Braves Rewind: 2010 Fan Projections for Relievers

With pitchers and catchers reporting today, it's about time to finish looking back at 2010 and start looking forward to 2011. Accordingly, this will be the last of my posts looking back at how the 2010 season compared to the projections. To wrap things up, we'll look at probably the strongest area of last year's team: the bullpen. For more on what the FanGraphs fan projections were going into the 2010 season, see my post from last year.

Here's a summary of what the fans expected from our most important relievers:

Player IP SV ERA FIP BB/9 HR/9 K/9 LOB% WAR
Billy Wagner 51 25 2.82 2.94 3.18 0.71 10.59 79.0% 1.3
Peter Moylan 75   1 2.76 3.34 3.00 0.60   7.68 76.9% 1.2
Takashi Saito 50   1 3.24 3.75 3.60 0.90   8.82 80.0% 0.5
Eric O'Flaherty 49   0 3.86 3.83 2.94 0.73   6.43 73.0% 0.4
Luis Valdez 30   0 4.20 3.43 3.60 0.60   7.80 73.0% 0.3
Kris Medlen 78   0 3.92 3.53 3.23 0.81   9.12 74.4% 1.3
Jesse Chavez 71   0 4.06 4.45 3.04 1.27   7.10 78.3% 0.1
Mike Dunn  28   0 4.50 4.10 4.82 0.96   9.96 77.4% 0.1

The fans thought our top 6 relievers would be worth 5 WAR, good for the most in the division. Though they got a lot wrong--heck, even Jairo Asencio's name is wrong!--the fans were right that the Braves would have the top bullpen in the NL East. In fact, the bullpen was even better than its projection. It was probably the second-best 'pen in all of MLB, behind only the Padres' (who were helped out by a spacious home ballpark). Let's see how the Braves' actual relief numbers compare:

Player IP SV ERA FIP BB/9 HR/9 K/9 LOB% WAR
Billy Wagner 69.1 37 1.43 2.10 2.86 0.65 13.50 87.5%   2.2
Jonny Venters 83.0   1 1.95 2.69 4.23 0.11 10.08 73.2%   1.7
Takashi Saito 54.0   1 2.83 2.43 2.83 0.67 11.50 72.5%   1.2
Eric O'Flaherty 44.0   0 2.45 3.33 3.68 0.41   7.36 92.0%   0.5
Kris Medlen* 23.2   0 3.04 2.49 1.90 0.38   7.99 66.4%   0.5
Craig Kimbrel 20.2   1 0.44 1.53 6.97 0.00 17.42 76.9%   0.5
Kyle Farnsworth 20.0   0 5.40 2.93 3.15 0.90 11.25 52.1%   0.3
Mike Dunn 19.0   0 1.89 3.60 8.05 0.47 12.79 91.5%   0.1
Cristhian Martinez 26.0   0 4.85 3.58 2.08 1.04   7.62 67.1%   0.1
Peter Moylan 63.2   1 2.97 4.30 5.23 0.71   7.35 80.0% -0.1
Jesse Chavez 36.2   0 5.89 3.69 2.95 1.47   7.12 65.0% -0.1

* These are just Medlen's numbers in relief.

Lots of guys outperformed their projections, obviously. Wagner was phenomenal in his final season, and Saito had a nice return to form as well. The biggest surprise was definitely the marvelous Jonny Venters, who came out of nowhere to have one of the best seasons of any set-up man. Kimbrel was a nice addition at the end of the year as well. Even Kyle Farnsworth was semi-useful after we traded for him, more or less (though he certainly had a few cruddy outings, as his 52.1% strand rate shows). Really the only disappointment was Peter Moylan, who had a bit of a down year, though I still don't understand how he had a negative WAR. He wasn't that bad.

The three things you really want a bullpen to do are 1) prevent walks, 2) prevent homers, and 3) strike dudes out, and the 2010 Braves' pen was absolutely phenomenal at two of those. Craig Kimbrel gave up no homers at all in limited work, and Jonny Venters only gave up one in more than 80 innings. That's ridiculous (and unsustainable--both guys will need to lower their walk rates to maintain the same success). Nobody gave up a lot of homers except jettisoned long man Jesse Chavez. The strikeout rates were just as crazy; six guys struck out at least 10 men per 9 IP, paced by Kimbrel's that-looks-like-a-misprint mark of 17.42 K/9. 

More good stuff (and graphs) after the jump.

Add up the Braves' ideal 7-man bullpen (by WAR), and you get a phenomenal 6.9 WAR. There were a few other guys who were at or below replacement level, but they were mostly in very limited innings, so the total relief WAR for the Braves was a still-excellent 6.7. It was a great bullpen until the injury bug struck, which unfortunately was at the worst possible time--during the last stretch run and the playoffs.

Here's how the Braves' pen compares to the rest of the division's totals (hint: they compare quite well):

Actual_vs_projected_rp_war_medium

The left column for each team measures just the team's top 7 relievers by WAR (closer at the bottom, the top set-up man, the second set-up man, and then the 4 best other relievers combined at the top). The right column gives the team's overall bullpen WAR (white with brown border) and the amount of negative WAR accrued by the team's other relievers (in red). Every team had negative WAR from their back-of-the-bullpen guys, but as you can see, the Braves' long men fared relatively well. (Those Mets mop-up guys must have been just brutal; reason #1,654,923 that I'm glad I'm not a Mets fan.)

You may have noticed from the graph that the Braves had the best two relievers (by WAR) in the division: Billy Wagner and Jonny Venters. Pretty sweet.

Interesting that the Nats had the 2nd-best bullpen; I never would have guessed that. They did get some very good work from Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, and Sean Burnett, but I hadn't realized how good.

I think it's kind of funny, also, that we had 6 relievers who posted a better WAR than the Phillies' closer, including Craig Kimbrel in 20.2 IP. People are rushing to crown the Phillies now (and not without reason; that rotation is phenomenal), but they do have an Achilles' heel, and it's in the bullpen. They already had the worst bullpen in the division, and it hasn't gotten any better this offseason. Of course, their bullpen won't be needed that often if the starters stay healthy, so it probably won't matter, but a fan can dream.

Here's how the Braves' reliever compared to their projections in five rate stats: runners stranded (LOB%), hits (H/9), walks (BB/9), homers (HR/9), and strikeouts (K/9). Remember, more green (further from center) is good.

Actual_vs_projected_-_rp_medium

In three categories, the Braves were just a tad better than projected: strand rate, hit rate, and homer rate. They walked a lot more guys than projected, but they also struck out a ton more than projected, so that balanced out.

Compared to the league reliever average, the Braves just dominated in strikeout and homer rate, as alluded to above. They also performed quite well in hit rate, thanks to all the Ks and having a few good sinkerballers. The only area in which they weren't very good was walk rate. Kimbrel, Moylan, and Dunn, really struggled with their control at times, and Venters also had some trouble. Of course, hardly any of those walks scored, so it's easy to forgive them. Hopefully Kimbrel, Moylan, and Venters can lower their walk rates in 2011. If they do that without regressing much in other areas, watch out.

Bullpens are always hard to project, so it is tough to say whether the Braves' relief corps can duplicate their 2010 performance. We'll certainly miss Wagner and Saito, but on the other hand, we'll get a full season of Craig Kimbrel and (presumably) a bounce-back year from Peter Moylan. A lot will depend on new additions, both the guys we acquired (like George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink) and guys from the minors. The loser of the Minor/Beachy 5th starter battle will likely end up in the 'pen as well, which should help. I don't think the end result will be quite as dominant as the 2010 bullpen, but it should be pretty good.

What do you think of last year's projections? What would you project for next year's bullpen?

Thanks for reading, as always.

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