Hi again, everybody. Welcome to Part 5 of my series on the 2010 Fan Projections from FanGraphs. Here are the links to the first 4 parts:
In this part, I'll be looking at the fan projections for NL East relievers. While there does not seem to be a dominant bullpen in the division, there are a few that definitely seem thin. Of course, how many dominant bullpens are there? I'm starting to think that the "shut-down" bullpen is just a myth along the lines of Bigfoot or Jason Heyward's weakness. Probably half the bullpens in the majors are sketchy at best, and even the ones that seem relatively solid could go downhill fast.
Which brings me to my mega-disclaimer. Bullpens are practically impossible to project, outside of a few stalwarts. Most teams use between 15 and 20 relievers in a normal season, and many of those players are marginal big leaguers at best. Plus, the sample sizes are small, which means that luck has a larger effect than normal. For most everyday player and starting pitcher projections, I'd say that the fans stand a pretty decent chance of at least being in the ballpark. But for many relievers, I think the chances of getting an accurate projection are no better than 50/50. So just don't be surprised if these projections go horribly awry. This is for entertainment purposes only.
The Best Bullpen in the NL East Will Be...
I started off by counting all the NL East pitchers with at least 5 votes who are projected to make at least 5 relief appearances. Then, I assigned each team a 6-man bullpen: 1 closer, 1 set-up man, 3 middle relievers, and 1 long reliever. The closer is the player projected to make the most saves (and is pretty set for all 5 teams at the moment). The set-up guy is the next-highest rated reliever with fewer than 10 starts. The long man was generally a starter who didn't make the cut in my article on starting pitchers.
If a player was projected for 10 or more starts, he could only be assigned to the "long reliever" slot. This is because there are only so many starts (and thus innings) to go around. Since WAR is so dependent on IP, I didn't want any one team to get a huge leg up b/c its bullpen was projected to make 60 starts.
So, who has the best bullpen in the division? I summed up all the WAR values from each team's 6-man bullpen, and these are the results:
The Braves come out on top, followed closely by the Mets. The Braves' strength is that they have no real weak spot, and a very strong closer/set-up combo. The Mets have the deepest pen in the division (if healthy), but their top 2 guys don't project quite as well as the Braves' top 2. After the Braves and Mets, there is a huge drop-off to the last 3 teams. The Marlins come in third despite getting 0.0 WAR from their closer spot. The Phillies and Nationals each have serious depth issues, getting a net of only 0.1 WAR from their 3 middle relievers.
Below, I examine the projections for each team in more detail.
For each RP in the sample, I list the # of votes cast for that player, plus the following stats: games (G), innings pitched (IP), saves (SV), ERA, strand rate (LOB%), and 4 "per 9 innings" rate stats: hits, walks, home runs, and strikeouts (H/9, BB/9, HR/9, and K/9, respectively). Finally, I've listed each player's projected WAR. As before, players listed as "Other" (with the green background) were not included in the graphs.
The usual caveats:
- Remember, there's a lot of wiggle room in these numbers, since they aren't, y'know, real.
- The pitchers in the "Long Reliever" slot all are scheduled to make at least 10 starts, but the number of starts varies wildly. Generally, the more starts these players make, the more WAR they will get (though many of their peripherals will decrease). To help you keep this in mind, I've italicized the games (G) figure for each pitcher who is slated to make 5 or more starts.
- As always, you should keep in mind that the projections with fewer votes are more likely to be outliers than those with more votes, so if a player has fewer than 15 votes, take these projections with a grain of salt.
- Bullpen projections are even more fluid than other projections (for many reasons), so you should add five or six grains of salt to the grain that you are already taking these with.
|Set-Up Man||Peter Moylan||25||68||75||1||2.76||6.96||3.00||0.60||7.68||76.9%||1.2|
|Middle Relief||Takashi Saito||65||45||50||1||3.24||8.10||3.60||0.90||8.82||80.0%||0.5|
|Middle Relief||Eric O'Flaherty||14||45||49||0||3.86||9.55||2.94||0.73||6.43||73.0%||0.4|
|Middle Relief||Luis Valdez||6||27||30||0||4.20||10.50||3.60||0.60||7.80||73.0%||0.3|
|Long Reliever||Kris Medlen||19||54||78||0||3.92||9.81||3.23||0.81||9.12||74.4%||1.3|
* Players who did not pitch in 2009 were not eligible to be voted on, so Proctor has no projection. Still, he seems likely to be a major part of the Braves' bullpen, so I added his name to the table. Feel free to leave your own projection for Proctor in the comments.
Let me just get this out of the way: I know that Luis Valdez won't be starting the year with the team. His visa issues have definitely gotten in the way of that. But there is a pretty decent chance that he matches the 30 IP projection, so I left him in.
Now, I know I just got done talking about how unpredictable relievers are, but Billy Wagner is the exception. And the fans must have some pretty serious doubts about his health, because the numbers they project for him (while excellent) would be some of the worst numbers of his career. In a full season, he's generally good for around 2 WAR. Since 1996, he's had 1 year with an ERA above 2.85, so a 2.82 ERA projection seems awfully conservative (his career mark is 2.39). Not out of the realm of possibility, but definitely worse than I'd expect. The same goes for many of his other stats. I'd project him for 65 innings, 2+ WAR, and a 2.50 ERA--and he could easily annihilate those numbers. By the way, even the fans' conservative projection still makes Wagner easily the best closer in the division.
Peter Moylan's projection is a tad worse than his numbers from last year, which makes sense. I'd say 1.2 WAR is very reasonable for him. Saito's 0.5 WAR and O'Flaherty's 0.4 WAR both seem a bit low to me, but not too much so. The one thing I'd note is that O'Flaherty may only pitch 49 innings, but he'll definitely pitch in more than 45 games, barring injuries and ineffectiveness of course. Valdez gets the last spot, though you could switch out any of the other guys and it wouldn't make much difference. Well, unless it's Manny Acosta. I think he's a notch below the other guys.
As for Kris Medlen, his projection isn't great (outside of the K rate), but it is pretty good. I think Kris is going to be much better than that at some point, though I'm not sure if it'll be this year.
I combined the projections from the Braves' 6 relievers and compared those numbers to the projected league-average numbers. The graph below gives you a sense of how the Braves compare to the averages in 5 categories: strand rate (LOB%)*, H/9, BB/9, HR/9, and K/9. Remember, further from the center is always better.
* Since all the teams were within a couple percentage points in LOB%, I subtracted 70% from each figure before calculating the % above or below league average. So, a LOB% of 78.4% becomes 8.4%. This makes the differences more apparent. And, after all, isn't a small difference in strand rate very noticeable? Even the worst relievers strand at least 70%, and even the best rarely strand much more than 85%. By the way, the league average strand rate was projected to be around 77% (or 7%). Thus, a LOB% of 78.4% would show up on the graph as +20%, because 8.4 is 20% greater than 7.
Here's the Braves' graph:
Aside from that below-average strand rate, the Braves relievers project to be pretty darn great. A large part of this is the influence of Wagner and Moylan. Those 2 had the lowest projected hit rates in the entire division, by far. Wagner also has the best K rate projection. Moylan (and Valdez) tied for the 2nd-lowest HR rate projection. In fact, every Braves reliever that made the cut projected to be at least 10% better than league average in HR rate--a remarkable feat that is nearly duplicated by the Braves' rotation. If the 'pen performs at its projected rate, we Braves fans will have little reason to complain.
|Set-Up Man||Burke Badenhop||9||54||75||0||3.84||9.60||3.00||0.84||6.84||75.1%||0.9|
|Middle Relief||Dan Meyer||6||50||55||0||3.60||9.00||3.60||1.15||8.18||79.5%||0.2|
|Middle Relief||Brian Sanches||6||45||50||0||3.42||8.64||4.14||1.08||8.28||82.0%||0.2|
|Middle Relief||Mike MacDougal||9||44||48||12||4.50||11.25||5.44||0.56||6.19||75.2%||0.1|
|Long Reliever||Rick Vandenhurk||8||37||116||0||4.03||10.09||3.10||1.24||7.91||77.8%||1.5|
* Neither Turnbow nor Tankersley pitched in the majors last year, so they have no projections. Turnbow seems unlikely to help them, but Tankersley could be a big help if he is recovered from his arm injury.
Almost all of the Marlins' WAR comes from Badenhop and Vandenhurk, which is bad. Worse is that Vandenhurk likely won't pitch enough innings to get to 1.5 WAR. That 4.03 ERA might be a bit optimistic as well.
Nuñez throws hard, but he has yet to show that he can actually dominate. I'm very skeptical, and so are the fans, who have him at a replacement level. Not good from your closer, but then I doubt that he'll still be the closer at the end of the year if he pitches like that. Any of Sanches, Badenhop, or Meyer would be a better option. And then there's the lurking presence of "closer experience" in the person of Mike MacDougal, who's kind of like "Wild Thing" but without the strikeouts.
Renyel Pinto, who was a big part of their 'pen last year, doesn't even make the cut in this projection. Part of that is no doubt due to the fact that his FIP (4.35) was more than a run higher than his ERA (3.23) in 2009. The fans think that he's much closer to his FIP than his ERA, and I would tend to agree. Also missing the cut are a couple reclamation projects in McClung and Turnbow (there's that "closer experience" thing again), and the rehabbing Taylor Tankersley. Of those guys, the only one likely to be useful again is Tankersley.
All in all, it's a pen that might be decent if they can find a reliable closer, but until that happens, it looks to be a liability.
Here's the Marlins' graph:
The one thing the Marlins' bullpen projects to do well is strand runners, which will be helpful, because they'll put their fair share on. Of course, they'll be giving up more than their fair share of HRs, so maybe the strand rate won't help them too much.
|Set-Up Man||Kiko Calero||11||45||55||0||3.60||7.85||4.09||0.65||8.35||78.2%||0.8|
|Middle Relief||Bobby Parnell||19||64||77||0||4.32||10.75||3.97||0.94||7.83||75.6%||0.5|
|Middle Relief||Pedro Feliciano||15||50||55||0||3.44||8.51||3.11||0.98||8.67||77.4%||0.5|
|Middle Relief||Sean Green||11||68||75||0||4.32||10.80||4.32||0.60||7.32||74.0%||0.5|
|Long Reliever||Kelvim Escobar||78||52||83||1||3.80||9.54||3.14||0.76||7.59||74.4%||1.4|
* Igarashi and Takahashi are imports from Japan, so they don't have projections. Igarashi got a major-league deal, so I'd expect him to spend some time with the big club. Takahashi is apparently being tried as a starter and doing fairly well in ST. I thought they had signed him for the 'pen, but they could certainly use the rotation help.
** Figueroa and Nieve had too many projected starts and innings to be considered for anything but the "Long Reliever" slot, so they were left out despite their relatively high WAR values. I think it's likely that if the Mets need spot starts, they'll go with one of these two rather than with Escobar, but the fans apparently disagree.
The fans think that Krod (I hate the "-Rod" thing, so I'm going with just "Krod") will continue to have control problems that limit his effectiveness, although that 4.62 BB/9 rate is actually almost 0.5 BB/9 better than 2009. That contract would've been an albatross even if Krod had continued to put up his Anaheim numbers (average of about 2 WAR/year from 2005-2008). If he's putting up less than 1 WAR, though, it looks downright Silvaesque (though maybe not as bad as the Lidge contract--more on that later).
Calero and Escobar, if they are healthy--a big if in each case, but especially for Escobar--look like they'll be great additions. Parnell, Feliciano, and Green all project to be pretty good as well. There aren't any lock-down types here, but there aren't any holes, either. I hate to say it, but (aside from paying some a couple guys too much) Minaya did a good job putting together this bullpen.
Now for the Mets' graph:
Walk rate is the problem here, as 4 of the 6 guys project to walk at least 3.97 guys per 9. That's playing with fire, although if they can limit HRs like this projection they'll be OK.
|Set-Up Man||Ryan Madson||26||68||75||5||3.12||7.80||2.64||0.84||8.64||77.0%||1.2|
|Middle Relief||Chad Durbin||9||68||75||0||4.08||10.20||3.84||1.08||7.56||77.3%||0.2|
|Middle Relief||Danys Baez||10||65||72||0||4.25||10.63||2.75||1.13||5.50||74.7%||0.1|
|Middle Relief||J.C. Romero||11||44||48||0||3.38||8.44||5.63||0.94||6.94||83.1%||-0.2|
|Long Reliever||Kyle Kendrick||11||44||89||0||4.35||10.92||3.03||1.01||4.85||74.8%||0.7|
** Moyer and Bastardo had too many projected starts to be considered for anything but long reliever. Kendrick narrowly edged out both of them for that slot, but none of them is a world-beater. Feel free to switch them out.
Speaking of Mr. Lidge, how on earth did he go from the best reliever not named Rivera to the worst one not named Reitsma in only 1 year? He had to be hurt, right? I know relievers are inconsistent, but that's ridiculous. Yet, the Phillies still made the World Series. The fans think that Lidge will bounce back to somewhere halfway between superhuman and subhuman. That makes sense, but I bet Phillies fans aren't too eager to see their $11M reliever projected at 0.6 WAR either. The problem with giving a closer a deal like that is that they pretty much have to be completely dominant for it to not be a disaster, and even if they are dominant, it's still kind of iffy.
As for the rest of the pen, I can only think that Phillies fans must be so grateful to have Ryan Madson. There's not another guy in there who looks to be all that helpful. Baez and Romero are nothing special--and way overpaid--and guys like Durbin are likewise a dime a dozen. Yet the Phillies have spent many dimes and don't have nearly a dozen of those guys.
The Phils, between Kendrick, Bastardo, and Moyer, have three guys who would make decent long men but probably not much else (at least in 2009--Bastardo might have some promise). Since one of those guys will almost certainly be the 5th starter, that will likely push Jose Contreras to the 'pen, which helps the bullpen but hurts the rotation. The net WAR is the same as far as these calculations go, however, regardless of how that shakes out.
Here's the Phillies' graph:
Like the Marlins, the Phillies pen is above average at strand rate, but not too good at anything else.
Finally, the Nats.
|Set-Up Man||Brian Bruney||28||47||52||2||3.98||10.04||4.67||0.87||8.65||77.8%||0.3|
|Middle Relief||Miguel Batista||16||41||55||3||4.58||11.45||4.42||1.15||7.53||77.6%||0.1|
|Middle Relief||Tyler Walker||5||41||45||2||3.80||9.60||3.00||1.20||6.80||79.5%||0.1|
|Middle Relief||Sean Burnett||12||55||60||0||3.90||9.75||4.35||1.05||6.60||79.1%||-0.1|
|Long Reliever||Livan Hernandez||18||40||158||0||5.41||13.56||3.13||1.14||4.61||72.7%||1.1|
Capps is obviously better than his ERA was last year, so picking him up was a decent idea for the Nats. Of course, I think he's miscast as a closer and should be more of an 7th/8th inning guy. Still, he projects as the 3rd-best closer in the division, which isn't bad, and he's got a great BB/9 projection.
The next 4 guys are all new acquisitions, too. Bruney, Burnett, Batista (killer B's!), and Walker are not great, but they probably won't kill you either. Of course, you'd like to have some higher-upside guys in there, but when you're the Nats and you aren't going to compete in 2010, it probably doesn't matter all that much. The one upside guy in this group is Clippard, who's got a great arm but needs to avoid walks and homers to be useful.
As for Livan, I'm afraid they'll put him in the rotation. That would, needless to say, be a mistake. However, he might actually be the perfect long man. Think about it: it's the fourth inning and you're down 12-2. You need someone to come in and get you through to the end of the game, but you don't care how well he does. Who you gonna call? LIVAN, that's who! Why burn your other arms when you have Livan? He sucks, but when you're already getting blown out, what does that matter? He can even throw 150 pitches if you need him to. Frankly, he should've been doing this for the last 5-6 years. He could've been the best long reliever of all time.
Anyway, here's the Nats' graph:
Yeah... not good. Of course, Livan is dragging these numbers down somewhat. But they aren't good even without him. Of course, by the middle of the year, it might be different. They might have called up Strasburg, pushing a starter to the pen, and also perhaps Drew Storen, who looks like a good one. There is hope on the horizon, Nats fans.
According to the fans, the Braves and Mets will duke it out for the best bullpen in the division, with the other 'pens left to scramble for effective pitchers. That seems like a reasonable projection to me, but then who can tell with relievers? If Lidge returns to his 2008 form and 1-2 other guys put up big years, the Philies could come out on top. In addition, both the Braves and Mets are relying on a lot of guys with injury concerns. If I had to bet, I'd say the Braves will have the best bullpen in the division in 2010, but I wouldn't bet very much on that. We could just as easily see all 5 teams get between 3 and 3.5 WAR.
That wraps up the last of the individual projections. In the final post in this series, I'll add up all the WAR projections from these 5 posts and determine who the fans think will win the NL East. I'll give estimated standings and compare the payrolls of each team to their WAR projections. I'll also break down the strengths, weaknesses, potential over- and under-performances, and "secret weapons" for each team.
Thanks for reading, as always. What do you think of these reliever projections? Will Lidge or Krod bounce back to their pre-2009 forms, or will they continue to struggle? What do you project for the Braves' relievers? Are you terrified of the Nats' new Killer B's? Isn't Livan the Long Man a genius idea?