Impact of bullpen on Phillies team success
by Scott Butler 9/29/12

In addition to officially ending the Phillies postseason chances, the Marlins walk-off run against Josh Lindblom in the ninth inning last night was a friendly reminder of the importance of the bullpen.

One of the big reasons the Phillies entered postseason discussions in the first place was the huge improvement of the bullpen. The Phillies bullpen ERA was 4.75 before the all-star break and 2.96 after the all-star break. Better yet, their bullpen ERA was 4.91 on July 8 and 2.74 since then.

To put that into perspective, since July 8 the Phillies bullpen has surrendered more than two less runs (2.17) per nine innings. With the bullpen averaging 2.6 innings per game, it is roughly the equivalent of allowing one extra run every other game. The Phillies as a team have scored 666 runs this season and allowed 665 runs for a run differential of +1. Had they posted a 2.74 bullpen ERA over the entire season, they would have decreased their earned runs allowed by 54 runs from 177 to 123, giving the Phillies a run differential of +55 which would rank sixth in the National League.

The recent turnaround is even more dramatic. Since Sep 3, the Phillies bullpen ERA is 2.07. Run that over a full season and the Phillies' run differential becomes +85 and fourth best in the NL. Not to say that anyone could or should have expected such results, rather, it indicates the bullpen's potential impact on a team.

The impact is more than just run differential. The bullpen affects team confidence, pressure placed on starters and hitters, overall team morale, and, most importantly, wins and losses. The Phillies record was 38-51 (.427) at the bullpen's lowest point, which was just one game after the team's lowest point at 14 games under .500. Since then, the Phillies are 40-28 (.588). And in the bullpen's greatest stretch from Sep 3 until Sep 25, the Phillies were 14-6.

In a sense, a team's success can be predicted by the success or failure of their bullpen, regardless of what the rest of the team does. In games in which the Phillies bullpen allowed zero runs (excluding complete games), the Phillies are 50-29 (.633). In games in which the bullpen allowed just one run, the Phillies are 11-15. In games in which they they allow one or more runs, the Phils are 23-50 (.315). That is not to say that the bullpen has more of an impact than starting pitching, but it goes to show just how slim the margin can be. See for yourself.

Phillies Bullpen Splits
Bullpen ER Record Win Pct Bullpen ER Record Win Pct
0       50-29 .633
1 11-15 .423 1+ 23-50 .315
2 5-13 .278 2+ 12-36 .25
3 5-12 .294 3+ 7-23 .233
4 2-3 .400 4+ 2-11 .152
5 0-5 .000 5+ 0-8 .000
6 0-2 .000 6+ 0-3 .000
7 0-1 .000 7+ 0-1 .000

The above results show why in my mind the single biggest reason for the Phillies disappointing 2012 season is the bullpen. As awful as this season has been, a fairly reliable bullpen might have been enough to put the Phillies in the playoffs.

Jonathan Papelbon did a good job for the Phillies this season, but the results show how insignificant he was in comparison to the ineptitude of the rest of the bullpen. Ruben Amaro sealed the Phillies coffin when he elected to make Papelbon the richest reliever in Major League History and take his chances in his existing bullpen and cheap investments like Chad Qualls and Dontrelle Willis.

Relief pitchers can be as unpredictable as nudity in scary movies, but I feel Ruben Amaro must make the bullpen his number one priority during the off season. With plenty of young, quality arms to choose from, the return of Michael Stutes, and a few shrewd off season signings, the Phillies could dramatically enhance their chances to compete next season.

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