but you can get a blown save in the 8th even if you're a pitcher who was never going to actually finish the game.
 

scottyno

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Why would it ever be on the offense? They aren't the ones giving up the lead. Even if they come back to win the game, the bullpen still blew a save.
You can't blow a save if your offense pounds the other team and the game is never close, or if the offense extends a lead after the game gets close, if it's a close game all the way you probably have 2-4 different pitchers with a chance to blow a save in the same game.
 

BaseballJones

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Not sure if the actual true numbers would look any better, but looking at save percentage as saves/saves+blown saves is a terrible way to look at it, blown saves can potentially be in almost any inning, saves can only be in the last inning. A more accurate number would be either saves+holds, or just saves/9th inning or later save chances.

You can't get a save in the 8th inning, but you can get a blown save in the 8th even if you're a pitcher who was never going to actually finish the game.
All true but this applies to every team so at least it’s an apples to apples comparison. And we aren’t really just comparing “closers”, we’re comparing bullpens.

Put it this way: whatever the flaw in the stat may be, you don’t want to be among the worst in baseball when it comes to save percentage, and you don’t want to have among the highest number of blown saves. There’s no way to spin that as a good thing for your bullpen.
 

bosox79

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All true but this applies to every team so at least it’s an apples to apples comparison. And we aren’t really just comparing “closers”, we’re comparing bullpens.

Put it this way: whatever the flaw in the stat may be, you don’t want to be among the worst in baseball when it comes to save percentage, and you don’t want to have among the highest number of blown saves. There’s no way to spin that as a good thing for your bullpen.
You do know it's theoretically possible to lead the league in save % and have the most blown saves, right? Counting stats are kinda dumb.
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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Sale's "down year" this year still represents a 131 ERA+, better than two of Price's three full seasons as a starter with the Sox. And this is coming from someone who loves Price.

Sale had an undoubtably terrible start this year, but it sounds like injury played at least some role in that (the toe thing).

Anyway, just because people misjudged Price in 2016 doesn't mean we're obligated to do the same thing to Sale now.

EDIT: He's also #5 in FIP for the season. Not exactly terrible.
I didn't claim he was "terrible" at all. I'm just saying that he hasn't been the Ace that we signed for. His ERA is still just barely lower than 4, not bad at all. And quite good.... but he's escaping any serious criticism. He hasn't been a "stopper" or the dominant guy the Sox really signed for and there's still some concern about his long term health. I'm happy with him at the top of our rotation with Price there also... but his post-season performance along with his inability to be truly a dominant ace this season has me as concerned as the bullpen.
The same as with Price when he came on board.... but the Sox fandom tore David a new arse for underperformance relative to contract and I don't see that happening with Sale. That's my only point here.

EDIT- and yes, I know ERA is pretty close to a garbage stat on judging performance (especially going forward) but it does line up somewhat closely with overall past performance. And Sale's ERA is just not what someone in his pay should be, and no, I'm not sure exactly what it should be but I'd say less than 3.40 and I realize too that there are very few of those... as there are very few starters in his pay grade.
 

BaseballJones

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You do know it's theoretically possible to lead the league in save % and have the most blown saves, right? Counting stats are kinda dumb.
Sure, and it's theoretically possible to lead the league in runs scored without getting a single hit all season.

On a serious note, look at MLB save percentages and blown saves: http://www.espn.com/mlb/stats/team/_/stat/pitching/sort/savePct/type/expanded/order/true

I took the data and graphed each team's ranking by blown saves (highest to lowest) and save percentage (lowest to highest). Here's what the graph looks like:

24988

So we can pretend there's real-life scenarios where these things do not generally correlate (there are always going to be occasional exceptions, as is the case in virtually any statistical data set). But let's not.
 

bosox79

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Or you could just use Save % instead of BS and avoid the exceptions all together.

Lose said it right. Traditional stats should be ignored.
 

BaseballJones

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Or you could just use Save % instead of BS and avoid the exceptions all together.

Lose said it right. Traditional stats should be ignored.
The point being the same: Every team is measured the same, so it's apples-to-apples. And we can spin it any way we want, but it's simply not a good thing to be among the league's "leaders" in blowing save opportunities, or among the league's worst at save percentage.

The only silver lining there might be that it could be a sign that you're more often than not protecting a lead - at least compared to other teams - in the late innings, so yeah, you're bound to blow more.
 

bosox79

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SD has had 46 save opportunities this year. Toronto has had 20. Just saying. Can't blow a save without an opportunity. I wonder which team would have more BS.

Save % is apples and apples. BS are not.
 

BaseballJones

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SD has had 46 save opportunities this year. Toronto has had 20. Just saying. Can't blow a save without an opportunity. I wonder which team would have more BS.
SD: 15 blown saves in 46 save opportunities, 67.4% save%
Tor: 5 blown saves in 20 save opportunities, 75.0% save%

Boston has only had 33 save opportunities but has blown 16 of them, so just a tick over 51% save%. Not good at all.
 

donutogre

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I didn't claim he was "terrible" at all. I'm just saying that he hasn't been the Ace that we signed for. His ERA is still just barely lower than 4, not bad at all. And quite good.... but he's escaping any serious criticism. He hasn't been a "stopper" or the dominant guy the Sox really signed for and there's still some concern about his long term health. I'm happy with him at the top of our rotation with Price there also... but his post-season performance along with his inability to be truly a dominant ace this season has me as concerned as the bullpen.
The same as with Price when he came on board.... but the Sox fandom tore David a new arse for underperformance relative to contract and I don't see that happening with Sale. That's my only point here.

EDIT- and yes, I know ERA is pretty close to a garbage stat on judging performance (especially going forward) but it does line up somewhat closely with overall past performance. And Sale's ERA is just not what someone in his pay should be, and no, I'm not sure exactly what it should be but I'd say less than 3.40 and I realize too that there are very few of those... as there are very few starters in his pay grade.

I think the difference in how Sale has been treated vs. Price can be explained by the fact that Sale arrived and immediately had two superlative seasons, despite the fact that last year's was marred by injuries near the end. Price, on the other hand, showed up and wasn't exactly lights out. I feel like his 2016 was a lot like Sale's 2018, in fact -- some really good games, but not terribly consistent. I think that if Sale signed a huge contract and showed up with the kind of season he's had in 2019, things would be a lot different. But his last two years bought him some rope, something Price didn't have. I think if Price arrived in Boston with the kind of year he's having now, he would have gotten rope for a more up-and-down season a few years later.

Also, while Sale will be among the highest-paid players when his extension kicks in, right now he's making half of what Price does. Even once extension kicks in, he'll be paid less than Strasburg, Scherzer, Greinke, Kershaw, and -- yep, David Price. OK, in some cases, only by about a million bucks. That group is a fair comp, salary-wise, and right now his performance isn't on the same level as most of these guys. Though, four of the five have the luxury of pitching in the NL. Still, I get the general frustration. I just don't know how based in reality it is.

I will also acknowledge that Sales garbage start yesterday really hurt my argument as his ERA and ERA+ are both looking a lot worse than they did 24 hours ago!
 

BaseballJones

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I just think that as bad a stat as saves are, the blown saves stat is 10 times worse.

Most blown saves occur in what is really a Non Save situation

Btw, Kimbrell being activated today
If you have a 4-2 lead in the 7th, your "closer" is not in the game. It's a non-save situation even though you can blow a save chance. We all understand this. Every team faces the same situation stat-wise.

So you're up 4-2 in the 7th. Is it better to hold the lead (even if you don't get a save stat) or blow the lead?

You're up 5-2 in the 8th. Is it better to hold the lead (even if you don't get a save stat) or blow the lead?

If you are up 4-2 in the 7th, blow the lead and find yourself down 5-4, then come back to take the lead 6-5, and now you have that 6-5 lead in the 8th or 9th, is it better to hold THAT lead or blow it?

These are, obviously, rhetorical questions. I think everyone understands that you can blow saves even when you can't accumulate them (i.e., 4-2 lead in the 7th with a guy who absolutely will not pitch the rest of the game....zero chance he can ever get a save there, but very real chance he could get "credited" with a blown save). We all understand the limitations of the stat, at least I think we all do. But it's still an apples-to-apples comparison, as every team faces the same rules regarding the save stat.

And it's always better to protect leads, whether it's in the 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th, than it is to blow them. Blown saves reflect, if nothing else, blown leads by the bullpen. If your bullpen is among the league leaders in blowing leads, and does so at one of the worst percentages in all of MLB, that's...NOT GOOD.
 

amRadio

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Red Sox pitchers are allowing a .787 OPS against and have a 5.05 ERA in the 9th inning this year. It's really hard to pitch that bad in the 9th inning over the course of the season, but they're halfway there.
 

lexrageorge

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There certainly can be some nuances to the blown save stat where using that stat alone can be misleading.

Teams clinging to 1 run leads in the late innings all the time are more likely to blow leads than teams winning by 6 runs in the same situation. Also, a team that never sees its starters go more than 4-5 innings may be more likely to endure blown leads by the bullpen; more chances for the bullpen to blow that lead.

The impact of a blown save can obviously vary. The 2018 Red Sox had 20 blown saves (AL median was 21), and had a save percentage of 70% (5th best in AL). However, they were 96-11 (0.897) when tied or ahead in the 7th. This season they are 41-9 (0.820), which matters when a handful of games could mean the difference between winning the division or missing out on the playoffs entirely.

And there's the issue that a bullpen that blows open a tie game in the 7th, or allows a 1-run deficit to turn into a 3-run deficit, doesn't record a blown save, despite similarly impacting the team's chances of winning the game. I haven't looked at the game logs in detail, but the Sox have won only 3 games all season when behind in the 7th (0.094 winning percentage), as opposed to 12 all last season (0.218).

I think it's fair to be concerned about the bullpen. While reliever's ERA is also not a complete stat by itself, it is worth nothing that last season, their ERA in innings 7-9 was 3.56, 4.28, and 2.98, respectively, while giving up 0.026 HR's/PA. This season, those numbers are 4.17, 3.62, and 5.05, while surrendering 0.03 HR/PA.

I don't think the bullpen is a disaster; the relievers as a group kept the team somewhat afloat during the horrendous start. However, the Sox no longer have much margin for error for making the playoffs, especially now with winning the division a real long shot. And so each blown lead by the bullpen is more and more costly. Whether DD can shore it up is an open question; it's clear Henry & Co. aren't going to allow DD to exceed the tax threshold, and trades for relievers are always expensive given the high demand for them mid-season.
 

BaseballJones

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No definitely the bullpen is not a disaster, and I agree with the posts upthread that talk about the stats that show they've been pretty effective. But there's also another way to look at it, and the blown save and save percentage stats do tell us something, and what they tell us is not good. Doesn't mean other stats aren't telling us good things. It's a mixed bag with this bullpen.
 

Harry Hooper

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I don't think the bullpen is a disaster; the relievers as a group kept the team somewhat afloat during the horrendous start. However, the Sox no longer have much margin for error for making the playoffs, especially now with winning the division a real long shot. And so each blown lead by the bullpen is more and more costly. Whether DD can shore it up is an open question; it's clear Henry & Co. aren't going to allow DD to exceed the tax threshold, and trades for relievers are always expensive given the high demand for them mid-season.
Well said, save perhaps for that last bit. Has mid-season trading for relievers in the non-closer category really been expensive?
 

Danny_Darwin

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I feel like maybe some people are saying/thinking that to suggest DD trade for some bullpen help is tantamount to saying the pen is bad and the current usage strategy is a failure. I would contend that it's quite easy to think both that the pen has been good overall despite a few rough stretches and that they could really use one or two additional pieces (beyond fungible quad-A filler types) for additional help going forward.
 

BaseballJones

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I feel like maybe some people are saying/thinking that to suggest DD trade for some bullpen help is tantamount to saying the pen is bad and the current usage strategy is a failure. I would contend that it's quite easy to think both that the pen has been good overall despite a few rough stretches and that they could really use one or two additional pieces (beyond fungible quad-A filler types) for additional help going forward.
I think the real problem is that they don't have enough quality arms in the bullpen.

Barnes pitches mostly in high-leverage situations against the best hitters the other team has (whether that's in the 7th, 8th, or 9th innings) and so it's understandable that his numbers are going to look worse compared to "elite closers". He's fine for the most part.

Brasier is fine.

Workman has been excellent.

Walden has been fine but is definitely hitting a rough patch and/or regressing to the mean. Last 13 games: 5.68 era, 1.58 whip.

Brewer is ok, but is much more suited to be a 7th guy in the pen sort of arm.

Josh Taylor has good stuff and other than one disastrous outing (4 er in 1 ip vs TB on June 8) has been really good, but I don't know how good he REALLY is.


The problem is that outside of Workman, who's been consistently terrific all year, everyone else has just gone through good periods and bad periods. Maybe that's perfectly normal, but it's tough to mix and match guys with the proper leverage usage based on how they've been doing lately. That's what Cora needs to do. If they had one more stud pitcher, it would REALLY help the bullpen. To me, ideally, I'd try to add one more excellent reliever and then have the pen look like this:

Barnes: hunter of strikeouts in high leverage situations from innings 6-8.

New acquisition: the "closer" - someone used to that role.

Workman and Brasier: 7th-8th inning guys when down 1, tied, or up 2-3.

Walden, Taylor, and Brewer: back end of the bullpen, eat some innings in the middle of the game kind of guys.
 

lexrageorge

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The problem with the bullpen, IMO, is that their 4 best relievers have made a lot of appearances:

Workman: 40 (leads AL, and prior career high was 40!)
Barnes: 36
Brasier: 36 (made 34 all of last season, which was his career high at that point)
Brewer: 31 (prior career high of 11)

While Barnes usage is not that out of line with his prior seasons, he's on a pace to exceed 60 appearances for the 4th season in a row, which is a bit of a red flag. They've already lost one reliever to "forearm tightness", and while Hembree will probably be back, I'm never filled with joy when I hear that phrase used with any pitcher.

@BaseballJones prescription for more quality arms in the pen would go a long way towards hedging their bets.
 

shaggydog2000

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Looking at High Leverage situations (AL only), the Sox are 9th of 15 in ERA and 11th of 15 in wOBA allowed. In Low Leverage situations, they're 2nd and 3rd, respectively. That's the real disconnect here.
You're also talking about taking increasingly smaller sample sizes and expecting them to be representative. Those numbers can be skewed pretty heavily by a one or two inning blow-up. Average tells you some things. The distribution of the data can tell you if there are one or two outliers that are coloring the average. I'm sure the bullpen has blown some saves, their best relievers who are used in those situations have been overused over a short time period. But that workload is unlikely to be kept up, and the overall numbers are good enough that I expect the smaller sample size splits (like leverage) to converge with the overall performance.

So yeah, they blew some saves, but I expect that with proper rest they are too good to keep bombing in save situations.
 

Mueller's Twin Grannies

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You're also talking about taking increasingly smaller sample sizes and expecting them to be representative. Those numbers can be skewed pretty heavily by a one or two inning blow-up. Average tells you some things. The distribution of the data can tell you if there are one or two outliers that are coloring the average. I'm sure the bullpen has blown some saves, their best relievers who are used in those situations have been overused over a short time period. But that workload is unlikely to be kept up, and the overall numbers are good enough that I expect the smaller sample size splits (like leverage) to converge with the overall performance.

So yeah, they blew some saves, but I expect that with proper rest they are too good to keep bombing in save situations.
Well, they're getting two full days (more for the ones who didn't pitch yesterday) to recover before taking the field in London. If they get bombed there, I don't think we can blame lack of rest any longer, nor jet lag unless the Yankees' relievers get pounded too.
 

BaseballJones

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Well, they're getting two full days (more for the ones who didn't pitch yesterday) to recover before taking the field in London. If they get bombed there, I don't think we can blame lack of rest any longer, nor jet lag unless the Yankees' relievers get pounded too.
CF is just 385 feet away - or as David Price put it, the park is smaller than his high school's. I expect a lot of pitchers this weekend are gonna get lit up in London.
 

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Well said, save perhaps for that last bit. Has mid-season trading for relievers in the non-closer category really been expensive?
back in 2013, Farrell explained that middle relievers show a great deal of year to year variation, which is why they tend to be overpriced in mid season trades, i.e. you have to pay for one who is having a good season without a lot of expectation they will repeat it so basically yeah, you have to overpay.
 

Harry Hooper

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The majority of mid-season acquisitions are probably overpays under a cost-benefit framework. An overpay does not automatically equal expensive in terms of organizational resources to be invested, though.
 

Devizier

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Why not use WPA for situational performance? The biggest issue with save based numbers is that they make no distinction based on the size of the lead.
 

lexrageorge

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back in 2013, Farrell explained that middle relievers show a great deal of year to year variation, which is why they tend to be overpriced in mid season trades, i.e. you have to pay for one who is having a good season without a lot of expectation they will repeat it so basically yeah, you have to overpay.
Is there a moratorium against posting the image below?

24997
 

shaggydog2000

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Why not use WPA for situational performance? The biggest issue with save based numbers is that they make no distinction based on the size of the lead.
Because I don't really know what the numbers mean in an intuitive way. But if you'd like to talk about them, I'd love to listen and learn. It looks like Sox relievers are in 10th place overall in WPA. But they're 2nd in +WPA, and 5th in -WPA. I'm guessing that reflects the fact that the bullpen has been in position to win and lose a lot of games, and has done some of each, with the winning outweighing the losing for the most part. I guess that is reflected in having the 3rd highest inLI, which is leverage at the beginning of an inning? So it looks like they've had a lot of tough innings, and the good has mostly outweighed the bad?
 

Devizier

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Because I don't really know what the numbers mean in an intuitive way. But if you'd like to talk about them, I'd love to listen and learn. It looks like Sox relievers are in 10th place overall in WPA. But they're 2nd in +WPA, and 5th in -WPA. I'm guessing that reflects the fact that the bullpen has been in position to win and lose a lot of games, and has done some of each, with the winning outweighing the losing for the most part. I guess that is reflected in having the 3rd highest inLI, which is leverage at the beginning of an inning? So it looks like they've had a lot of tough innings, and the good has mostly outweighed the bad?
That's basically right.

WPA+ measures things you did to add to your team's win probability
WPA- measures things you did to hurt your team's win probability

By the nature of leverage you can accumulate WPA+ more easily as a reliever in higher leverage situations, since the win expectancy is starting at a lower baseline, but if you have a lead (or are at least close) your performance can induce a significant spike in your team's win expectancy.

On the flip side you can accumulate a big WPA- if you blow an easy save opportunity.

Not very predictive but it does provide context to how the bullpen has performed.
 

shaggydog2000

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That's basically right.

WPA+ measures things you did to add to your team's win probability
WPA- measures things you did to hurt your team's win probability

By the nature of leverage you can accumulate WPA+ more easily as a reliever in higher leverage situations, since the win expectancy is starting at a lower baseline, but if you have a lead (or are at least close) your performance can induce a significant spike in your team's win expectancy.

On the flip side you can accumulate a big WPA- if you blow an easy save opportunity.

Not very predictive but it does provide context to how the bullpen has performed.
Yeah, it seems like ERA, a decent summary of what happened, but not necessarily the best predictor going forward.
 

Brand Name

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On the note of WPA for relievers, I personally like the concept of Shutdowns (SD) and Meltdowns (MD) that FanGraphs has. Former is when an RP adds .06 or better to +WPA, latter is -0.06 or worse. From there I like to make a ratio of SD/MD. This is used as to correlate with hold or save numbers on a 1:1 basis. Granted, they’re metrics of efficiency, not necessarily if the guy pitched well, as a notable wart/flaw of using these.

By this stat, Workman is the most efficient reliever, with 16 shutdowns (16th across RP), 5 meltdowns, both numbers tied exactly with New York’s Adam Ottavino. By total team efforts? Sox are 8th best with 76 shutdowns, while their 45 meltdowns are tied for the 13th fewest (Reds, Angels). Sure, this isn’t the Yankee, Tampa, or San Francisco bullpen but going by these intertwined metrics, this is a top 10 unit.

For implication purposes, simple to use as a scale for comparing. According to Steve Slowinski, below are the suggested barriers of success needed for a full season, for an individual player. Given we’re about halfway through, I’d just divide each number by 2.

Excellent​
40​
2​
Great​
35​
4​
Above Average​
25​
6​
Average​
20​
8​
Below Average​
15​
10​
Poor​
10​
12​
Awful​
5​
15​
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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On the note of WPA for relievers, I personally like the concept of Shutdowns (SD) and Meltdowns (MD) that FanGraphs has. Former is when an RP adds .06 or better to +WPA, latter is -0.06 or worse. From there I like to make a ratio of SD/MD. This is used as to correlate with hold or save numbers on a 1:1 basis. Granted, they’re metrics of efficiency, not necessarily if the guy pitched well, as a notable wart/flaw of using these.

By this stat, Workman is the most efficient reliever, with 16 shutdowns (16th across RP), 5 meltdowns, both numbers tied exactly with New York’s Adam Ottavino. By total team efforts? Sox are 8th best with 76 shutdowns, while their 45 meltdowns are tied for the 13th fewest (Reds, Angels). Sure, this isn’t the Yankee, Tampa, or San Francisco bullpen but going by these intertwined metrics, this is a top 10 unit.

For implication purposes, simple to use as a scale for comparing. According to Steve Slowinski, below are the suggested barriers of success needed for a full season, for an individual player. Given we’re about halfway through, I’d just divide each number by 2.

Excellent 40 2
Great 35 4
Above Average 25 6
Average 20 8
Below Average 15 10
Poor 10 12
Awful 5 15
I'm not sure how to break all this stuff down... but the Sox bullpen had a very good first month. They've at least seemed to be absolute garbage since then....... at one point, Barnes, Brasier, Workman and Walden looked like they were going to actually be a great bullpen. Then Brasier turned to garbage, then Walden and Barnes... Workman still seems to be hanging in there... but at this point, there' s not one member of the pen that I feel confident can get 3 outs against a good offense without giving up a run.
These last two games could not possibly have kept them in the "top 7" (whatever) BP's in MLB based on any stat at all... but I'm not sure if they'd be there if you remove the first month. Is it serious overuse? Exhaustion? Dead Arms across the pen? League seeing all those curves? Whatever it is, they can't seem to throw their offspeed stuff for strikes and then have to pump a dead straight fastball down the lane.
Something clearly has got to give... I know that any of these guys could turn back into a weird imitation of Koji for 4 weeks in October.... but nobody- not even the pitchers themselves- seem confident that they can put a hitter away.
 

Harry Hooper

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Jan 4, 2002
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Brewer featured some sharp breaking stuff today and was effective. As for the rest, WTDS.