5-9-2011: The rebuilt bullpen, a work in progress

After one month, it seems that everything about the sub-.500 Red Sox is unsatisfactory. I read this article the other day impugning our new bullpen, and I’ll admit there have been some really bad moments, but has it really been that bad?

As a group, the bullpen has an ERA of 4.89 thus far, which ranks as the 4th-worst bullpen in the AL and 6th-worst figure in all of baseball. But if you take a closer look at the figures, they have not pitched that badly. Rather, their 7.37 K/9 and 0.86 HR/9 rank solidly in the middle, and they’ve walked very few batters at 3.17 BB/9. This translates into a much better 3.74 FIP and 3.78 xFIP (corrected for HR luck), which puts them right in the middle of the pack. Considering that they pitch in the uber-talented AL East, I’d say that’s not a bad performance at all. I’d be happy to get that kind of performance from them for the year.

One glaring weakness has been their inability to prevent runners from scoring, as shown by their 64.6 LOB%, fourth-worst in MLB behind the White Sox, Astros, and Mariners. You could chalk a lot of that up to bad luck, but whatever the reason, once guys get on base, they tend to score more often against the Sox than other teams.

But has the bullpen been costing the Red Sox games? One stat we can look at to help us answer this question is win probability added (WPA), which looks at the sequence of events that occurs and determines how a player helps or hurts his team’s chances to win, from when he comes into the game until he leaves it. The Sox bullpen has posted an overall WPA of +0.25, slightly below average and right behind the Rays at +0.26 WPA. That means if you were to add up all the contributions of the bullpen, they’ve kept things pretty status quo, and haven’t been losing a lot more games than they’ve helped to win.

Individually, WPA shows our most effective relievers have been Jonathan Papelbon (+0.85), Matt Albers(+0.69) and Daniel Bard (+0.33). The laggards have been Bobby Jenks (-0.82), Daisuke Matsuzaka (-0.40) and Dan Wheeler (-0.32). Dice-K managed to blow the game in his one relief appearance, so that’s why his number’s so bad. It’s a problem that our two big free agent additions have been the worst arms out of our bullpen, but Bard and Albers have been picking up the slack thus far. We found out this week that Jenks has been pitching with bad mechanics, and he’s landed himself on the DL, along with Wheeler. I was quite pleased by the performances of Scott Atchison, Rich Hill and Alfredo Aceves in their absence, which shows the great depth Theo Epstein built up this winter. If Jenks and/or Wheeler can get themselves right, this bullpen goes from being mediocre to excellent pretty quickly.


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