Wednesday, January 31, 2007

MLB Preview 2007 – NL Bullpens

Today’s post focuses on the quality of the NL bullpens. I discussed the methodology and inherent difficulty in bullpen rankings in yesterday’s post.

Above Average
New York Mets: 3.79 EqERA
Atlanta Braves: 3.90 EqERA
San Diego Padres: 3.90 EqERA
Houston Astros: 3.93 EqERA

As I discussed in my post on NL Rotations, the weakness of the NL at present appears to be in the pitching department. While the quality of starting pitching in the AL is markedly better than in the NL, the difference in relief pitching is insane. Ten of fourteen AL teams finish with above-average bullpens, while only four of sixteen NL teams grade out likewise. Additionally, the Mets bullpen would not crack the top seven in the AL! The difference in bullpen quality is simply massive. The Padres have had some impressive bullpens in recent years, but a lot of the observed quality is park and defense aided. One also has to wonder if the observed dominance of AL pitching is due to an incorrect application of league strength factors by PECOTA (explanation: PECOTA first projects a raw ERA for pitchers, then creates an EqERA based on the ballpark and league they play in. The translation requires an estimation of the magnitude of these two effects). However, I think the most likely explanation is simply that bullpen quality in the NL is quite poor right now.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 3.97 EqERA
Arizona Diamondbacks: 4.01 EqERA
Milwaukee Brewers: 4.04 EqERA

Only three more teams approach the MLB bullpen average EqERA, including popular sleeper picks Arizona and Milwaukee. Maybe I was overly critical of Milwaukee’s break-out chances in the team fielding article.

Have one good reliever
Chicago Cubs: 4.11 EqERA
Philadelphia Phillies: 4.16 EqERA
Cincinnati Reds: 4.17 EqERA
Pittsburgh Pirates: 4.18 EqERA
Washington Nationals: 4.23 EqERA
Colorado Rockies: 4.24 EqERA

A bunch of teams with one or two good relievers, but not enough depth to be a truly strong bullpen. The Cubs have the most upside with Kerry Wood and Neal Cotts, but PECOTA does not expect big things out of them presently. The Phillies have the strongest starting pitching in the group, so the lack of real depth may hurt them least.

Aspire to one day have one good reliever
St. Louis Cardinals: 4.34 EqERA
San Francisco Giants: 4.48 EqERA
Florida Marlins: 4.54 EqERA

The bottom three here really lack both frontline talent and depth in their bullpens. The Marlins, like the Devil Rays and Royals, are trying to develop starting pitching talent before devoting significant resources to the bullpen, but the Cardinals and Giants are both supposed to be contenders this year. Starting pitcher defections, which will force their young starters into the rotation and out of the bullpen, have hurt the Cardinals. The Giants have simply lacked front-line bullpen talent for the past few years. Peter Gammons recently speculated that the Giants could utilize prospects Brian Wilson or Tim Lincecum in the closers role. PECOTA does not like Wilson, but thinks Lincecum is a once-a-generation pitching prospect. Indeed, put Lincecum in the closer’s role, and the Giants pen improves to a 4.14 EqERA. This year’s Jonathan Papelbon?

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