In the last few weeks, more than one commenter has questioned Joe Maddon’s use of the bullpen. The perception is that JoeMa is quicker to pull a reliever and play matchups in 2010 than in year’s past.

On the surface, it would appear that this is indeed the case. Maddon has always been vocal about his love for relief pitchers that are able to come in, finish an inning, sit in the dugout while the Rays bat, and then go back out for some more work. But this season, Maddon seems much more inclined to use a relief pitcher for just one or two batters.

So let’s take a closer look to see if our perceptions match reality…

A couple of things we learn from the above table…

  • The starting pitchers are on pace to surpass the mystical 1,000 innings barrier.
  • The 6.30 innings per start by the rotation is fourth in MLB behind the Phillies (6.47), Seattle (6.35) and the Yankees (6.33).
  • The relief corps are averaging less than 3 outs per appearance in 2010 (0.94). That is up from 2009 (0.89) but still below the 1.08 innings per appearance in 2008 when the Rays won the AL East.

The average appearance by relievers is up from 2009, but is down about a half-out from 2008. So from the Rays playoff season, Maddon is a tad quicker to pull a relief pitcher. But is that a drastic change? There are some factors we are not considering.

  1. The starting pitchers are working deeper into games. This means there are fewer situations in which Maddon must rely on a long reliever to pitch multiple innings. This is likely bringing the average innings per appearance down.
  2. That also means Maddon has access to the same number of relievers over a shorter period of the game. That gives Maddon the flexibility to use the relievers in match-up situations more often. In the past, Maddon needed his relievers to work longer more often.
  3. No JP Howell. In 2008 and 2009, Howell’s average appearances were 1.40 and 0.96 innings respectfully. If you remove Howell’s data from the 2008 relief totals, the remainder of the bullpen averaged 1.02 innings per appearance.

So relief pitchers are working a half-out less per appearance than 2008. But with the help of the starting rotation and the absence of Howell, the change seems like a natural progression.

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4 Comments

  1. FreeZo says:

    Cork, I took a somewhat similar look last year:
    http://www.draysbay.com/2009/9/16/1030463/one-more-crack-at-dissecting

    If you look at batters faced as opposed to innings which relies on the outcome of outs, the Rays are actually beating their record setting pace of last year. At the time of the article the Rays were facing 3.92 batters/appearance. Since 2006, the 2007 Yankees were the closest to that figure at 4.49 BF/App. This year likely to do fewer runners reaching base and Wheeler and Choate consistently splitting innings that figure is 3.85 BF/App.

    The big change as you correctly pointed out is starters working deeper which brings the overall tax on the pen down. If the starters falter, the pen could run the risk of burning out down the stretch. Nice piece.

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  2. Beth says:

    I would also think that these calculations would be influenced by the number of really bad starts -- if a starter gets pulled before the 5th (due to injury or ineffectiveness) you are more likely to go to a long reliever who will pitch two or even three innings. I can only think of 3 times this year the Rays pulled their starter before the end of the 5th inning (twice Neimann's been pulled for injuries; Garza against the Red Sox). A few long extra inning games, where you have run through your bullpen, could also influence these statistics. I guess my point is: while in part these differences may imply a strategy (looking for match ups), they can also be shaped by happenstance (circumstances that force you to rely on a reliever over several innings)

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    • FreeZo says:

      A fair point, looking at returning individuals in similar roles may give an idea. Balfour, Wheeler and Choate are really the only three that meet this criteria. Cormier's role has changed. I suppose Howell-Soriano could be crossed.

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      • Beth says:

        True. And one other thing -- while the Rays pen has been pretty good this year, it seems to me that there have been several times the team has had a sizable lead, so Maddon brings in Cormier or Sonnanstiine to finish out the 8th/9th. Well, a few runs later it's suddenly a save situation and in comes Soriano!

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