The Bullpen "Problem"

So, we moved Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen because Ted Lilly was returning and our bullpen was struggling, or at least that's what Lou, Jim, the media, and the fans said. They said the bullpen was struggling.

I contend, however, that the bullpen is fine, it is just mismanaged. I have proclaimed before and I shall proclaim again that John Grabow should only pitch to left handed batters. He is in every way a LOOGY, a left-handed one out only guy. However, Lou, with a mischievous sparkle in his eye, has time and again brought Grabow in to face lip-licking, salivating at the chance to pad their stats against Grabow right handers. Almost without fail, Grabow surrenders hits and walks to right handers.

So let's look at this bullpen's "problems." Let's examine what effect Grabow's misuse has had, and let's again examine if moving our ace was the right choice:

Pos Pitcher Age IP FIP
CL Carlos Marmol 27 10.2 0.95
RP Sean Marshall 27 10 0.70
RP Justin Berg 26 8 4.70
RP John Grabow 31 6.2 8.52
RP James Russell 24 6.1 4.35

Jeff Gray 28 5 7.20

Jeff Samardzija 25 3.1 11.91

Esmailin Caridad 26 2.2 10.47
Bullpen Totals
50.8 4.52
Bullpen less Grabow
44.6 3.96
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/27/2010.

The above chart clearly presents a bullpen less Grabow would have been a bullpen improved; however, we must remember that Lou was slapping Grabow into high leverage innings (according to Fangraphs, Grabow's average leverage is at a 2nd place career high 1.25). Moreover, Grabow has been used a lot. Here's a pie chart showing our bullpen usage (less Zambrano):

So, if we used Grabow for lefties only (or, at most, one righty), we expect him to match his career levels of FIP at ~3.50. In turn, he may see his IP halve to 3. So those extra 3 innings end up going to Justin Berg or Sean Marshall (or somebody else with a neutral or ROOGY platoon split). Using Berg or overusing Marshall may result in those three innings earning a 4.70 or possibly higher FIP -- which is still way better than the Grabow FIP.

In other words, outside of the gross misuse of Grabow's talents, our bullpen has actually performed pretty well. If it were able to reach it's Grabow-less FIP as presented in the chart above, that would be good enough to be the tied for 5th best NL bullpen of 2009. For reference sake, we had the 3rd to last bullpen in 2009.

At the risk of being redundant, I posit this bullpen "problem" is a manager problem:

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  1. I like your take on this. For some reason, I'd been laboring under the delusion that Grabow's platoon splits were roughly even but, now that I look at them, he has been much more effective against lefties over his career. It seems both Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella have invested a little too heavily in Grabow's veteran status. I'd like to see Jeff Gray and Justin Berg get more chances to work their ground ball magic.

  2. The 'pen is in a state of flux now, but, in a couple of months, I don't see any reason for it not to be fine. Caridad should be good, we know that. His availability hopefully will mean lower leverage situations for Grabow. Then there's John Gaub to come up in the summer. He looks very good, and has no massive splits problem that I'm aware of (not that I'm aware of much). There's two nice arms that should make a difference. Hopefully in a couple of months, Z will be back where he belongs. I don't think Silva would be a disaster in the pen. I mean, he might be, but his splits aren't terrible, he would seem to have a decent shot at a low 4 xFIP over 50 innings. Either way, you put him in to eat low leverage innings and it doesn't really matter. They're clearly not interested in getting value for money, putting the big guy in a set-up role. Of course, I don't why I'm saying this because none of it matters. What I'm wondering now is why I still think the Cubs can win this year. Oh well.

  3. Well said, Daniel. You've hit it on the head.

    In the pen, we can expect Silva's FIP to actually be close to elite (~3.5, if he keeps on pace with his starts, thus far). As a starter, though, the home run regression is bound to bite him VERY soon. And it's going to hurt.