A Rundown of the Bullpen and a New Stat – SIP

The fearsome bullpen has logged a 2.09 ERA this season, over two runs lower than 2003’s final total of 4.48, 2002’s 4.25, and 2001’s 4.10. This means the bullpen has been better than since before 2001, and better than the starters, for 2004’s overall total is an ERA of 3.15…which means the starters have underachived at a total of 3.76. How is that underachieving? 2003 had a 4.30 starter’s ERA, and 2002 had a 3.53 ERA. Isn’t the rotation a lot better than 2001? You had Pedro, Lowe, and … Burkett? Castillo? Wakefield, Hermanson, Fossum, Oliver, Arrojo (yes, Rolando Arrojo), Sun-Woo Kim, and a spot start by Josh Hancock. This year we have Pedro, Schilling, Lowe, Wakefield, Kim, and Arroyo. If we could log a 3.53 ERA in 2001 with those corps, then we can log a better ERA than 3.76.
Clearly, the bullpen has been a force. The main culprits of this force are Lenny DiNardo, Bronson Arroyo, Mark Malaska, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, Scott Williamson, and Keith Foulke.
DiNardo has tossed seven innings, logging a 3.86 K/9 ratio and a 0.00 ERA with 1 walk, 2 hits, and 3 K’s. DiNardo looks like he will be a Rule 5 pick sticking around, unlike last year when we traded Matt White to Seattle after he taught Boston a lesson in ‘suckitude’ and after we made a horrible error in trading Javier Lopez – something I was very vocal on that was the wrong move. Boy, was it wrong.
Bronson Arroyo has only pitched 2.1 IP in relief, but has not been lighting the park up. Arroyo has four hits, one walk, and three strikeouts en route to a 7.71 ERA as a reliever. Ouch. It gets slightly better with his starting totals, which total 24.1 IP and a 4.44 ERA. While we certainly didn’t expect Arroyo to be lights out, we certainly were hoping for more of a repeat of the 2003 season for Arroyo – a 2.08 ERA in 17.1 IP – in relief – with a WHIP of 0.81. Compare that to this year’s WHIP of 1.27. While Arroyo is in no danger of losing his job, he is in danger of being sent down to AAA or being packaged in a trade if an even better bullpen arm can be acquired should we need one due to injuries or an added one for the stretch run.
Mark Malaska took over for the departed Bobby Jones, and has shined. Malaska was inexplicably put on waivers by the Devil Rays last year, causing consternation to those small D-Ray fans. We have now found out why – a 3.12 ERA in 8.2 IP, with 9 H, 4 BB, and 4 K. His WHIP is 1.50 – but is in less danger of losing his job than Arroyo for two reasons. One is that Malaska is a lefty. Two is that Malaska has looked much more impressive than Arroyo. Malaska should be sticking around for a while. I find it nice that some salary relief has come in form of the bullpen. DiNardo, Arroyo, and Malaska don’t exactly make A-Rod money. Good pickups by Epstein.
Now to get to the really strong section. Mike Timlin, our most dependable reliever last year, has gotten off to a rocky start but has stablized. He’s tossed for a 4.38 ERA in 12.1 innings with 12 strikeouts and 4 walks. He had nine walks total last season – it’s safe to say he will exceed walks, but it is also safe to say Timlin’s ERA will drop and become constant. There is nothing to suggest that Timlin will not be dependable this year – he will be used in the 6th and 7th innings to get that valued groundball out should starters get into jams.
Alan Embree has one pitch. The fastball. After a slightly off year last year, he’s back at it again, with a WHIP of 0.77 and the second most innings pitched by a reliever -14.1 IP with a 2.51 ERA and a K/9 of 9.42. He has fanned 15 and is a valuable late inning reliever for Boston. He is also in line for saves behind Scott Williamson – Embree’s mentality serves him well for the closer’s role. As he once made note of, he admitted to trying to become Boston’s closer last year during Spring Training, which may have led to him overexerting, and injuring himself. That’s in the past, though, and this year Embree is back.
Scott Williamson has thrown 12.2 innings and has shown Boston the same kind of statistics he showed Cincinnatti. A 0.71 ERA and 0.81 WHIP with a K/9 of 9.95 looks very staggering on your resume, and Williamson has shown that should Foulke ever falter or get injured, we will have no qualms about who is our closer. Williamson used to close for the Reds and has one save this season (the rest belonging to Foulke and an additional save to Timlin). Williamson has made no secret as to his desire to try to start. Perhaps, if he resigns with Boston past this season, the brass will be inclined to give him a tryout. Perhaps they will even give him a spot start or two later this season (assuming Arroyo is unavailable) to see if SWilly can help them. Any additional backups to start are always welcomed, especially one of SWilly’s stature in the ‘pen. It might even make the decision to let Pedro/Lowe go that much easier. If Pedro and Lowe do depart, we are left with a rotation of Schilling, Wakefield, Kim, Arroyo, and a vacant spot. That simply won’t do it – Pedro/Lowe need to be resigned (preferably Pedro, please). We can’t have a vacant spot going into 2005 Spring Training. On the off-chance that we do, however, perhaps Williamson can fill that role.
Anyhow, that brings us to the gem of the ‘pen, the foulke-ing man. Yes, Keith Foulke, he of the 17 innings pitched for the Sox, most of anyone in the Sox bullpen. I don’t know about you, but I’m loving that we don’t have a one inning closer that is just brought in to get the easy save – we USE Foulke, and we use him well. I have no doubt this is because Francona is the manager – any other manager would use Foulke in the wrong way. Foulke is an ace reliever first, closer second. Most managers operate on “closer first and always”.
The closer is not there to get saves – he is named the closer because he is your relief ace. Any tight game or tie game in the late innings – your closer should be used. Of course, this is all moot if you’re somebody like Trevor Hoffman who can only really go one inning at a time…but take Billy Wagner for example. In the last two years (not this year), he’s had total IPs of 75.0 and 86.0 (Foulke had 86.0 last year). That is a closer, not someone like Hoffman, who averages innings in the 60’s and 70’s. As far as I am concerned, closers should average 80 to 90 innings. When Derek Lowe was our closer in 2000, he had 91.1 IP. One could argue that the Dodgers are not using Eric Gagne as much as they could. Couldn’t Gagne easily top 100 IP? I think so. Foulke is a perfect six for six in saves. 17 innings, 6 saves. In 2000, Lowe had 42 saves in 91.1 IP. How can Gagne have 55 saves in only 82.1 IP?
To put this in context, let’s invent a new stat, for I’ve not heard of anything like this. Saves per Inning Pitched. SIP can be very misleading if you only use it for middle relievers. For example, Scott Williamson’s SIP would be 0.08 this year. If you use it for closers, it can be a good way to show which closers get easy outs and which are the ace relievers.
The following are 2003 SIPs for some closers in the majors.
Derek Lowe, BOS**: 0.46
Rocky Biddle, MON: 0.47
Keith Foulke, BOS***: 0.50
Billy Wagner, PHI****: 0.51
Mariano Rivera, NYY: 0.57
Jorge Julio, BAL: 0.58
Robb Nen, SF*: 0.58
Trevor Hoffman, SD*: 0.64
Eric Gagne, LA: 0.67
* – statistics from 2002, injured in 2003
** – from 2000, with Boston
*** – with Oakland in 2003
**** – with Houston in 2003

For those of you who don’t understand what I’ve just given you, let’s start with 2000 Derek Lowe and move to Eric Gagne. Lowe had the lowest SIP, which means he pitched in many innings that were non-save situations. Perhaps they were tied, behind a run, or it was not a save situation but they needed Lowe to shut down the opposition. Lowe was the epitome of a relief ace, and so was Rocky Biddle, Montreal’s go-to guy last year. Even though Biddle had a high ERA, he led the relievers in innings pitched.
Then you have Eric Gagne, with an 0.67 SIP. This means that over half of the time he was in, he earned a save. Heck, it’s two-thirds! Two-thirds of the time he was brought in, he recieved a save. Therefore he rarely pitched when the game was tied. How do I know this? If you come into a game and it is tied, you cannot earn a save. You either win, lose, or have a no-decision. He also rarely came in with the team a run or two behind – other relievers were used to do that. Sure, LA had one of the best bullpens last year, but isn’t the closer supposed to be a relief ace? In 2002, Gagne had a 0.63 SIP. The bullpen ERA in 2003 was 2.46, a lot like Boston’s bullpen this year. In 2002, the bullpen ERA was 3.59 … and yet Gagne’s SIP was virtually identical. Gagne is not a relief ace – he is used purely to close.
Keith Foulke’s SIP last year was 0.50, and it is 0.35 this year. Foulke is a relief ace, someone you go to get outs, to keep the team in contention. If we gave Gagne a 2003 SIP of 0.50, as Foulke had last year, than that means Gagne would have pitched a total of 110 IP. That’s more like it.
(PS. If this statistic, SIP, is in use … then please do tell me.)