The Story Of 2013: The Baltimore Blowpen

Posted Tuesday September 24, 2013 at 10:29:39 pm in Real Sports

The 2012 Orioles were the Cinderella Story for Major League Baseball. They went 93-69, snatched up a Wild Card spot, won an  unprobable game in Texas against Yu Darvish with Joe Saunders of all people on the mound. Their season was a success primarily because of one facet of the team: their bullpen. And it is because of that the 2013 season is ending in utter frustration.

A simple stat in 2012 can put things in perspective. Starters lost 58 games. The relievers lost only 11. Their ERA was 3.00. Their WHIP was 1.212. Jim Johnson only lost 1 game. He blew only 3 saves in 54 chances. Luis Ayala with his sweet 2.64 ERA pitched the most innings of any bullpen member with 75 IP and still lost 5 games. 

Now let's compare those stats to 2013. Starters lost 50 games. After today's brutal loss to the Blue Jays, relievers have lost 26 games. Their ERA is over 3.50. Their WHIP is pretty much unchanged from 2012 at 1.215. But the disconcerting numbers?

  • Jim Johnson has blown 9 saves. He lost 8 games. 
  • Tommy Hunter with the most innings pitched of any reliever on the club with 85 1/3 IP has 5 losses. 

Yes, the 2012 club's relief corp only lost 16% of the losses. With 5 games left in the 2013 season, the bullpen accounts for 34% of the losses. 

In case you need more of a reason to blame the bullpen for 2013?

  • In 2012, the Orioles were 29-9 in 1 run games. That's a .763 win percentage.
  • In 2013, they're 17-31. That's a .354 win percentage. More than twice as bad.

If the Orioles were even average in 1 run games (24-24) in their opportunities, it'd be 7 more wins. And the club would be 88-69 right now. Yes, that would be good enough for the playoffs. 

But instead the Orioles are eliminated from the postseason after a magical 2012. It's one thing to blame the entire bullpen, but let's look at some of the changes year over year for some specific pitchers.

The easiest pitcher to pick out is Jim Johnson

2012:

54 save opportunities, 51 saves, 3 blown saves, 2.49 ERA, 7.2 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.019 WHIP

2013:

56 save opportunities, 47 saves, 9 blown saves, 2.98 ERA, 9.1 H/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.281 WHIP

Easy to see the issue with Jim in 2013. Too many hits, too many base runners. Too many blown saves. And his numbers in a 1 run game? 280/368/390 - 758 OPS.

Next up is Tommy Hunter. I'll use his stats as a reliever.

2012:

3.71 ERA, 1.529 WHIP, 319/347/493 - 839 OPS. In only 17 IP.

2013:

2.74 ERA, 0.961 WHIP, 217/255/351 - 607 OPS in 85 1/3 IP. 

Those numbers for 2013 are sterling. But perhaps Tommy's biggest flaw is his numbers against left handed hitters.

  • Vs. lefties: 293/322/539 - 861 OPS. 11 homers allowed. 
  • Vs. righties: 130/181/137 - 318 OPS. 0 homers allowed.

This makes Tommy very much one dimensional in high leverage situations against lefties as every single homer allowed this season was against a lefty.

Speaking of one dimensional pitchers, Darren O'Day turned into one in 2013.

2012: 

2.28 ERA, 0.940 WHIP, 202/254/360 - 613 OPS in 67 IP

2013:

2.19 ERA, 1.005 WHIP, 211/275/345 - 620 OPS in 61 2/3 IP

However, it's the numbers against lefties that took a huge step back.

  • 2012 vs. lefties: 205/237/420 - 657 OPS, 4 homers allowed
  • 2013 vs. lefties: 309/367/556 - 922 OPS, 5 homers allowed

O'Day went from a dominant weapon against lefties and righties to just a dominant weapon against righties.

Brian Matusz is another starter turned reliever similar to Tommy Hunter. So I'll use his numbers as a reliever for 2012.

2012:

1.35 ERA, 0.600 WHIP, 114/170/182 - 352 OPS in 13 1/3 IP.

2013:

3.55 ERA, 1.125 WHIP, 222/288/314 - 601 OPS in 50 2/3 IP.

In 2012, however, he was used pretty much exclusively as a LOOGY out of the bullpen. This was not the case in 2013. But why pitch him against righties in 2013? His splits this year:

  • Vs. lefties: 168/225/277 - 502 OPS
  • Vs. righties: 286/362/357 - 719 OPS

Speaking of lefties, what about Troy Patton?

2012:

2.43 ERA, 1.024 WHIP, 215/263/335 - 598 OPS in 55 2/3 IP.

2013:

3.74 ERA, 1.301 WHIP, 269/326/428 - 754 OPS in 55 1/3 IP.

In 2012 Patton was a weapon against lefties: 212/262/292 - 554 OPS. As a matter of fact, he was solid against both righties and lefties. In 2013 he took a step back for a good portion of the year. His numbers against lefties were far worse than against righties.

  • Vs. lefties: 287/324/468 - 792 OPS
  • Vs. righties: 254/328/395 - 723 OPS

Of his 8 homers allowed in 2013, 5 were against lefties.

We can also talk about Pedro Strop briefly as he went from a 2.44 ERA in 2012 to a 7.25 ERA in 2013 for the Orioles and lost 3 games for them in spectacular fashion.

So, to sum up the bullpen members and their shortcomings:

  • Jim Johnson lost 8 games, blew 9 saves, allows too many base runners, doesn't strike out enough
  • Darren O'Day is only dominant against righties, gets crushed by lefties.
  • Hunter is only dominant against righties, gets crushed by lefties.
  • Matusz is very effective against lefties, and so-so against righties.
  • Patton was largely ineffective this year, but was very poor against lefties (nearly an 800 OPS)

The 5 key bullpen members all have warts. And while I don't think Buck did a particularly good job of identifying those warts and responding to them late in the season, his hands were certainly tied to an extent due to how one-dimensional his guys were. That said, I think Buck could have done better in September by utilizing his September callups better. 

Oh, and I'll just finish with KRod doing a complete 180 for the Orioles than what he did with the Brewers. 

Prior to his loss tonight:

  • Brewers: 1.09 ERA, 24 2/3 IP, 1.054 WHIP, 6.2 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 9.5 SO/9
  • Orioles: 4.29 ERA, 21 IP, 1.286 WHIP, 9.9 H/9, 2.1 HR/9, 1.7 BB/9, 12.0 SO/9

His strikeout numbers were great as was his walk rate, but too many hits and homers.

So, yes, 2013's story was the Baltimore Blowpen and how they completely fell apart compared to 2012.

Bullpens are volatile. Always remember that.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view