The Failures of the Rangers Bullpen

During the regular season the Rangers had one of the most effective bullpens in the American League. The relief unit managed a 3.38 ERA, second in the league by a mere 0.05. They also worked more innings than any other team’s bullpen, 503.2 innings. That looked like a major advantage heading into the postseason, but it has ended up as one of the team’s vulnerabilities. In each round the bullpen has cost them games.

ALDS

The bullpen didn’t factor much into the first two games of the series, since the Rangers’ offense staked the team to a lead while its top two pitchers, Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson, absolutely dominated Tampa Bay. Game 3 was a much closer affair, with the Rangers leading 201 heading into the eighth inning. Darren Oliver, who had pitched a scoreless seventh inning, started the frame by striking out Sean Rodriguez. From there it was all downhill.

Dan Johnson started the rally with a double and was singled home a batter later by Carlos Pena. Darren O’Day then came in to strike out one batter before Ron Washington went to his closer, Neftali Feliz, to keep the game tied. He responded by walking the first batter he faced. One more single allowed the Rays to take the lead. Feliz then allowed a home run to lead off the ninth; his replacement, Dustin Nippert, allowed another one to make the score 6-2.

In Game 4 Derek Holland allowed two runs in four innings. Under normal circumstances this might not be bad, but it did allow Tampa Bay to increase the lead from 3-0 to 5-0. Thankfully for the Rangers, Lee made the bullpen a moot point in Game 5.

ALCS

The Rangers’ bullpen melted down just once in the ALCS, but it was their gravest offense of the postseason. It actually started with the starter, Wilson, who allowed the first two runners to reach base in the eighth inning of Game 1. That made the score 5-2. Oliver then entered the game and issued walks to both hitters he faced. Washington had seen enough and went to O’Day, who gave up a two-RBI single to make the score 5-4.

With the lefty Robinson Cano coming up Washington opted for a left hander, despite Cano’s success against left-handed pitching (.368 wOBA on the season, .348 for his career). Cano responded with a game-tying single. That led Washington to make yet another change, this time bringing in Holland to face the lefty-mashing Marcus Thames. Thames broke his bat, but the ball went over the infield and allow the go-ahead run to score.

The Rangers’ WE heading into the inning was 95.9 percent. When Wilson left it was still at 86.5 percent. After Thames’s single it was just 17.9 percent, and at the end of the inning it was 32.5 percent. The bullpen did everything in giving away that game.

World Series

Lee caused the greatest damage in Game 1, allowing seven runs (six earned) in 4.2 innings. But the bullpen put this one away. O’Day started by alllowing a run in relief of Lee. Mark Lowe allowed the death blow, though, by allowing three runs in the eighth inning. The Rangers responded with three of their own in the ninth, but by that point it didn’t matter.

In Game 2 the bullpen implosion was far worse. Wilson, despite a blister issue, managed to keep his team in the game through six innings, allowing just one run. A run in the seventh made that 2-0 Giants, but the Rangers still had a chance. That is, until the eighth inning, when Holland threw 12 of his 13 pitches for balls, resulting in three straight walks. Then, for some reason, with his team down just three runs, Washington again went to Lowe, who didn’t record a single out before letting the game get away. Michael Kirkman finished it off by allowing three more runs on a triple and a double.

Take away one of a team’s strengths and chances are things are going to go wrong for them. The Rangers have suffered because of their bullpen this postseason. While their offense hasn’t been stellar, their starters have for the most part kept them in games. Without that bullpen that pitched so well during the season, they haven’t been able to compensate. And so they will once again need Cliff Lee to eat as many innings as possible. And once he’s out, it’s time Washington handed the ball to Feliz.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Zach
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Zach
5 years 9 months ago

Ron Washington has used Neftali Feliz for a grand total of 6.3 innings in October (includes regular season). Prior to October, Feliz’s lowest IP total for a month was 10 (June). For contrast, Terry Francona used Keith Foulke for 14 innings during the 2004 playoffs. Just terrible mismanagement.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 9 months ago

Ron Washington has used Neftali Feliz for a grand total of 6.3 innings in October (includes regular season). Prior to October, Feliz’s lowest IP total for a month was 10 (June). For contrast, Terry Francona used Keith Foulke for 14 innings during the 2004 playoffs. Just terrible mismanagement.

Thisis the critical crap that really bothers me. When i see statements like this I know that there has to be more to the issue than what’s being presented. But, it goes unstated because piling on Ron Washington seems to the thing recently, and well anyone can make themselves look good by doing so.

However, Boston and Texas have found themselves in completely different situations.

Foulke pitched in 10 games in 2004 playoffs. 8 of those games were “close” (within 3 runs). Only 3 times did he pitch as the reliver in the highest relief leverage situation.

Francona did NOT manage the BP any differently than ev3ery other manager does/did. The Red Sox simply played in a lot of close playoff games (including extra inning games), and Foulke was used to close out all of the close games, with Embree and Timlin usually pitching in the highest leverage situations.

Here they are for the record (and why you look at game logs, just looking at IP tells you little … which can be dangerous).

10/6 — W (8-3), 1.1 IP, lowesr lPI of relivers (Myers, Timlin)
10/8 — W (8-6 10 Inn), 1.2 IP, 1st in pLI
10/12 — L (10-7), 0.1 IP, 2nd in relief pLI (Timlin)
10/17 — W (6-4, 12) 2.2 IP, 4th in relief pLI (Myers, Leskanic, Embree)
10/18 — W (5-4, 14) 1.1 IP, 3rd in pLI (Embree, Myers)
10/19 — W (4-2), 1.0 IP, 1st in pLI
10/23 — W (11-9) 1.2 IP, 1st in pLI
10/24 — W (6-2), 1.1 IP 3rd in relief pLI
10/26 — W (4-1), 1.0 IP, 2nd in rel PLI (Timlin)
10/27 — W (3-0), 1.0 IP, 2nd in rel pLI (Embree).

Basically the only time Foulke pitched in the most important situation was protecting a late lead … in the traditional closer’s role.

Wow.

I think I’ve used pLI in the right way in this post … and in this situation it shows nothing special other than a lot of close games. LOTS of relievers were used and LOTS of guys pitched in high pLI situations.

Zach
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Zach
5 years 9 months ago

Looking at the list you just made, it’s easy to see that Francona was willing to use Foulke in non-traditional situations (tie games, long saves, etc.): 10/6, 10/8, 10/17, 10/18, 10/23, 10/24.

Of course the situations are different, so it’s not a perfect comparison.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 9 months ago

There were also extra inning games,elimination games, etc.

BOS was in a very unique, and laborsome, playoff run that year. A lot of their relievers racked up innings and appeared in high pLI situations. Foulke, Embree, Myers, and Timlin were all in some very high pLI situations.

Foulke was used to close out the games most often.

cardhorn
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cardhorn
5 years 9 months ago

Frankie Francisco’s injury has been tough to overcome. He had a rough first month so his overall stats in 2010 weren’t all that impressive, but he was dominant for a good part of the year in his 8th inning role. Really would be nice to have him right now.

this guy
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this guy
5 years 9 months ago

Losing Ogando is brutal. If we were biased the other way (ie not trying to shit on every single thing Washington does), we could say that Ogando’s injury validates Washington’s preservation of the pen.

He’s trying not to give the Giants hitters the opportunity to get overly familiar with his top guys in losing spots. It hasn’t cost them anything, and all arguments against his logic are purely theoretical at this point.

He won a stacked AL with a $56 million team. The man deserves a lot of credit. Of course, if all it takes to create the narrative you want is to misinterpret tiny samples, who am I to expect that the sheep could be objective enough to fight the temptation.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 9 months ago

How come everyone in charge is a complete idiot. CEO, POTUS, manager, commissioner, etc?

I mean really, the only people that know anything in this world are the everyday folks.

Weird how it works like that, huh?

When you start with the premise that managers basically make bad decisions all the time, it’s easy to use them as a stepladder.

Until baseball changes and managers use their best pitcher in the 7th, rather than the 9th, managers will be using their relievers incorrectly.

Of course, once that change occurs and then teams start losing leads in the 9th because their 3rd best reliever is pitching then … then the data will show that a better pitcher is needed to pitch the 9th, because that’s where the highest pLI is.

The data is what it is now because the top relievers stopped pitching 2-3 innings a game.

The real point is that to win a lot of games, the total bullpen needs to be pretty darn good. Using your reliever in the 7th at the highest pLI for that specific game up to that specific moment, doesn’t mean that there will not be a higher pLI later in the game, where the *best* reliever should be used.

See, if managers could just know ahead of time which situation in the game was going to be the highest pLI, then they could use their best pitcher in that situation and be as smart as us.

Of course, the media will critisize both sides, as will we.

this guy
Guest
this guy
5 years 9 months ago

“Sabers” are guilty of many of the biases they argue against when it suits them. This site is no different. In a purely self serving society, we believe what is most convenient.

The sheeple are a product of their environment. They are never taught to think. Who are we to hold them accountable?

the mini gut
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the mini gut
5 years 9 months ago

He won a far from stacked AL West, too. A monkey could have done that. Doesn’t stop him from being a clown.

chuckb
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chuckb
5 years 9 months ago

I was surprised that Washington last night went to Ogando so early, in the 5th, rather than saving him for a higher leverage situation. I expected him to go to Holland after Hunter, particularly with the top of the order — the switch-hitting Torres and Huff — due up. That he didn’t tells me that he’s lost a lot of faith in Holland based on a couple of notable implosions this postseason, not least of which was throwing 12 balls out of 13 pitches in game 2. Now with Ogando’s injury, that leaves Washington further short-handed should they make it back to SF for game 6.

The battle of the pens is likely to be won by the Giants in the next 3. Aside from the Rangers’ aforementioned problems, expect Bumgarner to make an appearance in game 6, if needed, and Lincecum if needed in game 7. The Rangers aren’t going to want to bring back Hunter for help in game 6 if Lee can get them that far.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 9 months ago

“Battle of the Pens?”

SF has a bullpen?

SF should win the battle of the pens, all they’ve basically had to do is finish off easily won games. They aren’t being asked to save the game in the 5th or 6th inning, and then do it again the next inning, and then the next.

SF’s bullpen gets to enjoy the best seats in the house … and do slightly more work than the average fan.

tarlinian
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tarlinian
5 years 9 months ago

Obviously, beware SSS, but you did watch the NLCS clincher, right? 7 innings of shutout ball from a bullpen is one of the best bullpen performances I’ve ever seen.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 9 months ago

The two teams’ bullpens have definitely been on opposite spectrums of performance.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 9 months ago

The thing about using your best reliever in the highest leverage situation …..

[1] We know what that is AFTER the game, the manager does not. It’s easy to say that a manager should have brought in their relief ace in the 7th with 2-on and 1-out with a 1-run lead. It’s no so easy to foresee a similar situation in the following inning, with even a higher leverage.

[2] If you have to choose, losing the lead in the 7th is better than losing the lead in the 9th.

So, in a close game, managers will hold their relief ace for the last inning. It’s not always “just because”, but also because there’s little time to comeback from a blown lead in the 9th … at least compared to the 7th.

Also, using your relief ace in the 7th or 8th in a close game means that your 2nd or 3rd or 4th best reliever will be on the mound in the 9th, possibly in the same, or greater leverage situations, only now there’s no room for error.

So, basically, your team can lose in the 7th or lose in the 9th IF your bullpen does not do their job.

It’s easy to be really smart after the game when all you have to do is look at the box score and see when the manager should have used the relief ace. It’s not so easy during the game to recognize the highest LI situation AND to know that a greater scenario won’t follow later in the game.

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