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The State of the Bullpen

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This season, the Blue Jays relief corps has combined to post an ERA of 4.33 (17th out of 30). For all the fuss made about the inadequacies of the team's bullpen, that doesn't seem to be too bad. However, discounting B.J. Ryan's Hurculean efforts (0.49 ERA) Blue Jays relievers have combined to post an ERA of 5.05, which would rank 26th in the game.

Here's how each individual reliever has fared this season:

Reliever          IP   W   L   ERA    WHIP   K/BB   BABIP
B.J. Ryan         37   1   0   0.49   0.68   43/8   .215
Justin Speier     28.2 1   0   2.51   1.40   30/14  .287  
Jason Frasor      28   2   1   5.79   1.39   25/12  .275  
Pete Walker       27   1   1   5.00   1.41   24/9   .308  
Scott Downs       24.1 1   0   3.33   1.11   17/14  .263*  
Scott Schoeneweis 23.2 2   0   6.08   1.35   14/9   .267
Vinnie Chulk      19.2 1   0   5.95   1.47   16/4   .333
Francisco Rosario 19.2 1   1   5.03   1.53   18/14  .245
Brian Tallet      14.2 1   0   6.14   1.84   11/12  .275
Dustin McGowan     5.2 1   0   7.94   2.65   7/6    .444
Shaun Marcum       3.2 0   0  14.73   3.82   4/6    .500
Ty Taubenheim      2.2 1   0   0.00   1.13   2/1    .306*

*BABIP includes IP as a starter.

Obviously B.J. Ryan is in a class all by himself. Not only has he pitched much more effectively than the other relievers, but he's done so while having pitched considerably more innings. While Jonathan Papelbon receives oodles of coverage for his excellent season (and rightfully so), Ryan's season is going relatively unnoticed. He could be on his way to posting one of the best seasons ever by a relief pitcher, and no one outside of Toronto may know about it.

Despite a pedestrian K/BB ratio and a fortunate BABIP, Downs has been productive as a relief pitcher. As a starter, however, he's been dreadful, which explains his poor overall totals. In fact, in 9 IP as a starter, he's posted an ERA of 10.00 and a WHIP of 2.22.

Unlike starting pitchers, relief pitchers are thrust into different junctures of the game, which vary greatly in importance. A relief pitcher's importance to a team doesn't only hinge on his individual production, but how he's utilized by his manager. The following table illustrates how many appearances each relief pitcher had this season during certain innings. It'll help establish when Gibbons tends to employ certain pitchers.

Using Tangotiger's leverage index (LI), it's possible to see the manner in which certain relievers are used. For instance, a sane manager will ensure that Ryan will have a higher LI than Tallet because the superior pitcher should pitch during more crucial situations. In Tangotiger's words:

You can spot a high-leverage situation, I can spot them, and pretty much everyone can spot many high-leverage situations. All that's left for us to do is to quantify every single game state into a number. That number is the Leverage Index.

The following totals were taken from Fan Graphs.

*1.00 is considered average.

Player      LI
Ryan        1.55
Speier      1.40
Taubenheim  1.37
McGowan     1.34
Schoeneweis 1.08
Frasor      0.95
Downs       0.85
Rosario     0.69
Walker      0.64
Chulk       0.58
Tallet      0.58
Marcum      0.31

Taubenheim's, McGowan's, and Marcum's totals should be discounted because they simply haven't pitched enough innings in relief.

These numbers seem appropriate; Ryan is the team's relief ace, Speier is firmly entrenched in the setup role, and Schoeneweis is counted upon to face lefties in crucial situations. Moroever, it partly explains why the team's relievers have posted a remarkable won-lost record of 13-3. In close and late game situations, as defined by espn.com, Ryan and Speier have accounted for 38.1 of the team's 76 innings in that situation. Their combined ERA in close and late game situations is 0.94. The rest of the team combined has an ERA of 6.21.

Despite his great ERA during those situations, Speier boasts the lowest Win Probability Added total among all of the team's relief pitchers. He's allowed quite a few base runners this season, and his overall ERA doesn't quite correspond with it. A noticeable drop in ERA may be imminent.

Ryan's Win Probability added total (302) is more than five times higher than the next highest reliever's total on the team (55.8, Frasor). It would be wise to use him as often as possible in crucial situations since he is far and away the team's best relief pitcher. In fact, it could be beneficial to forego using him in easy-save opportunities (i.e. a three-run lead entering the ninth) in order to conserve him for situations of higher leverage. Of course, that sort of tactic, if it were to backfire, would likely be highly detrimental to Gibbons' reputation with the public.

Also, despite pitching horrendously this season, Schoeneweis' LI total should be higher as well. The reason, of course, is because he should more or less be limited to entering the game in situations that require an out against a tough left-handed opponent. Consider his lefty/righty splits this season:

Vs. left-handed batters: .447 OPS against (48 AB)
Vs. right-handed batters: 1.000 OPS against (43 AB)

In other words, Schoeneweis is an all-world pitcher against lefties and a below replacement level player against righties. He's a very valuable commodity who simply isn't being utilized properly.

In the end, the bullpen has the pieces to be successful. Gibbons has done a good job of, for the most part, not using pitchers like Tallet and Walker in crucial situations, but he hasn't quite utilized his better pitchers as well as he should. The bullpen is likely in need of some slight help, if only to ensure that the likes of Tallet and Walker don't receive any playing time, but it appears as though it could survive without any turnover. Without Ryan, however, it would be in shambles. To even envision a scenario in which he's not a member of the bullpen would scar me irreperably.