Is The Bullpen Overworked?
Kevin Cash has shown a propensity for pulling his starting pitcher quicker than the fan base and the media would care for him to do. There is a method to his perceived madness, but there is no overlooking the fact that the relievers are in games quite a bit this season. The looming question is whether the bullpen is being overworked and can it keep this pace up over the course of a full season?
To measure how much work the bullpen is doing this season, we can look at a variety of things. The Rays relievers sit atop the chart when looking at innings pitched by relievers as they have worked 240.1 innings as play begins Monday evening. They are just over three innings ahead of the Arizona bullpen and just under 17 innings ahead of any other team in the American League. It is true that all innings are not created equal, but even a change to the total pitches for bullpens has the Rays on top as one of two teams to throw at least 4000 pitches in relief.
You could say that everyone has taken a part in compiling those totals, and you would be right as the Rays also lead all of baseball in relievers used with 19 (which includes Jake Elmore and Nick Franklin).
Jepsen has been the rented mule of the bunch leading the team in both pitches thrown and innings in relief. If we consider the five best members of the pen (in no particular order) Jepsen, Brad Boxberger, Steve Geltz, Jake McGee, and Xavier Cedeno, then it is encouraging to see that two-fifths of that group come in under 10%. Brandon Gomes and Ernesto Frieri before him carried the bulk of the lower leverage work and the handful of Johnny Bullpen games where the bullpen handled the game from start to finish certainly skews the overall team innings and pitch totals.
Boxberger’s workload should be put into perspective. This is how his percentage of pitches thrown as a frequent high-leverage reliever stands up against some of his counterparts in the league:
Andrew Miller has thrown a lower percentage of pitches for the Yankees, but he has also been on the disabled list for the past two weeks. If anything, the graphic shows that Boxberger is managed rather well for a closer on a first place team compared to many of his high-leverage counterparts with similar pitch totals. Even if we were to take the same table and sort by total pitches, Boxberger would be right in the middle of the pack:
Simply put, the Rays relievers are leading the league in innings worked and innings pitched. That said, there are 19 hands that have been involved in building those totals thus far and likely a few more will contribute when it is all said and done. The single-season record for relievers used in a season by a team was just set last season when the Texas Rangers used 25 relievers in a dismal season. The Rays are six relievers shy of tying that record while fighting for and currently holding the division lead and, at the end of the day, are likely going to break that record while keeping the Delta Shuttle from RDU to TPA busy.