The Braves' Scott Linebrink Has Some Interesting Numbers

Fact #1: Scott Linebrink has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.0. He's struck out 12 men and walked only 3 (in 12 innings).

Fact #2: Linebrink has the worst ERA (7.50) and FIP (5.45) in the Braves' bullpen, thanks to the 3 home runs he's given up. He's also allowed 3 doubles and 2 triples, plus he's hit 2 batters (which doesn't hurt his K/BB).

These two facts led me to wonder if Linebrink might be the worst reliever ever to have that good of a K/BB ratio. Below is a list of all the players since 1960 to pitch at least 10 games & 10 innings in relief with a K/BB ratio of 4 or better but an ERA+* of 85 or worse.

* ERA+ is simply ERA adjusted for park factors and league averages. Each point below 100 is one percent below league average, so an ERA+ of 85 is 15% worse than league average.

As it turns out, Linebrink ranks 4th on the list... but he's not even the worst of 2011. That "honor" does to the Red Sox' Dan Wheeler:

Rk Player ERA+ K/BB BABIP HR/9 IP Year Team
1 Dan Wheeler 38 8.00 .389 3.48 10.1 2011 BOS
2 Randy Moffitt 45 5.50 .361 1.59 11.1 1981 SFG
3 Scott Cassidy 50 4.00 .400 2.08 13.0 2005 BOS/SDP
4 Scott Linebrink 51 4.00 .405 2.25 12.0 2011 ATL
5 Fernando Nieve 52 6.00 .455 1.69 10.2 2008 HOU
6 Micheal Nakamura 60 7.00 .390 2.84 12.2 2003 MIN
7 Dick Hall 62 6.20 .326 1.17 46.0 1968 PHI
8 Joe Edelen 64 5.00 .307 0.90 30.0 1981 STL/CIN
9 Roger Nelson 66 5.80 .337 0.26 34.0 1971 KCR
10 Mike Burns 67 4.00 .481 0.86 21.0 2006 CIN/BOS 
11 Jim Bruske 70 4.00 .375 1.42 12.2 1996 LAD
12 John Hudek 73 5.80 .356 1.35 20.0 1995 HOU
13 Josias Manzanillo 78 6.25 .326 2.41 18.2 1999 NYM
14 Brandon League 79 6.50 .340 0.00 15.0 2011 SEA
15 Joe Boever 83 5.00 .341 1.65 16.1 1985 STL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/12/2011.

Three guys from this season make the top 15: Wheeler at #1, Linebrink at #4, and League at #14. Obviously, the season isn't over for these guys yet; they could lower their K/BB rate or their ERA, either one of which would knock them off this weird list. But it's fun to see what company they would be in if they keep it up*.

* Any list with Joe Boever on it is a list that I would want to be on. Joe Boever!

I included each player's BABIP and HR/9 numbers to give you an idea of just what made these guys have poor ERAs despite their good strikeout-to-walk ratios. Generally, these guys have given up lots of hits and lots of homers; bad luck surely played a role in these elevated numbers, but I'd say that a lack of skill was a major factor for most of these guys.

One of the stranger entries on the list is Brandon League's 2011. He has given up just 18 baserunners in 15 innings (12 singles, 4 doubles, and 2 walks), but 9 of them have scored. I'd have to think that his ERA will turn around sooner or later.

Linebrink, though? I'm not so sure. He's given up 3 homers already, and anecdotally he just seems to be throwing a lot of hittable pitches up in the zone. He still throws hard enough to get his share of strikeouts, but I think his lack of walks might be a bad thing. Maybe he needs to throw a few more pitches out of the zone, or at least try to stay out of the hitter's wheelhouse and not worry about walking a few more guys. He might end up with a few more walks but with a lot fewer hard-hit balls.

Or maybe he just isn't a major-league caliber reliever anymore, despite the strikeouts.

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