Monday, February 13, 2017

Your 2017 Giants: Relief in the Bullpen

Hopefully quick blog post, especially since some liked this format before.  I read about how the Giants were taking a chance with our bullpen, as among the relievers expected to make the team (Kontos, Law, Okert, Osich, Smith, Strickland; not sure why Guerrin was left off, was that a hint?), there were a lot of blown saves among them, 14 in total.

ogc thoughts

But to me, that's not the right way to be evaluating a bullpen.  For one, we have no context how other bulllpens have done.  For another, more importantly, these relievers don't normally get to save a game, but often get blown saves in the process of trying to hand off the lead to the next reliever.  It would be better to include their Holds into the equation.

Whether including Guerrin or not, this group of relievers had a 84% HLD/SAVE percentage when you add up the relievers holds, saves, and blown saves together (there are a few more save situations that these guys got into, but for some reason did not get a hold, save, or blown save, and I would guess they are situations where they did not do enough to get a hold; unfortunately, while Baseball Reference keeps track of this, they don't provide an easy way to compare teams, while Fangraphs does provide an easy way, but don't track total save situations, at least in their table).  And that is not good compared to other teams overall percentage, they just missed being the in the bottom third overall, per the data in Fangraphs.

When you include Melancon's performance for 2016, that ups the percentage to 87%, which put them just missing the top third, so that is a large jump in improvement.  Casilla with this group would have dropped the team further, down to 83%, which means that he did worse than this group as a whole.  Of course, there will be others probably in the bullpen, which could push the number down towards the middle of the pack again.

The problem with the above is, of course, their performance in 2016 is not necessarily their performance in 2017.  Okert, for one, was not used much, and Smith wasn't here the full season either, and neither was Osich, who missed a part of the season first with his DL, then I think he was in the minors for some extended rehab time (I think they were stashing him, as he had 9 games down there; he was also having some issues, so they may have kept him there longer to work on something) as well.  And Smith had a stellar 92% percentage rate for us (he wasn't as good with the Brewers, so perhaps Bochy figured out how to use him in order to be more effective).  I could extrapolate, but that won't be fair to Okert, who was only 2 out of 3, and 11 of 12 for Smith is probably too high.  And who knows with Osich, but he was really good in 2015, injury definitely had an effect on his poor 2016 numbers.

Another way to look at it is to examine their overall ERA.  In 2016, the six had an ERA of 2.99 together, with Guerrin, it was 3.21.  That's pretty good, and that's why I've been happy about the bullpen situation this off-season.  But looking at the overall Save/Hold situation, I can see some concern over our current situation, but that's the problem I've noticed about complaints about the Giants:  if they chose to go with young players, the complaints are that they are not experienced/accomplished enough; if they chose to go with veterans, the complaints are that Bochy don't give young players a chance and/or that they are spending too much for a fungible commodity.

I think that the young guys will get better with experience.   I think Bochy has been an acknowledged master of managing the bullpen, and the reason roles were not as defined in 2016 was because of a combination of two factors:  old guys having problems, while young guys are inexperienced, so Bochy needed time to figure out how to use them.  And they are connected, because the old guys having problems (Lopez ineffective, Romo on the DL, Casilla up and down in effectiveness) means that Bochy had to use the young guys in different situations, and could not always afford to give them set roles, as it depended on the mix of older players who may or may not be used by Bochy in their usual roles.

The complaints should go down now that we have Melancon, and the setup roles seem to be set with Smith, Strickland, Guerrin, and perhaps Kontos as well, we'll see.  But flux in their performance could affect Bochy's usage pattern again.  Plus, he really seems to like Law a lot, so he could win a set-up role from the get go, but if not, he could push upward into the set-up situations.  And as much as I love Osich, Okert has been more accomplished in the minors, and he could also end up with significant appearances.  In any case, I think having a steady arm like Melancon in the closer position helps settles down most of the issues/complaints.

So what do you think is the best way to evaluate how our bullpen looks like?   And how do you feel about the bullpen?


  1. I think it is key to use the pen wisely. Bochy put Casilla in several situations that were unwise. He refused to accept the fact that Lamb completely owns Casilla and kept putting in Casilla against Lamb, and Lamb just clobbered the ball off of him. Romo was phenomenal vs. righties, and yes at times could get lefties out too, but to maximize his effectiveness, his numbers would have been a lot better if he were used more as a Roogy. It would be nice to have the Javy Lopez of several years ago who always was able to get out the tough lefty, but last year he lost control and when he wasn't giving up a key walk, he was making his pitches too fat. I am in line that most of the time, having a really good closer helps the entire bullpen situation. I am hoping that the giants will have more wins this year if they can stay relatively healthy, even if the entire division gets more difficult and the Dodgers are still highly favored by the odds makers.

    1. Yes, using the pen wisely is a key. Tom Tippett showed us long ago that having a good bullpen was now a key to winning in the majors.

      It's a two-edged sword. Do you show confidence in your closer, no matter who it is, or do you risk hurting his confidence and his trust in you by going with someone else? Casilla talked about how hurt he was that Bochy didn't go to him in that fateful 9th against the Cubs.

      Well, any pitcher's effectiveness would be maximized if you only used him against the same handed hitters. Again, it's a balance the manager has to manage, because, as last year showed, playing match ups constantly burned through the bullpen and made the relievers unhappy.

      I think Bochy showed some weaknesses last season and hopefully they don't continue. I think having a stable bullpen, of mostly the same guys, will help a lot.

  2. I think that a pretty definitive assessment of the 2016 bullpen, with ample stats to back it up, is Kevin Roche's, in his MCC post of 23 Jan. called "The Giants Bullpen Will Reign Supreme in 2017." He shows that, except for Save situations, the Giants had one of the top bullpens in the NL last year, as to Runs Allowed, inherited runners strand rate, hard-hit balls, and so on. And he predicts that the Cubs, Washington, and LAD will have worse pens this year than in 2016, for reasons he offers, while the addition of Melancon and the subtraction of Casilla and Lopez will further strengthen ours.

    I like, ogc, your inclusion of Holds in the Save rate assessment, to enhance our perspective on the pen rather than having it distorted by the failures of a few 8th and 9th inning guys. As to rankings, however, the differences between 83% and 87%--the pacts you cite--seem to me minimal enough that I don't know how to assess them. More generally, without reference to this blog, I usually find myself bemused when told that the Giants are first or fifth or tenth, etc., without being told what the range of variation is or how the stats clump: if the Giants' pen allowed X runs in 2016 while the Cubs' pen allowed X-1, the teams are in a tie, whereas if the Cubs' pen allowed X-25, they're not.

    1. Autocorrect changed my "pcts" = percentages, to "pacts," thus creating nonsense, as autocorrect so often does.

    2. Thanks for the heads-up, nice post.

      Well, as I noted, the Giants moved from basically the bottom third to the top third of the majors, from that small jump in percentage.

      The difference can be viewed by what difference happens to Save/Holds. The Giants had a total of 198 last season. That was high for the majors. The average was 143, but there does not seem to be a pattern for good vs. bad teams, for example, the Cubs and Braves had about the same number.

      At 4% difference, that's roughly 6 more holds and saves. At roughly 2:1 ratio of Holds to Saves, that's an extra 4 holds and 2 saves. Obviously, two more saves means two more wins. And I would think that the 4 extra holds would result in at least one more win, so that's at least 3 wins difference. So instead of 87-75, we would have been 90-72.

      And three wins is basically 3 WAR, which I think is valued at $8M/WAR today, or roughly $25M of extra production.

      Now, the team had 171 in 2015. At that usage, that works out to 7 additional or either 5 holds/2 saves. At 198, we are talking 8, or 5 holds and 3 saves. Maybe another win or two.

      A beat writer has been crowing about how the rest of the bullpen was responsible for 21 blown saves, but that number includes players no longer here, not just Casilla, but also Lopez and Nathan, plus perhaps Suarez too, if Blach or Cain gets the long relief role.

      Also, I think Osich was used while injured, mainly because I would bet that he kept something away fromt the team (many young players have copped to staying out there and grinding when they should have went on the DL) and I think that contributed to his poor performance overall. He was much better in 2015.

      Yeah, placing does need context. That's why I mentioned where the team fell with the changes. But to your point, I could have quantified it even more, which I did above.

      Honestly, though, I think baseball is too quantified. Or rather, many people think that there is a science here rather than an art. So I didn't need to see all of the stats in the article to feel that we had a good bullpen going into 2017. I saw that they generally had a good ERA, good K/BB ratios, good K/9 rates. It's good to know that all those stats confirmed my feeling, though.

      And counting numbers don't really tell the story, you are right about X and X-1. Maybe the Giants pen threw a lot more innings, then they were better, or if they threw a lot less innings, then they were worse.

  3. One of the other problems the giants seemed to have, is their bullpen pitched very well at times when the games were almost already out of control, and although they did pitch nicely several times in close games, they had a propensity to all fall apart at once as if it were contagious, causing a few meltdown type of games.

    1. I think part of that had to do with their discomfort over their roles. I wish everyone had the attitude that Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, Casilla had that each out is important (to quote Bochy's recent statement about the bullpen), whether in the 7th, 8th, or 9th. Just get outs, it's really that simple, not what role for whom, that's the stupid way most teams deal with things. If you get outs, you get a good role, as Bochy will use you more in later situations. You fail, you move towards the middle.

      But that's not reality. These young players get conditioned by TV and radio announcers telling them that there are roles, as if that is more important. So it takes time to teach them and get them over to Bochy's philosophy.

      In any case, most of the pitchers are set, as most do not have options anymore, so only Law, Okert, and Osich can be moved up and down. So their roles are probably set in spring, and barring meltdowns, will stick for the season.

      I also think that they will be better due to having the experience of 2016. Experience is a great teacher. And with Affeldt and Lopez in spring training, they can continue passing on to these players the mind-set that they brought to the game, and help them get better mentally.

      And all these pitchers were very good in the minors, so I feel pretty good about them in the majors. I think 2017 had a bit of a learning curve that they had to battle through. If I ever had time, maybe I'll look at the monthly stats (I would have to compile though...).

    2. Yes, I agree with all this, but would add, with an eye to nomisnala's comment about contagion, that roles known in advance may have two virtues. First, they inhibit the manager's having a given pitcher warm up repeatedly in a game, as Bochy did when desperately playing the percentages last season. And by compartmentalizing, they may lessen contagion: as batters "

    3. as batters "press" to pick up their slumping teammates, and so increase their own problems, pitchers start trying to compensate for their teammates' troubles, and get into troubles of their own by overthrowing or nibbling or getting spooked by the other team's momentum. At least this is what managers' and players' post mortems point to. Set roles, I'm supposing, get their minds back on their own set jobs of forcing the batters they face to make outs. I have no idea why trained athletes need this sort of simplified focus, but then I am not a trained athlete myself.

    4. although roles are important, I think these guys make millions and millions of dollars and should be able to pitch or not pitch based on what is best for the team winning. I did not care that much if it hurt Casilla's feelings if he were to take him out vs. Lamb. Later he ended up not using him at times when he probably would have been the best choice including the playoffs. As kruk says, some guys just have ownage, and lambs ownage of Casilla was Epic, So epic that he almost epically did not want to hurt his feelings, and nearly cost us the playoffs. It was just hard to believe how many blown saves they had, but the post all star game late inning hitting was not good.



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