Fernando Rodney has three saves and a win so far this season. Fernando Rodney has gotten eight outs so far this season. As strange as it may first seem for a late-inning reliever to have four decisions with so few batters faced, it’s business as usual in Tampa Bay. Here’s a box score that is fairly typical for the Rays:
It certainly appears that the Rays are micro-managing their bullpen. Perhaps the aim is to gain the platoon advantage in as many situations as possible — teams do that all the time. But which ones are doing it most often?
Let’s take a look at the teams put their pitchers in lefty-lefty and righty-righty situations the most times in 2011. This should help us figure out which teams pushed for the platoon advantage most often.
|Team||LHPvLHB PA||Team||RHPvRHB PA||Team||Combined Rank|
Tampa Bay shows up in the top third for lefty-lefty situations, and exactly half-way when it comes to righty-righty. That may not seem like a team fighting hard to find these situations, but look at the combined rank. Since the teams mostly show up on the leaderboard for one platoon advantage, but not the other, Tampa ends up near the top of the combined rankings. The other teams atop the combined leaderboard are largely unsurprising.
Tony La Russa’s legendary bullpen micro-management in St. Louis was the subject of more than one good article on the subject. This leaderboard seems to pass the sniff test. Then again, the White Sox have long had an excellent bullpen full of hard-throwing lefties and righties. Until this season, the team also had an unconventional manager who even platooned his closer role on occasion. They only show up half-way up the leaderboard.
This analysis is not yet complete. These matchups are subject to the vagaries of each team’s starting rotation. Starters take up more than half of these plate appearances, and they aren’t as fungible as relievers. If you have two lefties in your rotation — as the Rays do now — you’ll come out ahead on these charts.
Is there another way to focus in on this? What about total batters faced by relief appearance? The lower the number, the fewer batters each reliever sees. This would point to a team looking to push the envelope and find the best matchups for their relievers.
|Team||Relief TBF||TBF/Relief G|
Look at that. The Rays come out ahead once again; they know exactly which batters they want their relievers to face, and they pull their relievers quickly.
But there are still some starting pitching effects. As you can see, the Rays got so many innings from their starters that they faced roughly 200 fewer batters than the teams that used their relievers the second-least. That sort of workhorse production from your starters makes it easier to mix-and-match your relievers. In a way, the Mets and Rockies have worked harder to get their relievers in the perfect matchups, considering that they counted among the league leaders in overall relief appearances.
We’re still not done. Baltimore — at the bottom — encapsulates two problems with this approach. Their starters were not very good, so their relievers were forced into the most innings. Also, as a poorer team, they may not have had the resources to spend on LOOGYs. The Giants have two relief-only lefties making more than $5 million each. The Orioles had Pedro Viola, Clay Rapada and Troy Patton making the minimum after Mike Gonzalez left town.
Then again, the Rays only paid their lefty relievers a bit more than $2 million combined last year and still managed to come out on the top of both lists. Their platooning may also not stop at lefty-righty, as I posited in 2011: they may not only look for the correct matchups based on handedness, but also based on pitcher strengths and batter strengths. In any case, it certainly appears that -— more than any other team in baseball —- the Rays succeed in taking the platoon advantage.
Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman for some of the numbers in this piece.