Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Giants Confounding Bullpen Utilization


The Giants have a very good bullpen but so far this season, Bruce Bochy has taken an interesting approach to deploying it. Interesting may be a kind word because in reality, it's downright maddening and in the long run, it could cost this team wins with the number of close games that this team plays.

In a perfect world, you would use your best relief pitcher in the most important spot, your second best reliever in the second most important spot, and so on. This is a difficult task because you don't have perfect information and the future is unknown and you can't know for sure what the importance of latter events will be.

The strategy that managers have developed over time is there are roles for their pitchers. The relief ace is the closer who pitches the ninth inning of close games (or comes in for the last couple outs of the eighth inning) and then in descending order of talent, every other pitcher has his inning. There are some exceptions with specialist pitchers that excel at getting out lefties that face just a batter or two or a long reliever who is their to eat innings for a struggling starter.

For the most part, this system works. Leverage increases (here is the leverage table) as the end of the game nears so the best pitcher pitch in the highest leverage spots but there are certain times that this is not the case and a team employing the normal strategy would have a suboptimal pitcher pitching in a very important time in the game.

Here is the list of the Giants relievers and the average leverage when they entered the game along with the ZIPS projections for ERA+, FIP, and k/9:

Name
gmLI
Rank
ERA+
FIP
K/9
1.88
7.3
101
3.88
6.98
1.84
1.7
146
2.69
11.02
1.05
6.0
102
4.05
8.77
0.78
1.3
148
2.48
10.31
0.74
4.3
118
3.54
7.21
0.63
3.7
118
3.78
8.26
0.6
6.7
108
3.86
6.02
0.49
5.0
111
3.79
8.06

The first thing that jumps out at you (or should jump out at you) is that Guillermo Mota and Dan Runzler so far this early season have entered the game in some of the most crucial spots for the Giants while being arguably the worst pitchers in the bullpen. (Side note: Mota and Runzler are still good pitchers as you can see from their numbers, but they are not as good as the other guys in the Giants bullpen.)

If Bochy optimized his bullpen better, Mota and Runzler would be down at the bottom, with more of their opportunities going to Ramirez and Affeldt. These guys have been utilized as the first to come in to replace a struggling pitcher who is in a jam and that really shouldn't be the case if Bochy wants to maximize the Giants chances of winning games.

I can understand Bochy wanting to save Wilson and Romo for the eighth and ninth innings because of uncertainty of what's to come, but I think that he can do a much better job of using his second-tier guys in those early crucial situations to get a better pitcher to get out of jams.

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