We all know the bullpen is horrible. They’ve been the worst in the league this year in most every measurable statistic, until recently being over taken for the honor of worst ERA by the Oakland A’s bullpen. Their horrible season, combined with about two weeks worth of blown leads and dingers, has led to me ask a lot of stupid questions, like, “is this bullpen historically bad,” and, “what if we replaced the bullpen with seven 2012 Chad Durbins?” Well, 2012 Chad Durbin had a 4.78 FIP, which is somehow worse than the 4.44 mark the Braves have put up this year. As for whether they’re historically bad, well, I was disappointed there, too.
I started combing through the leader boards to see if this might be one of the worst bullpens of all time by either ERA or FIP. Turns out, it’s not even particularly bad when the scope is narrowed to the last 15 seasons (The Devil Rays, Orioles, and large swaths of the NL Central and West didn’t believe in bullpens in the early aughts). Since the 2000 season, the ’15 Braves have the 41st worst (out of 480 team seasons) ERA, but only the 102nd worst FIP, placing them just outside the bottom 20th percentile. Still pretty terrible, but they haven’t been one of the worst of the Fangraphs era, as I had suspected, and they definitely haven’t been one of the worst of all time. Furthermore, as I looked through the ‘pen, it was really hard for me to pin down how exactly we were so bad at first glance.
The Braves have carried 7 relievers for most of the year. Depending on what your standards are, five or six of these guys haven’t pitched terribly:
Of the six guys who’ve accumulated the most ‘pen innings, five of them have FIP’s right at or below league average. Even much maligned former bullpen ace Cody Martin has only been 16% worse than average, which is perfectly fine for the 6th guy out of the ‘pen, and he’s also caught some bad BABiP luck. Speaking of BABiP luck, I wasn’t expecting Trevor Cahill to be sporting an FIP below 40 or so, but there he is, 4 percent better than average, limiting walks and homers, while his ERA suffers under the weight of a .400 BABiP against and a sub-60% LOB%. But if these guys are so…I wouldn’t call them good…but I guess…not bad…why is the bullpen as a whole struggling so much? Really, really glad you asked.
Woooo, buddy. What you have there is a dumpster fire. The rotating cast of characters that has comprised the 6th and 7th guys out of the ‘pen has thrown 21% of the bullpen innings and allowed 27% of the runs. For starters, in terms of deployment, it’s pretty nuts that the guys who can barely hold down a roster spot would have accumulated a fifth of the teams bullpen innings. Even assuming equal talent, simply dividing the innings equally would suggest they’d throw 14-15%, but given that they are, collectively, the last man out of the bullpen, and they’re being deployed far too much for how bad they are. Furthermore, despite a 6.31 ERA, this group has outperformed their FIP.
So as the front office moves forward and looks for ways to improve this ‘pen, the solution seems to be fairly straight forward. While the likes of Grilli, Johnson, and Avilan pale in comparison to the days of Kimbrel, Venters, O’Flaherty, and their sub 2.00 FIP’s, they’ve been perfectly serviceable, especially for a bad team. No, what the Braves need is to continue the roster churn on the back end or scour the waiver wire for an arm that can simply be fringe average. All told, the majority of the ‘pen has been fine, and the potentially-historically-awful stench that’s coming from these guys is mostly due to 36 innings of burning garbage. In a world full of David Aardsma’s and Dana Eveland’s, trading assets for a marginal bullpen arm is just not worth the cost, and if the bullpen stays as is, maybe we only win 69 games instead of 75.