Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Tale Of Two Bullpens.

How bad was it? The Royals’ bullpen broke more records than the White Sox on Disco Demolition Night. Ray Bradbury’s agent was calling them to pose for the cover of “Fahrenheit 451”. In “Close & Late” situations, over 728 at-bats, Royals’ opponents hit a ridiculous .328/.404/.520, turning every hitter into Gary Sheffield. Never before had a team blown more saves than they had recorded; the Royals saved just 29 of 59 games. The Royals were the first team in AL history to record a Rolaids Relief score below zero. According to Tom Ruane, the Royals’ 11-32 record in one-run games was the worst by any team in over 60 years. The four worst winning percentages in one-run games this century:

Year Team W L Pct.

1935 Boston (NL) 7 31 .184

1937 St. Louis (AL) 10 31 .244

1999 Kansas City 11 32 .256

1916 Philadelphia (AL) 11 32 .256

The 1937 St. Louis Browns finished 46-108 - and they were the best of the other three teams on this list. The 1935 Braves finished 38-115, the second-worst record this century. The worst? Those 1916 Athletics (36-117). Three teams with overall winning percentages in the .200s, and last year’s Royals. Wow.

As historic as their futility in close games was, it was the Royals’ collapse at the end of games that is so damning on the bullpen. The Royals, owners of the third-worst record in baseball, were better than .500 through 6 innings. Consider this chart, where “expected wins” assumes the Royals won all the games they were leading, and half the games they were tied:

Inning 6 7 8 Final

Ahead 73 70 66 64

Tied 20 15 14 0

Behind 68 76 81 97

Expected Wins 83 77.5 73 64

Through 6 innings, the Royals were 73-68 with 20 ties, yet by game’s end were 64-97. They slipped 19 games in the standings after the 6th inning. Nineteen games. Inning-by-inning data is not available prior to 1980, but with Keith Woolner’s help, we found that over the last 20 years, the 1985 Pirates had held the record with an 18-game drop. After 7 innings, the Royals 13.5-game drop broke the record of 12, previously held by the 1997 Cubs.

You get the point. This isn’t your standard “we would have won 10 more games with a good bullpen” sob story. This was the Real McCoy. The 1999 Royals were the worst late-inning team of at least the last 20 years, and the worst close-game team of the last 60.

- Baseball Prospectus 2000

I wrote those words over a decade ago, and I never thought I would see a worse bullpen in my lifetime. I probably won’t – the season is still young, after all. But the 2010 Royals are giving the 1999 Royals a run for the money – and that’s with a shutdown closer in Joakim Soria.

Let’s compare the two head-to-head:

The 1999 Royals were 29 of 59 in save opportunities – as mentioned above, the first team in history to have more blown saves than actual saves. The 2010 Royals are 6 of 13 in save opportunities.

The 1999 bullpen had a composite 5.77 ERA. The 2010 bullpen has a 6.61 ERA. (And remember, 1999 was the peak of the juiced era – the league ERA was 4.86. The ERA of the American League this year – keep in mind that offense usually is down in April – is just 4.11.)

The 1999 bullpen allowed opposing hitters to bat .303/.385/.479. Against the 2010 bullpen, opposing hitters are batting .306/.408/.502.

The 1999 bullpen allowed 124 runs in the 7th inning (0.77 runs per game), and 111 runs in the 8th inning (0.69 runs per game). The 2010 bullpen, through 20 games, has allowed 23 runs in the 7th (1.15 runs per game) and 14 runs in the 8th (0.70 runs per game). That’s right – the team is allowing OVER ONE RUN AN INNING in the seventh.

The 1999 Royals were just 53-20 (.726) in games they were leading after 6 innings, and 55-15 (.786) in games they were leading after 7. The 2010 Royals are 5-6 (.455) in games they lead after 6, but 7-2 (.778) in games they lead after 8.

As shown in the chart above, the 1999 Royals were 73-68 with 20 ties after 6 innings – their “expected record” was 83-78, but they finished 64-97. In other words, they lost 19 games between the end of 6 innings and the end of the game. They lost 10.5 games after 7 innings, and 9 games after 8 innings.

After 6 innings, the 2010 Royals are 11-6 with 3 ties. (Read that again.) Their expected record is 12.5 – 7.5, which would put them in second place, just 2 games behind the Twins. Instead they are 8-12. Just 20 games into the season, the Royals have already lost 4.5 games after 6 innings. After 7 innings, they are 9-10 with one tie; they’ve lost 1.5 games after 7. They are 7-11 with 2 ties after 8 innings; thanks to Soria, their record hasn’t dropped at all after the 8th inning.

By almost every metric, the 2010 Royals have performed worse to this point than their 1999 counterparts. This is astonishing, given that the Royals have one of the best closers in baseball at their disposal. Partly thanks to Soria, and partly thanks to the Royals coming back after Kyle Farnsworth had given up the go-ahead run in extra innings against Detroit, the Royals’ record in one-run games is actually 4-4. Which, if anything, makes the performance of the bullpen even worse. The 1999 Royals suffered from bad luck as much as a bad bullpen; the bullpen found a way to give up just enough runs to lose, and the offense shut down in the late innings. By contrast, the 2010 Royals have actually come back in the late innings twice – once against the Tigers in the 11th, and once on Rick Ankiel’s bloop single in the 8th to beat the Red Sox. Without a more productive offense, the situation could be even more dire.

The closer for the 1999 Royals was Jeff Montgomery, who was on his last legs – he would retire after the season. Monty had just 12 saves and a whopping 6.84 ERA. Take out his performance, and the team’s middle relievers had a 5.64 ERA. Take out Soria’s performance this season (just 2 runs allowed in 9 innings), and the middle relievers this season have allowed 44 earned runs in 53.2 innings – a 7.38 ERA.

Yogi was right. It’s déjà vu all over again.


sc said...

They're shitty.

Anonymous said...

Except that the 1999 team had an offense that could be expected to be good - Beltran, Dye, Damon, Sweeney, Randa. We have DeJesus and Butler, and a bunch of surprise performers - Podsednik, Kendall, Guillen, Ankiel - who can't possibly be expected to maintain over a full season.

Unless the pitching shapes up before the offense collapses, this year could end up much worse than 1999.

Cole M. said...

There's going to be some tragic irony when the Royals come play the Nats in D.C. and it's the Royals who blow it in the late innings.

I'm not sure if I want Grienke to be a pitcher during that series. I'd love to see him, but I don't know if another game like the other night would be worth it.

Unknown said...

Well if Grienke pitches in DC then he gets to bad and maybe he will have a shot at a win.

Massage by Ted said...

I don't watch all that many Royals' games, maybe parts of 25-30 during a season, but I felt sick to my stomach watching last night's meltdown.

Jacob G. said...

I still say this will eventually lead to Greinke strangling a reliever in the clubhouse. Can we start a betting pool on when this will happen? I'd like July 14th, please.

Anonymous said...

The amazing thing about all this is the disbelief a lot of Royal's fans had when the bullpen was announced prior to the season. It seems that the only people who didn't see this coming were DMGM and Hillman. I guess they don't have a very good internet connection because all they had to do was look up a few (not very) advanced stats on Fangraphs. Maybe they will catch up to the rest of us when the dial-up finally connects.

Anonymous said...

Jacob G. you might want to revise that July 14th prediction. After a night like last night he may not wait until the ninth inning on Sunday 5/2.

Dayton Moore said...

I don't have an internet at home

Adam Dunn said...

I can't wait for this bullpen to come to Nationals Park, either!

Grain of Salt said...

Considering the performance so far... I believe we should coin a Wall Street term and rename it the "bearpen."
Of course, until David Gl(ASS) opens up the coffers, we'll be meandering in futility for many more years to come. We're being out-spent by the rest of the division at an exponential rate. I can't see how the Royals won't be contracted within the next 5 years.

John said...

1. No team is ever going to be contracted. The union will never stand for it. Every MLB team is another 25 jobs.

2. David Glass opened up the coffers when he hired Dayton Moore. It's not Glass who is blowing the budget on players like Betancourt, Podsednik and Kendall, who even if they play well, won't be around if and when the Royals improve. Glass has forked over the money for Moore to buy these stiffs, and for him to go over slot for many draft picks and prospects. It's not David Glass you need to blame, but Dayton Moore(on).

As for the bullpen, it defies description. Every year, teams do what the Royals have done--assemble a bunch of bullpen arms, go through them in March to see who has something in the tank, and muddle through the season on the cheap, usually getting lucky on a couple of the relievers. It doesn't speak well of the scouting, field management or the front office when the club misjudges pitching this badly.

Keith Jersey said...

Dayton had success early on finding retreads like Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez who turned into quality relievers for the Royals. The problem appears to be that he thought he could do this over and over again, so he traded those two. And now it appears that Nunez and Ramirez might be the exceptions and not the rule. Overall, I agree that a bad team should trade middle relief to contenders for talent. But to trade them away for two guys who played one year here and then were released is not acceptable. To some extent, its the same mistake the Royals made when they traded Damon, Dye and Beltran. By insisting that we get back major league level players, we got other peoples garbage. They should all have been traded for prospects. The Royals under Dayton still don't know how to make trades. See Teahan, Mark. Traded for a starting 2b, which we already had in Callaspo and/or Aviles and a marginal 3b, when we have Gordon at that spot who we desperately need to find out about this year, one way or the other. Again, trading Teahan was the right move, what we got back in return makes no sense.

Chance said...

I totally agree. Two years ago, after GMDM traded away Nunez and R.Ramirez, many experts around town, like Petro and Keitzman, kept saying some version of, "Well, Dayton Moore knows how to build a bullpen, he has shown that..." like he would be able to make chicken salad over and over again. I kept calling in and calling in to express my concern before last season, and I kept getting told that the bullpen is an afterthought, and not to worry. Can I worry now?

JD in KC said...

I've got to get something off my chest and this seems like as good a place to do it as any. As Royals fans we have 2 amazing writers to follow while we patiently await a team that excites us as much.

So...After the blown Greinke game, I seriously seriously began to have doubts regarding my fathering skills. I have a 9 year old who is just an absolutely rabid sports fan (surpassing pops even). I remember vividly talking Royals with him 2 and 3 years ago and we'd check the score of the game... he'd say "well, at least we only lost by 3", or "at least we got 2 runs". It was all very sweet and very innocent and I love how he loves his Royals... I have very much encouraged that, what are we gonna do, root for the Yankees? -I think not.

So these have been our summers... he follows the game on line, listens, writes down their line-ups and plays imaginary games along with them. Only, I'm beginning to see that he's nine now, next year ten and so on... as parents we know how fast time goes. I just sort of realized that he's going to spend his entire boyhood loving and following a team that will do nothing but break his heart.

I'm just wondering if I've steered him wrong. These are the kind of thoughts this bullpen is driving me to.