Sunday, July 01, 2007

2006 Relief Aces
A while ago I decided to look at the top relief pitchers in baseball last year. This blurb doesn't seek to introduce any novel ideas about quantifying relief pitching, but merely examines who I think were the best relief pitchers last season.

I used some initial criteria to separate the wheat from the chaff of literally hundreds of MLB relief pitchers in '06. First, the relief pitcher must have some staying power, so at least 60 innings pitched. Second of all, their WHIP for the season must be at or below 1.25. Anyone who doesn't know WHIP at this point should know that WHIP basically shows how many baserunners you are giving up every inning, and in my opinion 1.25 is around where the "good" pitchers emerge.

What I am not counting are stats often thrown about to measure a reliever's performance, like saves, ERA or (shudder) holds (which is like a save except you weren't the last pitcher). These stats are either highly dependent on how your teammates perform, or they can unfairly reward bad pitching. A closer can enter the game with a 3-run lead, give up two runs, load the bases and get the same "save" that someone who enters and racks up 3 strikeouts does. Or even more maddening (if you believe saves carry psychological heft), a closer could give up the lead ("blow the save"), but then his team scores extra runs, and he gets a win! Lastly, ERA can be deceptive if a reliever has a couple awful outings but mostly good ones, since they traditionally pitch much less than a starter.

Anyway, after looking at 60 IP and 1.25 WHIP, this leaves us with 35 individuals who satisfied both of these goals. However, I'm not trying to measure "good" relief pitchers, I'm looking for our "relief aces." Players that can repeatedly stonewall an opponent's batters; normally in situations where the game is still close and the mental stakes are (theoretically) high.

So, we need a second metric. I picked three other stats that indicate good pitching. Walks allowed (BB), Home Runs allowed (HR), and their "K/9" rate (which represents their average strikeouts if they pitched a nine-inning game). Importantly, I (somewhat arbitrarily) decided that to be a "relief ace" you need to meet at least TWO of these thresholds:

10 HR or less
20 BBs or less
K/9 of at least 8

When this is calculated, we have 23 "relief aces." Here they are, and the fact that the names won't surprise you suggests that the metric is relatively accurate. I believe they are ranked by WHIP:

J. Papelbon - 3 HR, 13 BB, 9.88 K/9
J. Nathan - 3 HR, 16 BB, 12.51 K/9
B.J. Ryan - 3 HR, 20 BB, 10.70 K/9
T. Saito - 3 HR, 23 BB, 12.29 K/9
J.J. Putz - 4 HR, 13 BB, 11.95 K/9
M. Rivera - 3 HR, 11 BB, 6.6 K/9
T. Hoffman - 6 HR, 13 BB, 7.14 K/9
S. Shields - 8 HR, 24 BB, 8.6 K/9
R. Soriano - 6 HR, 21 BB, 9.75 K/9
H. Street - 4 HR, 13 BB, 8.53

K-Rod - 6 HR, 28 BB, 12.08
B. Wagner - 7 HR, 21 BB, 11.7
B. Howry - 8 HR, 17 BB, 8.34
A. Wainwright - 6 HR, 22 BB, 8.64
D. Wheeler - 5 HR, 24 BB, 8.58
C. Bradford - 1 HR, 13 BB, 6.53
B. Fuentes - 8 HR, 26 BB, 10.06
J. Zumaya - 6 HR, 42 BB, 10.48
F. Rodney - 6 HR, 34 BB, 8.16
S. Linebrink - 9 HR, 22 BB, 8.09
L. Vizcaino - 8 HR, 29 BB, 9.92
J. Broxton - 7 HR, 33 BB, 11.44
J. Peralta - 10 HR, 17 BB, 6.96

What some MSM baseball writers would take from this ... lots of relievers have names with a J in it!

Also, please note that Cla Meredith and Pat Neshek would probably be on this list, but they fell short of the innings requirement.

As a final note, only 6 pitchers in 2006 meet all my thresholds (60+ IPs, 1.25 or less WHIP, 10 HRs or less, 20 BBs or less, 8+ K/9). So these were the best of the best in 2006:

J. Papelbon - 3 HR, 13 BB, 9.88 K/9
J. Nathan - 3 HR, 16 BB, 12.51 K/9
B.J. Ryan - 3 HR, 20 BB, 10.70 K/9
J.J. Putz - 4 HR, 13 BB, 11.95 K/9
H. Street - 4 HR, 13 BB, 8.53
B. Howry - 8 HR, 17 BB, 8.34

The J conspiracy continues...

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Blogger sabesin2001 said...

Street was second in MLB in blown saves last year, it's a silly stat.

Do you think Putz is the best of the best right now?

8:03 PM  
Blogger ben said...

Honestly, I think Saito is slightly better than Putz right now, but it's basically a dead-heat between them. Even though Papelbon has forgotten all his pitches besides the fastball, he's pretty awesome still; and Neshek would be tremendous if he walked a few less guys. Hoffman's absurdly productive at his age, just amazing.

12:44 AM  
Blogger sabesin2001 said...

yeah, i don't think about saito much mostly because he's really old i guess so i don't see him as long for the majors. i bet he never had numbers this good in japan, how could he have?

one thing is that saito only has one save of more than an inning (and one other appearance period of more than an inning), while putz has 7 saves of longer than an inning. i would build any bullpen around putz right now.

16 hits in 39 innings is insane. i guess that must be a little lucky just because he doesn't have a million strikeouts.

1:43 AM  
Blogger ben said...

oh yeah overall Putz is the man when you factor age and our yearning for Pap to start.

1:48 AM  

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