More About Bullpens

Hot on the heels of this week’s New York magazine appearance discussing the Baseball Prospectus “Secret Sauce,” I’m quoted in this week’s Philadelphia CityPaper regarding the Phillies’ bullpen:

Last October, the Phillies weren’t the only World Series competitor with the best bullpen in their league — the Rays’ pen paced the AL.

That’s not a coincidence.

In today’s game, filthy with one-out specialists, one-inning closers and six-inning aces, bullpens matter. Jay Jaffe, one of the authors of Baseball Prospectus, explains that not only do good bullpens improve teams beyond the numbers (he equates a good bullpen to clutch hitting) but they matter more in the post season. “There is,” he says, “a significant correlation between having an elite closer and having postseason success.” It makes sense. Throughout the regular season last year, Lidge pitched about an inning every three games. In the playoffs, that jumped to two out of three. Pitching like he did in 2008, that gave the Phils a huge lift. Pitching like he has in 2009 would drag them down.

Back in April, I spoke to the article’s author, James Beale, about the Phillies’ chances of repeating, particularly as it pertained to the pitching staff:

Speaking of dangerous trends, the Phillies’ bullpen is also unlikely to have the type of season it pulled together in 2008. Behind closer Brad Lidge and his perfect 48-48 in save opportunities, the Phillies not only won every game they were leading after eight innings, but were also ranked by BP as having statistically the best bullpen in baseball. Part of that was skill, but a bigger part was good timing. Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin and Clay Condrey, the Phillies’ first five arms out of the bullpen, all had ERAs well below their career averages. Out of the group, Madson (3.94 to 3.05) was the only one within a full run of his career mark. Regression is likely. “Historically,” Jaffe warns, “relievers just haven’t held up.”

Ahem. Lidge has blown nine saves in 34 attempts and is carrying a 7.33 ERA while ranking as the worst reliever in baseball.

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