Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Key to the Division?

There's been an interesting trend in the AL Central over the past few seasons, and that is that the team that has won the division has consistently done so thanks in large part to phenomenal bullpen performance.

Now, this fact in and of itself is not terribly surprising; a strong bullpen is necessary to hold leads and win games. Yet, in each of the past three seasons, the AL Central Champion has received absurdly good performances from multiple relievers -- performances that seeming came out of nowhere. Observe:

2005 CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Reliever: 2005 ERA (Career ERA)
Dustin Hermanson: 2.04 (4.21)
Neal Cotts: 1.94 (4.49)
Cliff Pollitte: 2.00 (4.40)

OK, that's freakin' ridiculous. The Twins captured similar lightning in '06, though to a lesser degree...

2006 MINNESOTA TWINS
Reliever: 2006 ERA (Career ERA)
Dennys Reyes: 0.89 (4.37)
Juan Rincon: 2.91 (3.60)
Pat Neshek: 2.19 (2.91)

And last year, the Tribe...

2007 CLEVELAND INDIANS
Reliever: 2007 ERA (Career ERA)
Rafael Betancourt: 1.47 (2.98)
Aaron Fultz: 2.92 (4.26)
Rafael Perez: 1.78 (2.59)

In some cases, these were good relievers that simply had exceptional years. In other cases (Reyes, Fultz, all the White Sox guys) we saw mediocre pitchers put up unbelievable numbers out of nowhere.

In any case, this odd little trend suggests that the team with the ridiculous bullpen will end up winning the division. Does that pattern hold up this year? Well, the first-place White Sox currently rank No. 1 in the AL in bullpen ERA at 2.86. Meanwhile, the second-place Twins rank sixth at 3.48, while the Tigers (4.40) and Indians (4.44) rank 12th and 13th, respectively.

This year, Chicago's crazy bullpen contributions are coming from the likes of Boone Logan (2.29 ERA, 5.03 career), Scott Linebrink (1.50 ERA, 3.12 career) and closer Bobby Jenks (1.54 ERA, 3.06 career). Meanwhile, the Twins have gotten typically great production from Joe Nathan, but have lost their second-best reliever for the year and are getting sub par performances from guys like Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain.

You don't HAVE to have a great bullpen to succeed -- the Tigers sported a 4.40 ERA last season on their way to the World Series -- but as the trends above illustrate, it sure does help. Currently, the Twins' relief corps seems to be heading in the wrong direction. They've fallenf rom the top of the league to the middle of the pack over the past couple weeks, and it's hard to feel comfortable any time a starter hands a small lead to the bullpen in the sixth or seventh inning.

How to improve on this issue? Maybe the answer is to bring in some fresh blood in the form of a Tim Lahey or a Mariano Gomez from Triple-A. Maybe the answer is, as Howard Sinker suggests, parting ways with Rincon, who just can't seem to get anyone out these days.

I don't really know what the best solution is. What I do know is that we Twins fans have become accustomed to seeing a stellar bullpen over the past several years, and that the Twins are going to have an extremely difficult time remaining near the top of the standings if the quality of the 'pen continues to deteriorate.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well analysed but the Tigers played the WS two years ago when they had the fourth best pen.

Andrew said...

I said this before the season, and I'll say it again. Trade Nathan, and put Liriano in the bullpen.

Nick N. said...

Well analysed but the Tigers played the WS two years ago when they had the fourth best pen.

Whoops. Good catch.

I said this before the season, and I'll say it again. Trade Nathan, and put Liriano in the bullpen.

Seriously?

Anonymous said...

Good point, in that many of those guys peaked, then fizzled. It makes me strangely confident about Boof's move to the pen.

Judd
C.P. Twins Blogger

Andrew said...

Seriously?

I wasn't...but now that I think about it, I think I should think it about it more...I think.

Nathan could draw some great prospects, and how dominant could Liriano be in a closer position?

Besides, we got Gutierrez, so it's all good. (that was a joke.)

Nick N. said...

Nathan could draw some great prospects, and how dominant could Liriano be in a closer position?

Probably not very, until he ups his velocity and commands his fastball and gets the bite back on his slider. Those things could take a while to happen, if they ever do.

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