Closer Usage in the AL East

A few weeks ago I toyed around with a metric for comparing bullpen usage between teams. In that same post I highlighted a couple of relievers by plotting their pLI by appearance. Jeff Zimmerman took those second set of graphs and created a within-team usage comparison pair of charts (with some input from Tango) at Royal’s Review. Since then I’ve been pondering ways to quickly and graphically compare usage between teams. For a first attempt I narrowed the scope to just closer usage. My methodology was to bin each gmLI into one of four bins as specified by the below table

I then simply counted up the instances in each bin and charted the results. Here is the graph for the AL East, first with just raw totals


And then broken down by percentage

At first glance it looks like Mariano Rivera’s usage isn’t being optimized; however, these charts lack a team context. They don’t capture “attempts” or “chances”. I offer the following chart that takes the max reliever gmLI for each team game played and bins them in the same bins. I think ideally a chart that somehow combines these charts would tell the best story. Note, this chart is a little dated as this article has been in the works for awhile. It portrays the point though still.

Taking all of the charts in, it appears that Papelbon has been “wasted” the least in low leverage situations, while the rest have all spent a decent (30-50%) amount of time in either low or medium leverage situations.

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Steve's ramblings about baseball can also be found at Beyond the Box Score and Play a Hard Nine or you can follow him on Twitter

9 Responses to “Closer Usage in the AL East”

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  1. Brian Noonan says:

    Like the idea…any chance of clearing up these graphs? I can barely read them they are so blurry.

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  2. John C says:

    Nice article, I think it could open a series of articles as far as closer usage goes.

    For instance, most of the time, arent these closers being brought in the general “closer” frame: 9th inning, winning by between 1-3 runs. Not sure what the exact leverage is for those 3 scenarios, but it could be interesting to see 2 things:

    1) How often these “usual” scenarios happen by closer (by % of total appearances)

    2) When are they being brought in for the other cases, what those leverages are. (low leverage mop-ups, 8th innings with people on base, top of the inning tied ect.)

    Other than overuseage, we have to assume these guys are being brought in mostly in the general frame, but it could be interested to see league-wide when else closers are being brought in otherwise.

    For instance, it looks like to me (I could be wrong) that Cox brings in Wagner (and closers of past) in more low-leverage scenarios than most managers. Of course, without the numbers, I can’t say for sure.

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  3. Chris says:

    Gregg’s usage as a closer is a little misrepresented because he didn’t start the season in that role. He only assumed it after Jason Frasor got off to an awful start.

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  4. don says:

    How is gmLI calculated?

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  5. Joe R says:

    Good job of managing by Francona…sort of.

    Too bad the Red Sox are pot committed into an inferior option as a closer. Though I wouldn’t bet the house on Papelbon opening 2011 as the Red Sox closer anyway.

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  6. Chris says:

    In the first graph, what is unit of the y-axis? Innings or Appearances?

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  7. brendan says:

    closers sometimes come in to ‘get work in’ when there have been no save opps for a few days. that could cloud the picture here, as it would appear as ‘waste’.

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    • Steve Sommer says:

      Agreed. Ultimately that would either need to be accounted for, or at have those potentially called out differently. Or just ignore some minimum threshold of low leverage appearances

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