The Forgotten Horrible Bullpen

The Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen was historically bad in 2010. In 439 innings, they allowed 307 runs to score, 280 of which were earned. That comes out to a 5.74 ERA, over a full run more than the next worst team (the Cubs, 4.72). On top of that, the Diamondbacks also allowed 78 of 189 inherited runners to score, a 41% mark which ties the Dodgers for the worst in the Majors. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the Diamondbacks’ -8.37 WPA is nearly three wins lower than second worst and the worst WPA for any team since the 1999 Kansas City Royals, a team which featured such stalwarts as Tim Byrdak, Scott Service, and Jeff Montgomery.

The pure, unadulterated incompetence of this past year’s Diamondbacks team has allowed another bullpen to go under the radar. The Seattle Mariners bullpen put up a paltry -5.51 WPA, a number that would typically be in a dogfight for worst in the league. Mariner relievers were also the only other team unit to go below replacement level in 2010, with the run suppressing effects of Safeco Field masking just how poor they pitched, keeping their ERA at a merely mediocre 4.23.

What is most remarkable about Seattle’s bullpen struggles is how it required a vastly superior clutch performance to reach a WPA mark that typifies the worst bullpen teams in the league. The Mariners ranked fourth in clutch, as measured here by WPA/pLI – WPA/LI, only behind the Rays, Cubs, and Royals. Without that clutch factor, the Mariners posted an unbelievably horrible -9.13 WPA/LI over four wins worse than the Diamondbacks and worse than any team in the millennium, and even worse than those aforementioned 1999 Royals.

Mostly thanks to the total ineptitude of the Mariners’ offense, Seattle relievers entered the least high-leverage situations in the American League, at 134. They also have by far the least relief appearances in the Majors. Due to the fact that, by and large, these relievers were entering in unimportant situations, the Mariners weren’t quick with their hooks at all. Seattle saw the fewest outings of fewer than three outs in the whole league and were near the bottom in percentage of appearances lasting less than a full inning (20% vs. 29% average). It appears that the willingness of the Mariners to leave their relievers in once they entered – particularly in low-leverage situations – was a major factor for why their leverage-neutral results appear so much worse than their actual results.

Take Chris Seddon, for instance. He appeared in 14 games (22.1 IP) and pitched like a minor leaguer, with a 5.64 ERA and a 5.32 FIP. Despite allowing tons of runs, Seddon recorded one of the few above-average WPAs on the team, at +0.11, which is because most of the beating that Seddon took – 1 IP, 2 ER against CLE, .2 IP, 3 ER against NYY, and 1 IP, 3 ER against TB – all came with pLIs below 0.14 and even with one as low as 0.00. Those appearances account for 57% of Seddon’s earned runs but only added up to -.032 WPA . In his only four games facing a pLI above 0.5, Seddon faced 20 hitters and only two of them reached base as he compiled a +.199 WPA in those situations.

It’s hard to blame Seattle for having long leashes as they trotted out multiple awful bullpen arms over the course of a long season. In high leverage situations, they could turn to David Aardsma and Brandon League – two talented pitchers who had at least respectable seasons in 2010. In low leverage situations, though, the Mariners were scraping the bottom of the barrel. The Mariners weren’t as historically bad as the Diamondbacks, partially because they didn’t give up as many runs and partly because they picked their spots better. But just looking at the performance of the bullpen as a whole, without regard for leverage, the 2010 Mariners were easily the worst bullpen of recent memory and possibly the worst in history.

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20 Responses to “The Forgotten Horrible Bullpen”

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  1. Telo says:

    Yes, but if they had Cliff Lee in the postseason, then they wouldn’t need a bullpen now would they? He would just pitch every pitch of every game. In other words: genius allocation of resources by the front office.

    #6org for life.

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  2. Harrison says:

    I never want to be reminded that Chris Seddon, Jamey Wright, Sean White or Brian Sweeney pitched any extended amount of time for the Mariners again. It was brutal enough to watch let alone be reminded how poorly they performed.

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    • Choo says:

      Enduring a 162-game procession of combustible relievers pitching from a funeral pyre is a rite of passage for any young Mariners fan. The soul is worn thin during the summer, rejuvenated in the spring, and the result is a spiritual enlightenment which connects them to their forefathers. Saints like Bob Wells, Paul Spoljaric, Jim Converse, Roger Salkeld, John Cummings, Rich DeLucia and Frankie Rodriguez are eternal flames igniting the hearts of many, but until 2010, an entire generation of young Mariners fans had been neglected. Mercifully, that has come to pass. We are whole once again. Viva la M’s!

      Also, for a 36-year old reliever who needlessly consumed innings and would probably need a 100 tries to strikeout a blindfolded Mark Reynolds, Brian Sweeney wasn’t that bad.

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      • Harrison says:

        I hold special contemept for Paul Spoljaric being that he was only brought on board in exchange for Jose Cruz Jr…. Lord .. Wood Woodward blows/blew(?).

        The sad thing about those names is that those were the good days.

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  3. Dan Greer says:

    I am disappointed that AZ didn’t let Adam LaRoche pitch some. It’s not like he could have really been demonstrably worse than the dreck they ran out there.

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  4. exxrox says:

    “He appeared in 14 games (22.1 IP) and pitched like a minor leaguer, with a 5.64 ERA and a 5.32 WHIP.” sure about that?

    how much could I demand to become an editor for this site, anyway?

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    • John says:

      He meant FIP. Not even a big deal at all. Good job trying to turn it into one.

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    • Jason B says:

      “how much could I demand” for you to not sound so douche-y?

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      • exxrox says:

        Actually I thought that the typo was a 5 instead of a 1 and took it to read as a “1.32 WHIP”…not a big deal, sure, but it’s a confusion regardless. Gone, I guess, are the days of quality control in business.

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      • nmh says:

        exxroxx is right. He should get a full refund of all the money he spent to subscribe here. oh, wait…

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      • Dustin says:

        nmh, I think your logic is flawed, in that this site is a respected source of news for baseball enthusiasts, which means this article could be used as a reference by outside groups. Spreading incorrect information is never a good idea because you never know how it’s going to be used.

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  5. Zach says:

    Yeah! People forget what a great minor league pitching prospects Adam LaRoche was, but check out these numbers (unadjusted, mind you): 10.8 K/9, with a 0.81 FIP. Dude was worthy.

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  6. Barry Johnson says:

    “without regard for leverage”? Isn’t a bullpen performance ALL about leverage? So, except for the most important factor in measuring bullpens, the Mariners were the worst. And not just worst, “easily” the worst, and not just last season, in “history.” At the same time, the bullpen was well-managed? Apparently.

    All you are saying is that the Mariners had a lot of minor league arms in their pen last year and their results were predictable. Awful. They also had a couple of good high leverage guys (not great, good), and by employing them in the most important situations, which didn’t come along that often because of how feeble the Mariner bats were, the Mariners pen managed to be above-average when it mattered. Which is interesting, if not “historically” interesting.

    Beware of articles based on “except for”…

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    • don says:

      They weren’t really above average when it mattered. They were above [i]their[/i] average when it mattered, which is a sign of good management, but because their baseline was so low that only elevated them to 29th in the majors.

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  7. sleepingcobra says:

    You know it’s starting to dawn on me that almost every single article here has some angry/sarcastic commenter who presents a counterpoint at the end of which, usually presented as some flippant literary rim-shot, decries that fangraphs is some corrupt analytical institution that really needs to get their act together and/or that fangraphs journalistic standards are in the gutter.

    I thought I’d just take the time to quickly point out that I, for one, think the aggregate baseball knowledge and analysis here is outstanding.

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  8. DIVISION says:

    I suppose it depends on your perspective what “the worst bullpen in recent memory” is, but based on the stats it’s not even close.

    Zona’s bullpen was the worst by a wide margin, regardless of what metric you choose. High leverage, low leverage……..

    Arizona had the only “balk-off” loss this year………..

    That should never happen……..ever.

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  9. pft says:

    The Red Sox bullpen had a -4.2 WPA if you exclude Papelbon and Bard.

    The Mariners sticking with they had with that awful offense made sense. Red Sox bullpen was 3.8-5.2 WAR (FG-BRef) below 2009, despite a 170 million dollar payroll and within reach of the WC till the end.

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  10. RPS says:

    I just now, for the first time, realized that Scott Service and Scott Servais are, infact, different people.

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  11. Blue says:

    Why the hate for Montgomery? He was a really solid guy for years.

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